My education in layout began in a large manufacturing and repair shop for machinery. For six months, I was apprenticed to a layout specialist who taught me how to plot accurate layout and machining lines on rough iron castings. Almost 45 years later, I still use the skills I learned on rough castings, applying them to the not-so-perfect floors, walls, countertops, and ceilings I have to cover with tile. Most layouts are simple, with only a few lines required to guide the tiles; but some can be quite complex, requiring a lot of thought, patience, and time to plot.

For tile installation, I use the term "layout" to refer not just to a set of chalk lines, but also to an entire systematic process. Whether the job is simple or complicated, there are two main goals behind the layout process. The first is to provide an accurate framework of chalk, pencil, or laser lines to guide the placement of tiles....

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