By Mike MorrisMore in Kitchen
If you have a vertical border row, start there and remember to put a spacer at the bottom to allow room for caulking (image 1). If you do not have a border, being with the bottom row at the center mark, press the tiles firmly into place, placing spacers between each tile if required. Avoid squeezing the mastic into the joints. If corner pieces must be cut to fit, do not set them in place just yet.
When the first row of tiles is complete, begin the second. Work upward one complete row at a time. Spacers are especially important between horizontal rows to maintain an even grout space between the tiles. Periodically check your work to ensure that the tiles are securely bonded to the wall, and use a straightedge to make sure the rows are level.
If you are installing sheets of smaller tile with mesh backing like we are (image 2), use a utility knife to cut the sheet to size. Press it firmly with your hands then use a clean grout float to tamp it onto the adhesive (image 3).
After you have completed two or three rows, measure and cut corner tiles to size and set them in place with the cut edges facing into the corners. When you reach the top row, cut the tiles as necessary to fit around the cabinets. For smaller cuts on ceramic, porcelain or stone tile, you can use a tile nipper to round corners or make small cuts.
If you are tiling a small area where you can't fit the trowel into, apply the adhesive directly to the back of the tile — known as "back buttering".
Before applying grout, allow the tile adhesive to set for 24 hours or as the manufacturer recommends. Unsanded grout is usually specified for wall installations, glazed tiles, and tile with narrow grout lines. Pre-mixed grout is available in a wide variety of colors to match or contrast with your tiles. To prevent grout from staining or sticking to porous natural tiles like stone and terra cotta, check with your tile distributor to see if they require a commercial sealer before you apply grout.
Use a mixing attachment on a variable-speed drill set at low speed to mix the grout to the consistency of peanut butter. Grout can dry out, so mix only what you will be using in the next 20 to 25 minutes.
Wipe down the tile with a barely wet sponge to make sure there is no dust on them before you grout. Remove the plastic spacers. Apply grout with a rubber float working diagonally across the tile. Hold the float at a 45-degree angle as you work the grout into the seams. Do not grout the bottom seam where the tile meets the countertop, you'll want to use caulk in that seam. Use the float to take off any excess grout then allow the grout to set for 10 minutes.
Use a damp sponge to wipe off the excess. Rinse and wring out the sponge frequently. Do not wet the grout, it will weaken the bond. Wipe at a 45-degree angle across the grout lines to avoid raking the grout out of the joints. After the grout has dried completely, clean any grout haze off the face of the tiles with a commercial release agent. Wait a couple days then apply a grout sealant.
Complete the installation by replacing the wall receptacles. You'll probably need longer attachment screws to compensate for the thickness of the tiles.