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Tiling a kitchen wall splashback

So, you have decided that you want to have a go at tiling.
I will give you some information on how to best to achieve your goal.

Kitchen Wall Tiling

I recommend that you read all of this page before starting to tile as it will give you some insight to better tiling preparation and material options.  This, will in many cases save you money in the long run and should avoid pitfalls.

It is important that the area that is going to be tiled is flat, sound, clean and capable of holding the weight of the tiles, adhesive and grout.  If the surface is dusty then brush it off as much as possible and then use a priming agent (making sure it is applied as directed on the product) so to seal the surfaces. Ask your supplier to make sure that the fixing material is suitable for the job.  If you have existing tiles on the area to be tiled, you can tile over them by using the appropriate adhesive.  If the existing tiles are loose, you will have to remove them first and make good any holes by using plaster or sand and cement. You should never tile on top of 2 existing layers of tiles as the extra weight can bring the lot down.

If you are fixing standard ceramic tiles on plaster or render walls you can usually use a ready mixed adhesive from a tub.  There are two types of ready mixed adhesive that are commonly used: Class B .  This is suitable for domestic use in kitchens and bathrooms with limited shower use (although I prefer using it only for kitchens).  The other one is Class AA and it is for heavy use on bathroom and communal showers.  As you would expect, there is a price difference between the two. When using porcelain, marble, granite, other natural stone, glass, or fully vitrified tiles then check with the supplier that you are getting the right one for the job but generally speaking if you are using a flexible adhesive and appropriate tiling primer it will be good for most situations.  Always read the adhesive information to see if it is applicable for your project. Tile Adhesive Page

If you have a light pelmet fixed under the wall units, it would be better to have them removed and re fitted after the tiling has been done, so that the tile could be placed under rather than cutting around it; it will look a lot nicer.

Make sure you protect the worktop, sink, hob and the rest of the surfaces with dust sheets from being damaged by tiles, tools or from tile adhesive.  If you have a solid wood worktop make sure is protected, not only for adhesive spillage but also from water or grout otherwise it could stain.

Sizing up the tiles.
Before you do anything else check to see if you have the correct tiles, the correct amount of tiles and if you are using border tiles and/or inserts/decor tiles then check for size variations.  This happens often. If there are size variations you will need to take this into account before deciding on what type of spacing is more aesthetically right. What can happen is that you may have started to tile the wall and have a 1.5 mm joint, then you put the border on top and the border being to big, will go out of alignment from the rest of the tiles. Take your time. Try to visualise all the tiles on the wall, as a finished job, then you can foresee any possible problems and avoid them or use a tile layout software.

Nearly ready to tile.
Have a look on the tile's packaging to see if there are special recommendations for spacing the tiles.  Different tiles will require different joint sizes. If you use standard ceramic wall tiles you could use 2 mm tile spacers and if you use rustic tiles,  5 - 10 mm  spacers.  All is relevant to the style and working size of the tiles.

Check for batch difference, and always open several boxes and use few tiles from each box. Check the worktops with a spirit level (Ideally one that is 120 cm or longer); see if the tops are level, if not you might need to space up the lowest section with tile spacers or cardboard.

If the base is too much out of level from one end to the other, then you will need to allow a full tile at the lowest point and then draw a level line at the top of this tile and any tiles that do not fit from the line down to the worktop, will need to be trimmed to size using a tile nippers or wet tile cutter.  Many times when you try to draw the line you find that the sockets are in the way.  If this happens then instead of using one tile at the lowest point, use two tiles, (one on top of the other and draw the level line at the top of the second tile) that usually works. Don't forget to insert a tile spacer if you are using any.  Occasionally you will need a laser level with a continuous projected line or a rotating laser level. This will nicely go around any obstacles.

What adhesive spreading trowel to use.
The thickness of the adhesive should be such that when the tile is in its final place, the adhesive should not squeeze out from the joints. Most times a trowel with 6 mm notches is fine and in general you can use tiles of 10 - 20 cm square.
If mosaic tiles are to be installed then you might need a 3 mm notched trowel and if hand made tiles are to be used, then either use the 6 mm trowel and butter up the back of the tile, or use a 10 mm and above to suit the tiles. 
More adhesive will be required if the tiles have a deep profile or studs than if the back is smooth.  If there is adhesive squirting out from the tile joints, then use a thin flat screwdriver or Stanley knife to clear the joint and then use a damp cloth or tiling sponge to clean the tiles.  It is important not to have the adhesive getting in contact with natural stone (like marble) as it can stain it and then detract from its nice look.

Electrical points.
Undoubtedly you going to have to cut around electrical points (sockets, fuse spurs, cooker switches, light switches, etc.) Make sure that you know where the electric supply is and SWITCH IT OFF.  You should be able to isolate the kitchen electricity so that you can still use other sockets around the house.

Tiling tools.
There are plenty of DIY tiling tools on the market that allow you to carry out tiling on a small budget.  If you are using thin ceramic tiles then a tiling starter kit can help you.  Here is what you will need for an average job


  • Manual tile cutting machine
  • Spirit level
  • Tile nippers
  • Tile file or sanding block
  • Electric tile saw
  • Protective goggles
  • Electric extension lead
  • Grouting Squeegee or float
  • Protective gloves
  • 2 Clean buckets
  • Sponge
  • Stanley knife
  • Tile spacers
  • Pencil or tile marker
  • Mixing trowel
  • spreading trowel
  • Silicone shaping tool or kit
  • Tile trim mitre box
  • Ear protectors
  • Dust masks

Tile Trims.
On some occasions it is necessary to add tile trims to the tiles.  An example of this is where two tiles meet on an external angle, where the tile edge will need protection from being chipped or if the walls are not plumb and it is required to have cuts at both extremities, or if the tiles have no glazed edges.
If you like or need tile trim, make sure you use the right size ones to fit the thickness of the tile.  Some tiles do not require tile trims as they have their edge glazed, others will need trims.  If you are painting the walls adjacent to the tiles, you could use the trims only on the external angles where the tiles meet and simply paint the unglazed edges on the top of the last tile.

If one wall to be tiled has a window on it, find the middle point of the window sill and measure with the tiles to see how big the end cuts are.  If the end cuts are too small, offset the middle point to half tile and recheck. Start with the best measurement in order to achieve the best look (you will want a cut that is bigger than 20 mm). Attention must be applied to not end up with opposite cuts too big (nearly full tile), as this would give you very small cuts on the front vertical of the window and hence can give you problems with either cutting the tiles or an even worse problem with alignment if the vertical edges are off plumb. Also check to see if the window sill is level.  Many times it isn't and if that's the case you can find the highest spot and when it comes to tile the front (between the worktop and the windowsill) start from there and when you are ready to tile the top of the sill, fill it level with adhesive. If the difference is too much, you might have to use two layers of tiles, a piece of tile backer board, make good with some plaster or cement before tiling.

First tile the front wall to the height needed and then cut and apply the tile trim (if required) on the perimeter and then tile the window sill and sides.

Once the tiles have been installed let them dry overnight before grouting.
You will need to buy the right grout for the tiles used:

  • Thin joint grouts for small joints (some grout can be used from 1 - 5 mm)
  • Wide joint grouts for joints of 3 -20 mm
  • Standard grouts
  • Flexible grouts (developed for porcelain tiles or where small movements are possible)
  • Epoxy grouts for industrial and/or special hygiene areas

Always read the manufacturer's instructions on the usage and application.

Once the grout has dried you can apply the silicone sealant if needed.  You can buy silicone sealant suitable for general use, this is usually of the "Acetoxy" type but if the tiles are made of natural stone then you will need a "Neutral Cure Silicone", as general silicone might stain some marble.  Silicone sealant is a beast of its own. 

You will need to be quick and careful with it!  It can be helpful if you purchase a silicone tool kit.

If you have to remove old silicone, help is at hand in the form of "silicone remover". Easy to work with making it easier in removing decayed, mouldy silicone.

Hope this is clear and helpful to you.  Happy tiling.   ;~)



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