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Friday, May 29, 2009

How To Tile A Countertop- Lay Tile

Tiling a countertop may involve a little more creativity than a typical tile floor. Mostly, this is because there are more specialized tile pieces involved to make it all work. Like any tile job, it takes some careful planning ahead of time.

(See this post from yesterday for how to prepare the counterop for tile)

Here are the different tile pieces that I used to tile the countertop:

  • Field tiles- I'm using 4 1/4" basic square white tiles that will match the existing tile shower that's in this bathroom.
  • V-Cap tiles- These are the corner pieces that go around the front edge of the counter. They are made with a small lip so that any water that splashes on the counter will not run off onto the floor.
  • V-Cap corners- These match the other V-Caps except they are made to change direction and cover the two corners of the countertop. You can also just take V-Cap pieces and miter them, but the corner pieces make it a bit easier.
  • Radius bullnose tiles- These pieces are 6" long and will go along the top of our backsplash. They are curved at the top. When placed over 1/2" cementboard, the curve extends around the cementboard to nearly touch the wall for a finished look.
  • Radius bullnose tile corners- These pieces match the other radius bullnose pieces and will go on the two corners of our backsplash.

Whew! That seems like a lot, but there are many more types of pieces available for different applications. All of these are available at the big home stores and are usually kept stocked for the most basic tile colors.

Tile A Countertop- LAY TILE

1. First, mark where the center of your countertop is. Grab a handful of V-Cap edge pieces and lay them out to see where the seams will fall. It's best to start with either a full piece in the middle (like we did) or with a grout line right in the middle. You might lay out the field tiles as well to make sure you like where they are breaking as well. See what will look best for your project.

2. Mix your thinset and start by laying the V-Caps. I went from the middle to one corner and then started filling in with field tiles to make sure that everything was square. For my project I used 1/8" spacers, but 1/16" are also common for these smaller tiles.

3. Finish the counter, cutting the tiles around the sink hole and using partial tiles at the back where it meets the backsplash. It will go fairly quickly once you get your layout figured out.

4. For the backsplash we cut a bunch of field tiles to the same height and installed them first. Once they are in place we put the radius bullnose pieces which came right up to the mirror in our case. The bottom pieces support the weight of the edges. If you do the edges first they might droop because there's nothing to support them.

5. The trickiest cuts were around on the edges around where the backsplash meets the counter. You'll need to notch the V-caps a little to get them to back to the wall and look right. You'll also need to notch were the radius bullnose pieces meet the V-cap.

Tomorrow we can grout and finish it up!


By the way, see the finished countertop here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

How To Tile A Countertop- Preparations

I've been making progress on our apartment conversion project this week and decided that it might be fun to do a tile countertop for the bathroom vanity. Part of my decision was based on the fact that our vanity is an unusual size and stock countertops would not fit it. Hey, why not?

I'll divide the process into a couple posts because there are quite a few steps.

Tile A Countertop- PREPARATIONS

1. Start making the new countertop by cutting a study piece of 3/4" plywood to the right size. Our vanity was 58" wide by 22" deep. It sticks over the edges of the vanity by about an inch on each side.

2. Cut the hole for the sink. If you're installing a new one, use the handy template to mark it. Cut it out with a jig saw.

3. Next, we put thin strips of 1/2" plywood around the three exposed edges. This would help to support the v-cap (or sink rail) tiles that would cover the corners.

4. On top of the plywood we spread a thin layer of thinset and then 1/2" Hardibacker cement board. (Of course, cut out the sink hole first.) This will give us a very solid surface for our tiles to rest on.

5. We cut a small strip of cement board to act as our back plash and then attached it to the wall with thinset and Hardibacker screws. We were trying to keep from removing the mirror, but yet tile right up to it. Otherwise, I might have attached a plywood backsplash to the countertop and put cement board over that.

6. Put 2" mesh tape in the corner where the backsplash meets the counter as well as around the front edges over the plywood. The mesh will help the thinset adhere across the joints.

Next we're ready to talk tile. (Coming tomorrow...)


By the way, see the finished countertop here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Make a Closet Into an Office

Last week I helped a client change a hallway closet into a small office space. It's a great way to hide all of your office equipment and desk that (if you're like me) often get's piled up with paperwork.

This particular closet was around 54" wide. The idea was to add a couple grounded outlets for computers and other equipment, then add a laminate countertop to use as a desk.

Thankfully, the closet is above the garage where I was able to find a grounded outlet to add these too. I removed the baseboard and drilled a 3/4" hole through the bottom plate into the garage. From here, I could string wire up through the wall to put one outlet below the counter and another one above.

I marked the locations for the outlets and used my small drywall saw to cut the holes. I soon discovered that this wall was only 2" deep and I would have to use shallow electrical boxes (pictured). Otherwise, the electrical installation went very smoothly.

With the outlets installed, I cut some stock laminate countertop that the homeowner picked out. I nailed some 2x4 supports around the perimeter so that the surface of the countertop would be at around 30" from the floor and be a comfortable height.

The side walls weren't quite square to the back wall, but I was able to get it to fit quite well. With the addition of a couple shelves and some keyboard drawers, this space is ready for work!


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tile Cut of the Day

I've been laying tile the past couple of days in our bathroom and kitchen of the apartment we're adding to our home. The bathroom had quite a few interesting pieces to cut, but this was the most interesting:

This piece fits around the base of an older vanity that will get a complete makeover after the tile is finished.

To make a cut like this, I started by marking the tile with a Sharpie. After that it's just a series of notches. The main thing is to take your time and be careful because it's very fragile after you cut such a large notch out of the middle. I was glad that it fit so good!

For these floors I'm using these darker tiles that I found at Home Depot for $1.09 a square foot. Not bad for something I actually like! They are around 11 1/2" squares and I'm using 3/16" grout lines. These rooms are on a cement slab, so I'm just putting the tile right over that. It's (nearly) all level and things are going well.

Tomorrow I can start grouting...


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fix For a Simple Leak

I have some friends selling their home in Inglewood. The buyer's home inspection found a very slow drip coming from a pipe under the house and they called me to track it down.

The leak was somewhat deceiving because the pipes were all covered with pipe insulation. I had to keep removing the insulation until I got to the source of the water. Finally, I found that it was an solder joint at a copper elbow that was dripping very slowly.

The entire area was very accessible from the crawlspace, so this would not be too difficult to reach. I cut the elbow and about a foot of the copper pipe that had already had several repairs in the past. For cuts like this I use a simple copper tubing cutter that I like to use because it's very compact and will fit into tight spaces.

I installed a new elbow, about 14" of new 1/2" copper pipe and a coupling to join it together.

To make this repair as quickly as possible for the homeowner I used a couple Sharkbite fittings. These fittings can be used for Pex or copper pipes and just slide on. It's quite simple, and though the fittings are more expensive than copper ones it can save you money if you don't have the soldering supplies. (They are also easy to take apart if necessary.)

In the end the entire fix took less than 30 minutes once I had the parts in hand.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Extreme Custom Fit Bifold Doors

This week I replaced a lot of doors for a local homeowner. Part of the project was also to install bifold doors on several closets that had at one time had sliding doors, but more recently were covered with curtains.

We were using standard Masonite paneled bifold doors and trimming them to fit. Two of the closets were around 59", so it wasn't a big deal to trim a couple 30" doors to fit in this space. The trouble came when I had to install the doors for the 54" opening.

The trouble comes because these are hollow doors. When you trim off more than an 1" on a side, there is nothing left to support the door! However, there's a trick to making this work.

(Note: If I could get two 28" doors, this would have been easier. However, the standard sizes are either 24" or 30" so I was left to improvise...)

1. First, trim the door to fit. In my case, I was trimming about 1 1/2" off each side of the bifold doors.

2. Next, we need to take the piece that was cut off and re-insert it into the edge of the door as a support. To do this, I ran it through the table saw to trim it down so it would just fit in the opening in the edge of the door. Basically, I just trimmed about 1/8" off both sides and then cut the length to fit.

3. Once it's trimmed, you can slide this support piece into the edge of the door. I first added some carpenters glue to both sides and then made it flush with the edge. Then, you can secure it in place with some small brad nails along the front and back of the door.
4. To finish, sand the sharp edges to match the factory ones. You'll also need to drill new holes for the door hardware in the top and bottom. In my case the holes were 3/8". Putty the nail holes and you're ready to go!

I've used this process a couple of times. It takes a little extra work, but you can custom fit those bifold doors.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Upgrade Your Interior Doors- Doorknob

Yesterday, I wrote about how to trim a door 'slab' to replace an old door and mortise the hinges. Now it's time to make the hole for the doorknob.

At my project, I was replacing original doors with new Masonite 6-panel doors. The homeowner wanted to use the same hardware including the doorknobs. If you're using new doorknobs they often come with detailed instructions, including a handy template to get the holes in the right spot. If you're reusing the existing hardware, here's how to do it:

1. Measure from the top of the door frame to the center of the door's latch on the side of the door, subtracting 1/8" for the gap at the top of the door. If you have the old door you can check this measurement to make sure that it is the same.

2. Go to the door slab and mark this measurement on the side. I like to use a combination square to make extend this mark across the side and a few inches on the front of the door. This line will be the center of our doorknob and latch.

3. Next, you'll need a 2 1/8" hole cutting bit. Mark the center of your doorknob 2 3/8" from the edge of the door on the line you made in step 2. These are standard doorknob measurements, but you might check your hardware to make sure it doesn't require anything different. Make your hole.

I like to cut half way from one side until the boring bit (in the middle) goes all the way through. Then finish the hole from the other side. This helps make sure that you are cutting at an angle as you make the hole.

4. Get a 1" hole cutting bit, often sold as a set with the 2 1/8" bit for installing locksets. Mark the center of the edge of the door on the same mark from step 2. This will be where the latch goes. Make the hole and be careful that to keep it straight.

5. The latch will need also need a mortise, or pocket, so that it will install flush with the edge of the door. For this I like to use a 1" wood chisel, because the mortise is 1" wide. Insert the latch and mark the edges with a pencil. Then, clean out the mortise to about 1/8" deep or so depending on the latch you're using.

6. Install your doorknob and try it out!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Upgrade Your Interior Doors- Hinges

I've spent the past couple of days replacing all of the original doors in a client's mid-century ranch. The old doors were just as plain as could be and the homeowner is wanting to upgrade to a nicer look using 6 panel Masonite doors.

Modern-built homes are all about standards. Walls are standard heights and doors are standard sizes. If you have one of these homes, you can buy a door off the shelf at the home store and it will fit with no problems. However, for the house I've been working at, like many others in our Inglewood community, every door may be a little different.

When I have to custom fit a door to an existing door frame I like to buy what's called a door 'slab'. It a standard sized door, but with no hinge mortises or holes for the hardware. It's a blank slate.

Let's focus on getting the door sized right with the hinges in the right place:

1. If you're replacing a door, don't take the old one down just yet. Measure the opening that the door fits into. Subtract 1/8" for the gap on either side and cut the door to this measurement. For example, if the door opening is 30", then the door needs to be 29 3/4". Measure the old door as a reference if it fit well.

I've just been using the circular saw with a rip guide (invaluable tool!) to take the edges off of doors. After any cuts, lightly sand the sharp edges to match the factory sides.

(Always check to make sure the door frames are level and square or your door won't fit correctly.)

2. Let's measure to see where the hinges will go. For this, it's very important to make all measurements from the top of the door as a reference point. Don't measure one hinge from the top and the others from the bottom. Remember that you want around 1/8" gap at the top of the door too. This is the time to measure twice and cut once. :)

3. For this project, I used a simple hinge mortising template that I picked up at Home Depot a few years ago. It's just a metal guide that attaches over the hinge location. It will guide my router bit to make the inset for the hinge. I usually just secure it in place with screws so it's easy to remove after I've made the cut. (Yes, you can use a wood chisel to make the cuts, but it won't be as neat and it's hard to get the depth exactly right.)

4. Cut the hinge mortise with your router. I was using a straight 1/2" bit. The biggest consideration here is to NOT CUT TOO DEEPLY! If you do, your door will not fit right and you'll be baffled. You want the surface of the hinge to be flush with the door's edge when it's in place, so make the cut accordingly, around 1/8" deep, but check it with your hinge.

5. See if your hinges have rounded corners or square. Mine were square so I needed to remove the corners left by my router template. For this I used a wood chisel and carefully squared up the corners.

6. Remove the old door, by taking the screws out of the hinges on the door. Leave the hinges attached to the door frame.

7. Hold the door in place so you can line up the hinges. Mark the holes and make pilot holes before you screw.

8. Check it and fix. I had a couple instances where the door stop wasn't letting the new door close. Apparently, the new door is just a touch thicker than the old. To remedy this I carefully removed the door stop (see this post) and moved it around 1/16" inch so the door would close properly.

Hopefully, your measurements were accurate and you're ready to move on to doorknobs!


Monday, May 18, 2009

Make a Larger Drywall Repair

When doing some other repairs for one of my fantastic clients, I was asked to patch a hole in one of their closets. I've covered how to patch a small drywall hole in this post, but today's repair involved a larger area and I handled it just a little differently.

First, I like to cut out a section of drywall to replace. It's always easier to patch if I can make the hole square and not oddly shaped. You can see that after taking out all the cracked/damaged section I was left with a larger hole.

Next, I needed to add something to screw my patch to. My hole was adjacent to a stud so I tacked a nailer there to support the right side. On the left, I screwed the edges of a couple 2x4 scraps so that enough would remain to support the other edge of my patch.

Now it's just a matter of cutting a piece of drywall to fit and screwing it in place. Then, you can mud and tape it just like anything else.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fix for a Droopy Ceiling

Today's project involved looking at a client's ceiling that was sagging a little bit. They told me that they had had a small leak, which had been repaired, but now they needed to fix the ceiling.

The leak had been enough to moisten the ceiling drywall, but not enough to make any major spots, or damage other than the sag.

My first thought was to try and screw it back up. I knew this wasn't the solution when I was using 3" screws and still not hitting the rafters. I got into the attic and moved all the insulation out of the way and saw what we were dealing with. It was sagging at least an inch away from the rafters.

To further complicate things, this house had ceiling radiant heat, though it was no longer in use. This meant that the ceiling was made up of two layers of drywall with heating wires sandwiched in the middle. I'd say that the wires were actually helping it all hold together. The drywall nails certainly weren't holding anything.

The solution was to remove the worst section and replace it with new drywall. Around the section I replaced it took a 2 1/2" drywall screw every few inches to tighten everything down again, but this process seemed to fix the problem. I added some nailers to hold my new drywall and got it all back together.
Now to clean up my mess... :)


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A New Tile Surround

Today, I finished up a job for some clients in Inglewood who are selling their house and wanted to upgrade their surround to tile. Here's the before and after picture:

I ripped out the old acrylic surround which was made up of around 5 large pieces that were glued to the wall. Overall, it did a pretty good job keeping the water in the bathtub, but it didn't match the tile that filled the rest of the room.

For this job I used 4 1/4" square white tiles and white unsanded grout. With 1/16" grout lines, unsanded grout was the recommended choice. They add sand to the mix whenever your grout lines are larger, say 1/8" or more. The sand helps the grout stay firm in the larger gap.

The unsanded grout also has a different feel to it even though the process is the same. It feels more like a gooey slime while the sanded grout feels more like mortar. I actually found it easier to work with and it wasn't quite as messy as the sanded grout.

Anyway, the project turned out great. There were some interesting transitions to old tile and trim that had to be caulked with silicone, but it came together well.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Cutting a Notch in Tile

I got started on another bathroom surround today. My clients have a nice older home on one of my favorite parts of Inglewood. They are actually wanting to sell their home and have decided to upgrade the tub surround to 4 1/4" square tiles.

I spent most of the day tearing out plaster and installing Hardibacker in preparation of laying tile, but had time to get the first couple of rows finished. I had to cut a notch in a few of the tiles to make room for the shower faucet and thought I'd show how I handled that.

If it's in the center of a tile I like to use a carbide-tipped hole saw. However, in this application, the notch was at the edge of several tiles. You could make the notch with the tile-nippers and that works fine. Today I thought it would be quicker to instead use the wet saw.

After marking an outline of where your notch needs to be, make a series of cuts to the depth of your mark. After making the cuts, the small pieces easily break off by hand, or with the nippers.

This process works well for both small tiles and large ones.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

How to Extend a Tub Drain Stopper

This may be a trivial post, but somebody out there will be really happy to have this info...

Last week I was installing the tub drain stopper for my Inglewood bathroom renovation. The problem was that we had decided to install a slightly deeper tub than normal. (Great for soaking, more difficult for tub stoppers!)

The stock tub drain stopper from Home Depot was just slightly too short to stop the water from going down the drain. Here's a solution that I've used to fix this problem a couple of times now:

1. Install the normal tub stopper as directed.

2. Pick up a 1/4" turnbuckle from the hardware store. You can check the diameter of your tub stopper shaft, but most are 1/4".

3. Cut the tub stopper shaft and insert both ends into either end of the turnbuckle. This will allow you to adjust the shaft length as necessary and will extend the tub stopper to fit!

The other alternative to this is to install a pop-up drain that doesn't need the flip-switch mechanism to close the drain. That may be easier, but if you like the switch, you'll need a turnbuckle... :)


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Finishing Up the Inglewood Bathroom Renovation

The past two days have been packed full of final details at my Inglewood bathroom renovation. I've touched up paint, sealed grout, installed the last of the trim, tested all the plumbing and cleaned up my mess. Whew!

Let's remember what it looked like when I started:

It's stepped back a few decades to include wainscoating, pedestal sink, hex tile floor and a subway tile surround. Here are some pictures:

It's fun to see the finished project! Now on to the next... :)


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Built In Bathroom Cabinet

As part of 'trim day' yesterday I not only took care of the wainscoating, but I also built a small cabinet to fit in a small alcove behind the bathroom door in my bathroom renovation.

I had been designing this in my head from the beginning. I thought it would be cool to have a counter with an outlet where the homeowner could put electric razors or a hair dryer, etc- a place to contain the mess. Below the counter I built a two-shelf cabinet with doors.

The cabinet is actually only a cabinet face. The sides and back are just the drywall that was already there. I mounted supports on the wall to hold the shelves and just attached everything to studs that I put in just the right spot when I was framing.

I made the front of the cabinet out of higher-grade pine and the doors are nice plywood. At the bottom I put a 3" toe-kick to give the feeling that this is more like a piece of furniture than just some storage cabinet. It turned out great and looks even better with paint.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Beadboard Wainscoating for the Bathroom

Today I watched my bathroom project transform. It was trim day which is always one of my favorites. The owner wanted all the old house charm in this bathroom- subway tile surround, hex tile floor, and beadboard wainscoating.

The wainscoating I used actually comes in 4x8 sheets. They call it "ply-bead" at Home Depot. (It's in the plywood section not with the paneling.) It achieves the look of beadboard without the associated cost. (Also great for porch ceilings: see this article for more.)
QUICK NOTE: The "bead" in beadboard refers to the little rounded ridges. says that it's a "narrow, half-round moulding".
I started by deciding on the best height for the beadboard. From the beginning of this project I've been considering this so I would keep the outlets out of the way of the top trim on the wainscoating. Mine ended up around 43 1/2" off the floor. I cut my panels at 43" because the baseboard will cover the bottom and this will give me plenty of wiggle room.

Many times people use a height of around 32" because you can get three panels from each sheet of plywood and they even sell these pre-cut at the home stores. However, I think the higher height has more old house character.

The first piece had all the holes for the plumbing and an outlet. It's very important that the edges of your panels are on studs so think about this before you place the first one. Also, the panels are made to overlap- one side has about a 1/2" lip. You want to place your pieces so that you do the receiving piece first and the one with the lip second.

I add a little liquid nails to the wall and put the panels up next. Since they'll have trim covering the top and bottom edges, I'm mainly concerned with getting them level vertically so that the beads don't lean.

Home stores actually sell a paneling cap that is made to go along the top edge of panels like this. It works fine, but I thought it wouldn't fit the look of this room. Instead, I wanted to have a small ledge around the top of my wainscoating where the homeowner could put stuff if they wanted.

To make the ledge, I bought some 1/2" x 2" squared trim pieces that I found at Lowe's. I ripped it to 1 1/2" so that it wouldn't interfere with any switch covers. (You have to think about this stuff!) I put this basically flush with the top edge of the panels, but made sure it was level all the way around. On top of this I added my small ledge that was actually some door stop trim with one rounded edge. I mitered the corners and attached it with wood glue and brads. It looked great!


Monday, May 4, 2009

Seal the Unglazed Floor Tiles

After finishing laying the floor tiles this morning I took care of some fun tasks like installing the long-awaited shower fixture and the bathroom light fixture. It's so cool to finally start seeing a finished product!

The floor tiles are unglazed 1" hex tiles. Unglazed tiles are great for a bathroom floor because they will be a little less slippery than glazed tiles. The downside is that they don't have a protective coating and might absorb some of the grout. White tiles stained with grey grout is not a good thing.

To take care of this issue it is widely recommended that the tiles are sealed prior to grouting. The sealer manufacturer suggests two coats before grouting and each needs a couple hours to dry. So, I gave my floor the first coat this afternoon and will do it again in the morning.
Of course, after the grout sets up, the floor will get another coat of sealer to protect it from stains, etc.

In the meantime, my brain is starting to think about getting some wainscoating on those walls and designing a small built-in cabinet for behind the door. (Yes, I wake up at night thinking about this stuff! It can be a problem... :)


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cutting a Sheet of Mosaic Hex Tile

This week I finally got started laying the unglazed 1" hex tiles for my bathroom renovation. Having done the prepwork beforehand to have a solid flat surface to tile over, I was ready to go.

Before I mixed up the thinset I noticed that I would have around 5 sheets of tile (each around 12" x 12") that would need to be cut as they bordered the tub. I thought I would share how I made these cuts:

1. Measure and use a straight edge to mark the tiles where you want to make the cut. (Not that the sheets of tile must be positioned a certain way to connect correctly.)

2. Next, I put a big piece of blue painter's tape across the sheet so that the edge was on my pencil line. This will help to hold the little tiles in place as I cut them and be my cutting guide when the pencil mark washed off from the spray of the wet saw.

3. I supported the tile sheet with a piece of scrap Hardibacker I had laying around. You could use plywood or anything stiff to support the sheet as you cut.

4. I slid the sheet past the blade on my 7" wet saw. It helps to have a scrap piece of tile or wood to press on the tiles as you slide it through because they will want to move out of line when they get to the blade.

5. After cutting, take the tape off and see how it looks. Once in a while a tile will break where you don't want it to. These tiles can be individually replaced with other small scraps.

I used this method for all my cuts and it worked fairly well. If you have to make cuts on individual tiles, use the ol' tile nippers for that.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Preparing for the Hex Tile Floor

With the surround nearly finished at my bathroom remodel in Inglewood, it was time to prepare the floor for the unglazed 1" hex tiles that would add to the period look of this bath.

Thankfully, the floor was fairly flat and level already. This is important, especially when using small mosaic tile because they'll show any unevenness and make it impossible to keep your grout lines even.

The subfloor in this bath consisted of two layers of 3/4" tongue and groove pine so it was sturdy enough. I just went over the top with 1/4" Hardibacker cementboard to add more stiffness and cover all the seams between the boards.
To lay the Hardibacker I first cut it to fit by scoring it and snapping it. Then, I spread a bed of thinset with my 1/4" notched trowel and nailed it in place with 1 1/4" galvanized nails. Once it was nailed, I covered the two seams with mesh tape and filled them with thinset as well, trying to keep it as flat as possible.

The final preparation is to mark a few layout lines to guide us as we go. I like to make one that is perpendicular to the door and parallel with the tub. This is my main line to follow. I made a few others to use as reference points as well.

Tiling the floor is coming right up!


Friday, May 1, 2009

Grout for the Subway Tile

I got the subway tile grouted today. I used a color called Delorean Gray. (Like "Back to the Future", I guess..)

The gray looks great next to the white tiles. Before grouting it's important to try to scrape most of the hardened thinset out of the grout lines. The grout needs to fill the space between the tiles so the thinset has to go.

I again covered the tub really good with plastic to catch all the falling grout debris. Here's a tip for mixing grout: It takes less water than you think. It's not like mixing pancake batter! :) It only takes 5 pints of water to mix the entire bag of grout, so if you don't need that much, it will really not feel like enough. Just add enough powder to the water so that it's not runny.

After applying the grout with my rubber float, I got ready for the 'sponge-off'. By the time I finished the surround, the part I started with was dry enough to wipe off. By this I mean that you get a sponge and wipe off the excess grout that is streaked across your tiles. Have a bucket or two of clean water available and clean your sponge out very often.

At this point, it's imperative to keep changing out your water for clean water. Otherwise, you'll just keep streaking grout everywhere. If you've got a lot to do, you might enlist a helper to keep refilling your buckets while you do the sponge work.

After a dozen trips down the stairs to refill my buckets, my tile was looking really good. Once it started drying I just wiped them down with a rag to get the last haze off. Later I'll go back and caulk the corners and edges with a special caulk that matches the grout color.

Done right, you'll have a durable surface that may last for decades, so it's best to do it right the first time.