Category Archives: Tile

How to Remove Thin Set from Concrete Floor

The Last of the Tilehicans. It was actually a little sad tearing out the last one.
The Last of the Tile’hicans.
It was a little sad to remove the last one from it’s place.

I originally thought the task of removing tiles from concrete was a dirty, thankless job but now that I’ve moved onto separating the Thin-Set from the concrete I have a renewed respect for the folks who do this sort of work for a living.

As usual, I Googled for answers on what to do for this next step of my project and I found that using a floor buffer with a $350+ diamond disc is the best way to sand the thin-set from concrete floors – but between renting the buffer machine and buying the diamond disc (you can’t rent, you have to buy those), it would have cost $500-700 which would have negated the money-saving purpose of sanding the concrete floor so we can stain it in the first place. Re-tiling the floor would have cost around the same amount.

This is the diamond cup I used to grind down over 300 sqft of thin-set. Do not try this at home!
This is the 4.5″ diamond cup I used to grind down over 300 sqft of thin-set.
Do not try this at home!

Alternatively, I realized they make diamond discs for the cute little 4.5″ grinder that came free with our SRS roto hammer drill… so the conversation in my head went like this:

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Do you realize how long it would take you to finish 320+ square feet of floor with a 4.5″ diamond disc?”

“So what? We do what we have to in order to save mass amounts of cheese. The mini diamond disc is only $40 and we don’t have to rent a machine for it so we can take as long as we want to finish the job. I don’t see a problem here.”

“Psh, I’m glad it’s you and not me having to do all that grinding.   ….wait!”

“Too late! I bought the mini disc and we’re doin’ this! Game on!”

So the disc was purchased and while Jason finished removing the last of the tile in the laundry and downstairs bath, I started grinding. I tried wet grinding and I tried dry grinding. Both had their perks but I decided wet grinding was too slow and too messy to clean up with the shop vac. Apparently those little vacuum attachments that suck up the dust as you grind are not a big seller so none of the local tool stores carry them. Because of this, I decided to grind a few square feet then vacuum the area as best I could to try to keep the dust to a minimum… haha! What a sweet, ignorant woman-child I was.

This is the dust accumulation from only about 3 hours of grinding.
This is the dust accumulation from only about 3 hours of grinding.

Dust. Dust EVERYWHERE! After grinding about 12 square inches the room would be thick with a fog of dust. It was terrible.

I finally figured out that by leaving all doors and windows open and blasting a work fan on the area I was grinding I could at least keep visibility around 85-90% and I could do more than a foot of grinding between vacuumings.

I am fully aware that this was not the best, nor the safest way to go about the job and I apologize to any neighbors that might have been hit with my could of dust – but after working for 7 hours and seeing only about 30 square feet of progress you get a little crazed and desperate. I worked on this project for over two weeks, making very little progress every day… near the end of the project I was often in tears over how sick of grinding I was.


Lanna bruised knees Lanna dusty Lanna hand

Thank heavens I had the amazing respirator I had, it would have been extremely dangerous had I not worn that level of protection. The dust wound up in every nook and cranny of my ears, nails, between my toes and other odd places. My skin began to break out in rashes all over and became scabbed and rough as if I’d been sandblasted. My hair became dry and brittle and nearly impossible to wash because the trapped dust turned to cement mud as soon as I hopped in the shower. My knees were bruised all over from kneeling for so many hours even though I wore kneepads. My hand joints became so sore and achey that I felt like I was getting a terrible case of arthritis – I am only now, 4 days after finishing the project, starting to not feel such pain in my hands.

The moral of this story is that there are some projects that aren’t worth taking extreme shortcuts on. This was one of them. If you need to grind thin-set from the floor of a small room, say 80-100 sqft., then using a diamond disc on an angle grinder will work beautifully and the project should only take a couple of days and cost you a measly $40 plus a replacement shop vac filter. Otherwise, hire a pro or at least rent the appropriate tools if you can afford them. Other tools you may want to consider when grinding thin-set are:

  • an awesomesauce shop vac and a spare filter
  • a wire scrub brush to loosen up the mud residue if you’re doing wet grinding
  • goggles are better than safety glasses – the dust will really irritate your eyes
  • knee pads
  • good jammin’ tunes so you don’t go mad listening to the grinder screech for hours
  • Full body clothes and gloves. Expose yourself to the dust as little as possible
This is an example of the thin-set I was working with. it was between 1/4" and 1/2" thick in places. The smooth area near the door is how it looked after I worked on it.
This is an example of the thin-set I was working with. it was between 1/4″ and 1/2″ thick in places. The smooth area near the door is how it looked after I worked on it.
The floor is finished! The dust clean up took me another 3 hours and 3 clean-outs of the shop vac.
The floor is finished! The dust clean up took me another 3 hours and 3 clean-outs of the shop vac.

How to Remove Tile From Concrete

Welcome to Home Renovation Jeopardy!

Answer: SRS Roto Hammer Drill

Question: How to get those damn tiles off of a concrete floor without breaking my back?

MakitaAfter struggling to find a means of removing the tile in the kitchen I stumbled across a YouTube video demonstrating how well a rotary hammer drill accomplishes this task.  Soon after, I found a deal on a 1″ roto drill and a “free” 4.5″ grinder for only $199 at Home Depot (I swear I’m not trying to promote Home Depot, they’re just the only decent home improvement box store in my area) and once I realized that for the same price of renting a massive tile stripper machine for one day I could play for keeps with a hammer drill and grinder, the drill and grinder won. I mean, hey, I should have plenty of projects in the future to use those on.

As much fun as it is, tile removal is not a pretty job. It’s dusty (for health’s sake, wear your dust masks, people!!), and noisy, and not at all glamourous. Expect to get hit with loads of flying tile shards as you work. But daaamn does it feel good to rip into materials as solid as ceramic tile and concrete like they’re butter under a warm knife! I also love the fact that a hammer drill is just as easy for a weakling like myself to use as it is for a buff man. All you have to do is gently press the drill to the edge of the tile and off it goes! It does all the hard work for you, and in fact, it works better if you put little effort into it at all.

In roughly 8 hours of work time we’ve removed all floor tiles in the house except for the ones in the laundry room and downstairs bath. The only reason we haven’t knocked those out yet is because we need to keep a door or window open so our fan can help manage the dust and the weather simply hasn’t been cooperating this week. Right now, as I type, it’s a balmy 2°f out there. ::shivers::

Tomorrow through Friday should be much warmer, around 45°, and hopefully I can finish all tile removal by the weekend so I can start cleaning up the 1/8″ of cement dust currently resting on EVERYTHING in the kitchen. Yuck.

Coming soon: how to grind Thin Set (the cement-like glue stuff you’ll find under the tiles) off of cement.

You can't see it, but we're giving our fiercest tile battling war-cries under those masks.
You should know we’re giving our fiercest tile battling war-cries under those masks.


Renovations: Day 6

This past week has been so much fun for me; ripping into walls and smashing tiles, tearing down cabinets and diligently learning -via YouTube videos- how to do each step of all of these projects.  I’ve spent the week alone in Brake Manor (while my sweet hubby works the day job so we can afford to do this…) with the tunes cranked and donning my dust mask and goggles like a rockstar.  Jason was able to come work with me this weekend and the job was even more fun with him at my side. [insert girly swoon here]

As of this morning, here’s where we’re at:

Gas Leak1. the final gas leak has been found and repaired. I eventually gave up and had to call in a pro. It turns out the leak was a lengthwise split in one of the pipes deep in an inaccessible attic-space.  It was an expensive fix but the fact that I didn’t have to swim in loose fiberglass insulation made it totally worth it.

No Wallpaper2. all wallpaper has been removed, sans behind the toilet in the downstairs bath. I’m still a little afraid to remove the toilet yet. I also scraped all the popcorn (non-asbestos popcorn, don’t worry) from the ceiling.

3. the vanity in the bathroom has been removed, walls have been cleaned off and are ready for a skim coat (sans, of course, behind the toilet. I figure I’ll try to do that tonight when Jason can help me lift it).

4. all kitchen wall cabinets and backsplash tiles have been removed, and all lower cupboards except for the one with the sink have been detached so they can be shifted around as we work on the floor.

With Kitchen CabinetsWithout Kitchen Cabinets

5. demo on the kitchen tile is about halfway done. We wanted to leave the cute white tile with charcoal grout but the floor wasn’t tiled under the cabinets (as you can see on the right hand side of the above photos), and we were unable to find the same tile anywhere so we had to do it since we don’t plan on keeping the same cabinet configuration.

I’ve taken today off to catch up on my day-job duties and research options for grinding the Thin-set off of the concrete where the tiles used to be, but hopefully this evening I can head back over to the Manor to kock out a few more floor tiles and move that toilet. The rest of the week is supposed to be a balmy 46-48˚which will make it a little less miserable to run the fresh-air fan with an open door while sanding; but then it’s supposed to drop back into the 20’s and snow on Saturday. Here’s hoping I can manage to finish tearing up the floor and make all the runs to the dump before the snow hits.