Saltillo Tile Patio

Popular in the Southwest, saltillo tile patios add an earthy, attractive quality.

Intro

Saltillo tile takes its name from a region in Mexico that is known for its rich clays. The combination of raw materials and a hot climate ideally suit the area to the making of handmade tiles dried in the sun.

Saltillo tiles have an earthy, attractive quality. They also have drawbacks. Outdoors you can use them only in climates where they won't freeze. Also, their size, thickness, and consistency vary widely. This variety necessitates some special installation requirements.

Saltillo tiles are porous and must be rinsed to keep them from absorbing moisture from the mortar too quickly. Rinsing also removes residual dust that otherwise weakens the mortar bond. Don't lay saltillo directly on layout lines as you would ceramic tile -- set them back from the lines about 1/4 inch to account for their irregular edges. Seal the tiles with a penetrating sealer before grouting them. Otherwise the grout will dry too quickly.

Checklist

Time
About 30 hours for a 10x10-foot area

Tools
Five-gallon bucket, 1/2-inch drill, mixing paddle, chalk line, wet saw, square-notched trowel, beater block, rubber mallet, straightedge, grout float, caulk gun, nippers, grout bag, sponge, vacuum cleaner, tack rag

Skills
Mixing mortar; setting, cutting, and grouting tile

Prep
Repair existing slab or install a new one

Materials
Latex-modified thinset, grout, tile, foam backer rod, caulk, spacers, sealers

Preparing the Tile: Step 1

Sort the tiles into piles according to thickness and flatness. This will help you get an idea of how thick your mortar bed has to be, and how many domed tiles you'll have to back-butter as you lay them.

Preparing the Tile: Step 2

To slow the tile's absorption of moisture from the mortar, rinse the tiles in clean water and set them aside until the surface moisture dries or wipe off excess surface moisture. The tiles need to be slightly damp, not wet. Set them to dry in a rack or against a wall.

Spreading Mortar and Setting the First Tile: Step 1

Snap layout lines and mix up enough latex-modified mortar to cover an area about 4 feet square. Spread it on the slab (just short of the layout lines) with the flat edge of a trowel to a uniform thickness of 1/2 to 3/4 inch. Then comb it with a trowel with 1/2x1/4-inch U notches.

Spreading Mortar and Setting the First Tile: Step 2

Back-butter the tile with enough mortar to allow you to set it level with the other tiles. Comb the mortar with the notched trowel edge.

Spreading Mortar and Setting the First Tile: Step 3

Set one corner of the tile in place about 1/4 inch back from the layout line. Place the edge of the tile roughly parallel to the layout line and set it in place.

Continuing the Pattern: Step 1

Continue laying the tile in the first section, with the edges 1/4 inch off the layout lines. From time to time, step back and look over the section. The tile should not look like it's lined up perfectly; if it does, it will look staged or contrived.

Continuing the Pattern: Step 2

When you have finished laying a section, level the tile with a beater block made from plywood and carpet. The block should be wide enough to cover at least two tiles. Tap it with a rubber mallet. Because of irregularities, some tiles will rock. Take up the beater block and tap the high edge to even out the surface of those tiles.


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