Installing Ceramic Tile Countertops

Patience is pre-requisite when you undertake the task of installing your own ceramic tile counter top. Take the time to lay out your entire tile and address any places that may disrupt the countertop, such as a sink or range top. Account for all the sink caps, quarter rounds, and backsplash tile you\’ll need before you actually start installing the tile.

It is important to decide before beginning how you will finish the edges of the countertop. It is common to use sink cap tile to finish the edge, although hardwood edging is also a popular option. Figure out how much edging and how much tile you will need to complete the project.

Draw a diagram on graph paper to help you determine how much ceramic tile you will need. Keep in mind it is not enough to simply calculate the area, you must also calculate how many cut tiles you will need. Also, do not forget to calculate the amount needed for the backsplash. It is also important to buy a few extra tiles in case of a mistake.

1. Before installing ceramic tile, remove the old countertop and install 3/4 inch to 1 inch exterior plywood. Cut the exterior plywood to match the size of the desired countertop. Then screw through the plywood and into the tops of the base cabinets. It is helpful to mark where the base cabinets meet the countertop to ensure the screws are being placed properly. Next, seal the new plywood base with an oil based sealant. Some people install ceramic tiles over an existing laminate. If this is so, ensure that the laminate area is secured into place and free of dust and particles.

2. If there is a sink, find and mark the center point of the sink. If there is no sink, mark the center point of the countertop. Make a dry run of the tiles along the edge to see whether the center line needs to be moved half a tile width so that you don\’t have less than half a tile on the ends. You may want to cut the plywood so only full size tiles are needed.

3. Next, install the edge tiles or hardwood edging. Use finishing nails if you are installing hardwood edging to attach finished strips of hardwood to the front of the plywood base countertop. The top of the hardwood edging should meet the top of the tiles, not the top of the plywood base.

4. If you are installing sink cap or edge tiles, mark the midpoint of each countertop. Lay out the edge tiles on either side of that line. Use spacers to ensure even grout lines. Mark the tiles that need to be cut for the edging to meet corners or edges of appliances.

5. Do a dry-run with the tiles on the plywood base. Lay them all out to get an idea of any problems with the ceramic tile countertops. Eliminate narrow cuts or irregular grouting as much as possible. Mark your final layout in pencil directly onto the plywood countertop. Remove and cut tiles to fit as needed.

6. You will now install the tiles on the plywood base. Spread an even layer of adhesive onto the back of your edging tile. Line up each tile along the marks you’ve made on the plywood countertop as evenly as possible and use your spacers to achieve even grout lines.

7. Repeat with the rest of the tiles and those that fit into the wall and countertop inside corner. Wrap a 18 x 18” square plywood with cloth and set the tile into the adhesive by lightly tapping it onto the counter with a rubber mallet. This will ensure that all tiles are set into the adhesive evenly.

8. Finally, install the backsplash tiles using the same techniques.

9. Remove any plastic spacers and clean any stray adhesive. Leave for about 24 hours for the adhesive to cure, then carefully grout between the tiles. Seal it with a grout sealant after 2 weeks.