Friday, March 26, 2010

DIY project: Kitchen backsplash how-to tile


Tomorrow marks the first day I will have been able to breathe since we installed our tile for our backsplash last Saturday and Sunday. Because I am eager to share with you the results when we're done, I figured I better share with you what I learned about tiling before we enter the world of grouting.

Remember that before you can tile, you should:

With all this taken care of, you are ready to lay some tile. Because we are installing a backsplash, this is where I can speak with a little authority. Installing bathroom tile or floor tile present their own series of challenges (floor tile especially, because it must be perfectly level), but the same general principles apply for all types of tile.

Step 1: Have your pre-tiling conversation with your tiling buddy. Play to your strengths.
Matt and I tackled this job together. We decided he is less fearful of sharp blades than I am, so he should man the wet saw. I am much more detail-oriented and skilled with puzzles than he is, so I should be the one to arrange the pieces together and physically put the tile on the wall. Matt even said, "You are in charge, just tell me what to do." Yes, sir. So, he donned his blood drive T-shirt and got ready to work. (Side note: I did not appreciate the humor in his blood drive T-shirt he wore intentionally while operating a semi-frightening tool until the second day of tiling.)


Step 2: Unless you have a designated workshop space, set up your wet saw outside.
We also laid a tarp underneath our wet saw to reduce some of the mess we were guaranteed to make. And yes, Matt is wearing ski goggles because we do not own actual safety goggles.

We are also really glad we could borrow our friends' saw. If we had planned to get each tile cut at Home Depot that would have been a bad idea because Matt easily made enough cuts that $1 a pop at Home Depot would not have been economical.



Step 3: Pick your starting point. Start at one edge, at the bottom of the wall, and work your way up and over.
Why start at the bottom? So your tiles can be level. This is a crucial step, as we quickly learned after some too-high tiles were placed. We also could not just place one sheet of tiles straight onto the wall, because none of our sheets had straight edges. So we had to start cutting our tile immediately.

Step 4: Cut your tiles in stages. Do not try to cut everything before you lay any tile, because you will most likely miscalculate at some point and then potentially waste a lot of tile.
We basically moved through our kitchen one square foot at a time. I took a black Sharpie and a ruler and drew a line through all the tiles for Matt to cut when I was faced with laying tile at an edge or around an outlet. Only occasionally was I fortunate enough to not need any cuts in one square foot of space.


Step 5: Use the flat end of your notched trowel to spread a thin layer of adhesive to the wall. Once your adhesive is roughly even, use the notched side held at a 45 degree angle to create horizontal groove marks on the wall.
These groove marks will help guarantee that you have spread even amounts of adhesive. At "Tiling with Jim," Jim reminded us that our adhesive would harden in about 30 minutes, so we should only spread the amount of adhesive we can realistically use in that time. At first this was challenging to gauge, but after laying a couple sheets of tile, I could estimate more realistically. I wound up spreading adhesive over an area approximately two feet wide each time, enough to cover two complete sheets of tile (though we rarely laid an entire sheet at a time).

 (And above you might see how I broke a rule...I started at the top here, not the bottom. Then I learned my lesson.)

And at this point, about 30 minutes into our work session, we had laid this much tile at our starting point...victory!


As we kept going, the puzzle would fluctuate between relatively easy and relatively complex. But I enjoyed the challenge.

The corner of our kitchen presented a particular challenge. Thankfully, I am small and flexible and managed to do this:

After five and a half hours of work we had covered all the big stuff. We had social plans and not much desire to continue, so we called it a night and planned to finish Sunday afternoon. Here's what one section of the kitchen looked like at the end of Saturday:


Sunday I took a bunch of loose tiles and pieced them together to fill the one inch spot between the top of the current backsplash and the bottom of the cabinets. The puzzle worked really well, and I only needed Matt to make about six cuts on Sunday.

Here's what that same section looked like Sunday afternoon as I placed the final piece of tile:

 

So if you're wondering if you can install your own backsplash, the answer is yes. Particularly if you use tiles that come on sheets. Particularly if you choose a forgiving tile pattern so that, if you mess up, it will be camouflaged. Particularly if you and your partner divide and conquer. And particularly if you dedicate one nice Saturday to this task.

But maybe I speak to soon....we have to grout tomorrow.

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