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How to take on wall tiling

Looking to really transform your kitchen or bathroom? Fresh tiles could be the thing. When selected well and done properly, wall tiling completely reimagines wet spaces, adding new colours and textures and making it feel like a new room.

If you’re ready for the challenge, we’re here to help. Here’s what you will need for your wall tiling project.

Tools

  • Hammer
  • Tape Measure
  • Tile Cutter
  • Tile Nibblers
  • Tile File
  • Hand Saw
  • Spirit Level
  • Plumb-bob
  • Straightedge
  • Sponge
  • Squeegee
  • Notched Spreader

Building Materials

  • Tile Adhesive
  • Grout
  • Tile Spacers

Step 1: Planning 

You will need regular ceramic wall tiles – these are commonly found in 100 x 100, 150 x 75, 150 x 150 and 200 x 100mm sizes. You can also go for interlocking circular, hexagonal and Provencale-shaped tiles. Choose your tile size and shape based on your preference and the available space. They can be bought single, by the square metre or in boxes. Alternatively, mosaic tiles consist of smaller ceramic tiles mounted on mesh backing sheets about 300 x 300mm. They come in a variety of forms ranging from 22mm square to round, hexagonal or Provencale. Furthermore, the number of tiles on a sheet varies from 12 to about 80 depending on the size and shape of each tile.

If you’re tiling large areas or using any patterns, doing a little planning first is vital. You will need to calculate the number of tiles you’ll need. Here, you would need to measure the length and width of the area. Then divide each measurement by the size of tile you’re using, counting each part tile as a complete one. Multiply the two figures to give the number of tiles needed. Add 5% for breakages. For patterns with two or more different tiles, sketch your design on graph paper using colours to mark where the different tiles go. Afterwards, count up the total needed for each pattern.

Step 2: Preparing your walls 

Tiles can be laid on brick, cement sheet, concrete, dry plaster, fibro or any other surface. However they should remain flat, firm, free from dirt, grease or flaking material. If the wall is painted, remove the paint with a stripper. Uneven, chipped or cracked surfaces need to be filled and leveled with cement or a patching compound. If plasterboard, it must be firmly fixed. New plaster needs a month to dry out before tiling and a plaster primer applied. Wallpaper should be stripped completely as it could be pulled off the wall by the tile adhesive. Laminates can also be tiled over so long as the entire sheet is flat, soundly fixed and roughened to provide a key for the tile adhesive.

Step 3: Marking the tiling area

Mark the wall one tile high from the floor or skirting board, depending on where the tile is to end. Next, nail a perfectly straight timber batten across the full width of the wall so that the upper edge of the batten is on a line with your mark. Use a spirit level to make sure it is perfectly level. Don’t drive the nails fully in – the battens will be removed later. If more than one wall is being tiled, continue to fix battens around the room at the same height using the spirit level to check the horizontal.

Additionally, the battens will prevent tiles from slipping by supporting them until the adhesive has dried. Carefully mark out your tile widths on a piece of timber the length of the wall to ensure equal-sized cut tiles at the edges. Next, mark the centre and the tile widths on both sides allowing for grouting gaps. This will quickly tell you how the tiles will end up and let you make any adjustments before laying your tiles to avoid narrow, awkward cuts along the edges.

Now, establish a true vertical line by hanging a plumb-bob down the wall. The vertical line should pass through the point where you decide the first tile to be laid, and mark it. A good rule is to always start tiling from the bottom left-hand side.

Step 4: Laying your tiles 

Begin where the vertical line meets the horizontal batten and smooth on a layer of adhesive. Spread over one square metre only at a time to prevent the adhesive drying out before you reach the end. Then comb the adhesive with a notched spreader. Place the first tile on the batten and line up against the vertical, pressing it firmly into the adhesive with a slight twist. Don’t slide them as this squeezes up adhesive between joints.

If your tiles come with built-in spacing lugs on the edges for grouting, butt them up closely so the lugs touch. If not, you can insert plastic spacers, matchsticks or pieces of cardboard between the tiles for uniform grouting gaps. When you’ve completed the first square metre, check that the tiles are straight by holding a spirit level to the edges and make any adjustments needed. Then go on to the next square metre as before. Supporting battens should be left in position until the main tiling is finished. They can be removed later and tiles cut to fill the spaces left blank

Mosaic Tiles

The method for laying mosaic tiles is similar. Lay the whole sheet, remembering to leave the same gap between each sheet as there is between the individual mosaics. Trim through the mesh backing with a sharp utility knife to get the right number of rows.

Tiling around fixtures 

When tiling around sinks, basin or other wall fixtures, follow the same steps as described for starting at floor level. Place a piece of straight timber batten above the fixture to provide support for the tiles. Remove the batten when the main tiling is done and fill in the gaps.

Step 5: Cutting to size 

First, mark on the tile where it has to be cut and score a line on the glazed surface using your scribing tile cutter against a straightedge. For medium thick lines, place a pencil along and under the scored line, hold one side. Press firmly on the other side so it snaps along the score line.

For thin tiles, use matchsticks and press the edges on both sides. Alternatively, use a heavy duty tile cutter which clasps the tile during breaking. To cut a shape, make a card template, place it on the tile and score with the scribing tile cutter. Then nibble away the waste. Use a tile file to smooth all cut edges or to slightly trim whole tiles.

Step 6: Finishing touches

Grouting is the final step. Grout is the cement used to fill the horizontal and vertical gaps between tiles and can be white or coloured. Make sure all excess adhesive is cleaned off from the surface of the tiles and grouting gaps first or it may show through after grouting and polishing. Then wait 12 to 24 hours before grouting to ensure the adhesive is completely dry.

Mix the grout according to the maker’s instructions. Work it well into the gaps with a small sponge or squeegee to ensure complete penetration. Wipe off excess grout from the surface before it hardens with a clean, damp sponge. On a very large area, grout and clean about a square metre at a time. To ensure smooth joints, round the end of a piece of dowel using sandpaper and run it gently along the grouting. If you use your finger for this, make sure you wear rubber gloves as grout can irritate the skin. Leave to dry and polish afterwards with a clean, dry cloth.