Laying Hard Floor Tiles

Hard tiles must be laid on as flat a surface as possible -- such as concrete, concrete with self- leveling compound applied, or a wooden floor that has been covered with a 3/4-inch (19-mm) ply sub-floor. Flexible adhesive and flexible grout is needed on wooden floors and for some types of tile. Use thin set, which is a blend of portland cement, sand, and additives, to install the floor tiles. Latex thin set is available, and provides greater flexibility and bonding strength than regular thin set.

Tools, Materials and Supplies: Basic Tool Kit, and see this page.

1. Getting Started

A. Dry-lay a few tiles to mark your starting point, as explained here. You may choose to use the edge and corner of the room as a rough guide. Mark the outer edge of the tiles. Draw a pencil line to mark where to position your wooden furring strip. This provides an accurate guide against which to lay the tiles (the wall or the corner may not be straight).

B. Fix the furring strip along the pencil line. In this example, the subfloor is plywood, so screws may be inserted. (For a concrete floor, drill pilot holes, using masonry bits, then plug the holes and insert screws.) Position a second furring strip at a precise right angle to the first one. Here, a metal square is being used for an accurate right angle.


A. Mix adhesive with a power stirrer. Mix as much as you can use in about an hour. Apply the adhesive in the right angle made by the furring strips. The trowel’s notched edge provides an even, grooved bed.

B. Position the first tile on the adhesive, butting it up against the two furring strips. Gently press the tile into position.

More Information About Adhesive

Testing adhesive cover: Press tiles down just hard enough for the adhesive to make contact with the entire back face of the tile. Tap the tile to test -- if there is a hollow sound, some areas aren't in contact. This problem tends to occur with an uneven floor or with rustic tiles. Take up the tile, and add more adhesive to the hollow areas.

Adhesive drying time: Drying time depends on the type of adhesive, tile thickness, and porosity of the floor and tiles. Most adhesive will dry in 24 hours. If tiles are walked on before adhesive is dry, they may move, and the bond between adhesive and tiles will weaken. This would cause tiles to loosen, and grout joints may crack at a later date.


A. As you progress, insert spacers flat on the floor. The tile will probably be deep enough for spacers to be covered later with grout. Otherwise, use thin cardboard as spacers.

B. Use a level to check that tiles lie flush with each other. Continue laying tiles until all the uncut ones are down. Allow the adhesive to dry and remove the furring strips.


A. Measure the gap left by the furring strip between tile and wall, so that you can cut a tile to fit. Measure at each end of the tile to allow for variations in the width of the gap.

B. Subtract the grout gap, and mark off the resulting distances on the tile edge with a felt-tip pen. Place the tile in a score-and-snap cutter, aligning marks with the cutter’s guides.

C. Push the cutting wheel away from you, across the tile, to score a line between the marks. Lower the handle to snap the tile along the line. Use a tile file on the cut edge.

D. Check that the cut tile fits the gap. Apply adhesive to the floor or back of the tile, and insert it into place.


A. Create a template, as shown here. Draw a guide line. Wearing gloves and keeping hands clear of the blade, use a wet-cutting tile saw to cut straight lines into the curve.

B. Continue with a series of straight cuts. Break off the unwanted section. Smooth the curve by steering the tile around the blade.


A. Mark the area of the tile that needs to be cut (click here for measuring methods). Place the tile in an electric cutter. Wear gloves and keep your hands clear of the blade. Wear goggles. When the cut has reached the end of the first marked line, turn the tile around. Cut along the second guide line, to make the right angle.

Cutting Around Permanent Fixtures

There are three ways to cut around a door casing. If there is baseboard in the room, make a simple curved cut that follows the casing profile. When it's grouted, the inexact cut will be inconspicuous. If the baseboard is to be installed after tiling, there will be no grout gap to incorporate—in this instance, cut off the bottom section of the casing and slip the edge of the tile underneath. Or remove the casing, tile the floor area, and then refit the casing over the cut edge.

Cutting holes for pipes can be done in the same way as for wall tiles. Some tiles will raise the floor level, so if you remove a fixture, check that the pipe will be the correct length to reconnect.


A. Grout the tiles once adhesive is dry. Mix the grout to a smooth, stiff paste. Apply with a grout spreader and remove excess with a damp sponge. Finish with a grout shaper.

B. When grout is dry, use a mild detergent to clean off any powdery residue. Some natural tiles may then need sealing.


Thursday, July 24, 2008 16:01 PST