How to take on wall tiling
WHAT YOU'LL NEED TO GET THE JOB DONE
- Tape Measure
- Tile Cutter
- Tile Nibblers
- Tile File
- Hand Saw
- Spirit Level
- Notched Spreader
- Tile Adhesive
- Tile Spacers
Step 1: Planning
Regular ceramic wall tile sizes are commonly 100 x 100, 150 x 75, 150 x 150 and 200 x 100mm but interlocking circular, hexagonal and Provencale-shaped tiles are also available. They can be bought singly, by the square metre or in boxes. Mosaic tiles consist of smaller ceramic tiles mounted on mesh backing sheet about 300 x 300mm. They come in various shapes, from 22mm square to round, hexagonal or Provencale. The number of tiles on a sheet varies from 12 to about 80 depending on the size and shape of each tile. Before buying tiles, especially if tiling large areas or using a pattern, it is well worth doing a little planning first. To calculate the number of tiles you’ll need, measure the length and width of the area and divide each measurement by the size of tile you’re using, counting part tiles as whole ones. Then multiply the two figures to give the number of tiles needed. Add 5% for breakages. For patterns with two or more different tiles, it is best to sketch your design on graph paper using colours to mark where the different tiles go and then counting up the totals needed for each pattern.
Step 2: Preparing your surfaces
Tiles can be laid on brick, cement sheet, concrete, dry plaster or fibro surfaces as long as they are flat, firm, free from dirt, grease or flaking material. If the wall is painted, remove the paint with 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 Out
Since few rooms are perfectly square, you cannot use the floor or skirting boards as a true horizontal, or corners as your vertical guide. To overcome this, 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.
The battens also prevent tiles from slipping by supporting them until the adhesive has dried.
To ensure equal-sized cut tiles at the edges, the simplest way is to carefully and accurately mark out your tile widths on a piece of timber the length of the wall. Start marking in the centre and then mark the tile widths on both sides of this 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 so that the vertical line passes through the point where you decide the first tile should 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 sprit 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
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. To cut off strips of tiles from a sheet, simply 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, then remove it when the main tiling is done and fill in the gaps.
Step 5: Cutting to size
Before a ceramic tile will break, the glaze must be ‘scored’ – on the edges as well as the surface. 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 and press firmly on the other 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, 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 off
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.
Be 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 and 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 – grout can irritate the skin. Leave to dry for the manufacturers recommended time, then polish with a clean, dry cloth.