I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Dudes! Do you know what this means? The backsplash is done!
This is the second big project that we scrambled to finish before leaving on vacation. (Did you catch the other one, here?) I’ll get to the backsplash story in a sec, but first let’s put on our way-way-back goggles and look at this same space, 11 months ago:
*full body shudder* AAAHHHHHHHH!!! TAKE OFF THE GOGGLES! TAKE ‘EM OFF, TAKE ‘EM OFF!!
Whew. Sorry about that. Sometimes I forget just how….orange…everything used to be. I hope it didn’t burn your retinas too badly. Here, this should soothe them a bit:
There, that’s better. Now, let’s get down to business!
I’ll tell you everything
you need I needed to know in order to get this done. First of all, you’re going to want to cover your counters.
We used rosin paper. This stuff is good because it keeps wet stuff like mastic or grout from soaking through. It’s also thick enough to stand up to the scraping that’s going to happen as you set your tiles on it. And even if you don’t have totally awesome brand-new DIY faux-crete counters, you’ll want to protect them.
Once your counters are covered, you’ll have to decide where you want to start your tiles. Do you want a whole tile on the end, or in the middle? The idea is to find a pattern that doesn’t leave you with a lot of little tile slivers at the end of a row. We decided to start our pattern with a whole tile lined up with the edge of the lower-hanging cabinet.
We figured that the portion of the backsplash next to that cabinet is eye level, and will be highly noticeable; so we wanted to avoid awkward cuts there.
(I’m actually going to skip the part where I tell you exactly how to set tile. I don’t think I’ve learned much since my last tiling how-to, so you can check that out here. I will, however, tell you exactly how to grout, so don’t tune out quite yet. 😉 )
Anyway, I will tell you that this time, we used mastic instead of mortar. My buddy Anthony at The Tile Shop told me it’d be easier to work with, and he wasn’t messing with me. This stuff is super sticky, so it holds the tiles to the wall, no problemo. Plus, mastic is pre-mixed and has a much longer working time than thinset, so it saved me a lot of time. I love me some mastic.
Chris and I worked out a pretty good system. I would spread the mastic, using a 3/16″ V-notch trowel.
(The size and shape of your trowel depends on the size of your tile; ask your local tile experts what the right size is for your project.) Chris would follow behind me, setting the tile.
When we got to the point where we had to get around outlets, I took over laying the un-cut tiles while Chris measured and cut tiles to fit around the outlets.
And it wasn’t long before we had one whole wall done!
Just two and a half more to go.
When we got to the area behind the stove, we tacked a straight piece of scrap wood to the wall at counter-height, to support the tiles until the mastic cured.
Chris installed the last tile. There he goes, stealing all my glory.
Feeling extra pumped-up about our progress, we decided to start grouting right away. Just between you and me? We didn’t give the mastic enough time to set. I had about half of the sink wall grouted — the first wall we had tiled — when I heard Chris say, “Oops.”
I’ll take some of that glory back now, thank-you-very-much.
I’m not really sure what he was doing; something involving that outlet, I’m sure. But the point is, it gave me an excuse to stop grouting, since the rest of the walls clearly weren’t ready yet. We re-set those tiles, cleaned up the kitchen, and left a half-finished backsplash for our house-sitter to enjoy while we hopped on a plane to Germany.
Two and a half weeks later, I was back in the kitchen and ready for round two. And this time, I remembered to take pictures of the process. I guess everything happens for a reason.
Here are the supplies I used:
- drywall joint compound tray
- rubber float
- margin trowel
- tiling sponge
- sanded grout (if your tile joints are less than 1/8″, used non-sanded grout)
- flexible grout admixture
- bucket of clean water (not pictured)
Tip: An extra set of hands can make this whole process go a lot faster. One of you to spread the grout, and one to follow behind and wipe off the excess with the sponge.
Step 1: Pour a little bit of grout into your tray.
Don’t go too crazy. Grout has a working time of 20-30 minutes; if you mix too much, you’ll just end up throwing it away.
Step 2: Pour a little bit of admixture into the grout.
Seriously, a little bit. It doesn’t take much. If it’s too thick, you can always add more. Better to start with not quite enough and work from there.
Step 3: Use your margin trowel to mix the grout.
You’re looking for the consistency of toothpaste. If it’s not quite there yet, add a little more admixture (to make it thinner) or grout (to make it thicker). Once you’ve achieved that magical toothpaste-y viscosity, let the grout sit and marinate for 5 minutes. This gives all the components time to activate. After sitting for 5 minutes, mix the grout one more time. Now comes the fun part!
Step 4: Use your rubber float to scoop a bit of grout out of the tray, and smear it onto the wall.
Try to pull the grout at a 45-degree angle across the joints.
This helps press the grout into the joints. Pulling the float straight along the joints will actually pull the grout out of the joints. Counterproductive, no? However, in a pinch, you can use the straight edge of the float to force grout into a stubborn spot.
Cover as much ground as you can in 5-8 minutes. Then it’s time to either set your float down for a minute, or call in your helper monkey.
Step 5: Wipe off the excess grout with a sponge. Soak your sponge in your bucket of water, give it one good squeeze to get about 80% of the water out, and wipe the tile ONCE, pulling the sponge at a 45-degree angle across the joints.
Then flip the sponge to the clean side and give the tile one more swipe. That’s it; return your sponge to the bucket.
Two swipes is all you get before you have to clean your sponge. Any more than that, and you’re just pushing a film of grout around on the surface of the tile. Swipe, flip, swipe, clean. Keep doing that until your tile looks pretty clean. Note: You will have to change the water in your bucket OFTEN.
But that’s pretty much it! Isn’t it totally worth the effort?
Once the grout is fully cured (48 hours), you might see a slight haze over the tiles. You can buff this off with a soft, dry towel. Then just seal the joints, caulk along the counters, and sit back to congratulate yourself on being a master of the tiling universe.
Let’s take one more look at the before-and-after, hmmm?
Oh man. I am GOOD.
I love before-and-afters, don’t you? It’s killing me, actually, to try to show just the backsplash, without giving away too much of the cabinets. But I’m terrible at keeping secrets, so I gave you a pretty good glimpse back there. Come back Tuesday for the full cabinet reveal! After the five-step cabinet-pimping process, it’s time to fully show what those old orange cabinets were capable of.