Introduction: Tile a Table Top

I tiled my patio in 2011, and I absolutely hated the entire experience.  I will probably never do a project like that again.  In the end it came out pretty good, but bent over in the Georgia sun mixing mortar and cutting tile wasn't very fun.  At some point I bought a tile saw for about $84 and it worked very well, I would not have been able to complete that project without it.  So earlier this year I decided that I should not have a tool go unused, so I decided to make a tile top coffee table.  I figured that it would be an easy project, a small project, and would look great.  

Spoiler alert, didn't use the tile saw for this project.

Now, here is a bit of information:  

1.  I built the table depicted in this instructable, but you DON'T have to make your own!  You can do this with any old coffee table that needs a new life.

2.  You don't even need to do a coffee table, you can be as ambitious as you want.  Do your dining table if you want.

3.  You don't have to use coasters on tile, which is why I did this on the coffee table

Step 1: Collecting Supplies and Tools

Here is a list of supplies you will need, but remember, this is just what I used, there are several substitutes for some of these materials.  This is A WAY to do this project, it is by no means THE WAY.  That may come in later instructables, but I am way more likely to say things like: "Sub-creatures! Gozer the Gozerian, Gozer the Destructor, Volguus Zildrohar, the Traveller has come! Choose and perish!"  and so on. If you got that reference, give yourself a pat on the back, you deserve it.  And now, back to this...

1.  A table or similar flat surface that you want to tile.  If you notice the part I am going to tile is plain old 3/4" unsanded plywood.  If you are going to tile something that isn't custom built for a tile project, use some 60-grit sandpaper to rough it up because a rough surface will generally grip better than a smooth one.

2.  Construction adhesive.  I used Liquid Nails Marble and Granite Adhesive because it will work on wood and tile and it DOES NOT STAIN.  It says so, right on the tube.  That point is very important, most general or heavy duty construction adhesives contain oils that will eventually seep through surfaces and make the surface look weird.  I read on some online forums that this stuff will not stain through.  I got it at Lowe's.  Actually, all of this stuff came from Lowe's.

3.  Grout sealer, so the grout areas are easy to clean later in life.  It will also help to keep the grout from flaking out and getting dust everywhere.

4.  Grout.  I got some pre-mixed grout because I hate mixing the stuff, it is a really fine dust that goes everywhere and makes a mess.  The Pre-mixed is available in many colors and is easy to work with even if it is a bit more expensive.  

5.  Scrub pad.  This is to clean off excess grout after it starts to set.

6.  Caulk gun to use the adhesive tube.  If you plan to do a big project you may want to invest in an electric or air powered caulk gun because, as I type this, my hands are killing me and my project was pretty small

7.  Tiles.  You can use whatever fits your taste, just remember that if you get several different types, the thickness may be different and the sides may be a bit longer or shorter than other styles.  You will see what I mean when you get to the end of this.

8.  Tongue depressor, popsicle stick, finger, or rounded wooden stick to work the grout into the gaps and form neat lines.

9.  Rags that you don't mind throwing away.

10.  Bucket, for warm water.


11.  Razor blade or thin knife to cut the glue.  If you use tiles intended for back splashes, they are glued onto a plastic mesh so that you don't have to place each one individually.  They are usually in sheets measuring 12x12".

12.  Plastic bags.  You can use a ziploc freezer bag or something similar, it just needs to be strong and have a sharp corner.  This will be used to place the grout.  I used a big canvas bag made for this purpose when I did my patio, but it would be a bit too big for this project.

Step 2: Lay Out the Tile

Now that you have gathered your supplies, lay the tiles out on your surface to make sure they look good.

If you have a spouse or significant other that you reside with, make sure to get approval on this step or you can enjoy that tiled table in the garage.

Step 3: Stick It Down

Now that you have the tile laid out, make it nice and even.  This is what it will look like when it is finished.  I didn't use rubber tile spacers because all the tiles are different and the spacing is off a bit.

The adhesive is roughly the same color and consistency of  peanut butter, but makes a less delicious sandwich.  This is why you may want to think about an electric or air-powered caulk gun, although the nice ones go for over $100, and that isn't really the heart of an instructable.  If you use a regular caulk gun, you may even develop Kung-Fu grip.  

1.  All you have to do now is remove each tile individually and cover the back with adhesive.  Use a liberal amount, and make sure it will stick down both on the corners and the center.  In the case of those little tiles, make sure to put adhesive on all of them so you don't have any loose tiles.  See the picture to see a good way to apply adhesive.

2.  Press the tile into place.  You will have plenty of play before the adhesive dries so wiggle it into the right position and press it down hard.  Again, if you use those little tiles, put pressure on each one when pressing it down.

3.  Adhere in a pattern (see picture) and be sure not to touch any other tiles or it will mess up your pattern.

4.  If you get adhesive on the top of the tiles, just wipe it off with a damp rag or paper towel while holding the tile in place.

5.  Let it sit overnight, and by tomorrow, you will need a crowbar to take off the tiles.  And you will probably break the tile before the adhesive, this stuff is strong!

Step 4: Now the Really Messy Part.

Now that your tiles are set with an unbreakable bond, you can grout it.  This is fairly messy, so be ready.

1.  Go ahead and take off your rings and watches so you don't mess them up.

2.  Fill your bucket with warm water from the tap and toss a few rags in the water, set that aside (if your project is really big, do this after step 5 so your water doesn't get cold)

3.  Open your grout bucket and turn one of your ziploc bags inside out.

4.  Scoop up some grout with your inside-out bag with your hand inside, pull it through and zipper the top closed.  If you have ever owned a dog, you will probably be an expert at this.

5.  Cut or tear a little bit of corner off of the bag, now you can use it like a cake frosting squeeze bag and put a bead of grout along the gaps.  Do all the gaps like this.

6.  Now you have grout all over your table, but it definitely isn't done.  Use a Popsicle stick, tongue depressor, spoon, or your finger and smooth the grout into the top.

6a.  If this is too slow for you, you can just plop the grout onto the table and slather it around with a rag or sponge.  While this is faster, it is also messier.  This is the method you will see on the DIY network, but they NEVER show that cleanup.

7.  You can throw any grout clumps you clean off back into the grout bucket, it keeps for a long time as long as the lid seal is good.

8.  Squeeze (lots of squeezing in this step, huh?) the water out of one of your rags in the water bucket, and wipe excess grout off the tiles.  Get as much of it as you can without messing up your grout lines.  If you do mess them up, smooth it back out with your finger.  If you get grout on you wood surfaces, go over it with a CLEAN wet rag, the wipe the water off with a dry rag.  BE SURE not to scrub, as the sandy grout will act as sandpaper and mess up the finish.  

9.  You don't have to get it all, just get as much as you can.

10.  Let it sit for about 2 hours or so and then clean it up a little more as described in (8).  You can scrub the built up areas with your damp rag.

11.  Let it sit for 24 hours.

Step 5: The Finishing Touches

1.  Now that your grout has hardened overnight, dampen your scrub pad and clean each tile.  Your grout will not be completely set but not runny, be careful around your lines.

2.  Wipe off water residue with a paper towel or a film may form on the tiles.  Grout film is pretty hard to clean off after it is dry, so take care of it now.

3.  Since things tend to shrink as they dry, your grout may have formed cracks along the lines or little pits where air has escaped.  If any of the grout lines are messy or lumpy, you can reapply a little more grout to it.  Clean it as described before.  If you have really small flaws, you can put a little water on there and smooth it out with your finger.

Repeat 1-3 until you you have no build up, film, residue, or anything undesirable looking on your table.

4.  Let it sit until completely dried which may take a few days.  You can test it by pressing your fingernail on the grout and it should not dent; it will feel like concrete.

5.  Use the grout sealer, just follow the instructions on the bottle. 

What you are left with should be a very attractive tile-top table so enjoy some coaster-less coffee!

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