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Hey, you're in the home improvement zone--YOUR HANDYMAN ZONE!

Walls Category: Interior Walls: Ceramic Tile Walls

Improvement Project:

How to build a kitchen tile backsplash wall.

Tools / Materials (See Below for Applicability):

  • Ceramic tiles (buy a few more than calculated to be used for mistake purposes)

  • Tile spacers

  • Tile wet saw

  • Tile snap cutter

  • Tile nippers (for circular tile cuts, etc.)

  • Power drill with the appropriate drill bit (hole saw)

  • Carpenter's level

  • Straightedge

  • Ceramic tile adhesive

  • Grout, the unsanded type (if the the tile joints will be narrow), sanded (if the tile joints will be wide)

  • Grout sealer, like Aqua Mix Sealer

  • Tile adhesive notched trowel

  • Tile grout float

  • Tile grout sponge (such as a hydro sponge), used moist

  • Fine-pointed brush (like what an artist uses)

  • Caulking gun

  • White caulking tube

  • Masking tape

  • Pencil

  • Marker (with thin tip that does not wash off easily, may need to be permanent to meet this not-wash-easily criterion)

  • Medium sandpaper (about 120 grit)

  • Broom

  • Broom dustpan

  • Rag/cloth, dampened



If you want to improve the looks of your kitchen, perhaps add a unique "accent" to it, installing a ceramic tile backsplash on the wall facing your kitchen countertop (and sink, as applicable) may be the improvement project for you.  With a little sweat and effort, such an installation can transform your kitchen.

Caution: Of course, when dealing with sharp objects, such as a tile wet saw, make sure you take precautions.  When dealing with chemicals, such as those found in tile adhesives, grout and a sealer, make sure you take precautions; read all product manufacturer instructions. 

Caution:  Have the electrical power to all electrical outlets and switches in the kitchen (or wherever the backsplash will be installed) turned off during installation.

Installing a ceramic tile backsplash can be done in a few steps, and here's how:

  1. When installing a ceramic tile backsplash, planning is a critical part as is the case with any other home improvement project: Determine whether your tile backsplash will be 8 inches high or even 12 inches high, etc., and make sure you have enough tiles for whichever height your choose.

  2. As a precautionary measure, use masking tape to cover all electrically-disconnected outlets so that no tile adhesive or other debris gets in them during the installation process.

  3. Ensure that the wall(s) on which the the tile backsplash will be installed is/are clean and ready for the installation; as necessary, sand the walls, especially with a paint coat, with medium sandpaper.  Clean up the sand dust with a broom and dustpan; use a damp rag/cloth to wipe off the dust that may have accumulated on the walls.

  4. Layout how the tiles will be installed on the wall, penciling layout markings of each tile on the wall as may be necessary to assist in the installation process.

In this layout process, placing each tile on the wall for their respective layout markings, you very likely will run across a few tiles that will need to be cut to correspond to the wall configurations of outlets and other objects in place and needing to tightly surround such with tiles, etc.  In this situation, as each tile needs to be modified with cuts, mark such unique cut lines on the tile, itself, with a marker. 

Upon marking your tiles for unique cuts, make these actual cuts with either a tile wet saw or tile snap cutter; using a tile wet saw will make the cutting process faster, but buying or renting such a saw can be a bit more expensive than using a tile snap cutter.  Read the manufacturer's instructions of either tool that you will use, and for tile wet saw cuts, allow such cut tiles to dry before you install them with tile adhesive.  Use a a power drill with a hole saw bit made of carbide in order to make holes through tiles.  Use tile nippers to make curved/half-circle/half-oval cuts, etc.

  1. Upon making all of your cuts, taking all safety precautions necessary for your situation, use a broom and dustpan to safely sweep up the created debris from making necessary cuts of tiles.

  2. With the flat side of a notched trowel, spread an adequate amount of tile adhesive enough to be covered with tiles in 15 or so minutes on the wall(s) where the tiles will be placed, all within the outer-most layout mark; the spread of the adhesive should be at least half the thickness of a tile.

Then, upon initially making the adhesive spread with the the flat side of the notched trowel, use the notched/rigid side of the notched trowel to run through this spread as if you were combing through it with a comb, making horizontal lines through such a spread with the trowel, also making sure to stay within the outer-most layout mark; this spread effectively becomes "notched" and ready to be covered with tiles.

Don't worry about crevice space that separates the tile backsplash in the making and the countertop, as this will ultimately be covered with caulking, but not just yet.

  1. With the tile adhesive spread and notched, immediately begin to actually install the tiles over such a spread on the wall, all of which should be done in about 15 minutes for the given amount of tile adhesive applied for this initial phase of installation (other phases of more tile installation, as necessary, will follow by repeating steps 6 and 7):  The tiles should be placed on the wall spread, starting from the bottom up, and each tile should be placed on the wall in a somewhat twisting motion.  If your tiles do not have built-in spacers, you'll need to place tile spacers on all sides of each tile to ensure equal spacing; usually, spacers are about 6/16 of an inch in width. Frequently use a carpenter's level and/or a straightedge to make sure the tiles are aligned in the process so that any corrections can be made before it is too late.  Upon the setting of this set of tiles, carefully remove the tile spacers before the tiles really start to set in/adhere to the wall.

Allow this set of installed tiles to cure/dry onto the wall for about 24 hours or otherwise per the tile adhesive manufacturer's instructions. Go on to the next phase/batch of tile installation.

  1. Repeat steps 6-7 for each additional phase/batch of tile installation (remember, enough adhesive spread for about 15 minutes of tile installing so as to not waste the adhesive in going bad as a result of spreading too much and being unable to install too many tiles to cover such a huge adhesive spread before it dries) until the installation of tiles for the tile backsplash is complete.

  2. Upon 24 hours passing or any other time period provided by the tile adhesive manufacturer, using a grout float, apply the grout into the sides/joints of the installed replacement tile.  In applying the grout, a good way to get the grout well within the joints without disturbing what grout has already went in is to maneuver the float across the replacement tile at an angle from one side to the other; use a moistened sponge to wipe up any excess grout.

  3. Allow the grout to cure/dry for about an additional 24 hours or otherwise per the grout manufacturer's instructions before you attempt to touch the tile.

  4. With a caulking gun, cocked with a caulking tube of white caulking, fill in the crevice/gap found between the bottom tile edges and the countertop, as may be applicable.

  5. After about two weeks since the grout application, apply grout sealer over the grout on the tiles with a fine-pointed brush.  This sealer seals the grout around the tiles so that such grout becomes smooth and bears a nice shining-appearance touch.

That's how to install a ceramic tile backsplash.

Ed the Handyman


Your Handyman Zone Team


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