Get started with your new wall tiling project
When it comes to tiling a wall, it’s tempting to jump straight in. But by giving yourself some time to plan, you can make sure that you have enough tiles and materials to complete the project in one attempt, as well as ensuring a consistent finish. This guide will help you to prepare your project, as well as deal with any potential pitfalls before you begin.
Tools & materials required
Before you begin
You will need:
- A tape measure
- A pencil
- A spirit level
- A pipe, cable and stud detector
- A claw hammer
- Three soft wood battens (this will be used to create a gauge rod)
- Wall tiles
- Wall tile spacers
- 50mm masonry nails
- PVA-based tiling adhesive
- Safety gloves - essential when removing any broken tiles
How to make a tiling gauge rod
A gauge rod allows you to work out the positioning of the rows and the size of any cut tiles. We recommend using a 50mm x 25mm wooden batten, however a 50mm x 20mm or 44mm x 34mm also work well or any such similar size. Make it 1.8metres (m) long for tiling a wall, shorter for a small area.
How to prepare your wall
Successful tiling relies on planning. To achieve a symmetrical design you must centre the pattern, with cut tiles of equal size at the end of the rows.
- Make sure the surface to be tiled is clean, dry and flat.
- Strip wallpaper back to the plaster and fill any holes.
- Allow new plaster to dry out completely.
- Prime porous surfaces with a PVA-based adhesive.
Top tip - Keep it dry
When tiling in or around areas that regularly get wet, particularly in bathrooms around the shower, it is essential to tile onto an already water resistant background such as tile backer boards. Porous backgrounds such as plaster or plasterboard can be made waterproof by using a tanking (waterproofing) system.
How to calculate tile quantities
The size and number of tiles in a pack can vary. Check the pack to find out the area it will cover in square metres. You’ll then need to measure the height and width of the area to be tiled and multiply to obtain the area in square metres - add an extra 10% for cuts and breakages. Alternatively, use our tiling calculator to work out the sums for you.
Remember, any unopened packs can be returned and it’s always helpful to keep a few spares back to replace any that are damaged at a later date.
Often tiles are given batch numbers. If this is the case you should always try to purchase tiles from the same batch as some very slight variations in colour and finish can happen. This is another reason to make sure you buy enough tiles at the beginning of the project.
The most popular patterns are linear or brick bond. Other layouts like herringbone and diamond patterns will require more cuts, so you should buy a few extra to allow for any problems.
How to calculate the number of tiles in a row
Before planning your horizontal or vertical rows of tiles, it's vital to work out how many tiles you can fit in a row.
Lay out a line of tiles with tile spacers between them. Place the batten alongside, lining up the end with the edge of the first tile.
Mark the positions of the tiles and gaps on the rod to give you a quick means of working out how many tiles you will need in each row.
How to plan vertical rows of tiles
The first job is to establish the position of the vertical rows. This will allow you to find the starting point, which should be near the centre of the area to be tiled. Measure the width of the area and mark its centre-point with a pencil.
Hold your gauge rod so that one of its marks aligns with the centre-point on the wall. Step off the tile positions across the wall.
When you reach a corner, you’ll see if you need to cut the last tile in the row to fit. If this will be less than half a tile wide, it’s best to reposition the starting point.
Reposition by aligning the rod with the centre-point as before, then pencil a new mark on the wall so that it falls halfway between two tile marks on the rod. This’ll be the actual starting position for tiling, making sure that the cut tiles at each end are more than half a tile wide and that the centre-line of the wall passes through the centre of a tile.
Hold the gauge rod against the new wall mark, using a spirit level to ensure that it’s truly vertical, and draw a line in pencil from top to bottom.
How to plan horizontal rows of tiles
Having established the positions of the vertical rows, you can check where the horizontal rows will fall.
Before putting a nail into a wall, be sure you’ve checked what’s behind it with a pipe, cable and stud detector (also known as a multi-purpose digital detector). They’re simple to use and will let you know if there are any pipes, cables or studs where you’re planning to work. Simply run it over the surface of the area and it will tell you where hazards lie.
Position the gauge rod against the vertical pencil line, with its end touching the floor (or skirting board). Put a pencil mark on the wall in line with the top tile mark on the rod. Now move the rod up the wall, still following the vertical pencil line until it touches the ceiling. Hopefully, the pencil mark on the wall will align with one of the marks on the rod.
If it doesn’t align, look at the mark on the rod below the wall mark; halving the distance between them will give you the size of the cut tiles required. It’s best if these are at least half a tile deep. If they’re narrower than this, make a mark on the wall in line with the next mark down on the rod.
Measure the distance between the two marks and make a third mark halfway between them.
Hold your gauge rod so the end is just clear of the skirting or floor and move it until one of its marks aligns with the third mark. Make another mark on the wall, level with the foot of the rod. This will be the starting point for the first horizontal row of whole tiles. Draw a level line across the wall at this point.
Nail a batten with its top edge aligned with the line. Nail on another aligned to the vertical line. Part nail the battens for easy removal later.
How to plan part-tiled walls
When part-tiling a wall, set out the horizontal tile rows so that the top row consists of whole tiles; this will look much better.
Mark the position of the top row on the wall and use the gauge rod to determine the position of the lowest horizontal row. Fill the gap between this and the skirting board with cut tiles.
Move the top row up or down so that you don’t have to cut narrow slivers of tile. You may even be able to avoid cutting tiles altogether, although if the skirting board is uneven, some trimming will be necessary. In this case, you’ll need to start from the lowest point of the skirting. Find this by holding a long straight batten along it, levelled with the aid of a spirit level.