How to tile a countertop

How to tile a countertop

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If you are updating your kitchen, you can do several things to rejuvenate your existing laminate countertop. One option is to install granite tiles over the laminate. You can also install ceramic tiles over the existing countertop. Both are simple enough of a skilled do-it-yourselfer to accomplish. With some of the newer products on the market, you don’t even need to take off the old laminate or put down cement backer board to lay the tile countertop. Before you start the project, remove everything from the countertop. It’s easier to reset the sink than to tile around it, so remove it as well.

Prepare the Countertop

Measure and cut fiberglass reinforced paper to cover the entire countertop, as well as the edges.

Apply a 1/8-inch layer of tile over laminate adhesive across the entire surface of the countertop. Use a 1/8-inch notched trowel to distribute the adhesive evenly. Put adhesive on the edges of the countertop as well. Set the paper on top of the adhesive and smooth it in place with a putty knife. Work out any air bubbles in the paper with the blade of the putty knife.

Mix thinset mortar with water to the consistency of mashed potatoes and spread a thin layer of thinset over the paper, smoothing it in place with the smooth side of a trowel. This layer acts as a scratch coat to bond the paper with the layer of mortar where you set the ceramic or stone tiles. If the countertop has low spots, use this layer to level them. Apply extra mortar to the front third of the countertop if the laminate has a bull nose front edge. This will eliminate the bull nose and enable you to set tiles along the front edge of the countertop. Allow the thinset to dry for at least an hour before proceeding.

Install Tile

Arrange the tiles along the top of the countertop as you plan to place them. Use spacers in all four corners of each one to keep the lines straight and the tiles correctly spaced. Plan the arrangement so any cut tiles go along the ends of the countertop. Pick the tiles back up off the countertop in the order you plan to set them.

Measure and cut any tiles that are too long to fit onto the countertop using a tile cutter. Mark the location of the cut and draw the tile cutter’s blade along the mark to score the tile. Break off the shorter side. If you have several tiles to cut, use a wet saw with a diamond blade. Mark tiles with masking tape if you cannot see the cutting line. Cut your edge tiles as well, if necessary.

Mix thinset until it looks like mashed potatoes. Spread a bit on the front and side countertop edges using a 1/4-inch notched trowel. Spread additional mortar on the backs of each edge tile. This process of mortaring the back of a tile is called buttering. It gives the edge tiles additional strength to adhere to a vertical surface. Set the edge tiles in place with spacers in between them.

Mix more thinset to the consistency of mashed potatoes. Spread it 1/4-inch thick with a 1/4-inch notched trowel. If your countertop is large, divide it into sections. Set the tiles in the thinset. Tap each tile to set it firmly into the mortar. Set spacers at every corner of the tiles to maintain straight grout lines. Check the tile surface periodically with a carpenter’s level to make sure it is level. Once the tiles are all set in place, remove the spacers and allow the mortar to dry overnight.

Mix grout with water to the consistency of mashed potatoes. Spread grout into the joints with a grout float. Wipe off excess grout with a clean, damp sponge. Rinse the sponge frequently in clean water. When your finger no longer leaves an impression in the grout, smooth the grout joints with a rounded object, such as a pencil or the tip of a paintbrush.

Wipe any haze from the grout from the countertop tiles with a soft rag.

Apply grout sealer one or two weeks after the grout cures. Use a small paintbrush to apply the sealer.


Old Formica that has chipped, de-laminated, or just worn out its welcome means total countertop replacement.

Glazed ceramic tile (vs. granite): inexpensive, low maintenance, more style and trim choices.

Shut off water, uncouple water lines and P-trap (pipe wrench). Plug the wall pipe with rags. Pry off tops of faucets, unscrew and remove. Loosen “threaded valve washers” (tap “tabs” with screwdriver). Metal sinks have clamps, cast iron sinks are caulked. Remove clamps or cut caulk and pull sink.

Cut Formica at backsplash/counter junction with drywall knife. Mark top of backsplash and remove with pry bar. Pry against a wood block to protect drywall.

Countertops are screwed underneath to corner blocks in the cabinets. Remove screws and tap the counter UP with wood block and hammer, lifting evenly along the entire length, bit by bit. Use a hammer, chisel and/or pry bar to get started. Save as a measuring template for new valve and sink holes.

New Sub-surface: Plywood

Kitchen counters are 25” +/- wide. Cut 3/4″ x 4 x 8 sheets of plywood lengthwise to 24”. Set the factory (uncut) edge of the plywood ¼” past the drawer face below, flush at ends. Tack down in two places, pre-drill undersized pilot holes (w/countersink for screws) into cabinet wall centers and corners. Use #8 x 1 ¼” flat head, Phillips screws or 6d (marked on box) finish nails. Using old countertop, mark sink and valve holes. Cut with jigsaw (drill holes for valves and jigsaw blade).

Cut ½” X 3’ x 5’ sheets of cement board OUTDOORS. Use a table saw for best results but a power saw is ok. Pre-drill valve holes with special abrasive bit (tile supply-also used for holes in new tile). Cut sink hole after cement board is installed. Vacuum dust asap. Glue cement board (tubes of construction adhesive in caulk gun), laying continuous beads around sink hole, all edges, and 3” apart inside. Drill pilot holes w/countersink for #8 x 1” FH Phillips screws and DON’T skimp on screws, esp. at edges and sink.

Most kitchen sinks leave very little room for error front and back so make backsplash thin by gluing ½” cement board directly to drywall, lower than outlets (allow room for tile or wood cap of choice) and bottom tight to cabinets. Use construction adhesive and pre-drilled screws to wall studs.

Tile “Bullnose” (front edge)

Pre-formed bullnose tile with rounded, raised corner (tile supply, esp. Home Depot) is easiest. Remove drawers after marking top of drawer face. Clamp a thin slat(s) to cabinets to rest bullnose tile on while mastic sets. BN tiles may need to be cut for drawer face clearance and a tile “wet” saw with diamond blade( tool rental) is a must for all tile cuts.

If a wood counter edge is desired, select a hardwood trim (any profile) but; 1/ bullnose must extend above the cement board to match tile thickness, 2/ must allow for drawer face clearance (bottom may need to be cut with table saw). Sand, stain and clear coat before installing as water will discolor raw wood. Sub-surface at stove/oven may need to be cut back for bullnose (pull stove first). Install with adhesive and 6d finish nails, pre-drilled. Install wood or tile bullnose first, then place field tiles.

Lay out tiles on dry surface, starting in front with full tiles and working back. Use cross shaped ¼” tile spacers (tile supply), two per tile edge. Adjust layout as needed to avoid thin tile cuts (meaning you may have to set full tiles in center of counter and work outwards instead of working front to back). Make ALL tile cuts before applying mastic and drill valve holes. Use pre-mixed tile mastic (worth the cost vs. mixing your own) and a 1/8” toothed tile trowel (tile supply-again). Remove a section of pre-laid tile, spread mastic evenly with flat edge of tile trowel and then make “toothed” grooves (ALWAYS holding the trowel at 45 degrees to prevent high or low mastic ridges). Press WET tiles firmly into place and tap with rubber mallet, re-using spacers and checking for evenness often with straightedge. If tiles aren’t even, remove tiles and add or subtract mastic as needed). Remove excess mastic at joints with screwdriver and damp tile sponge (tile supply) to avoid “chipping” excess tile mastic the next day. Set backsplash tiles last after counter has set a minimum of 2 hours. Place a 1/8” slat on counter tiles (coat with Vaseline or WD-40 for easy removal after tile has set) to ensure a straight looking backsplash. Install wood or tile cap LAST (for wood, allow tile to set overnight-glue and nail in pre-drilled pilot holes) Allow overnight drying for all tile before grout.

Choose grout color AFTER tile has set (don’t “guess”). Tile stores have take-home brochures showing grout color. Fold back the brochure to potential colors and place against tile to decide which color is best. Hint: Light grout will show stains more than dark. Some grout colors come pre-mixed but if not, mix in a 1 gallon bucket, adding water and mixing often until grout has “stiff cookie dough” texture. Let grout sit for 5-10 minutes to “slake” (allow water to spread evenly throughout mix). Apply grout with a rubber grout trowel (tile supply), spreading diagonally to avoid pulling grout out of joints. Experiment with small areas, small amounts of mix and work your way up. Sponge off excess grout, always diagonal to joints, before moving on. Clean sponge regularly, re-wetting and squeezing sponge until squeezed water is clear. A thin film will form to be polished the next day with dry rags. Re-paint drywall if needed.

Set metal sinks on a bead of adhesive, no grout needed. Grout around cast iron sinks. Re-attach in reverse order, adjusting valve “threaded” washers below to proper “new” height. Clean P-trap before re-installing. Clean kitchen thoroughly to avoid complaints from the chef. Done!

Related To:

Materials and Tools:

utility knife
power drill
measuring tape
carpenter’s square
cement backerboard
3/8″ wood strips
pneumatic nailer
2″ galvanized screws
notched trowel
ceramic tiles (with bullnose trim)
1×2 tack strip
tile spacers
rubber grout float
grout sealer


1. Begin by turning off the water shutoff valve to the sink and placing a bucket under the supply line. Remove the coupling nuts, then the “P” trap, allowing the bucket to catch the water. Next, loosen the clamps holding the sink in place and slice through the caulking between the sink and countertop with a utility knife. Remove the sink.

2. Remove the stove. Remove any brackets or screws that are holding the countertop in place. Be sure all screws are removed. Use a utility knife to slice through the caulking between the countertop and wall. Remove the countertops.

3. Measure the span of the base cabinets, from the corner to the outside edge. Also measure the depth from the front edge to the wall behind at both ends. With a carpenter’s square, check the square of the walls at any corners. Also check the level at this point and inspect the cabinets and make any necessary repairs.

4. Have plywood cut to size at your local home supply store (or use a circular saw). Next, add 3/8-inch wood strips along the countertop to adjust the height (if necessary) with a pneumatic nailer. Position the plywood on top of the cabinets, flush with the cabinet edge. Attach the plywood with two-inch screws driven into the cabinet framing every two inches.

5. Cut cement backerboard to size and position it directly on top of the plywood. Remove, then add mastic to the plywood with a notched trowel and set the backerboard on the mastic. Secure with galvanized screws. Cover the joints between the backerboards with fiberglass tape. Apply a thin layer of mastic over the joint to create a smooth surface. Sweep and vacuum the surface when the mastic is dry.

6. Measure the area out for the sink and cut away the backerboard and plywood with a jigsaw.

7. Dry fit the tiles by drawing perpendicular lines in the corner of the countertop using the front edge as a guide. This will provide you with the starting point for the tiles. After dry fitting, see what cuts, if any, need to be made to the tiles to cover the area. Also dry fit bullnose trim around the edge.

8. Attach a 1×2 tack strip along the edge to support the bullnose trim until the mastic dries. Using mastic and a trowel, “butter” the edge of the bullnose trim with mastic and place on the counter edge. Once all trim is in place, move to the countertop.

9. Spread mastic on the countertop evenly with the trowel. Use a twisting motion to set tiles in place, beginning along the front edge of the counter. Insert tile spacers to maintain consistency in the layout and to leave room for grout.

10. Next, spread mastic on the wall and on the back of each piece of tile and trim for the backsplash. Add bullnose trim at the wall base, where it meets the tile. Once the trim is in place, measure the wall to find the center above the stove. Create a design with trim and tile and put it in place. Continue until the backsplash is complete.

11. Around outlets, hold tile in place and mark cut lines with a pencil to determine the cuts to be made. Use longer screws to reattach the outlets to compensate for the new tiles.

12. Spread grout with a rubber grout float into the joints. Try to get the joints flush with the surface. When the grout firms up, scrape excess grout. Give the tiles a good cleaning with a damp sponge, being careful not to pull any of the grout out of the joints. Once the surface is dry, buff and polish the tiles with a dry cloth. Allow to cure 48 hours. Apply a grout sealer with a sponge.

13. Once the sealer has cured, the project is done. This installation takes around 3 days and costs around $1,500.

Entertaining outside on the deck, in the garden, or around your backyard can be made even better by building a tile countertop. An outdoor kitchen is a lot of work and a lot of time but it is all well worth while. The following steps will show you how to turn an existing countertop into an outdoor tile countertop.

Step 1 – Cutting the Wood

When first creating an outdoor tile countertop you need to know how large you are going to make it. Keep in mind that tiles are square with a 12×12-inch measurement.

Use the measuring tape and collect the measurement of the base or existing counter starting with the width. You can make your new countertop as wide as you want as long as the existing base can support it.

When you have your length and width figured out you can now transfer those measurements to the sheet of plywood. If you are making an “L”-shape then measure out each section separately. You may need more than one sheet if this is the case. After measuring for the length and width cut them out.

With the width recorded you may now measure the length. If the countertop you are building forms an “L”-shape then keep the thicker parts in mind when determining the length. With the tiles being a 12×12-inch square the width at the corner should be in 12×12-inch sizes.

Measure out the perimeter of the countertop and cut the 1/2×1/2-inch pieces of wood to match. Next, place a tile next to the 1/2×1/2-inch pieces of wood and mark the height of the tile.

Step 2 – Framing the Tile Countertop

Place the cut pieces of plywood on top of the base then nail it in place.

Put wood glue along the lines of the 1/2×1/2-inch pieces of wood and glue in place along the perimeter. When the glue has secured the wood in place you can then nail it to the plywood to keep it there. Continue around the perimeter until it is completely encased.

Step 3 – Test Run and Painting

The final step will be gluing the tiles in place. Before actually gluing them down, however, you want to place them on to the plywood surface you nailed down to ensure they all fit. After your dry install run through you can remove the tiles and set them off to the side for later.

Make sure you are in a well ventilated then spray a coat of paint on the plywood. Apply a second coat if needed. What will happen is the wood will take on a metal look which will look great with the tile.

Step 4 – Laying the Tile

Once the paint had dried you can start putting glue on the tiles and placing them on the countertop. Make sure the tiles are flush against the wooden perimeter and against each other.

When the tiles have tried rinse them off with water a mild soap.

How to tile a countertop

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Countertops are not limited to indoor kitchen settings, which means your outdoor countertops can be tiled in a similar fashion to create your own patio or porch kitchen. Although the same basic installation protocols are used, there are some additional components to outdoor installations to help the overall installation withstand weathering and ensure your investment lasts throughout the years.

Exterior-Grade Plywood

Plywood or OSB (oriented strand board) are used in an interior setting to serve as the countertop deck, which provides the base for any countertop material. In outdoor settings, however, you must use exterior-grade plywood since it uses moisture-resistant glues within to hold the sheets together. For best results, use at least a 3/4-inch-thick layer of plywood, but you may add double layers if you need to make a thicker top to accommodate a custom facial edge, such as bullnose caps or wood trim.

Board and Waterproofing

Tile should never be installed directly onto plywood. Instead, use a concrete or fiber board. Concrete is the preferred choice for an exterior setting, but either works. After you trowel on a layer of thinset mortar to the top of the deck, the sheets may be screwed or nailed down every few inches. From there, apply some form of waterproofing — either a latex paint-on type or a membrane system. This provides additional protection for the plywood from moisture damage over the years.

Weather and Drying

Standard installation procedures apply, which means the tile is installed in a bed of thinset mortar that is troweled onto the surface of the waterproofed concrete/fiber board, then grouted after the installation dries. However, in outdoor settings, you have to take into account the weather, since thinset and grout have a recommended temperature requirement to ensure a proper bond and curing. Each manufacturer has slight differences in temperature requirements, but the average is between 50 degrees and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity affects curing time, and you should cover the installation if there is any rain present during the first 72 hours of the grout curing.


Ceramic tile installations and glazed porcelain are nonporous, but the grout joints are cement based, which means they are susceptible to moisture. Natural stones are porous. These elements need to be sealed to protect them from water damage over time. In addition, don’t grout the joint where the countertop and the backsplash meet, as this should be caulked to allow for movement and expansion. Sealer application depends on the manufacturer and can be sprayed, painted or wiped onto the surface.

Tim Anderson has been freelance writing since 2007. His has been published online through GTV Magazine, Home Anatomy, TravBuddy, MMO Hub, Killer Guides and the Delegate2 group. He spent more than 15 years as a third-generation tile and stone contractor before transitioning into freelance writing.

If you decide to use tile for a countertop, you should also consider the look of the counter’s edge before you purchase the counter tiles. Edge options may be limited by trim tile; especially If you want to use the same color of tile on the edge as on the countertop. There are four ways to provide a finished edge for a tiled counter:

  1. Wood Strip – not recommended
  2. Border Strip – decorative relief tiles
  3. Bullnose Tiles – tiles with a tapered, glazed edge
  4. V-caps Tiles – tiles that wrap around the edge of a counter

V-cap tiles trim the edge of a tiled counter on a patio

Tile Counter with a Wood Edge

A wood edge is the least expensive option and the least desirable. Wood does not provide a durable and long-lasting solution for a kitchen – especially near wet areas like a sink. However, it can be easily replaced and can provide a nice accent to the cabinets. if you will be using wood edge trim, fasten a 1×2 batten to the face of the countertop so the top edge is above the top of the counter.

Finishing a tiled counter with a wood strip

Tile Counter with a Borderstrip and Bullnose Tiles

If you can’t find V-Cap tiles to trim the edge of a counter, consider using a decorative or relief borderstrip. This option will be more expensive than using using field tile and can be more expensive than a V-cap – depending on the borderstrip. Make sure you can purchase a bullnosed tile in the same glaze as the rest of the counter. Alternatively, you can create a borderstrip with glazed bar tiles or decorative caps. If you are using bullnose tiles for your edge, a batten that is the same thickness as the edging tile, plus 1/8″ for mortar thickness, should be fastened to the face of the countertop so that the top is flush with the counter.

Finishing a tiled counter with a border strip

Bar Tile can be used to create the border strip

Decorative caps can be used to create the border strip

Tile Counter with Field Tile and Bullnose Tiles

This solution is the the least expensive of the three options that use tiled edging. You might be able to avoid lots of cuts if the counter tile comes in a format that matches the width of the counter (like 1″ x 2″). Install the same as with the borderstrip.

Bullnose tile trims the edge of a tiled counter

You can use bullnose tile to finish the edge of a tiled window as well. For something different, set the bullnose tiles on the wall surface, instead of the recess. In this case, set the recess tiles first, then the bullnose.

Tile Counter with a V-cap

For a professional look that is maintenance-free, consider using a special type of trim tile tile called a V-cap. V-cap tiles are expensive; but, you’ll save money on installation costs. They do tend to break easily before they are installed; so, purchase about 10% more than you need. To install V-cap Tiles, a 1×2 batten attached with screws along the reference line will guarantee straightness.

Lay out tiles in a dry run using spacers before you actually install them. L-shaped counters should be tiled starting at the corner and working outward. All other counters, start at the sink to ensure that there will be equal sized cuts on both sides of the sink. To prevent yourself from having to cut very narrow tile segments, you may need to shift your starting point.

Finishing a tiled counter with a wood strip

You can tile over a laminate countertop. Just make sure that it is square, level and structurally sound. The surface will need to be sanded before setting the tiles to ensure proper adhesion. If you need to remove your existing countertop, remove the screws from beneath the countertop and if needed, cut the construction adhesive with a knife.

Tiled countertops aren’t as popular as they used to be. Solid surface counters like granite and more recently Silestone and quartz have become the new standard. However, I frequently here designers mention that client who installed tiled counters many years a ago still love them and prefer them. Tile is still an excellent choice for a countertop because it provide a great value, excellent durability with limitless design options.

How to tile a countertop

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Coming in a variety of colors and styles, tile comes with perks as a countertop material as it resists heat, moisture, scratches and stains. When you’re stuck with a dated-looking tile countertop, though, it may no longer seem like a good choice. Since removing and replacing tile is a costly project, it may seem like you’re stuck with it. But with the right supplies and a little creativity, you can update the look of your tile counter so it feels more modern and isn’t such an eyesore.

Painting Tile Countertops

If a tacky color is making your tile countertop look dated, painting it is an easy way to update it. Paint may seem like an unorthodox idea for a tile surface, but if you prepare it properly, ceramic tile takes paint well.

In a kitchen or bathroom, a tile countertop may have dirt, grease, mildew and other residue on its surface. Scrub it with a mild abrasive cleaner and rinse it clean to remove all of the gunk. You’ll also need to roughen up the glossy surface so the paint adheres better. Use 100- to 200-grit sandpaper to carefully sand your countertop, then wipe away any dust to ensure a clean surface.

As for the paint, a two-part epoxy formula works best since a countertop takes serious abuse, especially in a kitchen, where it’s used as a work surface, or a bathroom, where it’s often wet. You’ll also want to use a high-quality oil-based primer because it can help the paint bond with the tile more effectively. Follow all instructions on the paint product you choose to get a smooth, quality finish.

Add Temporary Tile Decals

If painting your countertop is a little too permanent for your tastes, give your tile a modern update with temporary tile decals. The decals, also known as tile tattoos, are essentially large stickers designed specifically to fit kitchen and bathroom tile. They’re water-resistant and easy to remove when you want to change your countertop’s look.

Tile decals come in a wide range of colors and patterns, so you can find an option that complements the rest of your decor. For a simple look, opt for solid decals that allow you to create a checkerboard look for your countertop. It’s an ideal option if your tile countertop is a bold color that overwhelms your kitchen because you can cover half of it with black or white decals.

If you want a little more flair, opt for tile decals with a bold pattern. A simple geometric design with squares, circles or triangles offers a modern look. For a fun touch, consider a graphic design with colorful animals or other images that fit your room theme.

Cover It With Concrete

If your tile countertop is seriously dated, paint or decals may not be enough to help it. But you still don’t have to rip it out and replace it. Instead, use self-leveling concrete to cover the entire surface and create a smooth, modern look for your countertop.

You’ll have to sand the tile to allow the concrete to adhere and make forms for each countertop section to hold the concrete in place as it cures. Once you pour it in place, no one will guess that there’s tile beneath it. After the concrete cures, you can remove the forms and apply a concrete sealer to protect your new countertop from nicks and dents.

Before you skim concrete over your countertops, make sure it can hold the weight. Even a thin layer of concrete adds weight to the surface. You may need to reinforce the countertops before adding the concrete.

Decorate Around It

Sometimes you can create a modern look without redoing tile countertops. Highlighting existing modern features can help distract from a dated countertop. An avocado green tile countertop may make your kitchen look like it’s stuck in the 1970s, but if you repaint your wood cabinets in a crisp white or sleek black paint and add stainless steel appliances, the entire space has a contemporary feel even with the green countertop. In your bathroom, cast attention away from your turquoise countertop with a shower curtain in a fun, bold print.

How to tile a countertop


Related To:

Before beginning this project, you’ll need to decide on the tile pattern for the finished countertop. Sketching the dimensions of the space may help to determine the best pattern. Here’s how to install the countertop:

Materials and Tools:

circular saw
pneumatic nail gun (optional)
tile cutter
wet tile saw


1. Turning off all water-supply lines to the sink and bleed the faucet lines. Remove the fasteners holding the sink in place and lift the sink out. Remove the old countertop by striking with a hammer in an upward motion on the underside of the counter. Then pull the entire piece out by hand.

2 . Trace the dimensions of the countertop onto plywood, including the correct space for the sink. Cut out the traced shape with a circular saw. Be sure to go slowly and make a smooth cut.

3 . Nail the new countertop into place.

4. Cut all the tile pieces needed with the wet tile saw.

5 . Spread mortar over the countertop, moving the trowel at 45-degree angles to the wood.

6 . Place the tiles on the countertop in the desired pattern, working on the border first and then filling in the middle.

7. Allow tiles to set.

8 . Mix the grout in a bucket, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and pour it onto the countertop.

9. Using the trowel, pull the grout at 45-degree angles to the tiles and make sure to fill in all the crevices.

10. Use a damp sponge to wipe off all excess grout before it dries completely.

11. If installing a sink in the countertop, place sealant around the opening and put the sink back in place. Re-connect the water lines and turn on the water.