Decorating with tiles

As coverings for walls, tables and working surfaces, ceramic tiles have several distinct advantages over other materials. As well as offering a superb range of colours, patterns and glaze finishes, they make a hard-wearing easy to clean, practical surface.

They also have a high resistance to both acids and alkalis and a permanent colouring, unaffected by prolonged exposure to sunlight or steam.

The one drawback to ceramic tiles is that they are brittle, making them slightly more difficult to work with than vinyl or cork.

Types of tile

Ceramic tiles come in a wide range of plain colours, patterns and shapes. The three most common sizes are 108mm square x 4mm, 152mm square x 6mm and 152mm x 76mm x 6mm but other sizes are available to order. Australian sizes are 100mm square, 150mm square and 200mm x 100mm. Mosaic tiles – group arrangements of small tiles on backing sheets – are among the other types available.

The field tile used for most tiling usually has lugs around the edges which butt against adjacent tiles and ensure an equal 2mm gap all round.

For edging and corner work, special tiles are available with either one or two rounded edges. Border tiles, with two square, glazed edges can be used as an alternative.

Floor tiles are different in strength and suitability to ordinary wall tiles, so check with the supplier before use.

When tiling food preparation surfaces in the kitchen, you should always check with the manufacturer or retailer that the tiles are suitable for the purpose – some have a potentially toxic heavy lead glaze. Tiles used near heat sources such as cookers and fireplaces should be heat resistant or at least 9.5mm thick.

The basic tool kit

Cutting tools, adhesive and grout are readily available from any DIY shop. You will need a simple wheel cutter or a scriber with a tungsten-carbide tip. A wheel cutter with breaker wings, for scoring and breaking in one action, costs a little more. A carborundum file is useful for smoothing down the edges of cut tiles.


Tile adhesive is available either in powder form, to which water is added, or else ready-prepared in cans: five litres will cover about 6m2 on a good surface.

However, use a water resistant adhesive for areas around sinks, baths and showers and one which is heat resistant where temperatures are likely to be high, such as around cookers and fires.

Grout is a cement-based paste which is rubbed into the gaps between tiles to provide a neat finish. As a rough guide 500g of the powder, mixed with water to a fairly stiff consistency, will grout about 2m- of small tiles or 4m-of larger ones.

A non-toxic grout should always be used on tiled food preparation surfaces and a water resistant grout around sinks, baths and showers.

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