Tuesday, April 8, 2014

DIY Mosaic Back-Splash


- Enough tile mosaic for the area you are hoping to cover (I used 2 ft of white marble mosiac)
- Thin set mortar (I used white) 
- Square notched mortar trowel
- Putty knife
- Un-sanded grout (I used white)
- Grout float (or rubber spatula in my case)
- Measuring tape and pencil
- Straight edge / level
- Drill with mixing attachment
- Carpenter's square
- Wet tile-saw
- Utility knife


STEP 1: Measure & Mark the Area You Want to Cover

Start by measuring the length and height of the area you want to cover with your mosaic (in my case it was a small strip at the back of my bathroom vanity):

I used a square to draw a line on the wall marking the desired height of my mosaic on either side of my bathroom vanity, and then used a long straight-edge to draw a line connecting the two lines:

STEP 2: Mark & Cut Mosaic

Most mosiac material will come looking something like this (a bunch of small pieces of tile attached at the back by a webbing):

Typically they are patterned and designed to fit together, so you need to take them out of the package and fit them together like a puzzle:

Flip the mosaic over web-side up, and use a utility knife to cut out a strip of your desired width:

Flip your mosaic back over right-side up and find where the end of your strip fits along the edge of your excess piece:

Flip the mosiac over web-side up and cut along the line where your strip fits:

Trim off excess:

Flip the mosiac right-side up and measure to see if you have enough to fit your space (measure from farthest inset piece to nearest inset piece).  If you have enough, proceed to the next step - if you don't have enough, repeat the previous step until you do have enough.

Starting at the furthest inset piece, use a square to mark the finished edge of your mosiac:

Use a wet tile saw to cut the mosaic along your line:

Repeat on the other end.

Piece your cut mosiac together along the area you are hoping to cover to ensure that it is the right size (make any necessary adjustments if it is not):

STEP 3: Prepare Mortar

Using a bucket, drill and mixing attachment, mix thinset mortar according to product instructions:

Use a putty knife to evenly spread mortar on the area you want to cover with mosaic.  You don't want to get the mortar too thick or it will squish out between the cracks of your mosaic and get really messy, but you don't want to get it too thin either, or your mosaic won't adhere sufficiently.  I found about 1/8" - 3/16" good.

Drag a square-notched trowel across your mortared area, creating grooves in the mortar:

STEP 4: Install Mosaic

Starting at your marked edge with your first piece, place the mosaic against the mortar on the wall right-side out and press firmly in place. Check to make sure it is straight and even:

Once the first piece is secured, proceed with the 2nd piece and so on until you have reached your end mark:

I chose to cap off my mosaic with some marble edging, so once my mosiac was installed I proceeded to install the marble edging on top of my mosiac:

 Run a putty knife along the edges of your mosaic to remove any excess mortar from the wall and surrounding area:

Use a damp rag to clean off any mortar on the surface of your mosaic, wall, and surrounding area (remember that any mortar left will turn to cement when dry and become extremely difficult to remove, so make sure you don't have any mortar left in places where you don't want it).

Make any final, fine-tuned adjustments that may be necessary and leave to set according to product instructions (usually 24 hours).

STEP 5: Grout

Mix grout according to product instructions (typically you will mix it, let it rest for a couple minutes and then mix it again before you use it).

I like to mask off the rough ends of my mosaic with painter's tape to help me get a clean, straight line along the edge:

Apply grout to the surface of your mosaic, filling in all of the cracks.  Typically you would do this with a grout float, but because I choose a mosaic that included rough, uneven, tumbled marble pieces my surface was not entirely flat which made a typical grout float pretty useless.  Instead I found an old rubber spatula to spread the grout and it worked great!

 Scrape off as much excess grout as you can from off the surface of the mosaic and leave it to rest according to product instructions:

When the grout is set just enough (not too hard, but just soft enough that you can still wipe it off with a little effort without pulling it out of the cracks), wipe the surface of the mosaic clean.  If you have a smooth surfaced mosaic use a flat, small-pored sponge and a bucket of clean water for each wipe (usually 3 wipe-downs is enough).  In my case because of the rough, tumbled marble pieces a rag was better - however, I had to be very careful because the rag was notorious for pulling grout out of the cracks.  After my first wipe-down, I let it rest a little longer and then gently went over each of the tumbled marble pieces with a tooth-brush to clean the grout off, and then one last final wipe.

When you are satisfied that the grout has been sufficiently cleaned off of the mosaic leave it to set according to product instructions. 7-10 days after the grout has set, go back and seal it with grout sealer.

Enjoy your new back-splash!

Monday, March 10, 2014

How To Install A Herringbone Tile Floor

I've really fallen in love with herringbone patterned tile lately and wanted to try it out in my main-floor bathroom.  I enlisted my Dad to help me give it a go.  It was a lot of work and slightly more tricky than I initially imagined, but worth it in the end.  I absolutely love the end result!


- 24"x12" tiles (enough to cover the square footage of your floor + a little extra)
- Thinset Mortar (enough to cover the square footage of your floor)
- Grout
- 1cm square-notched trowel
- Wet tile saw
- Hammer
- Electric screw-driver/drill & 2" construction screws
- Tile float
- Tile spacers (I went with 1/8")
- Putty knife
- Rag & bucket
- Marker (we used a permanent marker)
- Protractor
- Meter/yard stick (or other long straight edge)
- Small Square
- Mixing attachment for a drill
- Measuring tape
- 2 Large, flat, smooth sponges
- Grout sealer


1) Remove the old flooring to expose wood sub-flooring:

My bathroom floor was covered in nasty, 30 year-old vinyl.  We debated whether to put the tile on top of the lino (this can be done if it is stapled well to the floor), but in the end we decided to lift it up in order to make sure that the tile was well secured to the sub-floor.

Lifting the vinyl itself wasn't so bad, but scraping up the paper backing which was glued to the plywood was a bit of a laborious job.  I found I was most successful when I dampened the paper using water in a spray-bottle and then scraped the moist paper off of the plywood with a putty knife.

If your sub-floor is in good shape you can proceed to step #2 - if it is damaged or rotten, you will need to replace/repair it before moving on.

2) Secure the sub-floor: 

With the old flooring removed, locate the floor joists by finding the existing screws which are securing the sub-floor to the joists.  Use 2" construction screws 6" apart along the entire length of the joist to secure the sub-floor.  This helps to reduce flex & movement in the floor which can cause floor tiles to crack and break once they are installed.  If you are tiling a large floor you may want to consider using a tile underlay on top of the sub-floor.

3) Mark tile pattern:

Starting in the most visible corner of the floor, lay one whole tile at a 45 degree angle (use your protractor to help ensure you have your tile at a 45 degree angle) and trace around it onto the floor.

Working out from this spot, continue to use your tile to trace the herringbone pattern onto the floor.  Use your yard stick or other straight edge to make sure that your lines from tile to tile are in alignment with each other.

4) Install tiles on floor with thinset mortar:

Using a stirring attachment with your drill, mix mortar according to the product instructions.
*Mortar is an irritant, ensure that you have proper hand, eye, and face protection when you are mixing it*

Use a putty knife to scoop some mortar onto the floor where you will place your first tile:

Use your putty knife to spread the mortar over the space for your first tile until it is about 1 cm thick, then use your square-notched trowel to scrape grooves into the mortar:

Place your tile face-up on top of the grooved mortar and firmly press it evenly in place.  Use your putty knife to scrape any excess mortar from off the floor around the edges of the tile:

Following the pattern you traced on the sub-floor, repeat the same process with the next tile, working your way out from the corner where you started:

Insert tile spacers in between the tiles ensuring that they fit snugly:

Use a small metal square to ensure that the tiles are level with each other and the edges are flush:

If the edges are not flush, you may have to press one tile down more in order to lower it, or if that doesn't work add more mortar underneath a tile to raise it up slightly.

*Tip* When working with whole tiles I found it easiest to apply the mortar to the floor and then place the tile on top; however, when working with smaller pieces I found it easier to apply the mortar directly to the bottom of the tile and then place it on the floor. 

5) Cutting around things:

In order to get around round things mark the center of the round object on your tile and split the tile in two by cutting the tile along your mark:

Make sure you use proper eye and ear protection when using a wet tile saw.  They are very noisy and bits of tile can come flying out at you.  Wet tile saws also tend to be a bit messy, so be sure to set it up in an appropriate area.
Find a round object close to the size of the object you need to get around and use it as a tracer to mark the necessary curve onto your tile where the object will fall (you could also use a compass for this if you have one that will draw a large enough circle):

Using a wet tile saw, make a cut in the center of the curve beginning at the edge of the tile and ending at the inside edge of the curve:

Continue to make narrow cuts like this along the length of the curve:

Cut the edges of the curve as far as you can without putting too much stress on the blade:

Take a hammer and carefully knock out the cut pieces:

If you end up with any stubs, use a pair of pliers to break them off:

Check the fit of your cut piece and make any adjustments if necessary:

Once the piece fits the way you want it to, use mortar to secure it in place:

Repeat the process for the other side using the remaining piece of tile:

Use this same method to get around things like this air vent - but you can omit the need for a tracer - just measure and use a straight edge to mark your tile accordingly:

6) Cutting angles:

You end up cutting a lot of angled pieces with the herringbone pattern, here's how to do it:

 Measure the distance from the square corners to the angled corners:

Mark the edges of a tile according to your measurements and use a straight edge to draw a line across the 2 points:

You don't have to be super accurate, you do have a little bit of wiggle room here, but a good rule to always follow is measure twice - cut once.

We used the same method to measure and mark the bottom corner of this tile in order to get around the air vent:

When cutting these long angles we found that sometimes the saw would jump at the end of the cut and end up breaking the tip of the corner off.  To prevent this, we found it best to start on one end of the tile and go in about as deep as the saw blade:

Then flip the tile around and finish the cut from the other side:

As always, check to make sure the piece you just cut will fit properly.  If it doesn't, make the necessary adjustments - if it does, secure it in place with mortar:

Once you are finished covering the whole floor space check to ensure that everything is properly in place before the mortar sets (sometimes tiles can slide around a little bit, especially when you have to step on them).  

7) Remove the spacers and clean off the tiles:

Leave the tiles undisturbed for about an hour, then beginning with the first tile you laid, carefully remove the plastic spacers and wipe off the tops of the tiles with a rag and bucket of water.  Any bits of mortar left on top of the tiles will harden into cement and become very difficult to remove, so now is the time to make sure the tops of the tiles are clean.

Leave the tiles undisturbed for 24 hours while the mortar sets.

8) Grout:

Make sure the surface of your tile floor is clean before you start grouting:

You may also want to mask off any highly visible areas with painting tape:

Mix grout according to product instructions - generally you want it to have a soft, icing-like consistency.  If it's too thick you will find that it's very hard to work with (it will drag and pull out of the cracks in between the tiles), if this happens simply add more water and mix it up well.  If it's too thin, it will be easy to work with, but could shrink and crack once it's dry.  If your mix is too thin add more grout powder and mix it up well.  Most grouting products suggest leaving the mix for a couple of minutes after it has initially been mixed and then mix it again before you are ready to use it.
*Grout is an irritant, ensure that you have proper hand, eye, and face protection when you are mixing it*
Starting in the back corner and working your way out, glob a bit of grout mixture onto the cracks between your tiles and use a tile float to squish and smear it into the cracks:

Tile float.

Use the edge of the tile float to scrape away the excess grout from off the top of the tile (you don't have to clean it off perfectly, but just try to get the majority of it off).  Pass over the cracks at an angle.

Keep going until you have filled all the cracks in your floor.  You'll want to work fairly quickly as you don't want your grout to set on you before you have finished.  If you find that it starts to get thick while you're working with it, add more water and mix well.  I ended up using rapid-set grout which I would NOT recommend, especially if you are doing this for the first time. 

Once all your cracks have been filled, allow the grout to set according to your product instructions (I had to wait about 20 minutes).  After the designated time has passed, use a large flat sponge and a bucket of water to wipe away the excess grout from off the top of the tiles.  Don't worry about getting the floor super clean with this pass (there will be more to come) - you are mostly just cleaning up the grout lines (you want them to be straight and sharp with the corners of the tiles clearly defined).  

The grout should be dry to the touch, but you should still be able to wipe it away with a little effort.  If it's not dry to the touch - wait a little while longer before you start wiping.  If it seems too hard and is not wiping off easily with the sponge you may want to try using a little bit of fine steel wool along with your sponge to help you clean up the lines.

After your first pass with the sponge, your grout lines should be clean and defined, but the tops of your tiles will still be kinda messy.  Rinse out your sponge, refresh your bucket of water, and go over your floor again, rinsing your sponge often.

 The second pass should clean things up a lot, but you may still find that there is a slight film on the floor when it dries.  Use a new sponge and a clean bucket of water to go over your floor a third time, rinsing your sponge often:

Leave the grout to dry and set according to your products instructions.  Seal the grout with grout sealer according to your product instructions (usually 7-10 days after).

Enjoy your beautiful new floor!