tips for laying tile

We’re back today with another look at our bathroom, and this time we’re talking about laying tile.

You want to know the best thing about laying tile in your house?

Not having to be out in the 106 degree 80% humidity weather here in the tropics of LA (Lower Alabama). Really, I thought about offering to repaint a room the other day, just as an excuse to not work outside on the surface of the sun.

Changing your tile might seem like a big undertaking… and not to be Debbie Downers about it, but it kind of is. The good news is, that there’s a learning curve. It’s something anyone can do with a little knowledge and the right tools.

Today, we aren’t focusing so much on the “how to” as much as the little things we would recommend for going at it on your own. (For a better how to, you can check out our mantel post or search the world wide web, since there are about 4 trillion sites telling you all about it.) So without further ado, here are some of our favorite tips for laying tile {aka things we would tell ourselves if we needed to do it again. And at some point, we probably will.}

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1) Have a plan, {Stan}. 

Really the most important thing you can do is think through the project. You’ll not only need to calculate your square footage, but you’ll also think about the breaks, walls and corners. How will you deal with the transition from tile to carpet, hardwood or even new tile? Will you need any border pieces to cap the tile on a wall or make a transition? Do you have the tools? Just be ready, and you’ll be fine.

We mentioned this in our How to Choose Tile post, but working with someone knowledgable can cure a whole lotta future headaches. We love The Builder Depot. If you’ve never done it before, the entire process can be a little intimidating, and it helps to have someone who will hold your hand. We were of walking around big stores feeling a bit lost, and these guys really made us feel like they were ready to help with anything. And they were. We can all use a little more confidence when it comes to taking on a space, and we just can’t say enough good things about them.

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2) A good tile saw is worth the investment.

Whether you rent it, borrow it {or get a Ridgid} having a good tile saw is a must. Not only will it make your life easier… it will make the cuts smoother and you’ll waste less. A not so good saw can end up costing you more in broken or chipped tile, so make sure you get a good one, with a good blade.

3) Mallets are a must and other helpful tools (beyond the basics):

• You’ll want a mallet to help level out the tile without risking a break in it.

• A couple of 5 gallon buckets will be amazing for everything from sitting on, to holding tools to mixing mortar, or even to help clean the tile.

• While we’re at it, it may seem like common sense, but maybe not: A sponge is great  for washing your tile clean and wiping up excess grout or mortar.

• A trowel will help get thin set and grout out of the bucket.

• A mixing adapter is not a must, but oh so helpful in mixing your mortar and grout. Most home improvement stores carry one for your drill.

• A chisel is great to have in case you need to get up any excess grout or thin set. This coming from the people who had to redo a few spots… 

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4) Don’t use a quick setting, thin set mortar

I had the bright idea that quick setting mortar would be great because I could lay all the tile and then be able to get back on it very quickly to lay the grout. Yeah I was wrong. It set so quick, that by the time I got to the bottom of the bucket, I’d better lay the tile right on the first try because mortar was too hardened to do anything with. Not to mention all that excess you see on the photo, yeah we had to chisel that away later.

Fun times.

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5) Half and half; don’t do it all at once

If you are like us and there’s a room on the other side of the room you are tiling {see: all our clothes in our closet} consider only tiling half one day, letting it set, and then doing the next half the next day. This way you never lose access to your room.

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6) Find your center 

For a room, I suggest starting in the center so that your room will look symmetrical. (This also helps with the above issue.) However don’t just slap a tile down and call it the center. Make sure you measure off all four, and then pop a chalk line down both centers.

7) Friends is more than just a tv show

I’m a big fan of having a helper for any project, but having one for tile projects is at the top of my list. They can do simple things like hand you tools, or even more importantly, they can be the one cutting all those tile angles while you lay the other tiles.

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8) Don’t rush, and be level

Rushing is the quickest way to waste tile and mess up a job. As the old saying goes, measure twice, cut once. Don’t rush through your measurements or cuts. Also don’t rush through laying the tile. Keep a 4 foot level handy, and continually run it over your tile to make sure you’re level. Use your mallet to lightly hammer down those tiles that stick up.

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9) Start high

When tiling a wall, I prefer to not start on the floor, but up off the floor to make sure I get a level line. In other words, don’t use the floor or your ceiling for a guide, because chances are, they aren’t.

10) Don’t over wash 

Don’t box yourself in, but start in one corner as you begin spreading the grout. This is the easiest and quickest ways to tile laying. Simply use your trowel to drop some grout on the tile and then take your float at a 45 degree angle.

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After letting it set according to the instructions, you’ll use a sponge to wipe off the excess. It will then dry, and there will be a filmy substance still covering the tile. Don’t keep wiping the tile with a sponge. Take a gauze scrubbing pad or terrycloth and wipe it clean with Mr Miyagi circles.

Yep. It’s a thing.

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And there they are, folks! Our favorite 10 things that can make your experience a lot more fun. {See: Not chiseling up the placed tile and saying things like I hate my life and why god why while you question your ever loving sanity and the kids ask what’s wrong with daddy}.

As always, if you have any questions, shoot away! Or if you have your own helpful hint… please share!

See our posts on Tips for choosing tile, bathroom sources, and the entire series, here.

Have an inspired day!


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2 Responses to tips for laying tile

  1. Thanks for the tips- I am about to start a huge kitchen tile job and need this!!

  2. Tia says:

    Great tips! We made some of the same mistakes (quick dry thinset — UGH!), and learned a lot from our first tile job. If I had to do it all over, the most important thing I learned is to take it slow. If you’re losing your patience, it’s a terrible time to be tiling :)