How to Build a Tile Countertop

Tile is often used to surface countertops in kitchens, baths and wet bars. Tiling a countertop can be accomplished in a weekend if you plan the design and prepare for the project properly.

  • Chalk liner
  • Tiles
  • Batten
  • Drywall screws
  • Latex-fortified thinset
  • Plastic spacers
  • Wet saw
  • Beater board
  • Rubber mallet
  • Painter's tape
  • Epoxy grout
Plan the edge by dry-fitting a sample of your edging tile with the field tile by placing spacers between them. Make a mark at the spot where the field tile begins and repeat at multiple points throughout the countertop area. Snap a chalk like along each front edge to mark the start of the first row of field tiles.

Install a batten along the chalk line using drywall screws to temporarily fasten the strip in place. This will ensure that your tiles stay straight during installation.

Mix a batch of latex-fortified thinset that is approved for your tiles according to the manufacturer's instructions. Starting on one side, trowel the thinset over a few feet and across the full depth of the countertop.

Press the first full tile into place, beginning at the inside corner and making sure it is against the batten and on the chalk line.

Insert plastic spacers between the tiles and continue placing tiles in the area with the thinset. Cut the tiles to fit the back row as necessary using a snap cutter or wet saw.

Press the tiles by placing a beater board over them and striking the board with a rubber mallet. This will set the tiles.

Repeat the cycle of applying thinset to the backerboard and placing tiles. Make a fresh batch of thinset approximately every 30 minutes.

Allow the field tiles, once installed, to cure for a few hours. Once cured, remove the batten by removing the screws.

Go back to the interior corner and begin installing the V-cap tiles by mitering the joint and cutting the corner tiles at 45 degrees. To install the edging, apply thinset to the top and edge of the substrate and back-butter the edge of the tiles as well. Don't rely solely on the spacers to align the edge tiles, as they may be slightly different sizes than the field tiles. Adjust spacing as needed and tape the trim tiles to the field tiles with painter tape to hold into place while the thinset cures.

Grout the countertop once the edge tiles have cured. Use epoxy grout since it is non-porous and stains won't absorb into the grout on the countertop.

Tips and Warnings

  • Before settling on a tile, consider how you will be using the countertop and make sure the durability and color selection aligns with your intended usage.

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