More from The Balanced Guy

Want an easy way to make your kitchen look snazzy that you can do yourself? How about a tile backsplash? In a weekend you can fill in that space between the top of your counter and the bottom of your kitchen cabinets with some gorgeous tile, learn a new skill, add value to your home (yes, even in this abysmal market) and earn valuable points with your significant other for a boys’ night out .

backsplash dec 4

The pic is a natural stone tile job I did for some friends last year. While the stones came attached to sheets, the shape of the sheets (a slightly spiraled 4-pointed star) and the way they fit in an offset pattern made for an interesting challenge. For my own home I selected sheets of 2″ slate tiles that conveniently filled the space between the countertop backsplash and bottom of the cabinets (typically 12″) with no cutting. It pays to think ahead!

What tools will you need? Tape measure, tile cutter, tile snips, tile trowel, tile file, scraper, putty knife, level, rubber float (to apply the grout) and a utility knife (always need one of those). While you can do the job with a manual tile cutter, I highly recommend renting a tile saw to make the job go faster and easier. If you can find an assistant that’s a big help. You’ll also need mastic – that’s the “glue” you use to stick the tile to the wall. Make sure you use the right kinds as it differs for ceramic vs. natural stone tile. Finally comes the grout and its myriad color choices. It’s amazing how vastly different the project can turn out depending on your choice of grout color. Also determine if your tile choice has bullnose tiles available. Those are the ones with a slightly rounded edge on one side that you use where the tile field dies into an open space on the wall.

Lay the job out ahead of time working from the center, making sure you know if any cuts will need to be made and where. What you want is for any cut tiles to wind up in corners and immediately under your cabinets and not in highly visible areas. You also don’t want to have to cut tile once you have mastic up on the wall. Plan ahead! Follow the directions on the tub of mastic; in particular any having to do with preparing the wall to accept the mastic such as a primer or roughing it up with sandpaper. I usually put up 1 or 2 square feet at a time depending on how easy or complex the particular section is. Slab it on with the smooth edge of the trowel then flip it around and use the toothed edge to remove excess and create the ridges necessary for the tile to properly adhere. While you might be tempted to put on “just a little more mastic” than required, think twice – when you put the tile on and press it to the wall, any extra will squeeze out between the tiles and make for a tough time grouting especially if you don’t clear it out immediately and it dries.

Working around switches and outlets is often the trickiest part of the job. Shut off the breaker for any electrical switches and outlets in the area to be tiled, then remove the cover plate. You’ll need to loosen the switch/plug so you can pull it out and away from the box – just don’t disconnect it (unless you want to). Use masking tape to protect the switch/outlet from mastic and grout. You’ll have to reset it at a new depth once the tile job is done so make sure you bring the tile close enough to be covered by the cover plate and so that the flanges will rest on the new tile.

Once you get going the job is fairly easy, especially since most tiles these days are self-spacing. I recommend placing the tile saw outside as it can get fairly messy. Even if it’s outside, place a drop cloth under it as the dirty spray of water can leave a stain on your floor, porch or deck that is hard to remove. As you complete a section of tile, take a piece of corrugated cardboard about the same size, hold it to the wall over the tile and rub hard with your hand to help level and set the tile. When you are done setting the tile it needs to set up for 24 hours before you grout it. Clean up and have a beer or two. I’ll explain the fine art (actually the fine mess) of grouting in my next posting so come back for more!


The writer of The Balanced Guy, Roman Horoszewski, is not particularly balanced but he’s definitely trying to be. He makes the effort by not only doing “guy stuff” but also spending time with his three sons and wife while attempting to remain informed about the world around him. He and his family live in the Princeton, NJ area.  His blog can be read in full at

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