Tile Tips

The thought of trying to write a post detailing every step in the process of tiling our kitchen is a bit too daunting.  So instead I thought I’d hit the high spots and give out some of the more important tips I learned along the way.

First, a little background.  This was my first experience tiling anything so the hardest part of all was taking the plunge and starting.  I got quite a few interesting looks (from mostly men) when I explained our project was going to be tiling our kitchen from floor to ceiling and that we were going to do it all ourselves.  Eric was a huge help – especially with the grouting process which I will say you simply can not do by yourself unless you do tiny spaces at a time.  We spent about 4 days working 5-6 hours on tiling together which got us about halfway I’d say and the rest of the work I did at night or during nap times by myself.  Grouting was another 2 full day process.  This was not one of those tile jobs that people say they did easily over the weekend.  Not happening.  In fact, if we had done just the backsplash alone I’m not sure we could’ve managed in 2 days alone.  We purchased enough tile to cover 110 square feet and then needed about 60 more tiles to complete the job.  All in all, it took us just over a month to set the tile.  The project has dragged on for another couple weeks as we found time to grout, caulk and replace all the trim and put the hood back up, etc. all of which occurred after our son decided to transition out of his crib which seriously put a damper on my ability to get anything done at night.  Despite how long it has taken, I could not be happier with what we’ve achieved.  I made mistakes along the way.  And I for sure can see that my work done on the last wall is significantly better than the tiles we did first but anyone else that comes in the kitchen will not see that.

So without further ado, here are some tips from lessons I learned along the way.

  • Go with 1/16 inch grout lines.  You will be tempted to use 1/8 inch.  RESIST THE URGE!  I knew 1/16 inch grout lines were recommended but I did a trial with some tile using peanut butter as my faux grout to assess the spacing and in my mind I kept thinking – but don’t I want bigger? img_7039

The tile we used actually made grout lines slightly less than 1/16 inch which made me even more skeptical about not using spacers.  We decided to not use spacers in the end and the grout lines look so neat and tidy.  If you’re going with darker grout IMO 1/8 inch grout lines looks messy.  1/16 looks professional and clean.  And I absolutely love how the grout lines turned out.



  • avoid tile that isn’t self spacing – it is hard enough tiling this large of an area without them.  I would estimate that spacers would have made the project take about double the time.  Yes at times I wish I had the flexibility of the use of spacers to be able to fudge my grout lines more but overall it was just SO MUCH EASIER.
  • pre-mixed mastic will make your life easier – we took the advice of multiple other blog posts and went with mastic instead of powdered thin set (as the salesperson at the tile shop recommended) and absolutely loved the convenience.  On those nights when I’d tile for an hour it was so worth it to be able to open the tub, go to town putting up 20 or so tiles and then closing it up and using it the next night.  After a week or so of being open the mastic did start to thicken slightly but not so much that it was un-useable.  We used 3 of these tubs and at ~$40 each I do not regret the cost at all because the convenience factor was so huge.
  • consider your starting point but don’t get too hung up on it.  it’s easy to plan when it’s just a backsplash but in a kitchen like ours, we could’ve debated for days where to start because so much of our tile depends on the starting point – like about 90% of it (only one small area doesn’t communicate with the other tile so to speak).  We chose to start in the center of the oven wall which is the focal point of the kitchen.  The truth is we could’ve started anywhere but I thought it might be weird if the tile that met the doorway on the left was different than the tile that met the doorway on the right.  This means that the oven wall looks great in our kitchen – but that left some other rather odd issues.  The tile meets the doorway from the center with a half tile/full tile situation which is ideal but that means that as the tile went over each doorway and came back down we were left with awkward awkward small tile cuts.  So annoying.  In the end, they look fine but they were a real pain in the butt.  We also got stuck w/ annoying small tile cuts where it meets up to the border on the far left – looks fine, but also a pain in the butt to cut all those teeny tiny tiles.  The worst problem we ran into with our starting point was where it met the counters on the window wall.  We left about a 1/8 inch gap between the counter and the tile using a 1/16 inch spacer under our tile.  As we went left that amount got eaten up and our tile had to sit directly on the counter.  As we came up and around to the counter on the window wall we got to the counter and had an awkward gap.  The gap was too big to not put something in so I cut slivers of tile and we jammed them in. It does NOT look good. IMGP1249The counter on the window wall is unlevel so the far left the tile meets the counter and the far right there’s that awkwardly large gap again. We chose to just caulk it anyway and it doesn’t look great but probably looks better than the slivers would have.
  • keep it level (to a point).  we checked after almost every tile.  it’s so much more important when you’re going floor to ceiling.  each tile we pressed into place firmly but we still got off.  When our bubble started to escape the middle portion we intervened by cheating one side up but otherwise we just kept going.  I think we stayed a little high on the left for almost the whole project – but you can’t tell at all!  don’t get too hung up with the level- it’s going to get off.  it must take quite a bit for it to be noticeable.imgp1247.jpg
  • keep the tile level and ignore your unlevel trim or choose an area slightly in between.  Above our window the trim is very unlevel.  One of our doorways also had a similar issue.  When I made the tile level it looked unlevel due to it’s juxtaposition next to the trim.  Long story short that window was a real PITA and I tiled it 3 times to get it right.  I ended up choosing to keep the tile pretty much level, just slightly unlevel like the trim.  That kept me level when I got to the ceiling.  The doorway wasn’t much easier but I had learned my lesson with the window (somewhat) and I at least didn’t have to rip out tile and patch drywall and all that nonsense.  In the end, I decided the trim could always be changed or redone but that I wasn’t going to be ripping out tile and fixing it later on.  Now that it’s all done it looks great.  And 90% of people probably won’t even notice the issue over the window even if they look right at it.  And once I get a shade on that window you definitely won’t see any issue.
  • spread your mastic onto each individual tile, not the wall.  I’m pretty sure no tutorial out there will tell you this and maybe I’m just terribly slow but I found that when I spread it on the wall in a small area to tile that it would dry or I’d end up taking longer to clean off the semi-dry mastic to redo it.  Also, it was a lot less messy when I did each tile individually.  There was less mastic oozing out of the cracks.
  • use a wet saw I don’t even like using a circular saw – it freaks me out!  But I made every single cut required using the wet saw.  I can tell you my first few outlets I had to cut around were a bit rough – and if (not that you ever would!) you take off the outlet cover you will see some ugly cuts.  I got A LOT of practice though.  Not just around outlets but around cabinet trim and around our wonky unlevel ceiling and I got good.IMGP1250
  • Cut that tile again.  If you make a bad cut, don’t try to force it or give in to the exhaustion of the fact that you’ve cut the same tile 3 times and haven’t gotten it quite right.  Do it again.  It’s annoying, but it’ll be worth it.  Caulk can work miracles, but sometimes it’s just easier to redo it.  There’s one tile in particular that annoys me now every time I look at it because I know I gave in to using it instead of cutting another and the caulk only made it look halfway decent.  Live and learn.IMGP1256
  • Toothpicks = 1/16 inch.  After every 3-4 tiles, take your toothpick and swipe your grout lines to clean out the oozy mastic.  Its a heck of a lot easier when it’s still wet.
  • Clean off your tile before grouting.  Better yet, clean it off while you’re still tiling.  Wet mastic is easy to clean off with a wet paper towel.  If you wait until it dries, take a warm, wet rag and wipe down a small area for several minutes.  If you moisten the mastic it’s 10x easier to remove.  After it’s good and wet (you can tell because it won’t make any noise under your rag) you can then scrape it off with a fingernail or toothpick.  Once you scrape it off the surface of the tile, go top to bottom on your grout lines with your toothpick to pick out any debris you just wiped into them.  Some mastic in the grout lines is fine – the grout will hide it.  But if it’s raised out of the line, it’ll still be visible once you grout.
  • Test out your grout color.  We were between two colors – delorean grey and charcoal.  It was really difficult to choose a color because the color on the bag can’t really be trusted.  We decided to buy both bags and test them at home.  I set up 2 samples of tile on a strip of wood and then mixed both grouts up and grouted the samples.  I could see exactly what the color would look like when dry and move the samples around the kitchen to see how it looked in different lighting around the kitchen as well as with natural and fluorescent lighting.  I did not want to go through the whole process of tiling and making it look so great just to pick the wrong grout color and get stuck with something that wasn’t perfect.IMGP1449IMGP1451
  • Don’t wait the recommended time to wipe down the grout Eric and I used a 2 person method of me spreading on the grout and 15 minutes later he came behind to wipe it down.  This was what our grout recommended on the bag.  Unfortunately for us, it dried too quickly.  For the first small area it was appropriate and then it was too dry and he had to scrub with everything he had to get it out.  And because I was working ahead I had gotten to the next wall already before we realized the issue.  So we had to scrub, scrub, scrub to get the grout out….for hours.  And then – I literally had to take a toothpick and trim each and every grout line.  I am not kidding you.  For our next round, I wiped on the grout and he IMMEDIATELY wiped it down and voila! it was perfect.  It saved so much time.IMGP1455
  • If your grout lines aren’t perfect take a wet sponge and wet a 5-6 square foot area for about 2-3 minutes.  Then take your toothpick and hold it nearly horizontal to the tile with the point going to the exact point you want and then scrape over each line using this method.  Follow up with a wet paper towel.
  • Use grout-colored caulk for between the counter and tile, use white, paintable caulk elsewhere (around trim, under cabinets, at ceiling).  LIFE SAVER.  White caulk with white tile and that botched/unlevel ceiling line suddenly looks professional!  I searched everywhere trying to figure out if I had to use tile grout for these areas and couldn’t find anything.  So I tried the tile grout at the ceiling over the stove and cried for a few minutes.  Then, I caulked on top of that with white caulk and damn, suddenly it looked great.  In the end, my cuts were just not good enough to withstand colored caulk.  The white is so much more forgiving!

And the rest is just putting it all back together again, a post for another day.  But for now….some sneak peakies:IMGP1467IMGP1456

2 thoughts on “Tile Tips

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