Everything You Needed to Know About Tiling Your Back Splash – Part 2

By | October 3, 2014

We’re back with another set of important lessons we learned as we tackled the kitchen back splash tiling job last week. Here’s the link to the first post if you want to go back and see part 1 of this series.

So, here are tips 6-10.

6. Lay out as many tiles ahead of time as you can. 

We did almost all of our cuts before we ever started tiling because we knew they would slow us down too much if we did them “in real time.” For example, we laid out all our tile sheets and cut them to fit (we used one and a half sheets stacked on top of each other for each section) and then Wyatt measured and marked where the holes for the outlets would need to be.

Measuring Holes for Outlets in Tile Backsplash

Then, he was able to quickly cut them out using the wet saw.

Using Wet Saw to Cut Tile Around Outlets in Kitchen Backsplash

And then, we installed the big sheets where they went on the wall, followed up really quickly with the perfectly cut-to-fit pieces.

Applying tile to kitchen backsplash

Of course, to be honest, not all the pieces were perfectly cut to fit. It’s tricky to fit tiles around outlets because they need to fit snugly up against the screws that hold the outlets in place, and sometimes that means they won’t slide into place. So, it’s okay if you have to make a few adjustments. You’re already ahead on time since they were pre-cut so a couple adjustments won’t delay you enough to ruin the thin set.

But if it does feel a little dry when you get ready to apply a tile, you can always use a putty knife to scrape it off and apply a fresh layer.

Applying Thinset to Tile Backsplash Near Outlets

BONUS TIP: Remember, you’ll want to always start with full tiles in the spots that will show the most and hide the cut tiles in a corner where they are less likely to be seen. Unless your house is magic and your tiles fit perfectly on the wall with no cuts. I know the corner in the picture below looks a little sketchy with all the small pieces, but just remember it won’t really show as much once the white grout is added and the contrast is a lot less.

This is why you want to play all this out ahead of time. As wonky as this corner might seem, imagine if it was right out in the open and front and center instead of tucked away. Trust me, plan this out ahead of time, people.

Tiled backsplash done before grout interior corner

You had to plan especially hard on the feature wall of tile behind our range because we took that section, which needed to be perfectly centered behind the range, all the way up to the ceiling and wanted to use full (and half since they are alternating) tiles on the outer edges of that.

That meant holding out the tile from the edge of the wall a half of an inch and being okay with a bunch of small tiles in the corner.

Tiled backsplash done before grout behind range hood (2)

7. Don’t let your thin set be too runny. Or too thick.

We read the instructions on the bag to help us get started mixing the thin set, but they were for mixing the entire bag at one time, so we used some rough calculations and estimates to scale those back. Then, we just used trial and error to get the consistency we wanted.

Mixing Thinset to Tile Backsplash 1

Our target was somewhere in between cake batter and frosting, so a thick cake batter, I guess.

Mixing Thinset to Tile Backsplash 2

It should “drip” off the putty knife in big globs, but not too fast, or it will also “drip” down the wall in big globs before you get it spread evenly.

Mixing Thinset to Tile Backsplash

The first batch we made was a little too thick, though, and the tiles were stuck down pretty solid before we had a chance to get them all placed perfectly, which made it hard to wiggle everything into position.

We found this video really helpful in getting the right consistency for our thin set.

8. (Sub lesson) Don’t apply too much thin set at a time. 

Applying thinset for tile backsplash

We found it worked to basically only apply enough thin set for one or two sections of tile at a time (ours came in 1-foot square sections). Here’s about what that looked like for us:

Applying Thinset to Tile Backsplash 7

That might seam like not very much at a time, but when you consider all the steps for each section (lining it up, wiggling into place, applying spacers, pressing it firmly into the thin set to get a good bond, filling in with cut tiles around any edges or outlets, putting in more spacers…you can see how it takes a decent amount of time (at least 5 minutes) per sheet.

Meanwhile, if you apply too much thin set at once, it will start to dry before you’re ready to use it. Plus, keep in mind that one person can be starting to apply tile while the other one finishes up adjusting the thin set.

Applying Thinset to Tile Backsplash 4

Which brings me to my next tip:

9. Work as a team. 

While I’m sure it’s possible to do an entire tile back splash by yourself, I’m not sure why you would want to. It made our lives so much easier to have one person applying thin set while the other person starting applying tiles to the wall.

Applying Kitchen Backsplash Tile

Then, we could have one person prepping the next set of tile, mixing more thin set, and cleaning up any messes while the other person finished the last adjustments on the tile set we just put on the wall.

10. Clean up any extra thin set as you go!

Trust me, this stuff will wipe off the wall WAY easier than it will scrape off. So if you don’t want to paint your entire room again (we didn’t) we found it really important to constantly wipe off excess. And we still have a few areas to touch up, even with our efforts.

See this little bit of thin set peeking out from on top of the row of tile?

Cleaning Extra Thinset for Kitchen Backsplash Tile

If that would have dried, it would have left a bumpy, rough edge for us to try and sand down later. So, I used a putty knife to carefully scrape it off as we went.

Cleaning Extra Thinset for Kitchen Backsplash Tile  2

And ta-da! A nice clean edge.

Cleaning Extra Thinset for Kitchen Backsplash Tile 3

And there’s part 2 in our tiling tips series!

We’ll actually be sharing the last of our lessons tomorrow (a Saturday post? WHAT?) because I still have more to talk about. We’re in no way tiling masters, but we learned so much in this process that I think we might be able to help others out there who are going to tackle this for the first time.

Plus, the process took us over a week to actually do, so it only makes sense we stretch it out into several posts instead of making you read one extremely long overview. (This post is over 1000 words, so again, if you’re still reading, it’s a miracle! Thanks!)

We’re still learning and would love to hear some of your best tile tips. Leave them in a comment below, or tell us we’re crazy for doing this kitchen all on our own. Either one. 🙂

Join in with a comment! (Let's all agree to be constructive here, okay? Thanks!)