This story covers preparing, laying out, and tiling a kitchen countertop.
A countertop and backsplash can be planned as a single project or as separate projects.
If you are setting a countertop and backsplash, lay the backsplash tiles before the countertop front edge to avoid disturbing the edge tiles when you lean over the counter. If possible, hide cut tiles at the top of a backsplash, under wall cabinets. Design the layout so decorative molding avoids electrical outlets.
The installation shown here includes a waterproofing membrane, necessary if the surface will be subject to spills or frequent cleaning. Use latex- or acrylic-modified adhesives and grout. Seal the grout joints to protect them from staining.
About 20 minutes per lineal foot of countertop to prepare and set tile
Utility knife, stapler, hair dryer, 4-foot level, tape measure, chalk line, carbide scriber, margin trowel, notched trowel, straightedge, cordless drill, snap cutter or wet saw, nippers, grout knife, masonry stone, caulk gun, grout float
Reading a level, troweling, laying tile, grouting tile
Repair structural defects, remove old countertop, and build new countertop base
Asphalt mastic and polyethylene sheets or 15-pound felt paper, staples, bucket, thinset mortar, backerboard, screws, tape, tile, spacers, caulk, grout, rags, sponge, water, bullnose or V-cap edge tile, nylon wedges, sink
Cut backerboard to fit both sides of the sink. If the sink has reinforcing bars, cut grooves in the pieces to match. Set the sections at both sides of the sink cutout, but do not fasten them. Measure the remaining spaces at the rear and front of the sink, and cut and groove backerboard to fit.
Drop in the sink to make sure its reinforcing bars fit, then fasten the board to the plywood base with backerboard screws. If using backerboard on the backsplash, back-butter it to make the job easier. Tape all joints and edges and apply a thin coat of thinset over the tape.
The number of layout lines required for a countertop installation varies with job complexity. At a minimum, a counter with no sink needs a line that locates the front edge tile. Counters with a sink require lines for the front edge and the perimeter of the sink. For a tiled backsplash, carry the lines up the wall.
Snap layout grids on the countertop and backsplash as necessary to help you keep the layout straight. Be sure to snap a line where you will lay the edge tiles, both on the front of the countertop and around the perimeter of the sink. Dry-lay as many tiles as necessary to make sure the lines are located correctly. Pull up a section of the dry-laid tiles and apply thinset to the section. Install all of the field tiles first. Let the adhesive cure until it just begins to set up. Then clean the grout lines with a utility knife and remove excess mortar from the tile surface. Let the adhesive cure overnight.
Measure and cut the trim tile to be set around the sink. If using bullnose tile, cut corners on a wet saw. Dry-fit the corners to make sure the grout line will be the same width as the others. Spread thinset on the backerboard and back-butter tiles so they adhere properly. Let the adhesive cure until it just begins to set up. Carefully remove any excess from the joints and perimeter with a utility knife.
If using bullnose tile on the top edges instead of V-cap edging, you can keep the tile in line with a thin batten on the edge of the plywood base. Trowel on thinset and lay the bullnose tile in place on the top of the plywood base. Let the mortar cure, then remove the batten. Back-butter the front edge tiles with thinset. If necessary, tape the tiles in place until the mortar cures.
Clean sections as soon as the grout sets up slightly; to avoid scratches, remove the grout from the surface before it hardens. Remove excess grout with the float. Use a wrung-out wet sponge to smooth the joints and remove the excess grout from the surface. Repeat the cleaning at least once more and wipe off the haze with a rag.