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How to tile your walls

Tile your walls

Successful tiling relies on planning.

When applying wall tiles you want to achieve a perfectly flat surface with a grid of uniform thickness grouted joints.

Tools and materials

Tiling kit

Quantity: 1

Tile spacers

Quantity: 1

Notched trowel

Quantity: 1

Tile cutter

Quantity: 1

Silicone sealant

Min 1

Wall tile adhesive

Min 1

Wall tile grout

Min 1

Eye protection

Quantity: 1

Dust mask

Quantity: 1

Tile calculator.
Use this handy calculator to help you estimate the number of tiles you'll need for the job.

Ideal for the job

Cutting tiles
Heavy-duty, lever-actioned tile cutters combine a scorer and snapper with a sturdy bed to support the tile. Some incorporate a removable gauge for measuring the tiles and will even make an allowance for a grout gap and tapered cut.

There are various methods of making curved cuts in tiles; one is to use a tile saw, which allows you to change direction easily.

Giving grouted joints a neat, uniform appearance is easy with a grout finisher.

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Applying whole tiles

Bed whole tiles – known as field tiles – so that their faces are level; any unevenness will spoil the overall effect. Lift any that are high or low, adding or scraping away adhesive as needed.

Work on no more than 1 sq m at a time or the adhesive may harden before all the tiles are in place.

1 Beginning in the corner formed by the two wall battens (see How To Plan Your Wall and Floor Tiling leaflet), scoop up some adhesive with a trowel and press it on to the wall. Spread it out with a notched spreader, working away from the vertical batten with horizontal strokes and holding the blade at an angle of about 45°. The ridges produced will ensure that there is an equal quantity of adhesive behind each tile, making it easier to set them all level.

2 Set the first tile into the corner between the two battens, pressing its edges against them and the whole tile firmly against the wall.

3 Add the tile above it and the one next to it, spacing them initially by eye and pushing the tiles firmly into the adhesive.

4 Insert a tile spacer into the angles between the tiles and adjust the tile positions as necessary. Plastic tile spacers make it easy to obtain uniform joints. Push them in well so that they can be grouted over.

5 Continue until you have tiled the area of adhesive. Apply more adhesive and tiles to the wall until you reach the point where you need to finish off with cut tiles. As you work, wipe off splashes of adhesive with a damp sponge.

6 Take off the vertical batten by prising out its nails. Remove any hardened adhesive that has spread from under the tiles with the edge of a scraper. Continue adding tiles to the wall, then finish off with cut tiles.

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Cutting tiles

You can choose from a variety of hand and power tools to cut tiles, and some will be easier to use than others. What you go for will depend on the size of the job and your budget. Straight cuts.

Tile scribe – simplest and cheapest tool. Suitable for small projects.

Combined scorer/snapper – cheap and simple, suitable for a small number of small, thin tiles.

Tile-cutting machine – robust device, easy to use and relatively inexpensive. Suitable for most tiles.

Cutting curves

Tile saw – simple and cheap. Use for small number of curves.

Tile shaping template – ideal for marking shapes and curves on your tiles.

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Internal corners

Corners between walls are rarely truly vertical, so resist the temptation to cut all the edge tiles to the same size – you will probably find that some do not fit. Instead, measure up for each tile separately.

1 To mark a tile for cutting hold the tile exactly over the last whole tile in the row, then butt another tile against the wall, and mark where it overlaps the one below with a tile marker.

2 After cutting, check the fit of the tile and make any small adjustments with a tile file if necessary.

3 Use the narrow end of the notched trowel to apply adhesive to the back of the cut tile, then press it into place so that it is level with the adjacent tile. Insert tile spacers as necessary. When you have completed one wall, you can tile the next. Care is needed when cutting these edge tiles, to ensure a uniform grouted joint where they meet the tiles on the facing wall.

Safety first

Always wear safety goggles and a dust mask to protect you from flying fragments and sharp edges when cutting tiles.

External corners

At an external corner, you can achieve a neat finish by using plastic corner trim. This comes in various sizes and colours, and normally has a quadrant shape. Corner trim has the added advantage of protecting the edges of the tiles from knocks, which could cause chipping.

Make sure that you apply it vertically, so that you are less likely to catch the teeth of the spreader in the corner trim’s flange and dislodge it.

1 Complete one wall. Use a hacksaw to cut the corner trim to length, apply a narrow strip of tile adhesive to the return wall and press the trim into it. Align the trim with the tiles of the first wall, using spacers to ensure there is a gap for grouting. Carefully apply more adhesive to the return wall with the notched trowel.

2 Begin tiling the return wall, working away from the corner trim. As you set the tiles in place, allow a narrow grouting gap between them and the trim, inserting spacers and adjusting the tiles as necessary so that the gap is uniform. Check to see that the trim has not moved.

Glazed-edged tiles

If using tiles with bevelled or rounded glazed edges, you can finish an external corner without corner trim. Tile the first wall to the corner. Tile the return wall, working away from the corner and letting the tiles overlap the edges of the first wall tiles. Insert spacers between them.

Once you have applied all the tiles to the wall, they should be left for the adhesive to dry. Then you can finish off all the joints with grout to complete your tiling.

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You can buy grout in powder form for mixing with water, or premixed and ready to apply. Whichever you choose, check that you have enough for the job, and remember to use waterproof grout anywhere the tiles are likely to be splashed. You can also buy coloured grout to match or complement your tiles.

1 Press a small amount of grout on to the face of the tiles with a trowel. Use a grout float to spread it, making long, upward diagonal strokes and working it into the joints between tiles. Continue until you have grouted all the joints. Do this as quickly as possible, since the grout will soon begin to harden.

2 Immediately you finish applying the grout, go over the tiles with a damp sponge to remove any excess. It will be very difficult to shift once hard. Take care not to drag any grout from the joints.

3 After leaving the grout to harden slightly, use a grout finisher to finish off the joints and give them a neat appearance. Pull the finisher along the joints in one continuous movement. If any gaps appear in the joints, press in some more grout with the tip of your finger. Sponge off any excess grout.

4 Leave the grout to dry; as it does, you will notice a powdery film appear on the tiles from all the sponging. Simply wipe this off with a soft, clean cloth to leave your tiles sparkling.

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Waterproof seals

To complete your tiling you may also need to add a waterproof seal – along the bottom of a splashback, for instance. Although there are waterproof varieties of grout, the joint between a basin or bath and a splashback should be protected with a flexible silicone sealant. This will accommodate any movement in the fitting, which could cause the grout to crack and allow water through.

1 Working from one end of the splashback to the other, apply a continuous bead of sealant. Maintain a steady pressure and speed.

2 Any irregularity in the shape of the bead can be smoothed with a special sealant shaper, or even a soapy wet finger, but take care not to pull the sealant from the surface.

Renovate, not replace
It's not always necessary to rake out dingy old grouting: minor staining and fungal growths can be removed with a specially formulated grout cleaner. This contains a variety of detergents and biological agents to clean the grout and discourage mould. Dilute with water and apply the cleaner, following the manufacturer's guidelines.

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