Tiling is one of my favourite DIY projects because you get the instant gratification of getting to step back and see a formerly blank wall come to life. It’s been over five years since our first tiling project and we have learned a lot in those years. More recently, we completed an epic bathroom tiling project with Fireclay tile in which we put all the below tips to use. After every project, we assess what we could have done better, so that the next time our results and process are even more fine tuned. So that you can skip over learning those lessons first-hand and be a more professional tiler, everything we’ve learned is below.
1. When tiling a shower, start on the second row
You cannot guarantee that your floors are 100% level, so it’s not a good base for your first row of tile. To get around this, we always cut scrap strips of wood to use as ledger boards, and then screw those boards into the wall using a laser level (this is our go-to laser level) to support the second row of tile (the first row of tile we lay). Then, once that first batch of tile has completely set, we unscrew the ledger board, reseal any holes that are in the shower area (not necessary in the rest of the bathroom), and come back to lay the first row of tile. Since your shower likely has a slope, make sure you plan to have enough variance in your tile height to cover the highest and lowest point in your shower.
2. Use a laser level and consult it often
Being extremely detail oriented pays off when laying tile. Your tile job will look infinitely more professional if you use a laser level throughout laying the tile to ensure that your tile pattern is lining up perfectly from row to row. It’s tempting to start to tile on the outside edge of the wall, but in all likelihood, your walls are not perfectly square. We always pick a tile closer to the center as the starting point, line up the laser level with where the tile needs to go, and then work outwards, leaving the pieces that touch the adjacent walls for last. As you go, keep checking that your rows are both level horizontally and vertically in alignment. It’s easy for each row to ever so slightly be off and then once you do get around to checking, realizing that the rows on top have gotten even more out of alignment. Checking the level for every row helps to avoid this issue.
3. Pull your tile from different boxes
When you’re using handmade tile, like Fireclay, or natural stone tile, it’s important to mix up the tile you’re using by pulling from different boxes. Otherwise, you may end with clumps of tile on your wall or floors that have the same coloring, which can be very noticeable.
4. Tile saws are messy, make sure to plan for clean-up
We like to put plastic sheeting underneath our tile saw and the surrounding area to keep the dust and water from the tile saw from getting everywhere. Also, tiling outside in an area that you can hose off is highly recommended.
5. Start every project with a fresh blade on your tile saw
If you want clean, sharp cuts, make sure to replace the blade on your tile saw after every big project. It’s easy to forget this step and finding yourself needing to recut a lot of tile because your cuts aren’t clean enough.
Also, make sure you’re using the right type of blade for your material. When working with stone, you’re going to need a diamond blade for clean, precise cuts.
6. Clean your grout joints as you go
Do not leave mastic or thinset to dry, unless you want to spend a lot of time chipping it out of your grout lines. We like to use the edge of a tile spacer to clean out grout joints as we go, and then come back an hour later to give them another cleaning. The longer you let the adhesive cure, the harder it is to remove.
7. Use tile spacers, but don’t rely solely on them
Most tile requires tile spacers for even and consistent grout joints, so use them liberally. For most applications, we use basic spacers, though some projects require leveling systems (specifically non-mosaic floors and large format wall tile). Tile spacers are important, but when you’re using handmade tile, you may see against your laser level line that some tiles aren’t 100% level, so you may need to manually adjust the tiles beyond by either cutting down a tile spacer or adding an extra one to bring the tile to level.
When working on the floor, make sure to use a leveling system to ensure there is no lippage (tile popping up), as it will drive you insane. You want to not notice the change in tile underfoot, so a leveling system and a flat, level surface are critical to a pro-level job.
8. Make sure your surface is flat and level
Like almost all projects, a good base makes a huge difference in your finished product. Before you even think about laying your first tile, confirm that your surface is flat and level. If there are any screws in the surface, make sure they’re fully sunk into the drywall or cement board and then use a scraper to scrape any excess around the screw hole. If you have two pieces of wallboard (drywall or cement board) that aren’t flush to one another, you will eventually end up with the tiles over that joint cracking.
For floors, consider self leveling compound if you have to correct a slope, as it will take the guesswork out of a fully flat and level surface.
9. Don’t skip over planning out where the tile will lay
Planning your tile in advance can make a huge difference in how high quality your tile looks. Avoid any slivers of tile on a wall by laying the tile on the floor in the pattern in front of the wall and using spacers to get the correct spacing, and if you are finding that a tile is landing close to being a sliver, scoot everything over to resolve it before any tile is adhered to the wall. Vertical planning is a bit more difficult, but is still important, where you’re going to want to do the math and determine where your tile will terminate at the ceiling line, if it looks like too small a cut, you’ll want to scoot your first (well, second) row up or down. You’ll also want to make sure you don’t have any slivers at the bottom of the wall either.
10. Plan in advance how you will trim out your tile
What I love about working with Fireclay Tile is that you can get trim pieces to finish off your tile, like a round liner or quarter round to cap the top or edge where the wall tile terminates. Don’t forget to think about how you’re going to turn outside corners with tile (we used bullnose tile to wrap our corners), or if you’re going to use cove tile at the base of the wall. I’m personally not a huge fan of Schluter tile trim, where I think it works for modern executions, but less so for traditional spaces, that being said, it is always a realistic solution for trimming tile.