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If I remove (break) the existing ceramic tiles with the intention of replacing them with new porcelain tiles, there will be hardened thinset left on the subfloor. I suppose I should just remove the entire plywood subfloor and replace it with a new one, instead of bothering to grind off the thinset?

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No, unless the surface is so severely damaged (or you can't remove enough mortar) that installation of new tile would be difficult.

You might find that a commercial floor sander with a coarse grit works well to smooth the remaining mortar, which is not terribly dense.

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