Tiling can be one of the most intimidating things to a novice DIYer. But with a little effort and patience you can do it and it can be one of the most impactful things you could add to your home. Today I am going to share 9 Essential Tools for Tiling and MY best tips for using them. Keep reading for BONUS TIPS at the end!
You can go with a timeless, classic look like subway tile that is extremely budget friendly, (**Did you know that the first subway tile was made in New York in 1904 the NYC subway system to make it attractive and easy to clean?**) or you can go with a more ornate tile to fit your design style. Either way, YOU can do it!!
Gloves: Due to the chemicals in them, mortar and grout can leave your fingers looking like prunes and red for a few days. Wear gloves. You will be happy you did. I didn’t use gloves at first and my hands were raw and red and they hurt! I did only wear simple latex gloves to grout with and they worked fine for that!
Spacers: There are different sizes and these will determine how far apart your tiles are and determine the size of the grout lines. They keep your tiles evenly spaced horizontally and vertically and provide a guide to help keep them level. There are different types of spacers you can buy. If using a large format tile you will want these spacers that have a system that locks and keeps them level.
Trowel: Use the flat side to spread the mortar on the wall and also on the tile (called buttering the tile- just like it sounds). You will use the notched side to create good adhesion between the tile and the wall. Once you apply the mortar on both the wall and tile with the flat side, you will drag the notched side over the wall and tile. Be aware of the notch size on your trowel. The mortar you choose will tell you on the instructions what size notched trowel to buy. It depends on the size of the tile, what the tile is made of and will give you the best adhesion for your tiles.
Float: You will need this for when you grout. You put the grout on the float and then spread it at an angle over your tiles. The float is semi-soft and that will help to push the grout in between and into the grout lines.
Sponge: These are special sponges. Don’t use a dish sponge!! Be sure to have a couple handy. You will find that a lot of grout gets picked up and you will need to rinse your sponges often. When you have a couple you can switch them out when needed.
Mixer: I always use a mixing paddle. Buying powder mortar and grout is a fraction of the cost of premixed and only requires you to add water. Follow the directions on the bag and you will be just fine! You will attach your mixer to your drill and it works just like a mixer in your kitchen. If you can, use a corded drill for more continuous power. I always use a corded drill to ensure that I have the most consistent speed and control of the mixing.
Tile cutter: Cutting tile is easy! You can use a simple one like this for $20 for simple jobs. I used this for my entire bar – over 350 subway tiles – and it worked great! It scores and snaps a tile. For more intricate jobs, I recommend a wet saw. These can be intimidating but, oddly enough, they are the least dangerous of all the saws! They have a diamond blade so it won’t cut your skin! The diamond blade needs the friction of a hard surface to begin to cut. If you plan to do a few tiling jobs I recommend a wet tile saw. I picked this one up and it has lasted for a few jobs now.
Flat Head Screwdriver: This seems odd, right? Keep a small one in your pocket as you are tiling. As you are adding tiles one by one, use this to remove any mortar that squishes out into the grout lines. You will be glad you did because once it dries, it is hard to remove and you can’t really grout over it. Your mortar will show up in the middle of your grout and look bad.
Level: used in every way. To keep them going in a straight and level line across, to check if the tiles are level vertically and horizontally or, if they are floor tiles, keeping them all level as you go. A good size for tiling is a 24″ level. A laser level is great to have to help you keep a visual level line on the wall at all times as you lay your tiles on a wall.
Other items you will need: bucket, mortar, grout, microfiber cloth
Lowe’s and home depot buckets are my favorite, but any bucket will do. I use one for mortar. Then rinse it out and then use two for grouting. It helps to have a couple of buckets of clean water nearby for your sponges to stay clean.
Mortar: I use powdered mortar and add water, mixing it with the mixer attached to my drill. Pay attention to the application instructions for your mortar. Some waterproofing systems need a specific kind of mortar to work with your tiles. If you are doing a very small job like a table or fireplace surround, you can use a premixed and keep it simple. **NOTE: you can’t mix it and put a lid on it hoping to come back the next day and use it. It will dry hard overnight, be unusable and make a lot of waste. Only mix what you think you will need. For example: For my subway tiles I can tile for 2-3 hours using 1/3 of a bag mixed up with water.
If you are a first-time grouter READ THIS: The more your grout matches the tile in color, the less flaws and mistakes will show. The darker the grout the more every imperfection will show. AND do not use any fancy grout with fancy words like stain resistant, etc. It is unforgiving and you will cry.
Grout: There are a lot of different colors of grout. If shopping at Home Depot or Lowe’s you can get a sample pamphlet that has all the colors they offer in the store and take it home to match your tile job. You can find them hanging next to the grout. Dark grout is typically one shade when you mix it and the correct shade when it dries. Don’t freak out if your grout doesn’t look like the right color when you mix it. If you buy a premixed grout be sure to rinse the tiles quickly before the mastic has a chance to set on the tiles. I recommend that you do not use any fancy grout with fancy words like stain resistant, etc. It is unforgiving and you will cry. There is a difference between haze (a powdery finish on the tiles once you rinse them)and mastic. Haze can be easily buffed off with a micro-fiber cloth. Mastic is a PAIN to remove you will need heavy duty gloves and an acid when trying to clean it off your tiles. If you have a residue that you can’t buff off with a micro-fiber cloth, buy an acidic remover found in the tile section and, with some effort, it will come off.
I hope these tips are helpful and gives you the confidence you need to tackle a tiling project!! Reach out if you have any questions, I am always here. I would love to see YOUR project when you’re all done! You are amazing!