Levelling & Battening

An essential part of any tiling job, when it comes to producing the sort of finish that makes a piece of tiling into a high quality wall or floor finish, levelling and battening is vitally important. When dealing with a tiled floor, for example, a smooth and level surface can make a big difference in a situation such as a bathroom, where it is easily possible to slip or stub a toe if the floor is less than perfectly levelled or if tiles are less than perfectly aligned. On walls too, the finished surface of the tiling will be adversely affected if the tiles are not fixed in straight, horizontal and vertical lines, relative to the floor or when they are not fixed properly in relation to each other and to the angles of the wall.

Options for levelling
 To start with, there are a number of different ways for do it yourself enthusiasts to ascertain how level a floor or other surface is. The tools required go beyond just the traditional carpenter’s spirit level. Increasingly, more sophisticated digital and laser solutions are available, even for home use and the most suitable tool can be chosen, according to the uses to which it will be put.

Manual levels
 Even the more traditional manual instruments can be purchased in a number of versions. The basic spirit level, for example, is available in a variety of lengths and still has a place in the toolkit of any do it yourself enthusiast. The plumb vial is used to measure the vertical plain, making the instrument a useful tool in many tiling situations. In addition, a torpedo level with a rotating vial adds even more to the flexibility of the fixed vial spirit level, so that any angle, between 0° and 90°, can be easily and efficiently checked with a manual instrument.

Other manual levels on the market include the line level and the bull’s eye level, which can be used over long distances and for multi-directional levels, respectively. Some useful tiling tools now incorporate levels, for example the multifunctional Multi-tool. A set of manual levels therefore comprises a wide-ranging collection of instruments, each serving a slightly different purpose.

Digital and laser levels
 More modern equipment for measuring levels is increasingly finding its way into many domestic toolboxes. A digital level can provide an easier to read display than the traditional spirit level or it can be part of a more advanced ‘smart tool’ kit. Increasingly, laser style levels are complementing or replacing the older style of bubble spirit levels in do it yourself projects. They add speed and reliability to level checking; they are especially useful in situations where there is only one person carrying out a job in a large area, such as when tiling an entire room, an outdoor patio or other extensive areas.

Battening and levelling
 During the tiling process, it is not just the tiles that need to be checked with a level, such as when they are laid on the floor.  In addition, the battens that are used to hold and place tiles, for example on walls, also need to be checked with a level, and these battens themselves also come in a number of different types, from which the best variety for the location and tiling style can be chosen.

Batten materials
 Batten and counter-batten patterns are arranged according to the position and size of the tiles that are to be fixed in place. While different sorts of batten are available, it is usual for them to be available in different sorts of wood, although aluminium battens are becoming more widely used.. The size of each batten will be dictated by the tiling arrangement, the type of wood might be decided according to a number of factors, including availability and texture. Of the widely available materials, pine is widely considered to be a favourite, thanks to the fact that it is relatively good value and the ease with which it can be stained or painted. However, pine is also a soft wood, which is vulnerable to splitting, sagging and warping, so this should also be considered when choosing a batten material for a specific situation. Other types of wood, such as hard woods, may be more expensive, but may also be less liable to warp.In addition to wood, battens can also be made out of plastic or metal. These materials may complement the tiling design more effectively in terms of colour; plastic in particular may provide a reliable alternative in environments where, for example, a high level of moisture is present. Even so, wood is often preferred as a material due to the ease with which it can be worked and therefore its adaptability for different tiling patterns and room shapes. However, timber battens can be difficult to fix and there is a risk of drilling, screwing or nailing through pipes, cables or dampproof membranes. Free-standing, adjustable aluminium battens, like the Tiletracker, avoid these problems.

 Finally, using both the level measure and the battens, it is important to fix the position of the first tile in a pattern with a high degree of accuracy. When tiling a wall, for example, if the first tile is as straight as possible, flush with the batten and checked for level, the rest of the tiling will be easier to fix accurately into position. On the other hand, a poorly positioned first tile can easily lead to complications as further tiles are placed into position. If the subsequent tiles do run out of level, it could be that more cutting is required in order to bring the row back into line. If a pattern is involved, it may prove exceptionally difficult to match the tiles accurately enough to produce a satisfactory finish.

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