Monday, 29 August 2016

Quarry tile floor restoration

By far the dirtiest job to date has been the olivine blasting.

Step one

A glaring problem that needed to be sorted out before the Living Room floor was fully restored was where the dividing pantry wall had once stood, but had since been patched-up with cement leaving a cracked strip of grey where there should have been tiles.

I dug all of that up to reveal another couple of brick courses from the original dividing wall, which were standing on a bit of crumbled lime and bare earth. Having removed one course I filled in the resulting hole with sand and some of the old lime lumps then offered up some quarry tiles that were removed from one of the fireplace hearths upstairs... only to find that the row on the room side of the divide didn't match up to the row in the Pantry. I couldn't have made it look anywhere decent enough by cutting tiles and fitting the bits in here and there like Tetris which left only one choice... I was going to have to lift all of the Pantry tiles and re-lay them.

Trevor joined me and before I could get the kettle boiled he had the first tiles up and was setting them out so we could use them again in the same configuration. He was also clearing out the original lime mortar bed they had been sat on, which had completely failed and was totally unusable as it was because it offered no stability or reliable level whatsoever.
Grumble - less than impressed
that the rows don't match-up
The next two days saw me making tea, knocking-up plenty of 3:1 lime mortar mixes and casting an eye over the job in progress to make sure everything looked level and was heading in straight-ish lines.
Trevor levelled the earth subfloor and set the tiles on a new mortar bed, and when his knees gave up I took over and did the two corners and along the end.

It's not completely level, admittedly, and the edges kind of drop or rise by a few mm here and there, but I'm happy with that because 'working' floors like this were never perfect anyway and it looks like it has been one continuous surface all along now.

In terms of grout, incidentally, I'm not sure what we're doing. I'd quite like to brush powdered lime over the floor and let the natural moisture from the earth cure it in the joints, but that would dull the surface again... sand would do the job but it would make vacuuming tricky... leaving 'doing nothing' as the safest option for now. I might revisit it later but in the meantime, bugger it. It's Character.

Forget your underfloor heating, dpcs and insulation, this is what you want under your quarry tiles...
God's-honest-no-frills muck

The replacement tiles were from the hearth in Bedroom 1, which was causing the ceiling below to sag,
so we reused them here. The black glazing on the sides was later removed during the restoration and the colour
of the paler tiles was lifted during the final stages with a colour enhancer.

Step two

Searching tinterwebz for how to restore a quarry tile floor mainly results in links to professional firms who will either come over to do it themselves in return for a lorra, lorra money or sell you the stuff to make a half-baked job of it yourself.

The photos and videos of the pros doing it look amazing, but that's the idea. You wouldn't want to hire a team of sweaty salad-dodgers to paw ineffectually at the floor and leave it looking like nothing had happened, would you? But it's all marketing and I wanted to tackle the job myself, so my only option was to buy tins of 'product' and have a stab at it.

The very first, and arguably most important part of bringing the Living Room floor back from the dead over a year ago was to remove the carpet and underlay to start it releasing its moisture again, and that was followed by olivine blasting (top picture) to get rid of the glue and rock-solid filth left on the faces of the tiles.
After this it was left as it was for some months due to the rest of the work that needed to be done in there but for the most part (discounting tarps being laid now and then) it was allowed to breathe properly and dry out.

Freshly-mopped and dried before restoration work of any kind
Once the main dirty work was finished in the room we stripped everything out and I gave the floor a thorough powerful vacuuming, crawling around on my hands and knees to trace every joint and crack with the nozzle.
This was followed by two lots of damn good mopping with, again, me on my hands and knees to vacuum up the excess water from the faces and in the joints so it would dry as fast as possible. Anyone looking through the window would think I was playing submissive at a 'Chore'-themed BDSM party.

Dawn had already done a bit of research last year and bought a bottle of Lithofin Tile Restorer for Ceramic Tiles which was supposed to bring out the ingrained dirt and give the surface a thorough, thorough clean.
Except it didn't, really. I'm not criticising it because I don't have enough experience doing this, but even after working the cleaner in tile-by-tile with a scrubbing brush - really agitating it - and drying the faces with a hairdryer after a rinse, they didn't look any different. The only noticeable difference was the black glazing on the tiles that were laid along the edge of the Pantry. It lifted that off really well.
My two trains of thought were that either the cleaner wasn't doing its job or the floor was already nice and clean because of the attention it had already been given. I'm erring towards the latter. 

So not wanting to waste the bottle I tipped it in the mop bucket and threw in a couple of litres of brick acid, hoping that a chemical reaction wouldn't make it explode in my face, which fortunately it didn't.
That was mopped liberally on the floor in the hope of obliterating any proper ingrained muck (destroying the mop head) and it was washed off with clean water a couple of times, followed by me on my knees again.

I had been doing some research myself in to what to do next, if anything, and I discovered Tile Doctor Colour Grow which promised to deepen the colour of what, essentially, were unremarkable matt pinkish tiles, while protecting them from spills but still allowing them to breathe. And that was everything I wanted in one £40 container.

The instructions suggested up to five coats on quarry tiles with no damp-proof course (dpc) beneath, and we applied the first coat easily in just half an hour with a couple of new, clean paint pads... which is when the container ran out.
Unfortunately with 95% of the tiles having no glaze they were very porous which meant they pretty much guzzled up the Colour Grow, but to be fair the transformation was incredible by morning. The red was deeper and the particularly-pale tiles, which contrasted starkly with those surrounding them, had blended quite well so I ordered another bottle and hoped that two coats would be enough.

Again the floor remained this way for a couple of weeks during more work and when everything was shifted back out and more rounds of mopping/vacuuming had taken place (using Tile Doctor Neutral Tile Cleaner) we gave the floor another two coats of Colour Grow from the new tin, because the first coat had made the tiles less porous.

The finished floor. Sorry to use this picture yet again but I forgot to take a specific 'restored' one.

Again, the results were great with the red deepening a bit more but our mistake of forgetting to dab up any excess liquid while were going meant that in the morning the few patches of tiles which had a hint of glazing were still tacky to the touch even through they weren't wet, as such.

The sticky patches on tiles with a hint of prior glaze
are already starting to reduce
I tried to remove the stickiness with everything from water to - you guessed it - brick acid but because the surface was also more resistant to liquid now nothing would touch it and I eventually gave up the ghost.

So we left it and hoped for the best but now after 36 hours it seems to be improving, meaning we won't have sticky footprints all over the rug, which looks better without that kind of thing, frankly.
And speaking of footprints we're trying to get in the habit of leaving our boots at the door now but that's already showing signs of falling by the wayside...

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