Modern ceramic tiles are thin slabs of clay, decorated on one side with coloured glazes. These are baked on to give the tile a hard, glassy surface resistant to water, heat and almost all household chemicals. The clay from which tiles are made, which is known as the biscuit, varies and you need to know the differences before you choose the tile to use. The thinnest ones with a pale coloured biscuit are good on all vertical surfaces (including doors where extra weight puts stress on the hinges).
If the biscuit is reddish/brown it has been high baked (vitrified). The thicker and darker coloured it is the more strength the tile has — floor tiles, for example, are usually big in size as well as thick in biscuit.
Work surfaces need tiles that are strong to withstand weights of heavy pots, while splashbacks and bathroom surfaces can take lighter, thinner ones.
Types of tiles
Within each range of tiles there are usually three types. Tiles have small projections on each edge called lugs which butt up to the neighbouring tile and provide the correct space for grouting (with these it is very hard to vary the width of the grouting). tiles are squared off on all sides but are glazed on two adjacent edges — these give a neat finish to outer corners and top or side edges. Tiles have no lugs and are square on all edges. All three can be used successfully in small areas, but do remember that if tiles do not have lugs you have to include grouting space in your calculations — the thinnest tiles need to be spaced by nothing more than torn-up pieces of cardboard, 6mm Cain) tiles are best with a matchstick width in between.
Tiles are sold by the sq metre, sq yd, boxed in 25s or 50s, or can be bought individually. Boxed tiles usually advise on adhesive and grout needed for specific areas. When buying, if there’s no written information available always check that the tile is suitable.
How to plan the layout
When tiling small areas you don’t have much space to manoeuvre. The idea in all tiling is to lines where possible. Some tile ranges have soap dishes, towel rails etc attached to tiles so they can be incorporated in a scheme, but if these don’t suit your purposes, you can drill the tiles to screw in your own fitting.
A working plan
All tiles should be fixed level and square so it’s important to establish the horizontal and vertical with a spirit level. Draw in the lines with pencil. If you plan to tile where there is no support (eg, on either side of a basin or sink) lightly pin a length of 50 x 25mm (2 x 1 in) timber below the tiling line – the batten will prevent the tiles slipping.
On doors you may have to consider adding a timber surround to keep the tiles secure as they will be subjected to movement (also see section on below).
Adhesives and grouting
The choice of both of these depends on where the tiles are to be fixed. In a watery situation (eg, a shower cubicle or a steamy kitchen) it is important to use a waterproof variety of both, even though you might have – tf —I
To remove a narrow strip of tile, score the line heavily by drawing the tile cutter across the tile more firmly several times in the same place. Then use pincers to ‘nibble’ the waste away in small pieces and smooth the edge. Glaze on broken tiles is as sharp as glass, so be careful not to cut yourself.
Templates for awkwardly shaped tiles are not difficult to make. Cut the shape in card, place on a tile and score a line freehand with the tile cutter. Any straight score marks can be deepened afterwards, using a straight edge for support. Then nibble away the waste with pincers. If there’s a large amount to be cut away, score the waste part to divide it into sections, then nibble away. A good tip is to do this on a soft or padded surface so the tile doesn’t break in the wrong place.
To wait for 4-5 days before exposing the tile surface to use.
All ceramic tile adhesives are like thin putty and can be bought ready mixed in tubs or in powder form to be made up with water. They are what is known as thin-bed adhesives in that they are designed to be applied in a thin layer on a flat even surface. The spread is controlled by a notched comb (usually provided by the manufacturer but cheap to buy where you bought the tiles) to make furrows of a specified depth. When the tiles are pressed on with a slight twist, the adhesive evenly grips the back of the biscuit. Special latex-ibased adhesives (usually, two-part products which have to be mixed before using) have much more flexibility and are good for tiles where there is any movement (eg. On doors).
Spread the adhesive on an area no more than 1 sq metre (1 sq yd) at a time, or it will lose its gripping power before you have time to place the tiles. If you remove a tile, before refixing comb the adhesive again.
Grout gives the final finish to the tiled area, filling the spaces between the tiles and preventing moisture getting behind them and affecting the adhesive. Grouting can be done 12-24 hours after the last tile has been pressed into place. Grout can be standard or waterproof (with added acrylic), and both are like a cellulose filler when made up.
If you only make up one lot of grouting, you can colour it with special grouting tints – but remember that it’s hard to make other batches match the colour. Waterproof grouting cannot always take these tints.
Press grout between the tiles with a sponge or squeegee and wipe off excess with a damp sponge. Even up the grouting by drawing a pencil-like piece of wood (eg dowelling) along each row first vertically, then horizontally. Do this within 10 minutes of grouting so it is not completely dry.
Leave the tiles for 24 hours before polishing with a clean dry cloth. Wash clean only if a slight bloom remains.
Tiles should never be fixed with tight joints for any movement of the wall or fittings will cause the tiles to crack. Similarly where tiles meet baths, basins, sinks etc, flexibility is needed – and grout that dries rigid cannot provide it. These gaps must be filled with a silicone rubber sealant
Techniques with tiles
To cut tiles, lightly score the glaze with a tile cutter to break the surface. Place the tile glazed side up with the scored line over matchsticks and firmly but gently press the tile down on each side. If using a pencil press on one side, hold the other. Smooth the cut edge with a file. Very small adjustments are best done by filing the edge of the whole tile.
The ideal surface for tiling is one that’s perfectly flat, dry and firm. Small irregularities will be covered up, but any major hollows, bumps or flaking, need to be made good.
Plastered walls and asbestos cement sheets: perfect for tiling, but wait a month after any new plastering to allow the wall to dry out completely. Unless surface has been previously painted, apply a coat of plaster primer to prevent the liquid in the tile adhesive from being absorbed too quickly. Plasterboard: again, ideal for tiling as long as it’s firmly fixed and adjacent boards cannot shift. (If they did the joins would probably crack). To prepare the surface, remove all dust, wipe down with white spirit
Planning the tiling in any small area needs as much thought as any large expanse of tiles. The first rule is to make sure the layout is symmetrical-and to make the most of any tiled area you have first to decide which part is likely to be the focal point. A basin in a vanity unit, for instance, becomes the focal point even if it isn’t centrally placed in a wide unit – so you have to plan your tiling around it.
Similarly, if you’re tiling a splash-back and a window interrupts the clean run of the wall, then tiles should be symmetrically placed on each side. If, however, there are two windows, start by drawing a centre line between them and tile from that point.
Large tiles are becoming increasingly popular for both kitchen and bathroom surfaces, but where sturdiness and durability are needed (on a kitchen work surface for example) a high baked (vitrified) tile is best. The smaller the better, too, for this makes them able to absorb shock and they won’t break if something is dropped on them. ‘
Where fittings such as baths and basins meet a splashback, it is wise to use a silicone rubber sealant (in colours to match the fittings) to prevent water affecting the adhesive behind the tiles. – ,