All About Tiling

About: I love woodworking and tinkering and make new videos about it every week! Come join me on my YouTube channel!

Tiling is a straightforward and easy skill which you can use to upgrade your kitchen, bathroom, or toilet.

Essential tools for tiling

  1. A way to cut tiles - This can be something simple like a diamond disc for a grinder, or something expensive like a wet tile saw. They run about $150 and if you're doing a whole house, you'll be so grateful you invested in this tool.
  2. Tiling Trowel - These mainly come in pointed and square styles. Tile trowels are use-dependent. You can see a great chart about this here.
  3. Tile Nibbler - For when you need to make small adjustments to tile corners, which a wet tile saw or diamond disc is not able to.
  4. A good bubble or box level - You probably already have one of these if you are thinking of taking on a tiling job. These will help you keep your work even and level across the surface. Don't try to just eyeball it!
  5. Rubber Mallet - You'll need a way to adjust the depth of your tiles. Smacking them with a rubber mallet is the quickest and surest way to
  6. Buckets - You'll need something to mix in which you can carry around and a few buckets is a cheap and reusable solution.
  7. Mixing Paddle for your drill - don't do it by hand as it is exhausting and more importantly the mortar will likely be unevenly mixed.
  8. Spacers - These little plastic crosses help make sure that your spacing between tiles is perfectly even.

Step 1: Getting Ready to Tile

Preparing your surface for tiling

Tiling is very much about preparation. The surface you'll be attaching your tiles defines how easy your work will be, and how even your final product will look.

In just about every case, you'll want to install some sort of backer board that you will affix your tiles to.

I won't go into the different types of backer boards, because I think it has been done better and at length in other places, so I'll just link to this great article which lays out the pros and cons of each type.

For most cases, your backer board will probably be cement board. It is very flat, water resistant, and doesn't move or flex. These features mean that your tiles will stay exactly where you put them, and your grout won't crack.

How much extra tiles to buy

When you purchase your tiles, make sure that you get more than you have calculated. Take the area you'll be tiling and add an extra 15%. These spare tiles will either get used during breakage, for extra small pieces, or in the future when you need to repair a single tile for whatever reason. They store easily, and can be hard to find. You will be grateful for it when you need it.

Step 2: ​Where to Start Tiling

There are a few minds about where to start tiling, but I recommend starting from the bottom center. The main reason which I prefer to start from the center is that walls and corners are most likely not parallel and square. If you start from one corner and move towards the other, you are likely to find yourself in a position where your tiles no longer line up.

The centered pattern also gives your eyes a focal point to latch on to when entering a room. You can also choose to focus on a specific object, like a sink, and move outwards from there.

When lining up your tiles, you'll want to leave a small gap of 1/8th inch (about 3mm) around your tiles to allow for expansion. This gap will be filled with silicon caulk . Click here to read all about caulking.

I'm going to use a backsplash as an example for how you should layout your tiles, but the truth is that this methodology applies for all instances of tile layout.

Now that you've decided what your center point is, measure your tiles out horizontally and see if your edges will have a too small slice at either corner. In the above illustration, I am referring to the edge tiles, labeled "e". What you want are good sized tiles. If they are little slivers, you should shift your center either left or right to account for this (labelled "f"). This goes for your horizontal positioning. If you have tiny slivers in the other dimension, shift your center in the same way.

Like you do when doing a complex glue-up when woodworking, start by laying out your tiles dry and see how it looks. It's much easier to adjust before you've committed to gluing down your tiles in a specific spot.

Step 3: Edging Strips

Before we move on to talking about setting tiles themselves, I wanted to give a shout-out to our friends the edging strips (or trim). These little buddies help us out when we find ourselves close to the edge. They round over the corners and leave us with smooth edges, where raw tile would otherwise be.

Thanks, homies. You da best.

Step 4: Prepping Your Surfaces

A good surfaces is a clean surface.

For concrete floors which you will be applying tile to, make sure to sweep and mop your concrete floor before applying your thin-set mortar. This will ensure that your mortar binds properly.

The same thing applies to backsplashes in kitchens, especially if they have been in use and are covered in splatters and grease (you dirty animals). Check with a straightedge that your surface is flat. If it isn't, use putty to fill it in and sand it flat after it is dry.

If you've just installed cement board backer boards, you can get by with a quick wipe down with a clean rag to get the dust off.

Remove electrical outlet covers. Tape them off to ensure that mortar doesn't get inside.

Tape off and cover with plastic your countertops, sinks, toilets, exposed plumbing, windows, or anything else you don't want ruined. Mortar is a pain to get rid of after it has dried. Don't skip this step.

Step 5: Mix Your Thinset Mortar

Grab a bucket and your bag of powdered thinset mortar. If you're inclined to spend more money, you can also use premixed thinset mortar and you can skip this step entirely.

Measure out the quantity that is applicable to your project. The 50-pound bag of mortar I linked to above is enough to tile a minimum of 50 square feet to a maximum of 95 square feet, or if you are metrically inclined 4.5 square meters to 9 square meters. Make sure that you don't over-fill your bucket! Add water and mix with a mixing paddle until the consistency is similar to peanut butter.

The clock is now ticking! Make up only as much mortar mix as can be worked in 15-20 minutes. Keep a
bucket of clean water and a sponge handy to wipe off any excess before it sets and to clean your tools.

Step 6: Start Laying Your Tile

It's time for the fun part!

Dip into your mortar with your trowel and plop some on to the area you want to start tiling. Use the edge of your trowel (with the squares) and scrape away the excess mortar so that it is an even coating which will bond your tiles to your work surface. Set down your first tile and make sure it is perfectly positioned.

Be pedantic! Every millimeter counts here as it will define how straight and even your tiles are. You'll have some time before it sets, so wiggle and whack it until it is exactly how you want it.

Set your spacers and repeat the process, checking each tiles as you go to ensure that it is flat with its neighbors.

When you come to the edges, carefully measure your tiles and cut them accordingly. It takes some practice but it isn't particularly difficult although it can be stressful because if you make a mistake it can cost you a tile. But, that's why you bought extras!

After you're done laying your tile, you'll have to wait until the thinset mortar is completely dry to apply your grout.

As I said before, the 1/8 inch (3mm) edge you've left around your tiles should be caulked.

Don't forget to seal your grout after you're done with a sealant. This will ensure a lasting, clean color which will not turn dingy.

That's about it! Thanks for reading :) Let me know if there is anything that I missed.

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