Tiling Countertops

Tiling countertops isn't rocket science...once you get started, it's fun in a making mudpies kind of way. And the results are fantastic! Even more enticing - it doesn't cost much to do!

Change your laminate to tile!

Has your laminate countertop seen better days? Change it to tile!

To change your laminate countertop to tile, you have several choices:

  1. Remove the entire countertop and make a new one with plywood and cement board.
  2. Lay cement board over your laminate and then tile onto it. This will raise your counters about 1/2".
  3. Remove just the laminate and tile the plywood countertop itself.

The third option is the one shown on this page.

The directions here are for tiling countertops using 4" square glazed ceramic tile only. Resurfacing countertops with bigger tiles and different materials require different instructions.

"Lay tile right onto plywood? Isn't that asking for trouble?"

Cement board is a moisture barrier...ideally, the best underlayment when tiling countertops. If you get a crack in grout or tile laid over plywood only, moisture seeping through the crack could make the plywood swell. You’d have to repair the area.

BUT...you look at your countertops every day. Chances are pretty good you'd notice a crack in the tile or grout.

My own countertops are tiled directly onto plywood...and I'm not worried!

Thinset mortar, the goop you put on the counter before laying tile, creates a barrier, as long as it’s applied right – you’re basically smearing plywood with cement. Thinset will stick fine to plywood.

"Can I just tile right over laminate?"

Not a good idea. If the laminate ever loosens, there go your tiles!

I've read of people tiling countertops right on top of laminate who say everything works just fine...but removing laminate isn't difficult and prevents problems later on.


How to remove laminate

Use a heat gun on a corner or edge. Gently pry up the laminate with a screwdriver.

Do NOT touch the laminate - IT WILL BURN YOU! Always use a tool!

Once the laminate starts to loosen, use pliers to pull on it gently, while still applying heat. Take it slow so the laminate doesn't break.

When the laminate is up all the way, the whole piece should come off with the pliers. If not, let it cool a bit and then, WEARING GLOVES, pull it off the countertop.

Scrape off as much left-on glue as you can from the countertop so you have a flat surface to lay tile. Use mineral spirits to soften stubborn glue globs.


What you'll need for tiling countertops

MATERIALS:

  • Use 4" square glazed ceramic tiles (these are sometimes 4-1/4" or 4-1/2"). Always buy 10% more tiles than you need for cuts, mess-ups, etc. Most stores take returns on unused tile.
  • 6" long bullnose tile for the front edge of the countertop.
  • Backsplash tiles - bullnose or 4" tiles, or both (squares topped off with bullnose).
  • Unsanded grout is what you want for tiling countertops with very thin grout lines.
  • Thinset mortar - comes in gray or white, choose white for lighter grout colors like white.

TOOLS:

  • 3 five-gallon buckets (two of these you'll probably toss when you're all done)
  • Grout trowel
  • Grout sponge
  • 1/8" square-notch metal trowel for spreading thinset (1/8” notch for this size tile – the bigger the tile the bigger the notch)
  • Mixing tool
  • Power drill
  • Liquid Nails and a caulking gun
  • Tile pliers to score and cut tile (about $10 at home centers)
  • OPTIONAL: rent a tile saw

This is the kind of mixing tool you'll need when tiling countertops...a drill bit that mixes grout, paint, etc.

IMPORTANT! Both thinset and grout must be mixed completely or they won't do their job.


Prep

  • Remove your sink, pull out your stove, whatever you need to do to give you complete access before you begin tiling countertops.
  • Protect your base cabinets and flooring. Put an old towel or rug on the floor to wipe your feet when leaving the work area.


How to tile

1) Lay out tiles for a dry fit, length and depth, to see how they're going to end up. Place full tiles at front edge and at corners - do all cutoffs toward the back, or least obvious place.

2) Follow bag directions to mix thinset with the mixer tool on your drill. Start with water, THEN add thinset powder. Mix – let sit 10-15 minutes, mix a little more to get all the lumps out.

3) Scoop up and plop a bunch of thinset on counter.

Trowel it by spreading it out and then scraping it in any direction with the notched edge, holding the trowel at a 45 degree angle.

Just do the surface - the edges and backsplash come later.

Unless your countertop is huge, go ahead and spread the whole thing with thinset...it doesn't dry fast. If you're hesitant, then just do one area at a time.

4) Start with the front tiles on your counter's top surface. Go all the way along the front. Bring each tile right to the front edge.

Press lightly - if you see thinset squeezing out, you're pressing too hard. Jiggle each tile with a little back and forth movement as you lay it – that way you know it’s stuck to the counter.

Tiles should fit right up against each other - the little bumps on on the sides give room for the ideal 1/16" grout lines.

5) Lay bullnose next, beginning with the corners. "Butter" the back of the tiles with thinset and stick them on so they are flush with the front edge surface tiles (all can be “scooched” a bit to make them perf).

Keep checking the bullnose as you tile everything else - gravity may make them slide a bit before the thinset dries.

6) Now lay the rest of your top surface tiles. When you reach the back you may need to cut these with your tile pliers. If you're laying backsplash tiles too, the backsplash will sit on top and cover any ragged-looking edges.

NOTE: When cutting tile, remember to keep the factory edge out where it'll be seen and hide the cuts at the back or edges that will be covered with backsplash tile.

7) Lay your backsplash tile. NO THINSET NEEDED! Using a caulking gun, spread some Liquid Nails onto the back of the tile, and stick it on the wall.

8) Let the countertop dry for 24 hours.

9) Just before you grout, gently remove any excess thinset – any sticking up above the tile surface will show through the grout. Vacuum to remove any dust.

10) Mix grout per directions on the bag. It should be a little thinner than pancake batter.



How to grout

1) Scoop up a big blob of grout with the end of your grout trowel and plop it on top of the tiles. Spread it diagonal to the lines between tiles.

Go over each area with several motions. Smoosh it into the bullnose and backsplash (including along the top of the backsplash).


2) Fill up a bucket with water. Wet the grout sponge and wring it out but not entirely – keep it a little wet. Then start wiping the tile to remove excess grout. (Do this about 20 minutes after grouting - read the grout bag for recommended wait time.)

Clean the sponge and wipe the same area again. Change the rinse bucket water often. Don’t wipe so hard you pull out the wet grout.

Now you will see any grout that you need to re-fill between tiles.

3) Wait a couple hours (or better yet, the next day) before doing a final sponge wipe down to get rid of the haze.

4) Seal it! Wait at least two days before sealing to let the grout fully cure. Do two coats, making sure you don’t get it all over the tiles themselves (wipe with a soft, dry cloth as you go). Buy the good stuff...the cheap brands don't do the job.

You're done!

Tiling countertops creates a whole new look - and a beautiful, durable surface - for your kitchen counters!

You have other creative options to consider when tiling countertops:

  • raised bullnose tile, with a raised rounded edge
  • corner bullnose, available in raised, finishes off corners nicely
  • accent tiles in a different color than the rest of your countertop, or use some tiles with designs in random spots
  • backsplash designs to add interest and color

Move Your Cabinets

How to Refinish Kitchen Cabinets

Cheap Cabinets

Cheap Floors

Kitchen Lighting Ideas


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Thinking of remodeling?

Keep a notebook or scrapbook of notes, clippings and ideas.

Kitchen magazines are expensive - look through them in the grocery checkout line. If you see pix of a kitchen you really like, buy that magazine.

Stop in at home centers and pick up any free cabinet manufacturers' catalogs.


See our DIY section...

...for how-to on kitchen remodeling - including
How To Tile a Backsplash.