Welcome to Part 2 of my backsplash tiling recap. In case you missed it, on Monday I shared my prep steps: the tile options I considered, what I ultimately picked out, the supplies I needed, repairing the wall, and getting the wiring for the range hood in place. Today I’ll walk through the actual tiling process from start to finish.
My first step was to unpack, set up, and get to know my new tile saw. I wanted to be sure I knew how to use it before I mixed the thinset and the clock started ticking to get the tile laid. As a reminder, I got a very well-reviewed tile saw from Amazon (affiliate link – read our policies), also available for purchase at Lowes. It’s fairly small, but cuts incredibly smoothly so for small-ish tiles it was exactly what I needed. For larger floor tiles, it would have been a little too small. I unpacked it and set it up on our dining room table on top of a drop cloth, as I had been warned that it sprayed water a bit.
Set-up was very quick — I just had to install the blade guard (which keeps the water from spraying you in the face too much). Then I filled the side reservoir with water and gave it a try!
It did make a bit of a mess, but I found that a couple of things helped: 1) I kept the blade guard down as low as it could go, 2) I wore safety goggles (always a good idea), and 3) I put trash bags under the front of the saw and then draped them down over the side of the table and straight into a bucket so that any runoff would be channeled into the bucket. It worked well, and the little bit of mess to clean up in the dining room was totally worth it to have the saw upstairs near where I was working rather than downstairs in the basement.
With the saw operational, it was time to mix the thinset! My big tip is to ignore the instructions on the bag (which are focused on mixing an entire bag, in our case 50 pounds which would be way too much and then it would dry and you would have a bucket of dried thinset to deal with…just trust me). Instead, follow this video to mix a bit at a time to the right consistency (about the thickness of pancake batter).
The other mistake I made was that I should have bought white thinset because I was using white grout — a few times it squeezed out through the spaces a lot and then I had to scrape it away during the grouting process and it was annoying. But I persevered!
Next I pulled up a photo of the 45-degree herringbone pattern I was using, and started tiling! Here’s a reminder of the pattern I was working with:
I started at the edge of the counter to the left of the stove lined up with the edge of the cabinet so that when it came time to do the full wall behind the stove I would have whole tiles running alongside the cabinets. I used the trowel to apply the thinset to the wall in patches and then score it, and then started placing the tile. The pattern ended up being incredibly easy to follow — I got the hang of it within the first few repeats.
It was somewhat slow going to cut the pieces needed to work around the outlet, counters, and cabinets, but steady and relatively easy.
Once I finished the wall to the left of the stove, I got to work tiling behind the stove. It was a bit challenging to reach back there, but I moved the stove out about halfway and was able to reach behind it. The one thing that made it easier was back-buttering the tiles, ie spreading thinset directly onto the back of each tile and then scoring it with the trowel rather than trying to spread it directly onto the wall from my awkward angle. With this technique I made my way across the back behind the stove. You can see where the new tile met old, since I chose not to demo the complete tile wall given that the bottom portion is totally hidden behind the stove.
Tiling the wall above the stove went relatively quickly as it was a big stretch without a lot of cuts to make.
The one part that was challenging was that my spacing resulted in a tiny empty sliver along the right side of the cabinets. It was hard to fill in with thin pieces because there just wasn’t enough surface area on them to get a solid contact with the wall. I managed to get a few in place, but not all:
I decided that rather than fighting with them more, I would use quarter round to cover up this thin sliver on each side once I was done.
As you may remember from Monday’s prep post, I decided to use metal trim rather than tile trim pieces. This was mostly a financial decision (trim pieces can be pricey), but also I liked the look of the metal edging. I used my miter saw to cut mitered corners (but my tile saw would have worked too), and then used thinset to adhere the trim in place when I was ready for it.
The portion along the sink went quickly, and I decided to stop at the end of the pass-through rather than go back up the wall on the opposite end of the counter since I wanted the tile to draw the eye to the back of the room rather than have the column competing for attention. I knew the stopping point would be much less noticeable once everything was grouted and the tile faded into the background a bit more.
All told it took me about 9 hours to do the tiling spread out across 2 days and about 30 minutes to clean up at the end of each day (it would have been more efficient to get it done on a single day, but I had early evening commitments both days, like going over to Naomi’s parents’ house to watch us appear on reality TV).
I liked the tile already, but knew from past experience that grouting would make a big difference too. I tackled the tiling on a Saturday and Sunday, and then Monday after work came home to do the grouting. It took a few hours and some upper body strength, but wasn’t too hard.
First I mixed the grout following these instructions. You are aiming for a peanut butter-like texture. Then I used the rubber grout float to push grout into each of the grout lines:
That’s when I started having a panic attack because the grout was a lot darker and tanner than I wanted — much less “white” than my tiles. I tried to tell myself it would be okay and persevered, removing the excess grout with a wet sponge once I had finished grouting all the lines. With my arms aching I called it a night and hoped that when I woke up in the morning the grout would have dried lighter.
Fortunately I was rewarded when morning came with lovely white grout lines. A huge sigh of relief ensued.
And the edges along the metal trim looked nice and clean with the grout in place:
The final two steps were to remove the grout haze with a dry clean cloth and then caulk along the counters and cabinets to go from this:
(I also painted the underside of the cabinets because I realized the unpainted bottoms were driving me crazy.)
I also still had to add trim to cover up the small gap along the edge of the cabinets above the stove:
Fortunately quarter round fit perfectly against the (still to-be-painted) crown molding at the top of the cabinets:
And that’s it, the full process of tiling the backsplash! Including the tile saw it cost me $194, and it took me a three-day holiday weekend and then two evenings after work to prep, tile, grout, and caulk. I’m so thrilled with the final result! (photo below from before I added the quarter round….)
And for $200, it’s a big improvement over where we started!
Next up I’ll share how I worked up the courage to drill into my lovely new backsplash to mount our range hood!