Fixing Tiles To A Wall – Tiling Tips For DIYers

If you’ve prepared the walls properly, fixing tiles is a straightforward job but take your time to achieve a good finish.

Start by spreading adhesive over an area of about one square metre in the corner where the two battens join. Use a notched spreader to get the adhesive reasonably even. Start laying the tiles from the corner working out in a triangular pattern and butting up the edge rows hard against the battens.

Depending on the type of tiles you have chosen butt the lugs of the tiles to adjacent tiles or slip spacers between them as you lay. When you have laid all the full tiles, clean off any excess adhesive and wait for a day.

When the adhesive has set, remove the battens and start on the more time consuming part — measuring and cutting tiles to fit the

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Walls are rarely absolutely even or vertical so you need to mark and cut each tile individually and fix it firmly and neatly in place before moving on to the next. An alternative method is to mark and cut a group of tiles and then number them and their positions. When the adhesive has set, remove the battens and mark and cut the bottom row wall. Then fix the tiles to the wall in batches of half a dozen. Always mark all the cut tiles individually.

Start measuring and cutting along the bottom row and work up the sides afterwards. Make sure that the grout lines line up with the main tiling. This is the time to fix any special fittings, such as soap or toilet roll holders, as well.

Leave the adhesive to set for a day and get ready for grouting. You’ll need two sponges and a thin dowel with a rounded end. You’ll also need to remove any spacer cards before you start. Wipe the grout over the face of the tiling, rubbing it well into the joints with a slightly damp sponge. Wipe off excess grout with a dry sponge as you go. After 20 minutes run along each joint with the rounded dowel pressing the grout in firmly and leaving a neat finish. Don’t be tempted to use your fingers to round off the joints as the grit in the grout will more than likely wear extremely painful holes in your skin and may even lead to dermatitis. If you suspect that you have sensitive skin, it’s always a good idea to wear protective rubber gloves.

After a couple of hours wipe off the dried remaining grout which will look like the ‘bloom’ on fruit skins.

If you use coloured grout make sure that the floor or bath at the bottom is protected — grout’s quite difficult to get off and prevention is better than cure.


Make an assessment of any problem areas before you start work — it will speed the tiling process later.

Problem areas can arise in any room. You may want to put things like soap holders and towel rails in a bathroom or tile around a power socket in a kitchen.

Tiling Around Special Fittings

In bathrooms you will probably want to incorporate such things as soap holders into your tiling. Most manufacturers now make them in the same sizes as a tile or a pair of tiles. Fix these at the same time as the cut tiles around the edges.

When you are laying the full tiles decide where the fitting is to go. Lay an ordinary tile in that position and continue tiling — but go back before the adhesive has completely set and carefully remove it. You need it there to get the joints even and straight for the rest of the tiles in the row and above. Hold heavy fittings in place with masking tape until the adhesive has set.

Tiling Around Light Fittings

Make sure you turn off the electricity at the mains before you tile around light fittings or switches. With flush-mounted fittings unscrew the face plate of the fitting and cut tiles to the edge of the metal box fixed to the wall. Your cutting doesn’t have to be perfect but make sure that there is plenty of i400m for the face plate and its attached wires to go back freely. Don’t skimp on grouting the joints behind the face plate before you screw it back in place. When you have cleaned off the grout turn the mains on again.

Tiling Internal and External Angles

The basic rule is that you should use full tiles at external angles and corners, cut tiles in internal angles. The rule applies to window and door reveals as well.

At external angles it is a good idea to nail a batten on the return wall leaving a little overlap to provide an edge to butt the last row of square edged tiles against. When they are in position remove the batten and lay round edged tiles — or universal tiles — on the return wall to overlap their exposed edges.

If a corner is likely to get rough treatment you should consider fixing a timber batten or L-shaped moulding permanently to the corner of the wall and tiling up to it on both sides. Qn The timber will tolerate much more bumping and scuffing than the relatively fragile tiles.

Changes in thickness

If you are tiling over an old area of tiling which goes only half way up the wall, you will have the problem of a step. There is a variety of ways of dealing with this. One is to ;top your own tiling at round about the same level filling in behind any overlap with plaster and finishing off with either a ceramic quadrant tile or a hardwood strip. If you use a wooden strip in a bathroom, play safe and seal it with varnish before you fit it.

If you want your tiles to continue right up to the ceiling or to a higher point, you will either have to accept the visual break — and make a design feature of it in the form of a small shelf or a band of tiles in another colour or line the upper part of the wall to the thickness of the old tiling and continue up to the new base. Hardboard stuck with contact adhesive to a sound wall will provide an adequate lining material (use tempered or waterproofed hardboard in a bathroom or kitchen) and should approximate the thickness of the original tiles.

Measure and cut the sheet or sheets to fit the area of wall and start fixing the pieces one section at a time.

Take the shine off the polished side of the hardboard with coarse sandpaper and, paying particular attention to get even cover-age along the edges and corners, start spreading the adhesive with a serrated spreader.

While the adhesive is still wet on the board, smooth the sheet in position on the wall to get a transfer of glue — this will indicate the exact area on the wall that needs to be coated with adhesive. Spread the adhesive on the wall and when both surfaces are touch dry firm the hardboard permanently in place. Once the hardboard is fixed, you are in a position to start laying the tiles.

Changes in thickness can be easily dealt with using a plaster infill and quadrant tiles or beading. Alternatively, use hardboard.


Non-ceramic tiles won’t need the same kind of physical support which the battens provide. But it is still a good idea to use them for all the other kinds of tiles, simply because it is easier to align against an edge than to a pencil mark.

Although some non-ceramic tiles such as cork, vinyl and carpet will be much bigger than their ceramic counterparts, use the same setting out procedure — marking the top and measuring down in increments of one tile height.

The methods of sticking down other tiles will vary.

Cork is laid using cork flooring adhesive and vinyl and carpet may be too — unless they have a self adhesive backing.

Mirror tiles are fixed with self adhesive pads. They are not always exactly the same size so it is a good idea to lay them out on the floor first. Mirror tiles call for flat and true walls but remember that you can often move the pads around on the back of the mirror tile. Position the pads, therefore, so that they lie in the flattest position possible on the wall.

Metallic tiles don’t reflect very much although their surface is shiny. They can be laid on less than perfectly flat walls without it showing too much. They have either a self adhesive backing or are fixed with self adhesive pads.

Mosaics have the advantage that the tiles are automatically spaced and are laid in quite large areas in one go. But you have to be careful in lining up the joints of adjacent panels of mosaic. Tear off a narrow strip of the backing around the four sides so that you can see the joints for lining up. A strip only a few millimetres wide is enough. You must also make sure that the distance between sheets is the same as the spacing between tiles on the sheet.

Brick and stone tiles are laid in the same way as ceramic tiles except that the courses will not be in a grid but in a conventional masonry bond. You’ll have to work this out on paper first as if you were building a real brick or stone wall. As with ceramic tiles you fix this kind of tile to the wall and when the adhesive has set fill in the joints with grout —or mortar. Filling the joints between brick or stone tiles is more like pointing than grouting — take care not to get the surface of the tiles contaminated.

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