Save on Pinterest

Pro Tile Tips

Updated: Jun. 30, 2017

A good tile job is a work of art. We asked our favorite tile pro for some tips about which methods and materials can turn a so-so tile job into a masterpiece.

FH100111_002_TILTIP_01-2Family Handyman
Our favorite tile guy, Dean Sorem, has been plying his trade for 15 years and he never stops researching, trying new products and looking for a better way to do things. Here are Dean's top tips for using new methods and products to make your next tile job the best it can be.

You might also like: TBD

Polish stone edges

Make your own trim by polishing edge pieces

Save money and get a better looking tile job by making your own trim pieces for marble, granite and other stone tile jobs. Our expert prefers the honeycomb-style dry diamond polishing pads with hook-and-loop fasteners. They allow him to quickly run through a series of grits from 60 to 800 or higher without wasting a lot of time changing pads. This type of disc requires a variable speed grinder because the maximum allowable rpm is about 4,000.

No need for bullnose trim

Take the top of a shower curb, for example. You would have to buy enough bullnose trim to cover both edges, and you’d end up with a grout joint down the center where the two rows of bullnose meet. Dean covers the curb with one piece of stone, polished on both edges.

Backbutter for a better bond

Keep big tiles from coming loose

As bigger tiles have become more common, so has the problem of loose tiles in a finished tile job. It’s harder to get a good bond with a large surface. Big tiles require a special technique: You need to trowel a thin layer of thinset on the back of each tile before you set it. Set the loaded trowel near the center of the tile and spread a thin layer of thin-set to the edge. Then rotate the tile a quarter turn and repeat until the back is evenly covered.

Plan layouts with a laser level

Prevent mistakes with a laser level

Laser levels save time and increase accuracy. Dean uses a self-leveling laser to help plan the tile layout. He projects a level line around the room and measures from it to determine the size of the cut tiles along the edges. Then, after figuring out an ideal layout, he uses the laser as a guide to chalk layout lines. The laser saves time by eliminating the fussy job of extending level lines around the room with a 4-ft. level.

Don’t wash the grout too soon

Test the grout with your fingertips

Our expert says that one of the biggest mistakes you can make on a grout job is to start cleaning up the grout too soon. Wiping the grout before it’s hardened a bit allows too much water to penetrate the surface. That means blotchy-looking grout or, worse, hairline cracking and grout that falls out. To avoid these problems, be sure the grout is very firm, about like a wine cork, before you start cleaning it. Press your fingertip into the grout to test it. If it dents easily, wait.

Use a self-feeding screw gun

Self-feeding screws speed the process

Screwing down backer board is monotonous and time-consuming, so when Dean discovered that cement board screws were available for self-feeding screw guns and that they didn’t cost any more than loose screws, he bought a self-feeding screw gun and left his old screw gun at the shop. The Senco Duraspin tool shown is available at some home centers. If you need help locating a dealer, go to Corded versions of self-feeding screw guns sell for about $100 and cordless for $150.

Use a Schluter system for a leakproof shower

A preformed shower base makes it simple

The Schluter shower system eliminates the hassles and potential leaks of pouring your own shower base by providing the tile setter with a preformed shower base and curb, a special drain and a waterproofing membrane. Schluter even includes preformed inside and outside corner pieces to seal these tricky spots. All you need to provide is unmodified thin-set and some tools. For information on where to buy the Schluter system and how to install it, go to (800-472-4588).

Waterproof wet areas

Apply a waterproof coating

The only sure way to keep water from reaching the backer board is to waterproof all areas that may be exposed to water. That’s easy with the new waterproofing coatings. Dean uses the RedGuard brand, but there are others. Dean says, ‘If in doubt, coat it with waterproofing.’ Follow the application instructions on the container. Dean applies the RedGuard with an inexpensive paint pad, which he prefers to a brush or roller because it works like a trowel, allowing him to quickly spread a thick, even layer.

Flatten walls with shims

Align studs with cardboard strips

The solution to crooked walls is to flatten them before you screw the board to them. Choose the longest level that will fit across a wall and use it to see if any studs are bowed in or out. If a stud is really bowed out (1/4 in. or more), Dean saws a kerf about two-thirds through the stud at its midpoint and pushes it back. Then he’ll screw a straight stud alongside to hold it in place. In most cases, though, shimming the studs with thin strips of cardboard to get them into alignment is enough.