Take your tiling skills to the next level. Learn pro tricks for dealing with complicated diagonal layouts, extra-large tiles, uneven walls, dried mortar cleanup and other tiling problems.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine:October 2010
The usual way to lay tile diagonally is to mark 45-degree diagonal lines on the wall or floor. But when
that angle isn’t 45 degrees, as with the diamond-shaped tile you see here, getting exact lines is even harder. So we’ll show you a better way: Mark a single layout line and center the tiles over it by aligning
the corners of the tile with the line. Build a pyramid
centered on the line and use the sides of the pyramid to
align each diagonal course. Check the sides of the
pyramid occasionally with a straightedge.
Thin-set mortar is the best bedding
adhesive for most tile. But if you’re setting
tiles larger than 12 x 12 in., look for terms like “medium bed,” “large
tile” or “large format” on the bag label. Bigger tile requires a thicker bed, and
unlike standard thin-set, medium-bed
mortar doesn’t lose its bonding strength
when you lay it on thick. It’s also firmer
and shrinks less, so tiles stay in position
better while the mortar hardens.
Medium-bed mortar is available at tile
stores and some home centers.
If you’re planning a wall niche, lay out
the tile and take some measurements
to determine the size of the niche. If
you custom-size the niche to fit
between full tiles, you’ll get a better-looking
installation and avoid some
cutting. With a diagonal tile layout like
the one shown here, you’ll get full tiles
and half tiles. If trim will frame the
niche, be sure to factor it into the
By building features like this wall niche based on the size and layout of the tile, you can create designs that look balanced and symmetrical.
“Lippage” is the technical term for uneven tile edges (though “@%&#” is more common). Lippage is hard to avoid with large tile and easy to see with narrow grout lines or tile that has square—rather than rounded—edges.
In any of those circumstances, leveling clips and wedges help you lay tile flat. Just slip the clip under the tile and push in the wedge. After the thin-set hardens, break off the exposed clip. LASH brand clips are available at tile stores and some home centers.
The top of the plastic T fits under the two adjoining tiles. The wedge then forces the edges into alignment.
Make a shallow cut across the tile—about 1/8 in. deep.
This minimizes chipping.
Cut a finishing end slit about 2 in. long. This prevents cracking as you approach the end of the main cut.
Make the main cut as usual. Don’t rush it; slow, steady pressure creates the cleanest cut.
Porcelain tile is incredibly hard—and incredibly brittle. So it often chips along cuts or cracks before the cut is complete. Here’s a three-step routine that eliminates those problems. The first step only works with saws that allow you to adjust the depth of cut. If yours doesn’t, you can still make the second and third cuts to avoid cracks.
When you’re shopping for tile supplies, take a detour to the sandpaper aisle and pick up a pack of fine abrasive pads. Along with a little water, they’re great for removing stubborn thin-set smudges on the face of tile. And they won’t scratch the glossy glaze.
Your thin-set probably has a chart like this on the label. Don't rely on it. The recommendations are a good starting point, but they don't guarantee a thin-set bed thick enough to provide full contact with the tile. And without full contact, you don't get full support or adhesion.
As the chart shows, larger tiles require larger trowel notches (to provide a thicker bed). But other factors matter too: the flatness of the wall or floor, or the texture of the tile's back. So the only reliable way to know that the bed is thick enough is to set the first few tiles, then immediately pry them up. If the tile hasn't made full contact, you'll see it. The easiest solution is to use the next notch size. With tiles larger than 12 in., it's a good idea to also “back butter” them with thin-set. Also keep an eye on “squeeze-out” during the job. If you don't see thin-set squeezing out between tiles, pull up a tile to check coverage.
A suction cup lets you lift a
sunken tile or adjust a crooked
one. Some home centers and
hardware stores carry them;
most don’t. To shop online,
search for “suction cup
handle.” Keep in mind
that they only work on
Huge tiles are popular these days, and the best way to cut
them is with a big, expensive tile saw. Here’s the next best
way: a handheld wet saw guided by a straightedge (we used a
plywood scrap). The saw shown here, along
with the three-step cutting method shown above, gave us
perfectly straight cuts in porcelain tile (but with some chipping).
A cement-mixing tub caught most of the mess.
Tile setters use a margin trowel for everything: prying
up sunken tiles, nudging crooked ones, cleaning out
grout lines, mixing up small batches of thin-set or
grout, scooping mix out of the bucket and scraping up
messes. Makes a great back scratcher, too. If you’re setting
tile, you’ve got to have one (sold at home centers).
If you’re using tile trim, it’s often necessary to “build out” the trim
so it protrudes from the field tile. A strip of tile backer
can help you get the build-out just right. Any kind of backer board
will do; just slather one side with thin-set or mastic and stick it in
place. Here the trim wasn’t quite thick enough to overhang
the tile below, so we set the trim over a strip of 1/4-in. backer. To
make adjustments of less than 1/4 in., you don’t need a strip of
backer; just apply a heavier bed of thin-set.
An old shirt makes wiping your hands quick
and convenient. And that keeps thin-set
smudges off the tile. When the job is done, just
toss it. Bet you have some shirts that belong in
the trash anyway.
Thin-set today is a lot stickier and
tougher than it used to be. That’s a
good thing for your tile job, but not so
good for your tools. For easier cleanup,
toss a coarse sanding sponge (sold at
home centers) into your water bucket.
The grit cuts through partially dried
thin-set or grout. And unlike rags or
sponges, it doesn’t snag on the teeth of
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
You'll also need a tile saw, margin trowel, abrasive pads and a suction cup.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.
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