A Beginners Guide To Tiling

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After completing a major renovation project this year, where my husband and I used contractors to build an addition and remodel part of our existing house, we decided to save some money and renovate our 3rd (and smallest) bathroom on our own.  It is only 3×5, so not a lot of tiling!

I am so glad we did this!  As you may remember, I recently shared with you how I saved my severely damaged drywall in this bathroom.  Well, at the same time, we began the process of learning to tile a floor.

Guys…..It is SO easy!  Every time I look at the bathroom floor, I kick myself for not tiling the other two bathrooms.  I can only imagine the money we would have saved.  My husband and I completed this project together, but it can certainly be a one person job!

Getting Started:

I will outline the process in this post, but I highly suggest checking out your local Home Depot, Lowes, or similar home store for free tiling tutorials.  We spent an hour at Home Depot one Saturday watching a demo, and it was definitely helpful.  If this isn’t available in your area, the next best thing is YouTube!  Get on there and find yourself some videos 🙂

Once you have a basic understanding of how the process will go, gather your supplies and follow the steps below!

Shopping List:

Tile of choice, sq ft. + 20% for errors

Notched Trowel

Grout Float

5 Gallon Bucket (2)

Hardi-Backer Board (cut to size)

Backer Board Fasteners (Drill-bit is often included)

X-Large Sponges

Grout, the amount will vary depending on how many sq ft you will be covering.  It is available in a wide variety of colors and in sanded/non-sanded depending on how wide you plan on having your grout lines.

Thinset, amount will depend on size of the space (avoid premixed)

Spacers (available in a variety of thickness)

Grout Sealer

Natural Stone Sealer (Only needed if you use natural stone/porous tile)

Tools Needed:

Drill Grout Mixer Attachment

Drill & Drill Bit (Backer-on fasteners at home depot come with their own star-bit.

Tile Saw

  • I recommend the Ryobi 7-Inch Tile Saw with Stand.  This is an affordable saw (also available without a stand) and it got the job done well.
  • Knowing that we have friends who would use it, and that we also wanted to do our kitchen backsplash after we got some practice, it just made sense to buy.  You can opt to rent one, or ask around to see if a friend has one!


Tiling Process

Step One: Prepare the area
  • Remove old flooring down to the subfloor.
  • Measure the space and using a box cutter or similar knife, cut the backer-board to size.  It doesn’t take much pressure to cut, and often comes with grid lines to help you!
    • Note: If you have a vanity that has a solid front at the floor level, you do not necessarily need to tile underneath it.  We made the decision to do so just in case we ever replaced the vanity with something that showed the floor.
  • Measuring from at least two points on the wall, determine where your toilet flange is going to be located.  Mark this on the backer-board and using your boxcutter (or a jigsaw) cut out a square or circle that is slightly larger than the flange.
    • We decided to install the plumbing at the sub floor level so it ended up flush with the tile; however, some people will install it on top to the tile.  In our case it simply made more sense to do it this way, but this decision is up to you.
      • If you are going to install it on top of the tile, you will want your plumbing cutout to be larger than the pipe, but smaller than the flange, so measure carefully!
  • Using a drill and your fasteners, attach the backer-board.  This will create a smooth, sturdy, and level working area.
    • There are small circles within the grid lines that help you determine where to drill it down for best results.  If your backer-board does not have this, I would suggest spacing them about 6″ apart.

Step Two: Determine Tile Layout
  • We used tiles that came on a sheet which made determining the layout very easy.  We simply laid them 3 sheets wide and shifted them to one side.
    • This allowed us to only make one cut per sheet.  Since we were cutting the last row in half, we were then able to use the small pieces we cut off on the opposite side, easily filling in the spaces that needed that half of a tile.
  • Once you know your layout you can go ahead and make you cuts, just be sure to mark where the tiles go (I suggest numbering them on the back with a sharpie.)
    • If you are doing a complex pattern, or using a tile that is not on a mesh sheet, you may want to cut in sections, as you go.
    • Since we have a small bathroom and we knew we needed 5 identical cut tile sheets, with the last row cut in half, it was easy enough to do them all at once prior to laying them.
    • Bonus: You will get some good exercise walking back and forth to the tile saw.

Step Three: Preparing and Applying Thinset
  • Attach mixing attachment to your drill.
  • Using your 5-gallon bucket follow the manufacturer’s directions on the back out the thinset product you are using.  These are all typically the same, and involve mixing a bit of mix with a bit of water.  Until you reach the desired consistency.
    • Desired consistency = Creamy Peanut butter.  Thankfully we eat a lot of this, so we knew exactly what it should look like!
  • This process may take a few back and forths of adding water and mix.  At one point we needed to empty half the bucket because we mixed it too thick and had no more room to add water.
  • Be sure to follow the setting instructions, ours had it sit for 10 minutes after the initial mixing.
  • Once the mixture is ready, you are going to want to start in the middle of your space and work outwards.
  • Using your notched trowel scoop the thinset onto the backer-board.
  • Take the flat edge of the trowel and spread the thinset over a small area (we did a 1″x3″ row each time)
    • You want to be able to complete the space in less than 15 minutes, otherwise the thinset will dry.  3ft is a good workable area.
  • Take the notched edge of the trowel and comb the thinset.  It is recommended that you use longer strokes, and that you hold the trowel at roughly a 45 degree angle to the floor.
    • Be careful to avoid clumps of thinset, as it may come up between the tiles when you lay them.
    • This is especially true with smaller tiles
  • Proceed to step four, before returning to apply more thinset.

Step Four: Laying Tiles
  • Press tiles gently into the thinset.
    • We used a grout float to ensure that tiles laid flat, but a rubber mallet will work as well.
    • It is also useful to lay a level across several rows to ensure they are flat.
  • Insert spacers between each tile to ensure they are equally spaced.
    • I found that in using a small tile that is on a mesh sheet, the tiles had a tendency to slide around a bit.  I didn’t put them everywhere, with the hexagon shape this would have taken forever!
  • Avoid sliding the tiles more than a half an inch as you set them.
  • If you are like us (and you possibly spread the thinset too thickly in a few areas) you may notice that it seeps up between the tiles.  I simply used the spacers to clean up inbetween the tiles and avoid any issue with the grout.
  • Once the tiles are down, avoid standing or walking on them.  Allow them adequate time to set before moving onto the grouting step.  Typically 24-48 hours is sufficient.
    • Consult manufacturer’s label for more specific thinset drying times.


Step Five: Grout
  • Remove spacers from in between the tiles.
  • Attach mixing attachment to your drill.
  • Using your 5-gallon bucket follow the manufacturer’s directions on the back of grout product you are using.  These are all typically the same, and involve mixing a bit of mix with a bit of water.  Until you reach the desired consistency.
  • Using your grout float, scoop some grout onto the tiles.
  • Going in an angled motion begin to spread the grout.
    • If you go horizontal or vertical you will pull up the grout as you go.
  • Once grout has been applied between all the tiles, be sure to wipe them down using a damp sponge.
    • I believe it was around 11pm one night that I finished grouting, and I got a little lazy!  I am paying for it now though.  I am on wash 4 or 5 and there is still some lingering grout.  Lesson learned.  If you find yourself in the same boat, they do sell a wash to help remove the film.
  • Allow 24-48 hours for grout to fully dry.

 Step Six: Seal & Touch-up
  • Be sure to seal the grout using a grout sealer.  This will help protect it from stains and keep it looking new!
  • Depending on the type of stone, you may need to seal it before grouting.
    • We did not have to do this as we used a non-porous tile.
  • Touch up any space that you may have missed.  As you can see, we mis-estimated how thick the baseboards were.  We need to go back and throw a bit of grout in that corner.  Thankfully it is blocked by the toilet so you can hardly notice it.


Have you completed any tiling projects?  I would love to hear about your experience in the comments section!
Keep an eye out for the upcoming “Pink Bathroom Makeover” for a look at the bigger bathroom project, and as always, if you want to stay up-to-date please follow Damsel With A Drill.
  1. brilliantviewpoint

    August 21, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Great step by step instructions. I mean, maybe even I could do it!! 🙂

    1. Laura Cameron

      August 21, 2017 at 6:16 pm

      Anyone can! You literally just need to break it down into small steps and don’t get overwhelmed 🙂

  2. Dawn

    August 21, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    This is looking great!

    1. Laura Cameron

      August 21, 2017 at 6:15 pm

      Thank you so much! I still have a few things to finish before I reveal the whole thing 🙂

  3. Kayla

    August 24, 2017 at 10:30 am

    This will be so handy for when I manage to get my first home next year! Thanks for the great tips! 🙂


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