Ready to grout the tiles

How to lay tiles – simply.

Stack bond and subway (sometimes called brick bond) are the only tiling styles that I would really have a crack at.

The other types get complex and also require more wastage and or different size tiles. In my tiling efforts I used only stack bond (showers and splash backs) and subway tiling layouts.

Styles like Herringbone and Basket Weave is expert level stuff.  If you want this stuff my advice is get a pro.

Tile layouts for DIY tiling

Step 1: How to prepare a surface for tiling.

Check out the underlying surface and think about what you are tiling onto.  For me it was newly installed MDF flooring so it was neat and level but that may not always be the case.  You may be tiling on top of existing tiles or uneven floor.

You can use strategies like a self levelling compound that can be bought at Bunnings or you can put down extra sheet material (ply board) to reduce the differences in level, just make sure its secured.

Step 2: How to waterproof.

Waterproofing is that tricky mix of art, science and diligence that always catches The Block contestants out.

I didn’t waterproof my bathroom or toilet floor but, you could.

I did however waterproof my shower and key intersections where water is notorious for seeping in.  Target the intersection between the shower base and the tiled walls around it and between the bath and shower and the shower and the floor.

On reflection I could have been neater at the intersections but, the grouting – like a floaty top after a big meal – covers a myriad of sins.

Step 3: Mixing up tile adhesive.

For small jobs buy the premix adhesive product that doubles as grout. It’s great for fix ups and works well.

For larger jobs like a toilet floor consider the powder which comes in a bag sealed in a bigger bucket.  You then mix it up. (Don’t inhale)

The guys advised me to ignore the instructions for the ratio of water to adhesive powder.  Their theory is the manufacturers encourage overuse of their product to sell more.

However I reckon follow the instructions, at least the first time, and you’ll get a feel for what it should be like.

It should be like a thick paste that stays in place when you apply or scrape it on; nothing runny. If your tiles are slipping and sliding, its too wet.

Step 4: Setting out your tiles

If you read most of the instructions on line it will tell you to find the centre point of the room (or the wall or splashback) you intend to tile and to tile out from that centre point in each direction.

As a result you should end up with the cut down tiles only in just one width at the far outer edges of the room.

That’s cray cray and really overwhelming.  My lack of spatial reasoning coming to the fore again. I didn’t do this in my tiling jobs and it wasn’t the end of the world.

However I also just needed to get it done, on a small budget and didn’t mind if I ended up with a dodgy, weird sized tile at a wall intersection or behind the door.

I also didn’t factor in the fall of the flooring as I didn’t have a pre-existing floor waste.  In a new home they have to have one but in a renovation of an existing bathroom you don’t have to retrospectively install one, although its best practice.

If I had had to deal with differing floor levels I would not have done the floor tiling myself.

So to be honest I just started.

I started by placing full tiles into the far right corner under the suspended vanity unit and then just kept installing them in an offset manner (subway style).

Step 5: How to cut tiles

Note – eye protection safety glasses and if using the grinder ear muffs of the industrial kind are mandatory.  You may also want to wear a P1 or P2 disposable respirator to cover your nose and mouth as it spits out heaps of tile dust which can’t be great for you.

For the shower wall, bathroom and toilet floor and my splash backs I DIY’ed my cuts using a grinder.  This landed me in physio and agony for about three weeks with an arm that was literally numb from the shoulder down.

If you have just a handful of cuts to make, do have a crack at using the grinder.  Dangerous, but nothing a clever lady can’t tackle with some supervised practice.

However, anything more than that, dedicate a day to the job and just hire a tile cutter from Bunning’s, it’s what I will do next time.

Measure up those fiddly bits around the doors or where you need half or part tiles.

Use a right angle to ensure you transfer an ‘actually straight’ not just ‘sort of straight’ line to the tile as a template and go for your life.

Again, the grout covers a heap of sins so, if its not perfect don’t fret.  It will only slow you down.

I found cutting to the rear face of the tile was easiest as some of the tiles had a grid layout embedded on the tile and it resulted in a neater cut.

Step 6: Applying the tiles and tile adhesive

Once you have your tiles sorted, apply the adhesive to the surface you will be sticking the tiles to (not the other way around as I discovered).

Its important to:

a) get tile adhesive evenly spread all the way out to the edges

b) to clean up as you go if the glue squeezes up between joins

Make sure the glue isn’t squeezing up or even level with the tile as you must leave space for the grout.

I didn’t do this in some areas and was left with having to gouge the grey adhesive out.  Aim to keep a 2 mm or so of glue down from the surface, if its sticking up near level with the tiles it will poke through the grout leaving what looks like permanent speckles of dirt.

It does come off the tiles at the end of the job but definitely clean as you go to save the heartache.

Press the tiles down firmly and if you have something like a rubber mallet you can use that to tap them down so they are even.

Lay a spirit level over them to ensure they are even with the tiles adjoining them (i.e. one corner not sitting up higher than the others).  You can push them around to line them up for a while but it will get harder as the glue sets.

Use spacers (little white plastic crosses) extensively at all intersections to get the best, most even line up of tiles.

I did something like a couple of rows at a time.  Laying out the tiles, measuring up and doing any cuts and then applying glue for a row or two and laying them in sections.  This worked well enough for me.

Step 7: Grout your tiles

Basically go nuts and have fun.  Whether it’s the powder form you are mixing up (again a thick paste or just follow instructions) or using a pre mix version use anything from your finger to a wood spoon to the proper ‘float’.  Pick up blobs of the stuff and just start jamming it into corners.

Don’t be too precious at this stage but you do have to clean it up afterwards so don’t get too cray cray. You can scrape off the excess as you go and scrape it back into your bucket to reuse it.

Pack it into the joints doing like a m2 at a time and then have a big bucket of clean water and a sponge ready to wipe it off, it leaves quite neat indents, just don’t gouge it. I found just using my fingers to deal with fiddly areas worked best.  Then lay it off at a diagonal edge to get the finishing bevelled edge right.

Finally … shut the door and get it to try don’t let people walk on it as they may stick dirt into your lovely fresh grout lines.

Sign up to the SheBuilds E-Newsletter

About Suzanne Commerford

Suzanne has stepped out from behind the desk of Australia's largest home inspection business to build the skills, confidence and independence of women to tackle maintenance and home improvement projects around the home.

Leave a Reply