In a feat that has taken me weeks of very uncomfortable work, the slate tile sheets have all been successfully grouted. The edges are clean and so the tiling mess is done!
Just a reminder, here's what it looked like over two years ago, when all of this started: brown stucco, painted Mexican tiles, and too much saltillo.
And look at it now! It's gorgeous and I am so proud of Dan and myself. It almost makes drawing this project out for so long less painful. We needed to take our time and be perfectionists to end up with these results.
So, let me explain what I actually did instead of continuing to drool over my work. When Dan placed all the slate tiles on the curved fireplace surface, there was a gap between the edges of the sheets and the surrounding walls. He went through and snapped extra tiles and stuck them in the gaps, however, the line was still rough and, without working tirelessly with a tile saw, there was still a gap between then edge of the tiles and the walls. It would have been nearly impossible to cut tiles to fill that gap. In the image below, you can see were he started to fill in the gaps with tile fragments at the top.
What we decided to do to fill the gap was to grout it. This sounds easy in theory, but it turned out to be quite a mixed bag.
The first problem we ran into was the color. We both wanted the grout to blend smoothly into the tiles. To be unnoticeable. However, the slate tiles have a pretty unique color. It took some time and some specially ordered grout, but I mixed a variety of colors of grout until we had the perfect match. (In case you are wondering, it was three parts black, one part white, and two parts 'Admiral Blue'.)
Then, with a line of painter's tape, a ziploc baggie full of grout, and a glove, I piped grout into the gaps. It was like icing a really expensive, time consuming cake. Fortunately, the grout is water soluble, so mistakes were pretty easy to clean up. Perfectly clean tile borders!
That was the easy part. You know what took forever? The opening of the fireplace.
You can see in the image below what I started with. The opening of the fireplace had been so beaten up over the course of this project. Removing the original tiles around the opening tore up the inside surface and there was the new edge from the slate tiles. It was ugly.
It ended up taking me three layers of grout, but I grouted and smoothed the entire opening. When you see this much of the grout, it doesn't look like a very good color match, but it's a much better match in person, rather than in pictures.
The grout smoothed over the unevenness of the inner edge from removing the old tiles. More importantly, it curved around the edges of the tiles to match them to the curved opening of the fireplace. It does look a little rough, but after several weekends of grouting and developing a strong strategy, I assure you, this is as good as it possibly gets. You would have to really look hard to judge this grout job in person.
And, fortunately, with the fireplace grate on the front, it is nearly impoosible to see. The grouted interior creates the illusion that the tile wraps around the edge.
I'm sol glad it's done. Now, we can start looking at getting flooring put into the room. We had been holding off until the tile was done so we wouldn't accidentally ruin brand new carpet with some messy grouting.
A future problem could be with the water solubility of the grout. If I tripped and threw a glass of water at the fireplace right now, it would undo all my work. But, for now, pre-kids, I'm not too worried. Something we'll just have to think about and solve in the distant future.