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Installing Kitchen Wall Tile
by Insidespaces on May 7, 2012
Installing wall tile in the kitchen between the backsplash and the wall cabinets is an easy task to accomplish. Tile stands up to the necessary cleaning behind a range or cutting board better than paint and is very economical. To start with, we have to make a few design decisions. The first one is to select the tile that appeals to you. This is the part of the project that I can't help you with. Unless I receive orders to the contrary, I normally stick with white or off-white.
The color you choose for the grout should complement the tile color. I normally go with (big surprise) off-white. Others like a dark grout to make the grout lines stand out. The third design decision is the space that you will allow between the tile. I prefer tight grout lines in the kitchen (1/16") but wider lines (1/8" - 3/16") in the bath. The width of the grout line will determine whether you need sanded or non-sanded grout. Non-sanded grout should only be used when the grout will fill a gap 3/16" or smaller. Sanded grout may also be used on 3/16" grout lines but nothing smaller.
The wall where you are placing your tile should be clean and free of debris. It also needs to be fairly straight. Beyond leveling the surface, the amount of surface preparation necessary will depend on the tile adhesive you use and the amount of abuse that the tiles will receive. The example in the photos for this project is simply drywall with a coat of latex primer. The tile adhesive we used was purchased from a local hardware store, nothing special. Check the mastic's label to make sure that it is compatible with your surface.
Another task you must accomplish is to locate the center of the wall you want to tile. Measure from end to end and make a mark in the center. Use a square to extend this line from the counter top up to where the tile will stop. Now, center a tile on this line and layout an entire course. This will help you make adjustments so that the cuts on the tiles at the end of the course are the same. When placing the tile on the wall, I normally work from the center out. If the area you are tiling is large you might want to use a chalk line to snap a straight line.
For most backsplashes, a wall-grade mastic is generally sufficient. Mastic is nice to work with as it has a longer open time than thinset. Normal wall tile will hold nicely with mastic but some stone tiles need special adhesives. Marble is a good example.
Put the adhesive on the wall
The adhesive goes onto the wall with the notched trowel. I used a trowel w/ 1/4" notches for the job so that the "Corn Rows" would show up. You should probably use one with smaller grooves for 4"x4" tile. When applying the adhesive, use the flat edge to apply a layer of adhesive first. Next, hold the trowel at a 45 degree angle to the wall and "comb" the mastic out. The result should be nice even "corn rows" of adhesive (picture at left). Don't get too far ahead of yourself, only put up as much adhesive on as you can cover in the next several minutes, especially if you have to cut the tile as you go.
Placing the Tile
Work from the center of the wall towards the edges. When you push the tile against the adhesive you should use a slight twisting motion in order to set the tile firmly in the adhesive. If you are using spacers, now is the time to set the spacers on the outside edge of the tile in order to work on the next row of tiles. In the installation pictured, I had to work around several outlet boxes. When you are planning how to cut the tile to go around an obstruction, keep in mind that you should use a "cookie- cutter" approach. Plan your cuts so that the tile flows around the obstruction. Do not get caught piecing together tile around an outlet to fill a row! There are several ways to cut tile, click here if you need help. After all of the tiles have been placed and the adhesive has setup a bit, clean the adhesive from between the tiles and from their faces. A toothpick is a great tool for this. Allow the adhesive to setup overnight before grouting the tile.
After the tile adhesive has had time to dry (usually overnight) it is time to grout the tile. Remember to choose sanded or non-sanded grout depending on spacing you used. Most wall tile installations use non-sanded grout. Grout is also available pre-mixed or dry. The dry mix is easy to blend, just follow the instructions. It should be fairly thick, but not so thick that you can't force it into the joints (gaps). After the grout is ready to go, take your foam rubber float or other appropriate implement and scoop some grout out. Place the grout on the wall and holding the rubber float at a 45 degree angle to the work piece run the float parallel to the joints in the tile. Round up the excess grout and run the float over the surface several times in order to fill in the joints. When the gaps are full, run the float over the surface at a 45 degree angle to the joints. Run the float over the surface several times until most of the grout is either in the joints or on the trowel.
Cleaning Excess Grout
Allow the tile to set up for 15-20 minutes, or until firm, in the joints. Using a damp sponge or cloth wipe any excess from the face of the tiles. Rinse out the sponge or rag often enough to keep it clean. Allow the grout to dry another 45 minutes or until a haze forms on the tiles and use the sponge to polish the surface of the tiles. Be careful not to rub the grout from the joints. If it seems like you just can't get the tile clean then let it dry a bit more. After several hours you should use a clean towel to polish the tiles.
Curing the Grout
For the next three days, before using a grout sealer, lightly mist the grout. On the fourth day, use a grout sealer to ensure a good solid installation. These sealers will keep the grout sealed from stains and water.
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