Wall Tiling Made Simple

Ceramic tiles make one of the most attractive and hardwearing surfaces that can be found inside our homes today. Their polish remains unaffected by anything except direct physical damage and once applied they really require no upkeep at all They are not cheap, but taking into account the years of wear which one can expect from them, their overall cost is well worthwhile. In fact, we would recommend for kitchens and bathrooms the maximum possible use of tile surfaces.

However, this very permanence does have its own problems. There is a natural temptation, seeing the very wide range of attractive colours and patterns, to choose fairly gay types which suit the current colour scheme. This may be fine for the moment but do remember that once you are committed to tiles you have them for a very long time. If you choose an orange tile for your kitchen walls then you will be tied to a colour scheme which blends with orange for many years.

Similarly in bathrooms, though here it is not perhaps so important. We do not change the colour schemes of our bathrooms so often as those of our kitchen, Indeed, we often buy fitments for the bathroom which are themselves coloured and which therefore determine the range of colour schemes we can choose there.

So tiles in the bathroom may be of any colour or pattern to suit your present taste. In the kitchen though and elsewhere we do recommend that you choose neutral shades; certainly not dominant colours. We have

chosen white, black and grey mottle, coupled with brightly coloured woodwork and gay flooring. The overall effect is most pleasing and of course the paintwork can be changed easily in colour. Neutral tiles will blend equally well with any future scheme.

In past years tiles were made fairly thick and required bedding in cement. These are still used by builders but nearly all home workers now choose the much thinner ceramic tiles. These are easily applied to any flat surface with a kind of paste. They are extremely simple to fit and to cut to shape if necessary. Although there are a number of makes and there is little to choose between them for quality, there are wide differences in pattern and colours.

Tile adhesives are available ready-mixed in tubes and tins or in powder form. These are all about equally effective. You will probably find that the adhesives do not go as far as the manufacturers often suggest. No doubt the makers give the coverage that a skilled worker could expect to achieve and do not allow for the inevitable waste that takes place in amateur work. On the whole it is best to err 25% on the generous side with adhesives and to buy at least this much more than is calculated on the makers instruction basis.

Almost the only cause of disappointment and possible failure with tiling is when the surface on which they are fixed has not been properly prepared. It is of the greatest importance that any loose material should be completely removed. In particular, water paints and similar decorations that do not bond tightly to the wall must be scraped away completely. Otherwise the adhesive will stick only to the loose surface and the weight of the tile will then pull this from the wall. The best way of helping the adhesive to get a strong grip is to remove everything, right down to plaster, but if you have a sound painted wall (gloss paint) then this may be strong enough to hold your tiles. Rub it down with medium grade sandpaper to roughen the surface before sticking any on. If there are any signs of flaking of the paint scrape away all the loose parts.

A really bad wall can be prepared for tiling very effectively by attaching to it sheets of hardboard. These can be nailed or screwed to the wall behind or to a wooden framework applied to that wall. The surface of hardboard is ideally flat for tile fixing but, if untreated, is too absorbent. You should therefore paint the whole exposed surface with emulsion paint before applying any tile.

Tile cutting presents no problems but you must have a suitable tool. Although one can use an ordinary glass cutter, it is better to buy a special tile cutter with a hardened steel tip. These are much simpler to use and cost only a few shillings each. Minor shaping of tiles can be done with an ordinary pair of pliers without difficulty. The tile edges are ‘nibbled’ away in the tool jaws.

Most thin ceramic tiles are now made with small projections along each edge. These are intended to keep each tile separate from its neighbours, making a small gap into which white grout is later forced. This white grout gives a professional-looking appearance. Originally, the gap between tiles was left to allow for their expansion and contraction but with the very thin sorts used for amateur work this movement does not significantly take place. However, the gap is still left, purely to improve the final appearance.

Besides plain tiles there are also tiles having one or two edges rounded to fit at the edge of panels and corners. One difference with these is that the other edges of them do not have the tiny ‘spacer’ projections. To make them match with ordinary tiles you insert small pieces of card between them till the adhesive sets. Afterwards these spacing pieces are pulled away.

You will probably find that sticking the tiles on is easy enough, but then you have to apply the grouting. To read the instructions you would think that this was a very simple, straightforward and routine matter requiring no particular effort. In fact it can become a very laboursome job if you allow the grout to dry on the surfaces of the tiles. We find it best always to wipe away any surplus with a damp sponge immediately the work is done, leaving very little to dry on and be polished away finally.


Fixing thin ceramic tiles is an easy job. In fact, the larger the area to be covered the easier it becomes. This is because a lot of the time in tiling is taken up in cutting them to shape, a job which is only needed round the edges.

Although tiles stick fairly quickly to the wall, using the proper tile adhesive, they will slide very slowly downwards if they are unsupported while the adhesive is still wet. Therefore, before you start always place a supporting strip of wood against the wall along the bottom line of your tiling. Sometimes, of course, the bottom row of tiles can rest on something that is already there, a skirting board, a shelf and so on. After the cement is dried any supporting strip is removed.

It is most important to get the tiles level and vertical. Use a spirit level and a weighted string.

Once you have planned the area to be covered and have bought your tiles, the job itself should go smoothly and easily.

1 A single tile can be glued by applying adhesive to its back but when doing a whole wall, spread the adhesive on the wall surface. (This should obviously have been thoroughly cleaned and prepared as we described elsewhere). Use a notched spreader to get the cement even. To improvise this tool, cut 1 in. square notches, one inch apart along the edge of a strip of hardboard. Spread the cement neatly not covering more than half a square yard at a time.

2 Then simply press the tiles firmly into the wet cement. Wipe away at once any cement that oozes up from the joints.

3 All modern tiles are made with small projections at their edges which keep them separated by a small gap. Fill this gap with a creamy-white grout made in a bowl and rubbed in with a cloth. The instructions usually say to allow this grout to dry before final polishing. We recommend that you wipe away any large surplus from the tile faces as soon as the job is completed, using a slightly damp sponge.

4 Finally the whole tile surface is briskly polished with a dry cloth.

How to cut and shape tiles

1 Cutting thin tiles is not difficult at all. You can do so with an ordinary glass cutter but it is far better to buy a proper carbide-tipped tile cutter. This is used tilted at about 45° and simply scratched along the surface of the tile. Unlike glass cutting you can simply go over and over the scratch if you miss a bit at first.

2 This will give you a clean white scratch mark across the glazed face of the tile. No cutting at the back is needed.

3 Place a matchstick under one end of this scratch. Press down firmly on both sides.

4 The tile will split apart along the scratched line and usually requires no further trimming.

5 Cutting curves is not difficult. If the curve is external, as shown here, first mark the curve using a suitable guide and then nibble off the extreme ends with pliers.

6 Continue inwards and you will find that the curved, widest section of waste will snap away cleanly.

7 Internal curves need a different technique. Use the pliers to ‘chew’ inwards very slowly and continue until you reach your scratch line.

8 In this way you can make perfect interior curves.

9 Holes can be drilled in tiles by using a special glass drill, although we have occasionally drilled tiles using an ordinary steel twist-drill.

10 By drilling several holes close together you can cut any shape or size of opening through a tile, perhaps for fitting around light switches or allowing electric cables or pipes to pass through.

11 The central piece of waste can be snapped away.

12 Then the edges are finally shaped with pliers inserted from beneath.

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