Tiling Tips from an Amateur

I am an amateur at tiling.  I, am passing on tips I have learned over time…many times researching on the internet myself.  Sometimes I think the pros take for granted we know information we do not know so I will pass along some of those Tiling for Dummies points.  Don’t be insulted, please. I learned to tile from my sister, Pat, who has done a number of projects herself.  We started with the backsplash in my kitchen.  I had recently had Corian countertops installed and wanted to finish with a tile backsplash.

The finished project.

Detail of the area over the range.

When figuring out the layout, we laid the tile out on the countertop to figure out the fit, not leaving any small cuts at each end.  Then we laid out several options for the area over the range.  Here are the options, we took pictures of each and loaded them to the computer screen…it helped to be able to flip between the pictures quickly and to get some perspective.

Center on diagonal option

Square center option

Diagonal center with more space between medallions

The last is the option we chose after lots of picture flipping.

The project itself was pretty straightforward.  She taught me to use a wet saw which is much easier than it looks, just take your time and do it outside if possible.  Whatever you do, DO NOT allow the water from the saw to splash on something valuable (walls, cars, etc.)…the stone dust is hard, if not impossible to remove later.  (By the way, I did not learn this by personal experience, thank goodness!).  The field tiles were in sheets so putting the mastic on the walls worked fine.  For the individual tiles, we back buttered them and wiggled them into place.  This helped to avoid mastic filling the voids between tiles.  If you have thinset filling the voids, you need to remove it while it is wet to make room for the grout you will be putting in the next day.  So, tile can be placed on the wall one day.  Grout the next and then the area can be sealed in 48 hours.  Read the directions on your specific mastic/ thinset, grout and sealer in case it has different requirements.  I bought this tile at Lowes, it was very reasonable.

Bathroom Renovation

Next I tackled a bathroom.  Here is the before picture:

Sad, isn’t it.

The countertop was old Formica that had been painted just to get us through for awhile…

I live in small town Ohio and solid granite is beautiful but too pricey for a renovation.  So, I chose granite tile.  I bought the tile at The Tile Shop and took a refresher course in tile laying since it had been several months since the kitchen backsplash tiling.  I also wanted to make sure that granite did not need any special handling.

This is the tile I selected. It is a basic color and the least expensive but still attractive and fairly neutral.

First, demolition of the old countertop.  I removed the sink to be reused with new fixtures.  I also reused the old vanity, building a shelving unit at the right end.  I used oak plywood stained to match the old vanity.

Vanity and shelving unit in place.

Then I added 3/4 inch plywood and 1/2 inch cement board.  Plywood cuts easily with a circular saw…cement board is a pain.  They say to cut it with a utility knife and snap it like drywall….easier said then done, especially with 1/2 inch board.  Expect any power tool you use to get blunt very quickly!  You have to use a jigsaw to cut the hole for the sink and the blade had to be replaced after making this cut.

Cement board being installed.

You have to put a thin layer of thinset on the plywood, under the cementboard and then use backboard screws every few inches around the edges and across the field.  I found it best to drill pilot holes for the screws…again cementboard IS made of cement!

Plywood and cementboard installed.

I cut the hole for the sink in the plywood before installing it.  I then laid the cementboard on the plywood and traced the sink hole through the plywood onto the underside of the cementboard.  I took it outside to cut the hole with a jigsaw.  Cutting cementboard is a dusty process.

Tile placed with thinset.

Again, lay out your tile in advance to make sure your cuts at the ends are even…or do not leave you with any small cut tiles.  Also look at how the tile will fall around the sink area…again no small bits.  I purchased edge tiles at The Tile Shop.  These edge tiles were attached to the counter with construction adhesive the day before I tiled the surface.  I laid out the tiles using spacers and made the needed cuts in advance.  On the day of tiling, I spread thinset across the surface and tiled easily.

The part I was most worried about was cutting the curve for the sink.  It is no problem though.  Merely make a series of cuts about 1/2 inch apart up to the curved line.  These slivers will either break off on their own as you cut or break off with a bit of persuasion (I hit them with the nippers).  You can then clean up the curve with the saw blade…although it will be hidden under the sink so it is not necessary to be too precise.

To make this curve cut for the sink, use two cuts to cut the shaded part out first. This will shorten the parallel cuts you then make about 1/2 inch apart up to the curve. These slivers will then easily break off up to the curve.

After thinset has dried the recommended amount of time, grout the tiles.

After grout has dried the recommended time, seal the grout and granite. Use the best sealer you can find! Reinstall the fixtures. (By the way, I apologize for the walls…I will re-wallpaper before the next picture!)

Finished countertop. Nice.

Next, the floor.  The floor was vinyl sheet goods over plywood.  I laid out two options…

Straight tile layout

Diagonal Tile Layout

Definitely, diagonal!  Okay.  This part was kind of tricky.  I measured for the center of the floor but going from the center there were going to be some small tile bits at the edges of the bathroom.  It is particularly important that the pattern is square to the doorway and the size of the tiles at the edges are fairly even on opposite sides of the room.  My bathroom was a bit out of square so I squared to the doorway and made sure that it was not going to go wonky along the bathtub which runs perpendicular to the door.  The line of tiles that falls under the kickplate of the vanity varies slightly in size due to the out of square condition of that wall but is hidden by the vanity overhang.

I took out the toilet.  I installed 1/4″ cement backerboard over the plywood floor.  Again, this entails a layer of thinset then screw down around the edges and throughout the field with backboard screws.  I drilled pilot holes for the screws.  My hand was sore from the process by the end of putting in all those screws!  It helped having two drills, one to drill the holes and one to drive the screws.

Backerboard cut and down.

The cracks between the backerboard sheets need to be covered with drywall tape…I used the self adhesive kind.  I also filled the cracks with thinset.  Some say this is unnecessary.

Screwed down and cracks filled.

I did my layout with spacers, then laid all the full tiles using thinset.

Full Tiles with thinset.

The next day, I cut and laid the edge tiles.  The advantage of this two day approach is that you can kneel on the full tiles as you work without fear of them moving about.  BE CAREFUL THOUGH.  You MUST remove the thinset that is not covered by the full tiles before it dries.  Otherwise you will not have an even surface under your edge tiles.

Now begin cutting the edge tiles.  To measure for the edge tile, place a full tile exactly on top of the first full tile…

Lay a full tile to be cut into shape for the edge tile #1 on the shaded full tile.

Measure a tile from tip to tip, add the width of one grout line(spacer) plus the amount of space you intend to leave around the edge of the tiles for expansion and contraction (I left 1/4″ around the edge which was later caulked or covered with baseboard).  In my case the total of the three was 16 7/8 inch…your total will be different.

Measure a full tile from tip to tip (#2) and add the width of a grout line and space to be left around the edge. Use this total (let’s call it X) to measure the rest of your edge tiles. From the wall find where X intersects the full tile lying atop a full tile. Mark each edge (use a marking implement that can be wiped off the tile later or put tape over the area of the tile to be marked before marking!) Connect the two edge markings. Check your work by measuring from the tip that will remain back to the line…and measure the area to be filled from the tip to the wall. The number should be the same after allowing for grout line and edge spacing.

Okay.  This sounds more complex than it is.

There are more cuts to be made when doing a diagonal layout.  So take that into consideration when picking it for your project and when buying materials.

Edge tiles down!

Use the same process as in the countertop project for cutting curves.  You will need a special bit to cut any holes for pipes.  My tile store offered to make any of these cuts for me, but my pipe fell at the edge of a tile.

I was very proud of these curved cuts for the toilet outlet. Unfortunately, they were so precise that I did not leave room for one of the toilet flange bolts to be inserted. I had to chip a bit away to solve the problem. Learn from my mistake!

This tile was the most complex with the curved cut for the toilet outlet, the water pipe and the wall!

Let the thinset dry the required time. then grout.

Grouted tile

After grout has dried the required time, replace the toilet and other fixtures!  Woohoo!  Be amazed!

Finished bathroom renovation on a budget!


2 Responses to Tiling Tips from an Amateur

  1. Pingback: Straight or Diagonal Tile Layout? « Living Simply By Going Backwards

  2. Pat says:

    Wow! I need to look at your blog more often. Your skills put mine to shame (I actually think it also is aided by your much-higher patience level)…

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