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    Department of Labor & Workforce Development
     NJ Building & Construction Trades Council

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Tile, Marble, and Terrazzo Setters

The work of these skilled professionals is seen everywhere: the grand marble lobbies of high-end hotels and office buildings…the ceramic tile-lined Lincoln and Holland tunnels…the expansive floors of shopping malls…your own kitchen or bathroom.

Tile, marble and terrazzo surfaces are aesthetic and highly durable. They are impervious to water and easy to clean - characteristics that have made them popular building materials in a wide array of commercial and industrial settings including hospitals, lobbies of buildings, bathrooms, and kitchens.

The men and women practicing this craft must have an artistic flair and an eye for precision. Tiles, such as those covering walls and floors in kitchens and bathrooms, or the large slabs of marble that cover the walls in hotel lobbies and office buildings, must be perfectly aligned. Designs crafted from tile and terrazzo require careful setting. These skills and others that make up the tile, marble and terrazzo trade are engrained by years of training and experience.

In the northern part of New Jersey (considered everything above Route 33, which dissects the state through Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth counties) a craftsman chooses to master one of the three materials and works with only that material. In the southern part of New Jersey, craftsmen work with all three materials.

Tile, marble and terrazzo all have different qualities and purposes. Each is installed using moderately different methods. On surfaces that are very uneven, "mud" (a compilation of sand and cement) is used to fill gaps and cavities so the material is applied to a level surface. Regardless of the material being set, there is always a two-person team working in tandem. However, the setting process varies for each of the three materials.

A tile setter is assisted by a tile finisher. . The finisher prepares the work site, setting up the material for the setter. The tile setter - often referred to as a mechanic -- then lays and sets the tile on the wall, using glue or a cement adhesive called "thin set."

Because tile varies in color, shape, and size, setters sometimes prearrange tiles on a dry floor according to a specified design. This allows mechanics to examine the pattern and make changes. In order to cover all exposed areas, including corners, and around pipes, tubs, and wash basins, tile setters cut tiles to fit with a machine saw or a special cutting tool.

After the tiles are laid out perfectly in place, the finisher applies the grout between the tiles.

For marble installation, the marble setter - also known as a mechanic -- first cuts the marble to the right dimensions and then drills holes where high strength anchors will be inserted. When covering walls the marble finisher holds the heavy stone in place while the setter fastens the stone to the wall with the anchors, ensuring that it is even with the adjacent marble. For floors, the finisher helps lay the marble in place before it is aligned and anchored by the mechanic. Marble setters and finishers must learn rigging skills because of the size and weight of some marble pieces.

To maintain its lustrous appearance, marble requires attention from experienced marble polishers. Marble must be polished about every two weeks; however, in high traffic areas, it is done with more frequency. For example, the marble in casinos is polished almost every other day. Polishers also fix chips in the marble and restore marble that has fallen into disrepair due to lack of maintenance.

Terrazzo is a decorative flooring material that is made up of stone chips set in a hard mortar mix. When setting terrazzo, the terrazzo setter first pours the cement mixture and in this cement sets metal strips that form the shapes in which the terrazzo will be set. This can be in squares or decorative designs. After the cement and strips are in place, the stone chips are poured. Once dried, a terrazzo grinder uses a machine to grind down the surface to a smooth polish. The grinder also assists the setter in other tasks, such as mixing the cement and preparing the worksite.

Completing the job requires final touches such as stripping between the edge of a floor and the wall, and sealing and waterproofing.

Salary and Benefits
One of the primary - if not the primary - factors in choosing a career is the compensation - salary and benefits. Tile, marble and terrazzo setters make a very attractive wage, and the trade provides ample opportunities for advancement to supervisory positions that increase the base wage.

The range of hourly wages is:
Marble Setter
Marble Finisher
Tile Setter
Tile Finisher
Terrazzo Setter
Terrazzo Grinder
$33.85 to $38.85
$29.91 to $32.19
$33.85 to $36.76
$29.90 to $31.13
$33.85 to $35.98
$29.90 to $34.67
Benefits Include:
   • Health insurance for entire family
• Pension
• Annuity
• Paid Vacation

Working Conditions
Tile, marble and terrazzo mechanics and finishers generally work indoors and have regular daytime hours. Installers and finishers usually work under better conditions than most other construction workers. Installing these materials is labor intensive; workers spend much of their time bending, kneeling, and reaching-activities that require endurance. This profession does require strenuous lifting; marble slabs are quite heavy and bags of cement can weigh up to 100 pounds.

Career Outlook
Employment in this profession is expected to grow about 10 to 20 percent over the next 10 years, which is as fast as the expected average growth for all occupations, according to the federal Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Demand will stem from population and business growth, which should result in more construction of shopping malls, hospitals, schools, restaurants, and other structures in which tile is used extensively. Tile is expected to continue to increase in popularity as a building material and to be used more extensively, particularly in more expensive homes, whose construction is expected to increase.

Training begins with a 12-week pre-apprentice period, in which the trainee learns the basics of the profession at a training facility. During this pre-apprentice training, the aspiring tile, marble or terrazzo professional learns how to use the tools of the trade and how to work with the materials they will use on the job. They will learn how to set tile, marble or terrazzo the correct way.

Apprentices in the northern part of New Jersey choose to specialize in one of the three materials at the beginning. This decision determines what they concentrate on in the pre-apprenticeship period.

When the pre-apprentice period is completed, the apprentice is assigned to a qualified contractor where they will put their training to practical use.

The apprenticeship will last four years, in which time the apprenticeship will record 6,000 hours of on-the-job training. Apprentices must also spend 144 hours per year in the classroom.

In the classroom, apprentices learn how to read blueprints, a critical component of the trade, and learn other important skills that will make them better on the jobsite.

While on the job, setter apprentices begin layout and setting right away, while finisher apprentices start with the most basic tasks such as carrying material and tools, mixing cement and erecting scaffolds before they are given more advanced responsibilities. What they learn on the job depends on whether they chose to specialize in tile, marble or terrazzo (apprentices in southern New Jersey will be exposed to all three).

Over the course of a tile apprentice's training, he or she will learn how to prepare walls, how to layout work, how to repair and patch tile, and how to clean, treat and seal surfaces (including waterproofing). They also learn how to install showers, countertops, sinks, mantels and hearths, swimming pools and steps. Advanced training covers challenging jobs like domes, arches and columns.

Marble setters must learn how to operate riggings and hoist larger pieces, and how to properly clean, caulk and grout. They learn how to fabricate and repair stone, layout a project both vertically (walls) and horizontally (floors), how to prepare the subsurface and the stone for installation, and how to properly install anchoring devices.

Terrazzo setters learn how to prepare sub-surfaces for Terrazzo installations and install divider strips; how to properly grind, polish and seal terrazzo surfaces; install horizontal terrazzo surfaces using a variety of techniques (standard, Venetian, Palladian, seamless and others); and install terrazzo vertically.

These are just a portion of what an apprentice in each specialty learns on the job and augments with classroom instruction.

Apprentices also earn a wage whenever they are working on the jobsite. The starting wage is 50 percent of the mechanic wage, and increases incrementally five percent every 750 hours, though increases are limited to two per year. Apprentices also begin receiving benefits.

   • At least 18 years of age
• High school diploma or GED
• Must have own transportation
Applications are accepted three to four times a year at either the North Jersey or South Jersey locations.

Upon application, apprentice candidates will be given an exam that tests math and reading comprehension.


Students who show the following characteristics would be well suited for this profession:

   • Neat and precise
• Proficient at Math
• Good artistic ability
• Not afraid of heights, as some work is done on scaffolds several feet above the ground.


  Tile, Marble, Terrazzo Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee

Northern New Jersey
International Masonry Institute
12-07 44th Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101
(718) 706-7229

Southern New Jersey
International Masonry Institute
New Jersey Regional Office & Training Center
3281 Route 206 South
Bordentown, NJ 08505
(609) 291-8000