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Cutting Corners

We were on a roll. Seriously. Work actually cranked along on *Saturday* this past weekend. Normally, even when Tim thinks he’s going to get work done on Saturday, it doesn’t happen. The house gets cleaned, but that usually seems to take center stage, and the other “work” ends up getting justifiably tossed to the side until Monday.  But this past Saturday morning? Life was good.

I began fantasizing about bringing in the sink and its lovely, 1930’s-vintage-inspired polished chrome legs; the faucet; the shower head; the towel/grab bars and robe hooks from their (still cold, despite the fact that it’s April 9th, dammit) temporary holding pen out in the garage. I learned a long time ago, though, not to break into the boxes that cradle them, quiet and shiny and unblemished by hard water stains, to swoon at their classic beauty and dream of them in their quotidian functionality, because, well. . . As close as this feels to being done, I just knew from experience that any number of unforeseen delays could await, and what felt like another week or two of effort might stretch impossibly into the future.

We’re through more than half of the tiling of the walls of our really-not-very-big hall bathroom. Yet, not really half the effort. Maybe a quarter. Because facing us this week is the dreaded outside corner. This is one of the reasons, 2+ years ago, we spent a lot of money on a pretty-darned-good tile saw (with full water table), knowing we’d have to be cutting a fair number of 45-degree mitered corners on finicky stone tiles that are brittle and chippy and just hanging around in their stupid little 30-pound boxes, waiting to ruin your day when you cut them at any angle other than 90-degrees.

So picture the possible corners of the walls in a room. Most, blessedly, are “inside corners.” These are what you think of when you think of a corner in a room. Someplace you need to find a big plant, or a special piece of furniture to fill so it doesn’t look empty. Occasionally though, especially in a bathroom, you have an “outside corner.” Think of a corner on the outside of your house or building. It’s the opposite 90-degrees from the corners on the inside of the rooms in your house, right?

The inside corners are relatively easy for tiling. No special, angled cuts. You just run the tiles to one corner, then, on the perpendicular wall, run the tiles out from that same corner, butting the end of one against the flat surface of its corner-partner. Yeah, you might have to cut them to fit properly, and if you have a great tile guy (as I’m blessed to have), he’s thought the layout out ahead of time, so that the cuts for the end pieces at one end of the wall are the same length as the cuts for the end pieces at the other end of the wall. (If you pay attention, you’ll be surprised at how often this isn’t the case, and the end pieces aren’t even from one end to the next. Most normal people wouldn’t notice it. But I am now among the cursed – I mean blessed – who do).

The outside corners, though, are another matter entirely. They require, if you’re going to do it in style, 45-degree, mitered cuts where those corner tiles meet, and an even, straight line, right up the full corner of the wall. On an inside corner, you can fudge, just a little, with grout. With an outside mitered corner, though, there’s little room for error, and the weight of the world hangs in the balance (Because you never notice an outside corner. Unless it’s not straight). There are only so many pieces of stone waiting in those boxes. There are only so many opportunities for a wobble of the blade or a tiny change in density to cause a chip and send an entire tile (or at least half a tile) to the scrap pile.

We spent over an hour (and I do mean *we* – it was both of us out there in the cold, 41-degree drizzle and flying micro-bits of wet stone dust) yesterday, speculating on, then testing, a variety of techniques to quickly stabilize the blade at the beginning of a cut to prevent a slight, but irredeemable curve at the top or bottom of a given tile, which would render it perfectly useless. We were like two mad scientists, carefully noting the effect of each alteration we’d introduce, until finally, we hit upon a successful combination of variables and I beat a shivering, damp retreat into the warm house, feeling beyond grateful that it was him, and not me, who was going to have to be out there, doing this another 50-or-so times.

After much discussion and consideration this morning in the unrelenting, misty April chill, we concluded that it was best to do the two cuts for each side of the mitered corner of a given row of tiles first, then install the rest of the tiles in that row, out to each respective end. And all-in-all, it was a reasonably successful day, cutting corners, and laying in 7 respectable, hard-earned courses. It’ll look like hell until all the thinset dries and gets cleaned off tomorrow, but progress is progress, and, maybe symbolically, before sunset this evening, the clouds were starting to break and blue sky peeked through, hopefully a metaphor for tomorrow.

dry-fit bathroom corner
Morning Dry-Fit
Afternoon progress 1
Afternoon Progress 1
Afternoon progress 2
Afternoon Progress 2

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