How To Tile A Worktop

Tiled worktops not only look good — they’re practical too. Easy to fit and in a wide range of designs, tiles can quickly transform a worn work surface into a bright new feature.

Tiles might be ideal for walls and floors but they also make a practical and attractive work surface for a kitchen. They’re tough, easy to clean, heat-resistant and long lasting. And — best of all — you hold the key to the worktop design.

As long as it’s sound and properly prepared ou can normally lay tiles over the existing ,orface. And because you’re not laying many, results are satisfyingly swift. Even so, the initial planning and preparation stage is one of the most important.

how to tile a worktopSpecial worktop tiles eradicate most of the problem .1 was. But if you use ordinary tiles, a little thought and a few extra items will tidy up the edges and corners (there are some possible ideas overleaf).

It’s also easy to install a removable cutting board — essential if you want to stop the board sliding around, keep your knives sharp and your tiles unscratched.

Choosing Tiles for Worktops

Your choice of tiles is virtually as wide as the range of ceramic tiles available although you should not use the more heavily glazed ones. In general, matt or unglazed tiles are best.

If you choose ordinary tiles, make sure they’re floor tiles or the thicker variety of wall tiles which can withstand the knocks and scratches of everyday use. Sizes range from 100mm square, 150mm square — commonly 152mm square in the UK — or 300mm square and in thicknesses from 4mm to 9.5mm.

Many types have built-in spacer lugs which automatically space the tiles up to 2mm apart for grouting, or specially tapered edges for the same purpose. A lot of manufacturers include in their boxes a few tiles which have been glazed along one or two edges so that you can finish any exposed corners neatly. Otherwise, you can buy special matching tiles with one rounded edge (RE) for finishing the sides, or two adjacent rounded edges (REX) for finishing external corners. You can also buy special tiles to make a curved upstand at the back — they’re thick at the bottom.

If you want an all-tile top — edges, fascia and all — there’s nothing better or easier than special worktop tiles. At 5.5mm they’re thick enough for general use, and they include matching mitred internal corner tiles, external corner tiles and straight edging tiles so that you can do the job all in the same material and without having to patch up the edges. There’s less choice of design, but what there is will be co-ordinated and give a solid dependable look.

Adhesives and grouts

Use the adhesive recommended by the tile manufacturer, but bear in mind that it must be waterproof, not water resistant. Use a thin bed adhesive for smooth and level surfaces —such as a new blockboard, chipboard or plywood base — and on existing laminate.

You need a thick bed adhesive for irregular surfaces, such as over old tiles, though some adhesives are suitable for all applications.

Buy waterproof, non-toxic epoxy grout. Any other sort will absorb water — as well as the accompanying dirt and germs. Coloured grouts have become very popular; you may choose one which matches or contrasts with the colour of the tiles. Either will highlight the grid and look very effective.

You also need a good supply of flexible silicone sealant — this is also available in a variety of colours.

Planning Tiling

Compared with a floor, worktop tiling has the advantage of small scale. But it has a draw-hack in that you have to fit tiles — with their fixed dimensions — into the area as neatly as possible.

Always plan to get as few non-standard tile shapes as you can: cutting tiles is extra fiddly work, especially if you have to cut out shapes rather than straight lines.

If you’re not altogether happy about the condition of your present work surface as a base, think about replacing the top with a piece of chipboard or blockboard. This makes particular sense if you want to extend your worktop or link up individual work areas with one continuous tiled surface. And it has the advantage that you can adjust its size so that you don’t have to cut any tiles.

Once you’ve decided on a base, work out the pattern of tiling, if necessary by drawing a plan. If you have already bought the tiles, dry-lay the whole surface and shift the tiles around until they look right.

Think about whether you want to tile the wall at the back of the worktop or to incorp-orate an upstand or shelf. If you want to fit upstand tiles, don’t forget to allow for the thickness at the base.

How you treat the front edge of the worktop also has an effect on how you arrange the rest of the tiles. Ask yourself if you want to edge it in timber moulding; if you want a very thick edge, tiled one tile deep; or if you would prefer the special edging tiles which wrap neatly around the edge and come ready mitred for inside and outside corners.

Aim to use as many full tiles as you can. Cut tiles should go along the back row, not the front, and you should try to avoid narrow sections — they’re very difficult to cut. So begin from the front edge. If your worktop is L-shaped, line up the tiles from the corner.


You can lay tiles over practically any surface, providing it’s clean, flat, dry — and solid enough to take them.

Your existing worktop should be ideal — at least you’ll know whether it’s firm enough and flat. Tiles can be laid straight over plastic laminate surfaces as long as the laminate hasn’t started to lift. If it has separated from the base in places, strip it back to the base-board. If you need to soften the adhesive, buy the special cleaner which is supplied by manufacturers of contact adhesives —ordinary solvents will not do.

Old tiles provide a good base too. Make sure that they are all firmly bedded and that any chips or missing sections are filled with cement mortar or exterior patching filler. Prise out loose tiles, clean out the depressions and refix the tiles with fresh adhesive.

If you’re not satisfied. With the base, either replace it or lay new plywood, blockboard or chipboard over it. Seal the back and sides of the board with several coats of undercoat to protect against moisture penetration.

Make sure that the edge of the board is thick enough to support your chosen edging: it should be the same as, or a few millimetres less than, the finished depth of the edge. If it’s not, screw and glue a strip of wood to the underside of the edge. Screwing up from the underneath into the bottom of the baseboard. Make sure this doesn’t obstruct any under-counter drawers or doors.

Where mouldings butt against the worktop — for example, window architraves — cut them short by the thickness of a tile. Use a tenon saw held parallel to the worktop to remove the excess then, when you’re tiling later, slip a full tile into the gap. Don’t forget to seal any freshly cut end grain.

If your worktop has a rounded front edge, you may be able to use special edging tiles. But if the radius of the curve is too great —test-fit one to see — you’ll have to saw and plane the edge square.

To avoid the effort of squaring the edge, remove the worktop by releas-ing the fixing screws from beneath. Up-end the top, put the rounded edge against the wall, and refix by screwing into the underside. Fill the gap at the wall with interior filler.

Loosen any sink or hob fittings in the surface, but make sure that their connections to waste or supply pipes remain intact. Mark out the position of your cutting board recess and mask the area with tape.

With your surface prepared, mark a starting line in readiness for tiling. Bear in mind your starting point — internal corners, if the work surface is L-shaped.

If you’re using special edging tiles, use one Iii mark a start line for the rows of whole tiles. I fold one — short side vertical on the work-lop edge and mark along the back edge. Repeat in several places along the baseboard Olen draw a straight line between your marks. Lay a batten against your line and tack it in place — this is the base line for your full tiles.

If you want to fix a timber edging, tack a batten to the front edge of the baseboard. Adjust it so that its top edge is the thickness of a tile above the baseboard.

If you want to tile the front edge as well, do the same but pack behind the batten with spare pieces of tile. This takes the batten away from the edge by the thickness of a tile — the top tiles should overlap the vertical ones on the front edge.

Dry-lay the tiles against your batten until you are satisfied with the layout, then remove the first few from your starting point — pref-erably the internal corner — and spread enough adhesive to lay four or five tiles. Use a notched spreader and follow the manufac-turer’s instructions closely. Press the tiles down firmly, making sure that each tile is level with the ones next to it.

If the tiles don’t have spacer lugs or shaped edges, space the joints with pieces of stiff cardboard to keep them even.

Continue laying the tiles, working from the front row back to the wall until you can’t lay any more full ones. Leave a space for the cutting board recess. If you intend to fit special upstand tiles at the back, fit them now. Start measuring tiles to fit the gaps at the borders.

Lay a dry tile exactly over one of the last full tiles you have laid. Place a second dry tile on top but butt its back edge firmly against a spacer card held against the wall. Mark across the lower tile using the top one as a rule. This gives the cutting line.

Score the cutting line with a tile cutter held against a steel rule or a try square. Score through the glazed surface — the cutter should make a rough grinding noise — until you have made a well defined groove.

Break the tile by putting two matchsticks exactly under the scored line, then pressing firmly down on either side of the tile.

Breaker wing cutters make the job easier. Use them like pliers — the wings of the jaws press down on either side of the scored line. Press the handles together to snap the tile along the scored mark.

Thick tiles or flooring tiles cannot be cut using this method — you’ll have to hire a special tile cutter from a tool hire shop.

Continue around the edges to finish off the borders. Spread the adhesive over the backs of the tiles rather than the baseboard.

When the surface is complete, remove the guide batten and tile the front edge. Spread the adhesive over the edge of the baseboard and align the joints as before. Fix mitred corner edging tiles in the same way.

Leave out whole tiles for the cutting board recess. Don’t bother about the size, as long as it’s smaller than your cutting board.

The bottom of the recess must be water-proofed. The old tiled or laminate worktop underneath should be satisfactory, but seal the internal corners and edges with flexible waterproof sealant.

If you have fitted a new baseboard, cut a ~beet of thin laminate exactly to the dimen-sions of the recess (some DIY stores will do this for you). Stick the sheet in place using a contact adhesive.

When the adhesive is dry, seal the internal edges with flexible sealant —take pains here, it is a potential water trap.

It’s best to fix a thin block to the base of the cutting board to stop it slipping. The block —battens or plywood will do — should fit loosely into the recess to allow for a little expansion as the timber gets damp. It should also be thick enough to raise the board a millimetre or so above the tiles so that it’s supported by the baseboard rather than by the edges of the tiles.

Pin and glue it to the base of the cutting board using a waterproof resin adhesive. Try to fix the block or battens centrally so that the cutting board will not wobble about as you use it, which would be extremely awkward.

Oil the board with vegetable oil, coating both sides to prevent warping. If you use a plywood block, pay particular attention to the end grain — seal it with clear polyure-thane varnish.

Test-fit external edging corner tiles — you may have to cut a small tri-angle off the outside corner of the baseboard.

If you want a wood edging, cut the mould-ing to length allowing for mitres at either end. Nail the moulding to the edge of the base-board, then punch the heads home and fill the holes with interior or wood filler.

Remove any spacers, then clean off surplus adhesive from the tiles with a damp cloth —taking care not to displace them. Leave for 24 hours before grouting or finishing.


When the adhesive has set, mix the grout according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Some grouts come ready mixed. Make sure yours is the waterproof and non-toxic type.

Rub the grout firmly into the tile joints with an old sponge or squeegee. Don’t bother about neatness — use plenty of grout and spread it liberally into the joints.

Just before the grout sets hard, wipe off the excess with a damp cloth. Run a blunt stick —the end of a wooden spoon might do — across the grouted joints to form a neat, regular recess. When the grout is dry, give the tiles a final polish with a soft cloth and check for any irregular joints or grouting.

At any junctions with walls, up-stands or timber edgings, seal the joints with flexible silicone sealant — there’s always a tendency for this type of joint to move slightly.

Refix any loosened sinks or hobs, replacing their gaskets or laying a thick worm of flex-ible sealant under their edges to waterproof and seal them finally.

Sand down and clean any timber edging, then mask the tile edges.

Seal the timber with at least three coats of varnish — thin the first coat with white spirit – or undercoat and paint to match your tiles.

1.Rub grout into the joints with a cloth or squeegee. Use waterproof epoxy grout — coloured type if you want to emphasise the grid pattern of the joints

2.Before the grout dries, rub the joints with a rounded stick to form an even recess

3.Seal the joint between the worktop and the wall with a flexible waterproof sealant — if the worktop moves the joint will not crack.

1. For L-shaped cuts, score criss-cross marks across the waste area with the tile cutter. Nibble off the waste with a pair of pincers

2. Use a template to mark curved lines — an old can will do

3. Score the cutting line and the waste area in the some way but nibble off the excess with o pair of pliers bock to your line

4.For holes, score the cutting line against a template

5.Drill holes through the waste area with a masonry or gloss cutting bit. Drill away as much as you can, then nibble out the excess with pliers.

For two-way cuts mark and score the cutting lines in the normal way, then score criss-cross marks over the waste area. Use powers or pliers to nibble this Away, small sections at a time. Lie patient and work gradually in lowards the cutting lines. Smooth down the irregular edges with a carborundum stone or tile, Curved cut-outs

Use an old can or similar object as a template for cutting curved slopes. Make sure its the approximate diameter of the cut you wish to make, then score against it with a tile cutter.

Score criss-cross lines over the area you wish to remove, then nibble off small sections, finish-ing off with a carborundum stone.

Cutting holes

Drill holes with a masonry drill bit. Mark the position of the hole over a piece of masking tape and drill through the hole and tape together. Make sure that the tile is held down firmly and that it is resting on an offcut of wood. The masking tape will stop the drill from wandering.

To make large holes, score the cutting line and the surplus interior with a tile cutter. Drill away as much as possible, then nibble out the remnants with a pair of long-nosed pliers.

If you find these methods too difficult, or the tile is too thick, you can use a tungsten carbide blade — it looks like a wire-thin file — fixed in a hack-saw frame. Support the tile you are working on firmly and be prepared for the cutting to take some time.

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