Tiling a Wall

Tiling a wall is one of those DIY jobs which is fairly easy for anyone to do, but more difficult to do well. Preparation, as with most DIY jobs, is the key here. If you don’t have a solid and flat base for the tiles to adhere to, getting a good finish is going to be a lot more difficult. You also need to plan properly, working out where you will start tiling and how many tiles you will need to complete the area.

Tiling Gauge

One of the single most useful tools you can have when tiling is a home-made tiling gauge. To make a Tiling Gauge, get a straight 2 metre length of 50mm x 12mm soft wood and lay a row of your tiles along one edge of it. Make sure you use tile spacers as you would normally so that the tiles are spaced correctly. Mark the position of each tile on the tiling gauge so that you have a row of evenly spaced marks along one side of the wood. If the last mark is not at the end of the tiling gauge, trim off the excess so that it is.

Planning and Marking for Tiling

If the wall is plain and without obstructions, setting out the tiles will be a lot easier. You aim, using the tiling gauge, is to leave an equal margin at the edges of the wall which you can fill with cut tiles. Unless you are incredibly lucky, you will always have at least one row of cut tiles, and it is better to have two equal margins, rather than a full tile row one side and a half tile row at the other.

tiling a wall - battensMeasure the height of the wall, between the top of the skirting and the ceiling (or bottom of the coving) and mark the centre point. Hold the tiling gauge vertically against the wall so that the centre mark is lined up with one of the marks on the gauge. The gap between the bottom of the tiling gauge and the top of the skirting board should be between one third and two thirds the width of a tile. If the gap is smaller than this, move the tiling gauge up half a tile.

Mark where the bottom of the tiling gauge is and then nail a timber batten (also called a furring strip) directly below the mark. This will act as a guide and also as a support for your lowest row of full tiles. Repeat the process horizontally across the wall, using the tiling gauge to work out where the last row of full tiles will be, measuring from a central line. Mark the wall at that point and nail second batten vertically on to the wall. This batten framework gives you a guide and helps to keep the field tiles straight and even. Once all of the field tiles are fixed, the battens can be removed and the margins filled with cut tiles.

Tiling the Wall

Now that you have your batten guides in place, you can start to fix your tiles to the wall. Lay down dust sheets along the bottom of the wall and get all of your tools and materials ready. You will need:

Tile Adhesive
Tile Spacers
Notched Spreader
Stripping Knife
Damp Cloth (for wiping away adhesive)

Load some adhesive onto the notched spreader and spread it onto the wall, starting at the right angle where your two battens meet and covering an area slightly larger than a single row of tiles. The adhesive should be spread in such a way that it has clear grooves. When a tile is pressed against the adhesive, the raised ridges will compress to an even thickness behind the tile.

how to tile a wall - spacersPlace your first tile into the right angle of the battens, with the bottom edge resting on the horizontal batten and the vertical edge against the vertical batten. Press the tile firmly and evenly into the adhesive. Continue to lay tiles along the bottom row, placing spacers between each tile. Tile spacers should be placed in the vertical joint between each tile, and also pushed into the adhesive at the top corner of each tile.

As you work along the row, use a straight edge held across the face of the tiles to check that they are all flush with each other. Any tiles which are not flush can be carefully pressed into the adhesive more.

Apply a second strip of adhesive above the first row of tiles and start to lay the second row. Line up the first tile of the second row against the vertical batten to the side and with the tile below. You can use the embedded spacers to line it up as well. Continue along the second row, adding spacers as before. When you have fixed the topmost row of tiles in place, scrape any excess adhesive off the wall using the stripping knife and wipe with the damp cloth.

Allow the tile adhesive to set for at least 24 hours before carefully removing the horizontal and vertical battens. You can now start to measure, cut and fix the tiles around the edge. It is unlikely that your walls are perfectly straight, so measure each tile individually rather than measuring one and using that as a size guide for the rest.

To measure a tile ready to be cut, place a whole tile on top of the last full tile in a row and slide it up against the end wall (or the mark where the tiles end if not tiling edge to edge). Allow a gap for the grout and mark where you need to cut, using a pencil, on the face of the tile. Buy, borrow or hire a Platform Tile Cutter (such as the Draper Manual Tile Cutter) to cut your tiles. A platform tile cutter will give you a consistent and neat cut every time if used correctly.

When tiling narrow borders or margins around the main field of tiles, it is easier to apply the tile adhesive to the back of each tile than it is to try to spread the adhesive onto a narrow strip of bare wall.