Ceramic Tiles Made Simple

Careful planning is the secret of successful tiling. Whether a room is being half tiled or fully tiled to the ceiling, the aim is to leave a neat, balanced effect. Plan to have a full size tile at the top of the wall or in the top course of a half-tiled wall. Narrow pieces of cut tiles are untidy and should also be avoided where they will be readily noticed — in corners, above washbasins, around windows and so on. A balanced wall will have equal-size cut tiles at both ends.

To avoid pitfalls in advance and to establish exactly where the tiles are going to fall, use a measuring staff. Make this with a long piece of wood marked out in tile increments according to the size of tiles being used. With the help of the measuring staff, the best start point can be found.

Corners, floors, skirtings and work-surfaces are rarely true, so never use these or similar features as a base for tiling. The only way to ensure that the tiles are hung vertically and horizontally is to fix battens to the wall and work from these.

Materials Tile adhesive is supplied in ready-mixed or powder form. For large jobs the ready-mixed type is best. If the tiles are likely to be splashed by excessive water (such as in a shower area) then a water resistant adhesive is needed.

Grout is supplied in powder form for mixing with water. It is used to fill the joints between the tiles.

Tools In addition to basic measuring and marking equipment, the following are needed. For spreading the adhesive on to the wall and drawing it out to leave a series of ridges, a spatula or small trowel plus a plastic comb are needed. The special plastic comb can be obtained with the adhesive.

Various gadgets are made for cutting tiles. One of these will be needed to trim tiles to fit in corners and so on.

For cutting out L-shaped tiles and other shapes, a special pair of tile nippers can be used; a suitable alternative is an ordinary pair of pincers.

Surface preparation

A sound, level and dry surface is essential. Old tiles, provided that they are flat and firmly fixed, can remain. The odd loose one can be refixed with tile adhesive. A plastered wall might look flat but check it first with a long, wooden straight-edge. Place the wood in all directions on the surface to see if any noticeable see-saw action is detectable. Small undulations can be filled with cellulose filler or else a special thick-bed adhesive can be used to overcome the unevenness when tiles are being hung. In bad cases there is no alternative but to completely replaster the wall or to line it with plasterboard to provide a suitable surface.

Remove any wallpaper or loose paint from the wall. Sound gloss paint should be rubbed down to leave a surface to which the adhesive will bond.


Fix a horizontal batten to the wall at a point which will eventually leave a full tile in the top course. A vertical batten is needed also near a corner as a guide to the first vertical row of tiles.

Using a spatula or trowel, spread adhesive over about 1 sq. m of wall, then comb through it to leave ridges. Place the first tile snugly into the angle formed by the two battens. Subsequent tiles are laid in horizontal courses until the area covered with adhesive is completed.

Position each tile with a slight twisting movement, butting its edges tightly to the neighbouring tiles. Many tiles have little nibs (called spacer lugs) on the edges to ensure uniform joint lines are left between tiles. If there are no spacer lugs then use pieces of card or special spacers to keep the joints uniform.

Although the two guide battens should ensure that the tiles are going up horizontally and vertically, it is wise to check each completed sq. m of tiles with a spirit level and make any necessary adjustments quickly.

A wipe over with a dryish sponge will remove any adhesive from the surface of the tiles before it dries. This can be done later when the adhesive has dried but it means a lot of dust and elbow work.

Hang as many full-size tiles as possible before cutting tiles to fit odd spaces. The two battens fixed to the wall can be removed after 24 hours and the spaces left filled with cut tiles.

To cut a tile, first score through the glazed surface with a tile cutter. There are various types of cutter, one of the most useful being that which works in a pincer-like action. With other cutters, having

scored the tile it is then placed on two matchsticks (placed in line with the score mark) and pressed down on either side to snap it cleanly.

Awkwardly shaped tiles are cut by making a template of the required shape and transferring this to the tile. Score deeply into the glaze along the guide line then nibble away the waste with pincers.

When an obstacle such as a washbasin is reached, a horizontal batten can be fixed to the wall to allow tiling to continue with full tiles. Later on the batten can be removed and the spaces filled in with cut tiles.

A space for an accessory such as a soap tray can be filled temporarily by a tile or two tiles, as needed. Fix these tiles with a small blob of adhesive. When the wall has been completed for 24 hours, remove the temporary tiles, spread adhesive on the back of the accessory and fix it in place. Secure it with adhesive tape until the adhesive has set.

Where tiles are hung over a previously half-tiled wall the top edge can be finished neatly either with a smooth layer of filler or wood beading. An even neater method is to cut slivers of tile and bed them down in adhesive.

After all the tiles have been in place for 24 hours, use a slightly damp sponge to work grout mix into the joints. Remove surplus grout with a damp cloth.

Brick tiles

As an alternative to traditional materials, there is a wide range of products available for decorating complete walls or feature areas in a room.

Brick tiles are made in a lightweight material and have the look and feel of genuine bricks. Usually they are fireproof and so can be used also around fireplaces. Various colours are available and the bricks are fixed to the wall using a special adhesive which shows between the tiles to act as mortar joints.

An authentic brick tile is also available. This can be fixed to an emulsion-painted wall allowing the paint colour to show through and serve as recessed mortar joints. Alternatively, a special pointing compound can be used to fill in the joints; several colours can be obtained. Special corner pieces are used so that a chimney breast, for example, can be tiled yet still retain the appearance of a genuine wall.

Brick panels made from expanded polystyrene measure about 600 x 300mm and are fixed with adhesive. Each panel comes complete with pointed mortar joints and can be cut with a sharp knife. Corner bricks are available.

Whichever type of ‘brick’ is used it is essential to spend time in planning for the appearance of a genuine wall. An authentic look will be lost if, for example, thin slivers of a brick appear at corners. It is best to mark on to the wall the required brickwork bonding pattern before work begins.

Other types

Stone wall tiles are similar to brick tiles. They have a texture which simulates handpicked quarry stones. For authenticity, sizes, shapes and colour shades are random. The tiles are fixed with a special mastic adhesive which also serves as the pointing between tiles.

For best results it is worthwhile laying out the tiles on the floor to establish the best arrangement before tiling the wall.

The appearance of genuine, ceramic tiles can be achieved using panels of plastic or enamelled fibreboard. Each panel comprises a number of tiles and is fixed to the wall with a panel adhesive.

The plastic type is bendable and so will cope with uneven walls — it can even be turned around a corner. Where cutting is needed, this is done with scissors. Plastic panels are not suitable for areas subject to excessive heat.

Enamelled fibreboard panels are fixed direct to even walls or, where an undulating surface is encountered, to wall battens. Cutting panels is done with a saw.