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When humans first moved from the caves and began building homes, they used mud, stone, straw and sticks; this was essentially the first form of masonry. It was from these early attempts at building that the masonry related career of tilesetter evolved. The profession of tilesetting is rooted deep in history. Did you know the first clay tiles were produced seven to eight thousand years ago, in the area now referred to as the Holy Land?

It may sound simple, but tilesetting is an involved process that takes knowledge, focus, attention to detail and even artistic ability. A tilesetter is knowledgeable about the different types of bases and mixes used with specific tiles. These workers are skilled in applying a variety of tiles from ceramic and terrazzo to glass, granite and marble. They apply tile to walls, floors, ceilings, fireplaces, arches, swimming pools, circular walls and stairways.

Tilesetters need the ability to visualize the layout of the tiles and the skills to create that vision. This is where the creativity comes into this trade. They also work on restorative and repair work from regular tiling to complicated mosaics. Due to the permanent nature of most structures, tilesetters have their chance to be a part of history. Whether it is in a private home, or a public building, their work is on display for everyone to see. Because, of the highly visible nature of this work most tilesetters take extra care and pride in their work.
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
First it is important that tilesetters know how to prepare the surfaces for the tile, to ensure a long life for the installation. People who work as tilesetters are interested in working with their hands, and most of them enjoy the being able to see the results of their hard work. They must also be physically fit and able to work on their knees for extended periods of time when tiling a floor space. Tilesetters need to be skilled with tools as occasionally they use power tools for the cutting and shaping of tiles. It is also important that these workers have good color matching skills and a sense of design.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Prepare, measure and mark surface to be covered
  • Build underbeds and install anchor bolts, wires and brackets
  • Mix, apply and spread mortar, cement, mastic, glue or other adhesives using hand trowel
  • Set tiles in position and apply pressure to affix tiles to base
  • Align and straighten tile using levels, squares and straightedges
  • Cut and fit tiles around obstacles and openings using hand and power cutting tools
  • Pack grout into joints between tiles and remove excess grout
  • Install tile strips
  • Lay and set mosaic tiles to create decorative wall, mural and floor designs
  • Mix, lay and polish terra surfaces
  • Tile setters generally work a 40-hour week unless longer hours are needed to complete a project to deadline. They will work indoors and outdoors depending on the project. For swimming pools and outdoor walls and walkways they will be working outdoors. People in this field have to be able to work on their knees or in odd positions like when tiling ceilings. Tilesetters spend their day preparing surfaces, mixing adhesives and backing, applying tile and cleaning up the work area.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Tilesetters are employed by construction companies and masonry contractors or they may be self-employed.

  Long Term Career Potential  
The long term potential for these workers is good. With experience and a good work ethic tilesetters can supervise others in the field, start up their own businesses or possibly become an educator at a training facility.

  Educational Paths  
Tilesetters receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory in all areas to become a tilesetter, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position, however wages are about 50 percent of what an employer pays the journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their industry training and apprenticeship office awards the tilesetter a certificate of completion.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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