Kitchen Countertops: Tile Installation Prep, Part 6 of 7

By Jim Mallery
RefacingCabinet.com Columnist

Part 6 of a seven-part series, Kitchen Countertops

In parts one through five, we considered various types of counter materials including granite slab, composites and other alternatives. Tile is one of the easiest types of counter materials for the DIYer. If you have decided that tile countertops are the best fit to complement your newly refaced kitchen cabinets, this article offers suggestions to achieve a professional look when doing the work yourself.

Tips for Tile Countertop Installation Prep

Here are four indispensable tips to get you ready for a professional quality tile job:

  1. Mortar. DIYers often have trouble with mortar consistency. Usually, the mortar is too stiff, possibly due to the fear that thin mortar will not be strong enough. Actually, mortar should be about the consistency of mayonnaise, maybe even a little thinner. The thinner mortar is easier to spread and makes it easier to level the tiles.
  2. Trowel. The mortar, called thinset, is spread with a notched trowel. The size of the notches depends on the thickness of the tile, but a common notch is ¼"-by-¼". When you buy your tiles, ask what size notching you should use.
  3. Saw. You will need to rent or buy a wet-saw, though if you need only a couple simple cuts, the tile store may cut them for you. If your tiling is a one-time experience, you may be fine renting a saw--you probably will be getting a better saw. But if you expect to have future projects--and if you are a DIYer that is very likely--consider buying a saw. If you are cutting standard ¼" to 3/8" inch tiles, you don't need to spend a lot of money. Saws come in two styles--overhead or table-saw style. Overhead saws are easiest to use if you are making straight cuts on standard tiles. A table-saw is a little easier to use if you are making freehand cuts, such as holes for light switches. [insert photo of overhead saw]
  4. Blade. Just as with wood saws, a sharp blade is critical. A fresh blade makes your cuts easier, and more importantly, reduces chipping. A good blade should make a smooth cut, with no roughness along the edge. The smoothest side of the cut is the side that the teeth enter the tile. If your saw begins chipping on the bottom side of the tile, it is a sure sign that you should replace the blade.

With your cabinets looking spiffy, you probably can't wait to also upgrade your counters. The final article of this series will give you a last blast of counter intelligence.



About The Author

Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing and rebuilding homes.

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