Most surfaces have obstacles that interrupt the run of tiles and make tiling more complicated. Many of the problems that obstacles present can be dealt with by carefully planning your tile layout. Remove fixtures if possible, and tile with just the supply pipes in place. Choose those techniques that are most suitable for your own project. Often there is more than one way of tackling some tasks, depending on which tools you have, or the circumstances you face.

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Step 1

Determine Tile Layout

When dealing with a number of obstacles, you will first need to plan the overall tile layout and work out a solution that addresses most problem areas.

Step 2

Tiling Around an Outlet or Switch Plate

Turn off the electricity supply and loosen the plates. Hold a tile in place and mark it so the cut edges will fit behind the plate (Image 1).

Use an electric tile cutter to cut along the guide lines (Image 2). Another option is to use a tile saw on the first line, then score and snap the second.

Step 3

Tiling an Internal Corner

Measure the space between the last full tile and the corner, allowing for grout gaps. The gap may be uneven, so measure at both ends (Image 1).

Mark your measurements on the tile. For an even gap, mark on one edge. For an uneven gap, or a large tile, draw a guide line right across (Image 2).

Cut the tile, placing it squarely in the cutter to cut for an even gap, or placing it at an angle in the cutter if the tile needs to fit in an uneven gap (Image 3).

Apply tile adhesive directly onto the tile, and put it in position, using spacers as required. Repeat until the corner is completely tiled.

Step 4

Tiling a Recess Shelf

Start tiling at the center of the outer edge and work outward toward the corners and up around the inner edge of the recess (Image 1).

Support tiles inside the top of a recess by wedging a piece of wood beneath them while the adhesive dries, to prevent them from falling off (Image 2).

Step 5

Alternatives for Finishing an External Corner

There are various ways to finish tiling an external corner. In some cases, such as around a window reveal, a neater finish may be achieved by making mitered corners. For these you will need to use an electric tile cutter with a platform that can be angled. Overlapping edges are a simple solution, but may be unattractive if the tile edges are unglazed. Corner profile strips are a neat and protective solution.

Mitered Corner Tiles (Image 1)
Press the angled edges neatly together at the corner. Leave a gap along the joint for grouting.

Overlapping (Image 2)
Tile to the corner seam so that the tiles on one surface butt up over those on the other. Some ceramic tiles have one glazed edge.

Using a Strip (Image 3)
An L-shaped strip can be used to cover unglazed tile edges. Fix it in place with a sealant.

Step 6

Cutting a Curve

Cut some paper to the size of a tile and place it up against the curved surface (Image 1). Mark the profile of the curve on the paper with a pen.

Cut along the pen line to create a template of the curve (Image 2). Place the paper template over a tile and trace a guide line onto the tile.

Use a tile saw to cut along the guide line. This may take a while. Hold the tile in place to check the fit before placing it in position (Image 3).

Alternative Technique for Cutting a Curve
Press a profile gauge against the obstacle, and trace the curve onto the tile for a guide.

Step 7

Tiling Around a Pipe

Remove the fixture, if possible. Hold a tile to one side of the pipe and mark the top and bottom edges of the pipe's diameter on the tile. Even if the fixture has not been removed, use this technique to measure where the hole will fall (Image 1).

Hold the tile below the pipe, in line with its column of full tiles, and mark on it the left and right edges of the pipe's diameter (Image 2).

Use a try square to join the marks, forming a square where the tile will fit over the pipe. Join opposite corners to find the center (Image 3).

Adjust a tile hole cutter to the size setting you need (Image 4).

Attach the hole cutter to a drill, set its point on the mark in the center of the square guide lines, and remove a circle of tile (Image 5).

Apply tile adhesive directly to the tile, and put the tile in position over the pipe. If it has not been possible to remove the fixture, score and snap the tile along a line through the hole, so that you can fit the tile around the pipe (Image 6).

Step 8

Other Techniques

There are many different types of tiles and designs available, and, depending on your choice, you may need to adapt the basic application techniques or use alternative methods. Some designs will use regular square tiles in irregular grid arrangements, while other types of tiles, such as inset tiles, border tiles, and mosaic tiles each require a specific approach. Depending on the shape and size of the tiles you select, you may also need to improvise when applying spacers.

Step 9

Using Inset Tiles

Before placing inset tiles, build up a row of the larger tiles in your pattern, standing spacers on edge, as they will not lie flat (Image 1).

Position inset tiles as you build up subsequent rows, placing main and inset tiles alternately (Image 2).

Step 10

Creating a Diamond Pattern

Buy extra tiles because this design requires cuts, and wastage may be high. Cut some tiles in half diagonally to fill in the design (Image 1).

Keep diamonds even by checking regularly, with a level, that the corners are horizontally or vertically aligned, as required (Image 2).

Step 11

Using Mosaic Tiles

Treat each sheet as a single tile, and use a paint roller to flatten it into place, considering the type of backing you have (Image 1).

To fit a sheet around an obstacle, use scissors to cut through the backing (Image 2).

Step 12

Creating a Border

If your border tiles are narrower than the main tiles, spacers may not sit flat. You will need to stand them on edge or cut them into a T-shape. A border may run between rows of full tiles or across the top (Image 1).

Apply border tiles adjacent to the last row of main tiles, or at the required height within the main tiles. Leave any cuts until last (Image 2).

Use an electric cutter to make 45-degree cuts on two tiles. Press them neatly together using spacers on edge to maintain the mitered gap (Image 3). Mitering works well where border tiles meet at right angles.

Step 13

Other Spacing Effects

Irregular Tiles (Image 1)
Judge grout spaces by eye, or use pieces of thin cardboard, rather than trying to force spacers to fit irregular tile edges. Keep rows as level as possible.

Brickwork (Image 2)
Align each row of tiles so that seams between tiles fall at the midpoints of tiles on the row beneath.

Marble Tiles (Image 3)
Create the illusion of a continuous marble surface by keeping grout gaps as narrow as possible. Here, thin cardboard edges act as spacers.

Step 14


Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Alternative Technique for Applying Adhesive

Where it is difficult to apply adhesive to a wall, you can apply it directly to the back of the tile instead.