Book Reviews

Review: Ceramic tile books

(Last updated November 25, 2006)

Most books on laying ceramic tile are really just "encouragement" books that omit many critical details. Although the home improvement shows on TV make it look easy, the results can be a nightmare if you don't plan properly. Only the Black & Decker Ceramic Tile book describes underlayment adequately. None of the books mention more modern underlayments like Ditra.

The Complete Guide to Ceramic & Stone Tile by Black & Decker (254 pages)
score +5
This book describes in complete detail the tools and techniques for installing floor tile, wall tile, tile countertops, outdoor tile, patios and walkways, and decorative projects. Also covers tile maintenance and repairing tile. It's the only one that fully describes how and when to use cement backer board, how to repair subfloors, and other tasks. Removing the old floor material can be the most labor-intensive part of laying tile. I was disappointed, however, to find that it didn't mention my favorite technique for surface preparation: shooting it with an AK-47 to loosen up the old tile. (Just kidding.) Full of high-quality color photos and ideas for unusual tile arrangements. Has less detail on grout than the other books.

Ceramic Tile Setting by J.P. Bridge (226 pages)
score +3
This is an informative, no-nonsense ceramic tile book. It's the only one that mentions that tile will raise your floor by one inch or more, and describes how to lower the subfloor if necessary. In contrast to the previous book, this author recommends against ever using cement backerboard. The writer doesn't sugar-coat the task. He even looks like a professional tilesetter--the photos show him with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth or eating a sandwich and a beer on the job. There are also tongue-in-cheek sections on how to stand around looking authoritative: "The cardinal rule is," says the author, "never take your eyes off the work; make it seem as difficult as possible."

The book is divided into four main sections: tools, ceramic tile floors, ceramic tile walls, and ceramic tile counters. With the exception of four pages in the middle, all the photos are black-and-white. There are few if any design tips.

Ceramic and Stone Tiling: A Complete Guide by J. Ripley (144 pages)
score +2
This book is written from a British perspective. Things are done a little differently in the UK, but the results are just as good. The author places great emphasis on measuring and planning the entire job before starting, and on making sure the final job is neat and professional, using old-fashioned but well-tested methods. Details like floor preparation are largely omitted. Contains many diagrams and color photographs, and even a few pages on stone tiling and the problems therewith, for the more adventuresome do-it-yourselfer.

The Complete Guide to Flooring: Design, Planning, & Installation for all Types of Flooring by Black & Decker (254 pages)
score +2
If, after reading the other three books, you decide that ceramic tile is way too much trouble, this book will give you some ideas about some alternatives. Chapters include hardwood floor covering, ceramic, stone and vinyl, carpeting, floor finishes, and floor and stair repairs. Emphasis is mostly on hardwood floors. Contains many high-quality color photographs. Unique sections include laying sound-absorbing underlayment, floor-warming systems, and attic subfloors.