Step 1: Overview
This vanity top would be at home in
any luxury bathroom. Even though
we chose relatively expensive glass
tile, the completed top was than half the cost of custom
granite, marble or solid-surface tops.
Glass mosaic tile like we used is perfect for
a project like this because you can adjust
the size of the top to use only full tiles and
avoid cutting. Plus, you can choose from
hundreds of colors, textures and patterns to
create a look that’s perfect for your décor.
You’ll be able to finish this project in a weekend
using standard carpentry tools and a 3/16-in.
V-notch trowel, a grout float and a grouting
sponge. A microfiber cloth works better than a cotton
rag for cleaning off the grout haze. You can buy
them at home centers, hardware stores and most
discount retailers. You’ll also need buckets for
mixing thin-set and grout and for rinse water.
Don’t forget a pair of rubber, vinyl or latex gloves
and safety glasses.
Figure A: Vanity Top Detail
Figure A: Vanity Top Detail
Save yourself some
headaches and get
by sizing the base
to fit the tile.
Step 2: Round up the materials
Start by choosing the tile. (This could be the hardest
part!) If your local tile shops or home centers don’t
have tile you like, shop online like we did for an almost
unlimited selection and reasonable prices. To duplicate
our project, choose a 3/4-in. square mosaic
that’s 1/8 in. thick and has a mesh backing. Avoid
mosaics that are held together with a removable
paper face. They’re difficult to install. Plan to spend $7 to
$24 per square foot for
glass tile. Here’s a list of
other materials you’ll need:
We used two layers
of 5/8-in. plywood, which, combined
with the 1/4-in. backer board,
resulted in a 1-1/2-in.-thick top, a perfect
thickness for two courses of our 3/4-in. tile.
If your tiles are a different size or you want a
different top thickness, adjust the plywood and
backer board thicknesses accordingly.
Tile backer board
We used a lightweight tile backer board that you can cut
with a utility knife. Cement backer board would also work well.
Look for special glass tile mortar.
It’s white and specially formulated to stick
well to glass tile. It’s available in a powder that
you mix with water. Standard modified white
thin-set will also work.
Cement board screws
Choose screws that are
labeled for use with cement board. They have a
special corrosion-resistant coating.
Cement board tape
Check the label—it must be
cement board tape so the mesh will hold up to the
alkaline cement products.
We used nonsanded grout because we
wanted smooth grout lines. You can also use sanded
grout. Make a sample board by gluing a few
glass mosaic tiles to a scrap of wood and grouting
them to make sure you like the result.
Step 3: Size the base
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Photo 1: Design the top to avoid cutting tile
Cut a paper pattern the size of the vanity cabinet and lay it over the tile. That
makes it easy to size the top for full tiles.
Glass tile is a nightmare to cut. Save yourself some
headaches and get better-looking results by sizing
the base to fit the tile. With the tile in hand, you can figure out exactly what size to build the plywood
base. One easy method is to carefully lay out
the sheets of mosaic with an equal grout space
between the sheets. Make a paper pattern of your
vanity cabinet including the thickness of the door
or drawer fronts. Arrange the pattern over the
sheets of tile and adjust the position until there’s
an equal-width tile on each side. Use the pattern to
determine the overhangs, based on where full tiles
occur. Aim for about a 1/2-in. overhang on the
sides and between 1/2-in. and 1-in. past the drawers
on the front. Cut the mesh backing so the sheets
of tile are the size of the top. Now carefully measure
the width and length of the tiles. This will be
the finished size of your countertop after it’s tiled.
The plywood base has to be smaller than the
size of the finished top to accommodate the
backer board, tile and thin-set. To figure the size
of the plywood, add the thickness of the tile (1/8
in.), the tile backer board (1/4 in.) and the thin-set
(1/16 in.) and subtract this amount from the width
(front to back). Deduct twice this amount from the
length (side to side). It’s critical that you cut the
plywood to exactly the right size, so double-check all your math (Photo 1).
Step 4: Build the base
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Photo 2: Build the plywood base
Two layers of plywood make a stiff, strong base for the tile. Mark and cut the
plywood carefully to make sure the top is perfectly square.
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Photo 3: Cover the base with backer board
Tile backer board forms a waterproof layer for a long-lasting countertop.
Quarter-inch-thick backer is all you need over the strong plywood base.
Cut both layers of plywood, being careful to make
exact cuts. Then plan the sink location and make
the sink cutout. Self-rimming sinks usually include
a template that you can use to trace the cutout onto
the plywood. Cut the backer board to the same size
as the plywood and make the sink cutout. You’ll
also need strips of backer board to cover the edges.
Screw the two layers of plywood together.
Space screws about 8 in. apart. Then screw the
plywood to the vanity cabinet, making sure the
overhang is even on both sides and that the front
edge is parallel to the vanity cabinet (Photo 2).
Next, cover the plywood with backer board
(Photo 3). Cut and test-fit the backer board first.
Then mix powdered thin-set mortar with water to
about the consistency of peanut butter. Spread it
onto the plywood with a 3/16-in. V-notch trowel.
Finally, screw the backer board to the plywood,
placing screws about 8 in. apart.
The last step before tiling is to wrap the corners
of the backer board with cement board tape. Start
by vacuuming and then wiping the top and edges
with a clean cloth to remove dust. Wrap the adhesive-
backed tape around the corners and press it
down. Then cover the tape with a thin layer of
thin-set mortar. After the thin-set hardens, scrape
off any lumps and dust off the top again to prepare
it for tiling.
Step 5: Tile the countertop
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Photo 4: Comb out, then flatten the thin-set
Use a 3/16-in. V-notch trowel to spread a layer of thin-set over the backer
board. Then flatten it with the straight side of the trowel.
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Photo 5: Start setting the tile at the corner
For perfectly aligned grout joints, start by setting a strip of tile on the front
and side edges, and a full sheet of tile on top. Adjust the tile until the grout
lines on the top line up with the grout lines on the front and sides.
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Photo 6: Embed the tile with a wood block
Tap the top of the mosaic tile with a flat block of wood to level the surface
and ensure a secure bond with the thin-set.
Photos 4 – 6 show how to spread the
mortar and embed the tile. Before you
start, cut the mesh backing to form
strips of tile for the edges and make
the sink cutout. Trim the mesh tight to
the tile so you don’t have any mesh
whiskers sticking out. Then arrange
the tile in the shape of the vanity and
within easy reach of the vanity top so
you can easily reach it after spreading
Mix and spread the thin-set. Pay
close attention to Photo 4; it shows an
important tip. Flattening the mortar
after you spread it with the notched
trowel prevents thin-set from filling
the grout spaces when you embed the
tile. Any thin-set that gets into the
grout spaces has to be cleaned out
before you can grout the tile, so this
tip will save you a lot of time and
Set the tiles on the top and edges as
quickly and accurately as possible
(Photo 5). You need to work fast so you
can make slight adjustments to the
tile before the thin-set starts to set up.
When you’re satisfied that the tile top
and edges are perfectly aligned,
embed the tile (Photo 6). Let the thinset harden overnight before grouting.
Step 6: Grout the tile
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Photo 7: Grout the tile
Work the grout back and forth in different directions to completely fill the joints and eliminate voids. Well-packed joints are the key to a lasting grout job.
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Photo 8: "Tool" the grout with a damp sponge
Wait until the grout starts to set up before
tooling. Wring out the sponge until it's just
damp. Then rub it over the tile in a circular
motion to smooth and shape the grout
and fill tiny voids and pinholes.
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Photo 9: Buff off the grout film
Wait until the grout is hard before buffing
it. Then polish it with a microfiber cloth to
remove the haze.
Photos 7–9 show how to grout the tile.
Start by mixing the grout according to the directions on the package. Let
it rest for about 10 minutes—this is
called “slaking.” Then mix it again.
It’ll often thicken a bit after slaking
and require a bit more water. The
grout should be the consistency of
Here are some grouting tips:
- Work the grout from all angles
with the float to completely fill the
joints (Photo 7).
- Scrape off the excess before it
starts to set.
- Wait until the grout starts to harden
before cleaning it with a sponge.
If you can’t make a fingerprint, it’s
- Keep the rinse water clear and
wring all the water out of the sponge
when you’re cleaning the grout. Use
a clean side of the sponge for each
- Use a damp sponge to tool the
grout after it sets up (Photo 8). Wait
about 15 minutes after cleaning
before tooling the tile.
- Coat the grout with a grout sealer
to help prevent staining and make it
more water-resistant. Wait two or
three days before sealing.
Step 7: Finishing touches
We added a backsplash before setting the
sink. A backsplash could be as simple as
tiles attached to the wall with thin-set, or
something more elaborate. We screwed
3/8-in. plywood to the wall, covered it
with 1/4-in. backer board and surrounded
it with 3/4-in.-thick oak trim. Then
we tiled over the backer board, grouted
the tile and caulked the seam between
the countertop and the backsplash with
a fine bead of clear silicone caulk.
Glass Tile Mirror
The mirror frame is made
From a 3/4-in. x 4-1/2-in.
oak board with a 1-5/8-
in.-wide dado on the face
to accommodate a band
of tile and a 3/8-in. rabbet
on the back to hold the
mirror. We cut the dado
with dado blades mounted
on a table saw. A router
would also work. We sized
the frame so we wouldn't
have to cut tiles at the
corners. After mitering the
parts and staining the
frame, we set the tile
strips in a thin bead of
Then we finished it off by
masking the wood and
grouting the tile.