A tile layer or tile setter is a construction professional who designs and sets tile patterns, ranging from tiled floors to the tiles which may line a shower stall. Tile layers classically learn their craft through apprenticeship, working under an experienced tile layer who provides training and practical advice, and they also have some classroom education to learn about the basic principles of tile laying. As with other fields in the construction trade, the amount of training required for a tile layer may be mandated by law to ensure that people can work safely and effectively in this trade.
The job of a tile layer starts with assessing the site where tiles are going to be installed. The tile layer discusses options with the customer, talking about types of tiles which can be used and available color and finish options. While assessing the scene, the tile layer thinks about needs like impact resistance, waterproofing, or the desire for non-slip surfaces to come up with recommendations. He or she may also propose various patterns and designs which may be available, sketching options and measuring the space to determine how many tiles will be needed.
If a patterned design or mosaic is being created, the tile layer will use the measurements to work up a drawing which will be shown to the client to ensure that it looks as expected. With information about the measurements, the tile layer can also place an order for tiles and other supplies, such as grout and tile cement. When all of the supplies are ready, the tile layer can start by preparing the surface where the tiles are to be installed, ensuring that it is smooth and sound before applying tile cement.
Some tile layers lay tiles in sheets which are gently pressed in to the tile cement. Others lay tiles individually, with the assistance of spacers to keep the tiles evenly aligned. Once the tiles have set in the cement, the tile layer adds grout between the tiles to seal the cracks, and he or she can also apply a sealer to make sure that the grout remains waterproof. Grouts can be tinted so that they blend in with the tile color or stand out, depending on taste, and tile layers can also use specialty grouts such as mold-resistant products for bathrooms.
Tile layers can work with glass, ceramic, cement, stone, and plastic tiles. In addition to creating new projects such as tiled floors, pools, counters, and so forth, they can also repair and retrofit existing projects. Their work includes matching and replacing damaged, broken, or missing tiles, along with resealing existing tile installations and making changes in tile installations by request from the owner.
For professional advancement and access to certain types of worksites, tile layers often join a union. Union membership confers certain benefits, including access to health insurance and other services which may be available to union members, and it also protects tile layers from exploitation and abuse.