We started the tiling phase the weekend after Christmas. Fooled by the lure of a three day weekend, we thought we would have plenty of time to finish a small area like a backsplash. Well, maybe that would have worked if we had picked something square, or rectangular . . . or anything other than what we picked. But, I must say, it was totally worth it. I love our beautiful harlequin pattern. You can see it here on The Tile Shop’s website. (note, there are 3 types on this webpage. You have to use the selector to see the others):
So, the adventure began with a class at The Tile Shop. What a great marketing idea – they offer DIY classes every Saturday morning. Our enthusiastic tile teacher, Glen, taught us all the ins and outs of laying tile. Although everyone in the class seemed to have a different type of tiling project, Glen still managed to cover all the bases and all the DIYers left ready to conquer their projects. (Well, except for that one couple that decided to hire Glen!) So, we got all of our supplies and decided to start fresh the next day.
First things first. Take the time to put down several layers of paper or cardboard to protect you countertops. Use lots and keep in mind they will get a little wet from the thin set! It was hard for me to refrain from checking on them again and again to make sure they were not getting damaged somehow. Ewww! Messy icky on my lovely countertops!
Let the tiling begin!
It all looked so easy when Glen did it!
He did mention how important it was to get your mortar mix just right. “Just right” when it comes to tiling a vertical surface means “won’t slide down the wall instantly”. Some of you smarty-pants out there would quickly point out that this is where the tile spacers come in. Well, have a look at our web-backed sheet of tile – scroll down a bit for the photo. In theory you would need to put a little x shaped spacer at each of the points, which doesn’t actually happen. They just pop right out. Aligning each of the points on a spacer simply doesn’t happen. And standing there holding it up for the rest of the day didn’t seem feasible either. Plus, we needed to make sure we left a 1/8″ space all along the counter to tile joint so we could fill it with the special sanded caulk (which we’ll discuss closer to the end of the post). We ended up using a paint stir stick as our spacer. Genius Moment! Finally the tiles stopped sliding down the wall! It also proved to be difficult keeping the spacers in place in between the sheets of tile. Yes, this is obviously a big reason why mosaic tiles are grouped together with webbing. Can you just imagine setting them all individually? Madness! (and lots of cursing for sure!)
About that webbing . . . I’m not sure what it is made out of, but my hands felt like they were covered with tiny splinters for days after working with the material. I even called the Tile Shop to ask if they had any fiberglass in the webbing. Nope. Ironically, Glen was the one who answers and he did remind me that is why he said to wear gloves. So, lesson learned! Wear Gloves!! Especially if you have sensitive skin, like me! I ended up scrubbing my hands with a exfoliating scrub meant to smooth rough, calloused feet for several days. It helped tremendously, as did Neosporin used like hand lotion at bedtime.
Another thing that we learned from trial and error: trim off all of the excess webbing. When you are fitting one sheet next to the other, any excess webbing just prevents you from moving the tile up next to the neighboring tiles. If you have an obstacle to work around, say a light switch, measure and mark the location and peel off any of the tiles that would interfere. Then be sure to cut out all the extra webbing. I found it really easy to lay the sheet flat and use an X-acto knife to cut off extra webbing.
There is one perk to this type of mosaic. You really don’t waste much at all. When we got to a point that we were running out of the full sheets, we assessed what we had left and made a plan. We used a full sheet consistently as our first course, which was the bottom row. Then we used 2/3 remainders as the next course and smaller pieces were used to fill in in less visible areas, like under the cabinets. When we were finished, all we had left were single bits and pieces. Another thing to keep in mind when estimating and trying to avoid buying extra tile, you will need to cut to specific needs and it is very difficult to cut thick mosaic tile. Our was probably about 1/4″ think and couldn’t be cut with nippers. It had to be cut with the tile saw. So, had to use some of the 2/3 pieces to end up with enough half diamonds to fill in at the bottom of the first row. Use painter’s tape to hold individual tiles in position if needed. Working with mosaic tile can be a lot like working a puzzle and you end up searching through the pile of extras saying thinks like, ” I need a half light brown cut vertical”.
And much link a 1000 piece puzzle . . . this project went on for days. All day Sunday, all day Monday, Tuesday night after work and Wednesday night too. For some reason, my swanky sidekick decided we MUST have the tile complete before I left the following weekend. No time to pack, or get a good night’s sleep! Just the endless tile puzzle!! Thanks, honey!
But, Wow! Look at the results!
One of my favorite parts was this corner. I was just amazed at how all the diamonds aligned so perfectly. Ahhhh . . . who’s the tile rookies now! (we are!)
At this point, I was finally allowed to rest and do some packing.
<insert several days of being an exhausted traveler here>
When I returned, we dove right into the grouting. Once again, the grout is all about hitting the perfect consistency. Too thin, and it just kind of falls off your float onto the counter. Too thick and it’s hard to work with. Just right and it’s like buttering toast. Well, not really. But, the right consistency does make things go very smoooothly! Keeping the grout out of the seam between the tile and the counters was not so easy. Once again, the paint stirrer did the trick.
Some of last few details were the edging, caulking and the sealing. Grouting is already finished in all the photos. We only took “after photos” during the project. I kept thinking I need to take some photos, but my hands were always covered with grout or thin set.
Let’s talk edging. I suppose we could have just stopped at a certain point and called it good. But, I felt like the edges needed “framed” with something. We considered the 2 x 6 bullnose pieces, but they made a really thick frame and too chunky. The pencil edge pieces – yowza those are expensive! – well they were really thick and also looked strange. The solution: pencil edge pieces turned on the side. They were even made from the same type of stone in matching colors. Perfect. Great idea, hubby! And I found them at Lowe’s for about a third of what other places charge for these specialty pieces.
Now on to the caulking. Time to fill in the seam between the tile and the granite counters with the specially color matched sanded silicone sealer. It applied much like regular caulk and was pretty easy to smooth out. I just use my finger. But the finicky details was super-annoying, just like with silicone caulk. I do think it would have been much easier if we had square tiles. All of the tile’s points next to the counter made it hard to smooth the caulking just so. I’m still not thrilled with the results in some areas – like behind the faucet, but that is likely because perfection is what I’m going for at all times. I was impressed with how well it matches the rest of the grout.
This is the sealer we bought. You can find it at Home Depot and I’m sure lots of other places. You definitely won’t need much. I think we probably used a cup for two coats. http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10051&catalogId=10053&R=202907686&catEntryId=202907686
Since our tile is a natural stone (travertine), it needed to be sealed. This was the easiest part. Wipe on and let dry. Test with spray bottle of water. If it beads, you’re finished. If not, apply another coat. Easy breezy.
And that wraps up the puzzle party that resulted in our fab-o backsplash! Love it!