This article goes into detail for those homeowners and contractors looking for a good tile removal tool. Have you ever looked around your kitchen or bathroom and decided you needed a change? Perhaps you immediately thought about your bank account and realized there was no way you would be able to hire a home improvement contractor from Angie’s List anytime soon, unless they were giving away free tile or willing to remove your popcorn ceiling at no charge. You were then led down the Google and Pinterest rabbit hole to try and figure out how to tackle this project yourself.
Many before have tried and succeeded, but plenty has also tried and failed. If experience is not the differentiator in these two groups, how can you be sure of success instead of failure? No one wants to call in an expensive contractor to fix avoidable mistakes.
The key to ending up with a professional looking project to wow your friends and family is merely a matter of having the right tools and understanding how to use them effectively. Though there are many aspects of home remodeling an ambitious DIY might want to take on, one of the most common projects is replacing floor tile. There are several reasons to do your own flooring removal:
- Ceramic tile for floors gets a massive amount of use and can be damaged or worn out much sooner than other features of a room, such as a washing machine or other appliances, backsplashes or fixtures.
- Merely replacing the tile flooring and perhaps doing a bit of paint can dramatically change the look of a room without having to invest in anything new other than the flooring.
- The process is relatively simple to understand and execute without any prior experience, though it may be time-consuming for beginners.
- Redoing the floor tile does not take a room out of commission for long. You can still have full use of your house during this process if you do not mind a bit of construction material lying around.
The first phase of this project is to remove the existing tile, including sanded grout, unsanded grout, and non-sanded grout; however, this is much easier said than done. These “smart tiles” bond typically to the underlying concrete flooring with a mortar-based adhesive called thinset.
Thinset mortar is not a simple glue that keeps the tile in place. Thinset is practically hard as stone once it dries and is, therefore, much more difficult to break through and remove than the epoxy-based adhesives frequently used to secure tile to drywall for a backsplash or shower enclosure. Consequently, it is not usually possible to pop tile off and remove grout lines with a hammer and chisel or floor scraper.
A tile floor tends to cover a significant amount of space as well so trying to remove it with simple hand tools would make for a long and arduous process. Just be sure you are not removing any asbestos-containing materials sometimes found in vinyl flooring.
Since basic hand tools have been ruled out, what options are there for removing tile and grout or a tile backsplash? If you are into hard manual labor, then you can attempt to pry up the floor tile with a straight hoe or putty knife. This method is the same basic concept as prying with a chisel and hammer but gives the user more leverage to break through the thinset bond. Depending on the installation of the tile flooring and what type of thinset used, this may or may not work.
The process will still take a long time and produce a fair amount of dust as the tiles come up, which needs cleaning later. Another way possible is to use a sledgehammer to break up the tile and then scoop it all up, using a straight hoe or chisel to pry up any small pieces left behind. While this can be therapeutic for those who have had a recent stressful day, it is still physically demanding and runs the risk of damaging the base underneath the thinset. You can also expect to produce a fair amount of dust and debris.
If you are looking for a tile removal tool to get the job done quickly and with less physical exertion than the methods already described, consider using an electric chipping hammer. This power tool is lighter than a sledgehammer and much easier maneuver than a straight hoe.
This device uses a chisel bit that pistons back and forth rapidly, and with a good deal of force to break through the tile and thinset faster than any other method you might try. As this video shows, anyone can use an electric chipping hammer to do quick work for the removal of any tile installation.
The high-powered chisel busts through the thinset layer and breaks tile away; it also works well for tile grout removal tools. Note, this is not a tile removal method viable for those who want to save any of the tiles removed. However, this is a must-have tool for home improvement contractors who must frequently remove old tile and make it as dust free as possible.
How to Use an Electric Chipping Hammer Step-By-Step Instructions
- Be safe. Powerful tools and can easily cause injury if used improperly. Do not use it close to anyone else and be sure to wear heavy gloves and boots to protect your feet.
- With the hammer off, place the tip against the floor tiles, wall tile or other material you need to demolish. Do this at an angle and not straight on and allow the chisel to chip away the material instead of trying to go straight through. If you try to work parallel to the surface you are clearing, then you will only succeed in making the chisel skip over the surface. Luckily, it is more natural to keep the tip at an angle instead of parallel, so this should not be too difficult.
- With a tight grip on the tool and while applying firm pressure to the area where the tip is contacting the adhesive material, pull the trigger and allow the tool to do the work.
- Work in short bursts. When done correctly, the tile will remove quickly, and you will frequently have to adjust your position to keep up and maintain the right amount of pressure on the tooling spot.
- Start at the edge of the room and try to work toward where the cleanup will happen, so you do not need to move more debris than necessary.
A seemingly unavoidable aspect of tile removal and removing grout is a lot of dust can be created as the adhesive layer, such as thinset, is broken through when prying the tiles up as well as tile grout removal or when using a regrout tool to remove grout haze or regrout tile.
Manual methods such as this are even more impactful when using a power tool. Silica dust from thinset can get distributed in the air quickly and find its way into all sorts of areas you might not think of, like drawers and vents. It is common practice to lay down plastic sheeting and tape up anything to protect from this kind of work. Unfortunately, even doing this does not guarantee the dust will not find its way where you would rather not have it go. Dust can hang in the air for quite a while and even get circulated into other rooms if there is inadequate ventilation.
You may have noticed nowhere in the instructions above was there any mention of preparing the workspace or cleaning up afterward. The reason for this is because in addition to your electric chipping hammer you should also use a remover tool called the DustRam®.
The DustRam® is an attachment that goes on the hammer and surrounds the chisel. When attached to a high-quality vacuum, it sucks up any dust before it becomes airborne while chipping through the tile. In the previous video link above the worker uses the electric chipping hammer to plow through floor tile using the DustRam® for this exact purpose. Notice how she does not have any protective sheeting anywhere and is simply wearing a visor to protect her face from the debris. She does not even need to take the precaution of wearing a dust mask because the DustRam® quickly sucks in all airborne dust, even from a foot away.
The DustRam® is useful because of its specialized design at capturing dust, compared to other tools. Since the intake opening surrounds the chisel, dust can be sucked in from all directions. When using the hammer in tight spaces, or walls, this comes in handy where gravity might otherwise encourage the dust to fall. There are additional intake holes around the DustRam® which capture ambient dust not created at the site of the chiseling action. These additional holes keep all generated dust completely under control to the point where the only cleanup necessary is removing the chunks of tile. Oscillating multi-tool devices no matter how expensive cannot make this claim.
Using the DustRam® in conjunction with an electric chipping hammer severely cuts down on the amount of time it takes to remove the tile, due to both the quick action of the hammer and the simultaneous cleanup of the DustRam®. Many home improvement contractors already use electric chipping hammers to remove tile, but most do not know about the DustRam® or end up using cheaper alternatives that are only virtually dust-free.
The “virtually” qualifier, in this case, means that a large amount of dust collected during tile removal will escape into the air. If you are using a virtually dust-free attachment you would still need to wear a dust mask to protect your airway, and will still be finding dust on your surfaces hours after what escaped has a chance to settle. There is no comparison between the competition and the DustRam® if you want an easy to use tool that eliminates the dusty mess.
After removing floor tile, there is still the matter of removing the thinset used to adhere it to the concrete underneath. Sometimes, the electric chipping hammer can be used to chisel away at this thinset. In many cases, however, this is not the most effective or fastest way to accomplish this task. It is much quicker to use a grinder with a diamond type grinding surface to break down the relatively soft stone. The size of the grinder does not particularly matter, but larger grinders will obviously get the job done more quickly.
It should come as no surprise when grinding thinset down even more dust is created than when removing the tile. In fact, the sole byproduct of this process is dust. It can be tricky to handle this properly, but that is where the DustRam® System comes back into play. Not only is there the DustRam® attachment for your electric chipping hammer, but the DustRam® System for contractors also includes attachments for grinders to create a dust-free grinding experience.
The PulseRam® patented vacuum with the other tools concentrates its suction power right at the source of the dust, where the grinding face meets the thinset. The system also includes several shapes of skirts that envelop the grinder and contains the dust from escaping before it gets away. Using this system again means no prep work has to be done to prevent unwanted dust from entering areas that should be kept clean.
Once you are done grinding down and removing the thinset, the surface is usually ready for applying new tile or another flooring.
The same claim cannot be said for any other method of thinset removal. Though there are also grinders with vacuums that claim to be virtually dust-free, none of them capture the dust in the way that the DustRam® System does.
With so many tools that can be used to remove tile and thinset; they all have their pros and cons. One thing they have in common is every single traditional option will leave you with a massive mess to clean up.
The only way to remove tile quickly and have as little mess to deal with as possible is to combine the right power tools with the DustRam® System. Being able to clean up all the dust as you go is an incredible benefit that pays for itself in no time.