I can say now, with all confidence, that I am whole-heartedly weary of working on my kitchen. I have the base cabinets done, the countertops installed, and now comes Phase 3, the backsplash. That’s the thing about these DIY projects. People say, “I don’t know how you do it, I just don’t have the patience”. And I think, neither do I. And honestly I really don’t. But what I do have is this astonishing ability to convince myself that whatever project I’m about to embark upon will somehow be a breeze. A Saturday afternoon of hard work that will be followed by a plethora of delights. Who wouldn’t work one measly Saturday for all those delights? And then it’s a downward spiral. After all, you can certainly order and install a countertop, and decide you are done right there, but what you can’t, or at least, really shouldn’t do, is paint a 36 inch section of base cabinet and decide you are throwing in the towel. You just have to keep on going. And we all know how one project tends to produce another.
I am deep in that whirlwind. And there’s no getting out until I’m done. And I will never be done.
Way back, (it feels like a lifetime ago) when I proposed the idea of updating our kitchen to my husband, I broke it into baby steps. Obviously, for financial reasons, the countertops/sink were the part I needed to sell the hardest. Once they were agreed upon, the rest just became white noise to my husband. I had mentioned several times that I wanted to do a modest white subway tile backsplash. Something classy, simple, clean, easy to care for, and CHEAP! So about the time that I was ripping out the old backsplash and repairing the wall for the new tile, I casually brought up the fact that what I was “actually” going to do was tile from the floor to the ceiling on two of the walls. This revelation was met with a “Jessie, PLEASE don’t.” followed by a lot of reasons that sounded like white noise to me. (It goes both ways). Mainly, it was an unnecessary amount of work and it might end up looking like a hospital laboratory. But the designer I like to pretend I am invited Ryan to once again, trust me, I already KNEW exactly what it was going to look like in my head. And it was going to be good. Maybe EVEN great. So he exited the room with a sigh, and I could only gather that he was absolutely delighted by the idea. We’ve been married long enough that I can tell by the tone of his sighs on how upset he is. If it’s really low and growly, I’m certain that can only mean good things for me.
Let the tiling begin!
Before I get to ahead of myself, let me explain what I did to prepare the wall for the tile. Using a variety of chisels and scrapers, I plucked out the old glass mosaic tile. Thankfully, it came up ok. Next, again with chisels and scrapers, I removed whatever chunks of mortar were left on the wall. The paper layer of drywall was gone in most areas. In order to fix that issue I applied a skim coat (a very thin, flat coat) of mortar to the entire wall that was exposed. I let it dry overnight and lightly knocked off and sanded any major ridges. Now it’s ready for tile.
The subway tile was fortunately on sale at Menards at 17 cents per piece. The cost was a little more for bull-nosed pieces which I only used in a few small areas. I bought two 100 pc. boxes to start off with, along with some gorgeous glass accent tile, grey mortar, a cheap forked trowel and 1/8 inch spacers. I started right after work. I used a hand cutter to begin with, but even with the few cuts I had, it was a bit of a pain. Eventually, we borrowed a high quality tile saw from a friend and I would highly recommend you do that. And if your friend has a crappy tile saw, you should rent a NICE tile saw. (Unless your project is very small). We have owned two tile saws in the past, cheap ones. And there is a HUGE difference. Rent yourself a sliding wet saw, you won’t regret it. It cut tile like butter, louder and wetter, yes. But oh so smooth.
Now I’m not going to get into huge detail about how to tile. There are many good comprehensive tutorials out there and honestly, it’s a very forgiving process that is much easier than it looks. What I will say, is that you get yourself a good level and use it like your life depended on it. Wherever you decide to start, I started at the base of my countertops (with a spacer underneath) just make sure your first row is level. From there, check with the level often, horizontally and vertically. You are usually working with spaces that are not always square so be prepared to make micro adjustments using your spacers or anything else that might work. If it’s level, it’s going to turn out good. You’ll also need a good square to make sure you are marking the tile straight for your cuts.
Another thing to note. Mortar and grout are NOT the same. In a pinch, you could get away with using a little mortar in place of grout (if the colors happen to match) but not the other way around. Grout has no adhering properties. It is meant to fill space between tile, period. I know this because I had to look it up when I ran out of mortar with only a few STINKING tiles remaining. And yes, I had to go BACK to Menards, AGAIN, in my “tiling clothes” all covered in wet saw gravy and mortar sludge to get more. It was a very difficult thing to go out looking less than my usual fabulous.
Totally joking, I go from scrubs to paint clothes to pajamas most days. Menards is especially used to me looking like ragamuffin. It’s probably their pet name for me.
I had hoped it was Ladybug.
Now, the one thing I dislike more than placing the tile is grouting. I think it is because once the tile is in place, the work looks deceivingly almost done. But don’t underestimate the grout. It takes time, and it’s messy. And annoying. Do you like to wipe and rinse and wipe and rinse, over and over? Oh, you do? Ok well, then maybe you would like grouting, but I don’t.
I broke the grouting into little sections of around 6 square feet. Mix the grout to a semi-runny cake frosting consistency, let sit for 10 minutes, give it a quick stir and you’re ready to go. Using a grout float, squish the grout into the gaps holding the float at an angle (so you don’t gauge the grout line with the float) Once the gaps are filled, use the float to squeegee the tile surface to make it as clean as possible. Again, holding it at an angle. Let it sit until the grout has set up a bit, like 10 minutes or so, then grab your big ol’ damp sponge and wipe, making sure your grout lines are smooth and clean. The less water you use, the better. (too much water can weaken the strength of the grout) Don’t worry about the haze, it comes right off. Once dry, I used a paper towel to buff it all away.
I bet you think you’re done then huh? You placed the tile, you grouted, you sealed the grout (I used a grout with the sealer built in to the mix, but if not, it’s just a wipe on sort of thing) And it looks like a finished masterpiece. Right?
Almost. It is important you allow room for expansion and contraction in your tile. You do this by using caulk. So the gap where the tile meets the countertop, DON’T grout that! If you already did, pluck it out and learn to read a whole tutorial before you begin your work! This gap must be filled in with caulk. Get a caulk that matches the color of the grout. Cut the caulk tube at an angle and, using your caulking gun, run a thin bead of caulk along your line. Dip your finger in water and run it against the bead of caulk to smooth it out, wipe off any access (I use a small sponge), and let dry. You are done. Make sure to caulk where the tile meets trim of any kind and where it meets the cabinet or in my case, where the tile meets the ceiling.
For those of you using colored grout, here’s another trick. If you have areas that end up uneven or choppy looking, ex. Where the tile meets the un-square ceiling. Instead of using your colored caulk that matches your grout, use the color of your ceiling to disguise the ugly line. Same with where the tile meets your trim, in a doorway or windowsill perhaps. Just use a caulk that matches the color of your trim. It will blend it right in.
Man, when I write this, it makes it sound like I did this in one afternoon. HA! Between the tiling and the grouting, it was four afternoons. Only instead of “noon”, it was more like first thing in the morning until late at night. AND throw in a few instances of after work until evening. Oh and one 5:30 am in my pj’s before church, cause mama just couldn’t sleep when she’s “this close to being DONE!” (I’m mama in this scenario) And I haven’t even finished all the caulking yet…..
And there you have it. I think, out of all the projects so far, this one has the most impact for the least cost. In fact, for all of the tile, accent tile (which cost almost as much as all the subway tile!) mortar, grout, caulk and supplies, the cost came to about $200. That is money well spent if you ask me. So please, ask me, and I’ll tell you it’s money well spent.
Stay tuned for my next tutorial, hand painting the upper cabinets.
And thank you so much for reading!