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!


  1. Thank you Abby for the detailed steps. Your tutorial will be extremely helpful during our project.

  2. This is one detailed tutorial! In installing tiles, you have to be very careful and patient because one wrong measurement might ruin everything. Thank you for this useful post!
    Patrick Tan

  3. I like how easy to follow that DIY guide of yours. You really made the installation look like a breeze, though they look like they're done by professionals at the same time. Thank you so much for sharing DIY guides to your readers! Cheers!

    Todd Bailey @ McCoy Maintenance

  4. this is really helpful..been wanting to try some diy but too scared to do it

  5. I love the herringbone design you used for your tile floors. I have been considering putting in a tile floor and I think the traditional way tile gets laid is kind of boring. I like the added interest this design adds to your floor. It still looks traditional but with a little more interest.

  6. I also really love the herringbone design. It is so classy and a perfect design for any surface in a house to add something more. I can't believe how well the tile flooring turned out. I have been wanting to redo the floor in my kitchen and I think that this would look great. I hope that mine will turn out as good as this one.

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  8. Do you know the brand and name of the tile you used? It's beautiful!

  9. Nice post with great tips. Hope that we will found more helpful post like above from you soon. Thanks.
    Flooring Installation

  10. I have been a tile setter for 15 years and have NEVER, would NEVER, set tile directly onto plywood subfloor! We always, ALWAYS, use and underlayment such as 1/4" Hardiebacker or Schluter Ditra (which is about 1/8" thick). This allows for any structure movement without "popping" tiles or future grout cracking. The other steps would be helpful for DIY'ers, but please, always use an underlayment!

  11. I am in agreement with Kreative Tile. I have been a tilesetter for almost 30 years and problems will happen when adhering the tile directly to the subfloor. ALWAYS use an underlayment to avoid problems later. Other than that, nice job!

  12. I am in agreement with Kreative Tile. I have been a tilesetter for almost 30 years and problems will happen when adhering the tile directly to the subfloor. ALWAYS use an underlayment to avoid problems later. Other than that, nice job!

  13. What an awesome and very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog posts.

    In any case I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  14. we are installing a herringbone pattern (L or regular herringbone pattern) in our bathroom on the wall. Can anyone tell me how to get your lines to line up?? It seems that because of the placement of the tiles, they "grow". All of the tiles are the same size- do you recommend trimming almost all of these? How do you get them to come out even?

  15. The installation process was really detailed which made it easier to digest the instructions. I would definitely follow this tip or just call an expert to do the job but would definitely take the responsibility to do the buying of floor tiles and make my sure my ideas will come to life.

  16. Great article. For more information on Floor Tiles Fixing, Visit Roff India.

  17. Fantastic article, herringbone is my least favourite tiling pattern to do due to all the angled cuts but its definitely my favourite to look at. Great work and awesome tips.

    Tiling contractors London

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