How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss

Tiling is easier than you think, even though it may seem daunting. The key is to prepare, measure, and plan ahead for everything you might run into like dealing with intricate cuts around outlets, light switches, in tight corners, and around moulding. Follow along to find out how to install backsplash tile like a total boss!!

Back in August, I shared my plan to add character to my kitchen where I referenced the future tiling of our kitchen backsplash. I told myself that I had put this off for too long, like 10 months too long, and it was time to rip off the bandaid and get to work. I purchased everything I needed to complete the project from The Tile Shop:

(Note: This post is NOT sponsored by The Tile Shop, but it is a great source for all your tiling needs.)

I had two areas to tile, a fairly small area (our coffee and charging station backsplash that is 2’x17″) and a much longer area (near the sink, stove, and dishwasher that is 10’x17″). It would have been entirely possible to tile the entire kitchen in one day. However, I chose to break it up into several days so the project would have the least impact on my family and in order to troubleshoot a window ledge issue. And, I wanted to use the smaller area as a test area to build my confidence.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started.

Supplies

  • Painter’s tape
  • Builder’s Paper (to keep mastic off the countertops)
  • Notched trowel
  • Pre-Mixed Mastic (or mortar, drill and spiral mixing arm attachment)
  • Wet saw (you can rent this)
  • Safety glasses
  • Speed square (for making straight lines on tiles)
  • Sharpie marker or grease pencil (for marking glazed ceramic tiles)
  • Level
  • Drop cloth (to protect my countertops from tools)
  • Measuring tape
  • Shop towels or paper towels

Prep and Planning

I started by cleaning and drying the backsplash area to remove the remnants of cooking and dish washing! You want to be sure to remove food, oils, and cleaners to be sure the mastic adheres securely to the wall.

I set up my tile cutting station on the carport which is close to our kitchen. Tile cutting can be wet and messy, so I prefer to do it outside, especially when the weather is still nice. I placed the wet saw on our portable workbench. (This workbench is freakin’ awesome; we use it for everything – even dog grooming!)

How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss - Wet Saw
“Tile Cutting Machine” – that’s really what it’s called!

I attached builder’s paper to the countertops with painter’s tape to protect it from stray mastic and scratches.

I did a dry fit of tile and spacers to decide the layout. You can either layout your tile with spacers (if using) or measure tile size and spacers and do math to plan your layout. You want to make sure you don’t end a row with an itty bitty piece of tile. (It’s really hard to cut an itty bitty piece of tile.)

I originally bought a dry mortar mix that I’d have to mix myself, however, at the last minute, I switched to pre-mixed mastic instead. The pre-mixed is already the right consistency and the job wasn’t very big so I didn’t need a lot. In addition, since I suspected that tiling would probably take me several days to complete, I didn’t want to have to mix a new batch each day. With the pre-mixed, you can pop the top back on and use it the next day.

For the edges, I find the Dural finishing edge is so much cleaner and more stylish than bullnose or pencil tiles, and it requires far less cutting! It hides the unfinished edges of the tile and is so easy to work with.

Tile Installation

Okay, now it’s go time. I was a bit nervous to begin, but hey, ya gotta start sometime!

Day One

I started with the smaller backsplash area. This was the easiest day of tiling – no outlets, light switches or window moulding to contend with – just straight cuts!! I started by measuring and cutting the Dural metal edge profile to size. I used the wet saw because it was already set up, but you could also use a mitre saw or a Dremel tool. You may need to file or scrape off any metal burrs after cutting. I put the Dural edge in place using mastic.

How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss - Cutting the Dural edge

Then I started tiling. I scooped a sizable blob of pre-mixed mastic with the trowel and applied it to the wall. Using the notched edge of the trowel, I then dragged the trowel through the mastic at a shallow angle, making grooves in the mastic. These grooves help the tile adhere to wall and provides uniform thickness of the mastic. You’ll still have enough time to adjust the tile, add spacers, and get the tile just where you want it before the mastic dries.

I used 1/8″ spacers under the first row of tiles to allow for caulk, as well as expansion and contraction, and 1/16″ spacers between tiles.

1/8″ tile spacers under bottom row of tile

Once finished with the first row, I made sure to check for level. I placed a second Dural edge on the right side of the tile wall to cover the cut edges.

Note: Clean, clean, clean as you go. Use an old sponge or paper towels to remove mastic from tile surfaces before it dries!! Otherwise, the mastic will dry on the tile and it will difficult to clean later.

I got really lucky when tiling the bottom row of the smaller backsplash – two full tiles and spacers fit perfectly without any cutting!! I used a running bond pattern, meaning the center of a full tile is placed over the joint of the tiles below it. Since this wall was so small, I had minimal cuts, which was a happy accident.

How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss - tile with spacers

The top row was only about 7/8″ tall. I cut tiles lengthwise to the right height and attached them just under the cabinet.

It turned out great!

How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss - Coffee and charger station
Coffee and Charging Station Backsplash – After (but before grout)
Left Dural Edging Profile in Matte Black

Day Two

Time to start the larger backsplash. In this section, I had to contend with the window ledge and three outlets / light switches – one of which is two inches from the window ledge! I taped my stainless steel backsplash above my range (I kept it because I LOVE how it looks) and used another Dural edge strip as the divider.

How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss - Day two

Ah, the window ledge. In order to achieve a clean-looking tile edge, I decided to remove the decorative apron moulding from under the window ledge. To repair the giant hole, I used a Duck brand self-adhesive aluminum wall repair patch cut into strips, then added a thin layer of joint compound and let it dry for 24 hours! (I completed this project weeks before tiling began.)

Another issue was how to tile around the ends of the window ledge? I wanted to cut the ledge and slide the tile underneath. My husband thought we could cut the tile and caulk around it afterward.

After attempting to cut the tile (and maybe cutting 2 different tiles about 10 times each) we opted to cut the ledge instead.

In order to cut the ledge properly , we taped a spare tile to the wall next to the window ledge to get the correct depth. Using a flush cut saw, we cut the window ledge up to the moulding above it.

How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss - Ledge Cut

We used a flat head screw driver and hammer to chisel out the little pieces of wood from both sides of the window ledge. After a little patching, sanding and painting we went back to tiling.

The tile fit perfectly behind the window ledge, just like it was new construction! I love the end result.

I cut additional Dural edges horizontally to fit between the window moulding and the upper cabinet to hide the raw edge of the tile.

How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss - Dural Edge

Again, the Dural edge is so easy to use and makes your tile job look super-pro!

I had one last tricky cut around an outlet, then it was smooth sailing to the finish line. I marked the tile with a Sharpie around the edges of the outlet box, made straight lines with a speed square then cut multiple lines into the tile with the wet saw. (Here’s where a grease pencil is better than a Sharpie. The water from the wet saw erased all traces of Sharpie!)

How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss - Notching Tile

Use a nibbler tool or even a screwdriver to break the little strips out of the tile, then clean up the rough edge with the wet saw.

The finished result is perfect.

How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss - Notched tile installed

In some areas, it was awkward to apply mastic directly onto the wall. This is totally normal. I “back buttered” these tiles by applying mastic onto the back of the tile with the trowel before putting them into place. I made sure to clean the edges of the tile with the flat end of your trowel to keep excess mastic from squeezing out when the tile was placed on the wall.

Note that I ended with partial tiles, but none of them are itty bitty. Planning ahead is key!

How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss - No itty bitty tiles

Clean-up

Cleaning is essential to make sure all seams are free of mastic. I used a spacer but you can also use any small soft edged item like a toothpick, popsicle stick, or plastic knife. All seams should be cleared in order to accept grout. Then I used an old kitchen sponge to clean the excess mastic from the surface of tiles before it hardened.

After letting the mastic dry for a few hours, I removed the spacers.

How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss - Removing spacers
How to Install Backsplash Tile like a Total Boss - Finished!
After – just needs some grout!

One point of note: tiling can be really hard on your shoulders and neck! I plan to wait a few days to recover before adding grout! Stay tuned for that post!

Questions? Comments? Drop me a line in the comments section with any questions!


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