How To Work With Ceramic Tiles

Glazed tiles make a good finish in bathrooms or kitchens. They will resist most liquids and the range of patterns and colours is considerable. The most common tiles are about 110 mm square and 4 mm thick. Normal tiles have square edges, but others have one rounded edge for a ledge front or the top of a tiled panel, and there are other tiles rounded on two edges for corners.

Tiles can be cut by scoring the glazed surface with a special tool or a glass cutter, then snapping off the surplus. The general-purpose adhesive suits most home jobs, but there are waterproof adhesives for use in very wet areas. Grout is the cement-based material used to seal gaps between tiles, but some adhesives can also be used as grout.

Tiles can be attached to almost any material, providing it is flat. A metal spreader is needed, with a saw-like edge, and this is usually provided with the adhesive. Take care to work squarely. A horizontal line taken from a spirit level or a vertical one from a plumb line will be better than relying on the floor or wall corner.

Spread enough adhesive for more than a tile, then position it and move it a little to bed it down. After a little practice with a few tiles, spread adhesive over a larger area and press in as many tiles as possible. Use the spreader to get an even thickness. The ridges it leaves will help to bed down the tiles.

If an old tile has loosened, lift it off carefully. Most of the old adhesive below it will have to be scraped out so that the tile can be placed level on the new adhesive. Scrape away grout from the surrounding edges, using something like a wood chisel, and remove all dust with a damp rag. Adhesive can be spread directly on to a tile if that is more convenient. Otherwise the adhesive should be spread evenly on the wall and the tile pressed hard on to it. Be ready to prise it out again with a knife or chisel if the level is wrong. When the tile is in position, grout around it and wipe off the surplus.

If a tile is broken and loose, but the break is clean and a matching new tile cannot be obtained, use an adhesive intended for crockery along the edges, then refit as described above. The glued joint may not be very strong, so treat it carefully until the tile is in place, when it should hold.

If tiles have to be drilled to allow something to be screwed through them, use a masonry drill. If something has to be hung from a tiled wall, the screws must go through to plugs in the wall. It would be better if the plugs were driven below the level of the tile, so there is no risk of an expanding plug cracking the glaze.

However, much can be done with fireclay. This is supplied in a puttylike consistency in a can for easy application. It can be moulded into shape and sets hard enough to have a long life alongside firebrick. Remove dust, moisten the surface, then press in the fireclay. If possible, leave it to set before applying heat, but it can withstand early firing.