Thin Tile – March 2016
Even though the industry talks about thin tile, what they’re typically referring to is ‘really big tile that just happens to also be thin.’ The reason thin tile is becoming popular has nothing to do with its thickness and everything to do with the sheets being very large and beautifully decorated. If you’ve waited until the truck shows up with the idea of dealing with it once you’ve seen it, you’ve already made the first mistake. Preparation is key!
Know your foe
Thin tile starts as huge sheets of tile (3’x 10’ and 5’x 10’ are common sizes) that can then be cut down at the factory or job site as needed. The key is to know what will be showing up. Because thin tile is typically made in Europe, it is quite often measured in meters. A bill of lading showing 1 x 3 sheets of thin tile without any other indication of size most likely means you will be ending up with 1 meter (39”, a bit over 3 feet) by 3 meters (117”, just shy of 10 feet). Another typical size is 1 x 1 (39”x39”). The process for handling a crate of 1m x 3m tile varies considerably from the process for handling cartons of 1m x 1m.
Stick a fork in it
Assuming you will be receiving crates of 1 m x 3 m you WILL need fork extenders for your fork truck. The crates are loaded into the trucks length-wise, so even if you handle them from the side around the warehouse, to get them out of the truck they will need to be supported along the length of the crate. A ten-foot tile will come in a crate (or A-frame) almost 12’ long, so a minimum of an 8‘ fork extender will be required to get well past the middle of the crate.
Why are the fork extenders important? Although the tiles are somewhat flexible, they do have a limit to how much they can bend. If the tiles are allowed to bend too much in the crate, you will end up with a very expensive problem as some or all of the tiles may crack.Even worse, the tiles are often mesh reinforced on the back so you may not know you have cracked them until you are applying mortar (or even grout!).
Smaller sizes of thin tiles such as the 1m x 1m sizes will typically come in very large cartons on more conventional pallets, but even these must be treated with care. Avoid stacking the pallets beyond the manufacturer’s recommendations and keep all banding and edge protectors in place until they are placed where they will be used at the job site.
Most job sites are cluttered with tools, materials, mixers, saws, and other people. A 12’ long crate is challenging to handle when there is nothing in the way, and becomes even more cumbersome in a typical work environment. Have a staging area set up before the truck arrives and an aisle wide enough to allow the tile to come through. Be careful where turns are required and remove anything on the floor that will cause the fork truck to bounce. In a worst-case scenario, an installer may have to carry the tiles individually from the receiving area to the work site. In this case, inexpensive corner protectors and the correct suction-cup frame for your size of tile will be critical.
Another issue installers face is transporting the tiles to different levels. Typical freight elevators may not be large enough to accommodate full crates or A-frames. Think about thin tile panels as similar to large sheets of glass when dealing with them on a job site. Rigging, winches, or cranes may be required to get them to their final destination.
Staying on edge
When handling large tile panels, it is best to keep it on edge as much as possible. Suction cups and a team approach are a must for handling. Since the edges are the most delicate parts of the tile, cushion them when setting the tile down. When the tile must be laid flat (to cut it or apply mortar, for example) a rigid frame will provide a “backbone” for the tile to keep it from flexing. The same frame also allows the tile to be placed all at once.
Train before you leave the station
Training is especially critical for everyone who will be handling and installing thin tile. There is a learning curve to handling, cutting, and placing the tile successfully, and chances are an installer may break a few $500 sheets of tile trying to master the techniques on their own. All importers of thin tile panels and installation products companies offer training on how to handle and install these tiles. Every installment of Coverings, Surfaces, and Total Solutions Plus includes sessions on thin tile, usually with a hands-on component. Tool companies that offer thin tile tools will be happy to train you on their use. The tile industry is making a concerted effort to get the information out there because they want the same thing the installer wants, successful installations with no call-backs.
This article touches on just a few of the critical aspects for handling thin tile panels. There are specialized tools for handling and cutting it, special mortars and application techniques required to get full coverage, and tips and tricks for placing the tile in a way that maximizes the opportunities for success. Although thin tile requires specialized training, installers who are comfortable handling and installing the product find that they have a niche in the market and don’t have to compete as hard on price to get the job. By understanding the nuances of the product, stunning installations that will last for generations are possible.