Tile setters install hard tile and marble to floors, walls, ceilings, and roof decks. Tile is a popular material in hospitals, tunnels, lobbies, bathrooms, and kitchens due to its durability and ease of cleaning. Tile setters begin their work by measuring the area to be covered. They set tile in either cement or "mastic", a sticky paste. When using cement, they nail a supportive metal mesh to the surface, apply a cement mortar, let it dry, apply another coat of mortar, and apply the tile. When using "mastic", they use a tooth-edged trowel to spread mastic on the surface. Then they position the tile on the surface.
Tile is extremely variable in color, shape, and size. Because of this, tile setters often arrange the tile on a different surface than the one they intend to cover. This way, they can ensure the right fit and cut tiles with machine saws. After the tiles are set in place on the end surface, they tap the surface with trowels. And when the cement or mastic has set, they fill the joints with a fine cement called "grout", scrape away excess grout, and finish the joints with a damp sponge.
Aspiring tile setters should have a number of desirable traits. They should have excellent manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination. They need to be physically fit. A good aptitude for solving quick mathematical problems is very helpful.
In 2002, tile setters earned a median hourly wage of $17.20. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $10.21, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $28.22.
Training and Education
Some tile setters learn their skills in an informal way by working under the supervision of experienced workers. Most employers prefer to hire setters who have completed formal apprenticeship programs, usually sponsored by local unions and employers. Apprenticeship programs combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction, which is typically held once or twice a week at training centers and covers all aspects of the work. Graduates of these programs are much more desirable to employers because they are fully trained.
In order to be considered for admission to apprenticeship programs, applicants must be at least 18 years old and hold a high school diploma or equivalent. Some employers also require a background check and a driver's license. Sometimes a written test or interview are required. Most programs last about 3 to 4 years. With experience, tile setters may become supervisors or estimators, or they may start their own businesses. In fact, many employees who work for large contractors end up starting their own businesses. Visit this page about trade schools for more information on related careers.
In 2002, tile setters held about 33,000 jobs. Most worked for flooring contractors or floor covering retailers.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of tile setters is expected to increase faster than the average. There will be a continued need to renovate and refurbish existing structures. Growth will also stem from population and business growth, which will result in more construction of shopping malls, hospitals, schools, restaurants, and other structures where tile is a key component. Tile will continue to be used in more expensive construction.