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Putting the Rotary Hammer Down

New floor-covering removal technology speeds up work and eliminates the need for hands-on floor demolition for Spokane, Wash., contractor.

Floor-covering demolition contractors have long had their work cut out for them. Over the years, some new technologies have increased the efficiency of removing tile, hardwood and other tough floor coverings, however, there are still many applications that require contractors to get on their hands and knees to use a rotary hammer to slowly chip away the floor.

For Commercial Tearout Services president Mark Jones and his crew, a large percentage of time on the jobsite was spent on their hands and knees, taking a toll on their bodies as well as the company's efficiency. Eventually, the physical strain led Jones to experiment with a new type of rental equipment to speed up the floor demolition process, allowing himself and his crew to put the hand-held rotary hammer down for floor-covering removal jobs.

Based in Spokane, Wash., Commercial Tearout Services has been in business for 16 years. Jones and his business partner employ two part-time workers. The small company specializes in the removal of non-hazardous floor coverings, which includes all materials that don't contain asbestos.

“We remove glue-direct carpet, sheet vinyl, ceramic tile, vinyl composition tile and wood flooring,” Jones says. “Occasionally, we remove specialty floor coverings too.”

Like most demolition contractors, Jones likes to use an electric-powered ride-on machine, which is equipped with a front-mounted, two-inch-wide carbide blade designed to quickly knock up tile. The unit, however, weighs nearly 2,000 pounds, limiting its use to slab-on-grade floors and other areas that can be easily reached by elevator. In addition, the machine is not well-suited to maneuver in small rooms, despite its compact design.

Jones' main frustrations arose from a job at a local Air Force base where he was removing tile from a dormitory floor. Unfortunately, the dorm buildings didn't accommodate the company's equipment very well. Of the five floors in each building, only two of them could be accessed with the ride-on machines. As a result, Jones and his crew used hand-held rotary hammers to remove tile from the remaining three floors, then ran a diamond grinder over the area to flatten the surface.

“There are about 4,000 square feet of tile per building,” said Jones. “That's a lot of square footage to do on our hands and knees.”

When Jones heard of a new type of tool carrier on the market designed to hold electric-powered breakers rated in the 35- to 45-pound class, he sought one out to rent. These new tool carriers offer the direct-impulse force needed to break through the bonding material between the floor covering and the surface. The carriers bear most of the weight of the electric breaker, taking the heavy burden off the operators and allowing them to work from a comfortable upright position. The units also offer easy adjustment of the blow force angle for achieving maximum effectiveness.

The timing of Jones' discovery worked out well, as he had an immediate need for the solution. “I was really looking for something because I knew we had another project coming up at the airbase,” he says.

Jones tracked down a rental store a couple hours from Spokane that had a CTS12 from General Equipment Co. available for him to use. “The fact I was able to rent one first was a big plus,” he said. “A guy doesn't want to spend money on something and find out it isn't going to work.”

As hoped, the new solution made a major impact in Jones' operation. “It got everybody off their hands and knees. It definitely changed the whole game plan.”

After some use Jones determined that the machine could remove tile at least twice as quickly as hand-held rotary hammers.

“When we first used it at the base, I think we took up between 1,600 and 2,000 feet of tile,” Jones explains. “The machine hits so much harder than a rotary hammer and, because of the way the breaker sits in the carriage, the operator doesn't need to manhandle it. Also, being able to adjust the angle is equally important because the operator works at so many different angles to stay underneath the tile without digging into the slab.”

In addition to working quickly, the machine offered ergonomic advantages to the crew.

“It takes a lot of load off your knees and back, so an operator can run it for longer periods of time,” Jones says. “And because you're standing up, it keeps your eyes and ears farther from the operation, instead of having your face 16 inches from the floor.”

Because of his success renting the equipment, Jones purchased his own CTS12 along with a Bosch 11335K electric breaker to use with it.

“I put in an order for one even before I returned my rental unit,” he says.

Over time, Jones has realized the full potential of the CTS12 and learned the best applications for the product. “We've used it in areas accessible by ride-on equipment, just to see how well it would work on different types of tile,” he says. “And there are times when the CTS12 is even faster to use than our ride-on equipment.”

Even after putting the machine to heavy use on multiple jobs, Jones is still experimenting with the unit. Besides the airbase, he has used it in a hotel and a local spa, and he's anxious to try additional applications such as tough-to-remove quarry tile.

Despite the benefits Jones has experienced with the new product, it doesn't replace his existing tools. “We still have to use hand-held rotary hammers in tight quarters,” he explains. “The CTS12 is great in open areas, but it is too long for some small commercial bathrooms and closets.”

For the proper applications such as Jones' dorm tile removal project, the new tool carrier saves time and physical stress on its operators, and is a complement to the ride-on equipment and hand-held rotary hammers he already owns.

“Every time I've used it, I've prayed because I'm so glad to have it,” Jones says. “It makes a big difference.”

Bryce Goodell is a writer with The Promersberger Company, Fargo, N.D.

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