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How to Tile a Wall

Before you start tiling a wall, you’ll need get it ready for the new tiles. The first job to do is to remove any existing tiles from the wall. This can be done using a hammer and bolster chisel. I strongly urge you to wear safety goggles and gloves when removing tiles from a wall (or ceiling) as little bits of sharp tile can damage your eyes and cut your fingers.

Protect surfaces in the work area to avoid damage from falling tiles and be aware of any sharp pieces of tile on the floor.

When all the tiles have been removed, the wall surface needs to be prepared for the new tiles and adhesive.

The wall should be as flat as possible as reflections from glazed tiles will show up and exaggerate any discrepancies in your tiling.

Any loose plaster should be removed, any high spots chiselled out and patched up and any holes filled.

(You might want to read the article on how to repair cracked or damaged plaster on internal walls.)

Allow time for the new plaster to dry thoroughly before tiling.

Don’t try to tile over old wallpaper. It must be removed, and any smooth or shiny surfaces should be scratched with a knife and/or coarse sand/wet and dry paper so the adhesive has something to ‘key’ to. Check out my article on how to prepare interior walls before decorating.

Tools required to tile a wall

  • Hammer/lump hammer
  • Bolster chisel
  • Safety goggles
  • Gloves
  • Protective cover(s)
  • Plastering trowel
  • Knife
  • Course sand/wet and dry paper

Safety tip: Wear safety googles and gloves to avoid any injury from sharp pieces of flying tile and sharp tile edges, keep children and pets away from the work area as again there may be sharp pieces of tile on the floor.

Tiling a wall is straightforward providing the wall has been prepared correctly.

I always use a ready mixed waterproof adhesive and plastic tile spacers with a width of around 3 mm, which can be purchased from all tile and DIY stores. The spacers are in the shape of a cross and make tiling a wall a great deal easier, providing the first row of tiles stuck in position are perfectly level (see diagram below).

Tile spacers

There are two ways to apply tile adhesive.

A professional tiler will more than likely use a large serrated edge trowel and spread it on the wall surface, then stick the tiles in place. This is a good method but you have to work quickly before the adhesive starts to set and I, like most DIYers, don’t tile every day.

So I use the following method.

Using the serrated edge on your adhesive spreader (the red one in the image below), spread an even layer of adhesive on the back of the tile, usually around 4 to 5 mm thick (try to use roughly the same amount of adhesive on each tile), and place it on the wall.

Trowel for large tiles, adhesive spreader(the Red one), for wall tiles and sponge

As you place each tile in position fit the tile spacers on the corners of each tile and remove any excess adhesive that may come through the joints.

When you’ve stuck about six tiles in position, place a straight edge or your spirit level on the face of the tiles to check they are level. Adjust any tiles that are not sitting flat. If any tiles are set back too far you will have to take the tile off the wall and add a little adhesive to bring it further out, so it’s level with the other tiles.

Continue tiling across and up the wall, placing tiles in position and making the appropriate cuts. Don’t forget, cut tiles have sharp edges so wear  gloves when handling them. When all the tiles are on the wall, allow time for the adhesive to set and then you are ready for grouting.

How to grout tiles

Tools required for grouting tiles

  • Tile grout
  • Grout spreader
  • Sealant gun
  • Spong
  • Dry and damp cloths

When the tile adhesive has set, you can grout the joints between the tiles. Most ready mixed adhesives double up as a grout as well. Check the adhesive you have left over for grouting doesn’t have any dust or debris mixed in with it from your tiling, as it will obviously discolour the grout, if it does it is probably better to purchase a new small tub of the adhesive so you achieve a clean white finish to your grouting.

Tiles grouted, cleaned and buffed up

DIY Tip :-  Where tile edges meet kitchen worktop surfaces I prefer to fill this joint with a little bit of an appropriately coloured sealant, rather than grout, this allows for a little bit of flexibility at the joint and reduces the chance of discolouration from spills etc. If the joint becomes discolored over a period of time, the sealant can easily be removed and applied again.

If you have not grouted before, it can take a little practice and patience. Use a grout spreader (the red one in the picture above) to fill the joints between the tiles. I usually grout around 8 – 10 tiles a time if they are around 6″ x 6″ (150mm x 150mm) each, but you can do more or less as you see fit.

Use the spreader to ‘push in’ and fill the tile joints with the grout. The grout does tend to set quite quickly so remove any excess from the surface of the tiles carefully with a damp sponge. You can give the grout in the joint an even smoother finish by gently running the tip of your finger along it. Its like I explained earlier, with a little practice you will work out a method that suits you best.

When you have completed grouting the tiles, let the grout set hard and then wipe over the tiled surface with a damp cloth to remove any ‘dull’ marks on the surface. Then buff the surface of the tiles with a clean dry cloth. Any small gaps that may appear in joints or tile beads can be filled with a little bit of grout or sealant.

Tile beading

Tiling bead comes in various colours and gives a smooth finished edge to tops of tile rows and corners, any small visible gaps can be filled with either a little grout or coloured sealant. When you are ready to tile a corner or top row of tiles, cut the tiling bead to length/angle using a small mitre block and a hacksaw with a fine blade, as shown below, lightly sand off any rough edges from the cut and as you put the tiles in position put the bead in place. Tile bead has a thin serrated back which the adhesive can ‘key’ to.  The adhesive will set and hold it in place.

Small tile bead mitre box

Tools required :-

  • Grout spreader
  • Tile spacers
  • Spirit level
  • Manual or power tile cutter
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Hacksaw
  • Small mitre box
  • Tile file

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