Materials : Scout Oath for Tiling--Be Prepared

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From Associated Press

Ceramic tile provides a durable, attractive covering for walls, floors, countertops and hearths.

Tiling a surface is not difficult. But careful planning and installation will pay off; careless work can result in cracked, uneven or loose tiles.

Tiles often are designated as standard grade, second grade or thin decorative wall tile. Most tiles sold are standard. Second-grade tiles may have imperfections in shape or glaze.


Before choosing a tile, consider the degree of water resistance, strength, slipperiness and stain resistance necessary. Most tiles are classified for use on either walls or floors. In general, wall tiles aren’t strong enough for floors or other heavy-use areas, and floor tiles may be too large for countertops and too heavy for walls.

Glazed tiles are easier to keep clean. Unglazed tiles are less slippery underfoot but more easily stained. Using a commercial sealant on unglazed tiles will make them more stain-resistant but also more slippery. You have to renew the sealant annually. Tiles with a textured surface also wear well and are less slippery than smoother tiles.

Tile water resistance is gauged by the amount of water the body of the tile absorbs. In descending order of absorption, tiles are classified as non-vitreous (readily absorbs water), semi-vitreous, vitreous and impervious. The manufacturer’s classification can be found on the shipping box.

Most tiles are sold in boxes of single tiles, but mosaic tiles are available in sheets with a mesh backing. Some larger tiles also come in sheets, often pre-grouted. They are laid out and installed in much the same way as individual tiles.


Tiles can be set on a thick mortar bed, a job best left to professionals. For do-it-yourselfers, a better approach is what’s called a “thin-set” installation, in which tiles are laid over a rigid base, or substrate, thinly coated with adhesive. An ideal substrate is one-half-inch cement board, available from tile suppliers or home centers. It can be installed over most flat surfaces, including wallboard and plywood. For curved surfaces or for a thinner substrate, use one-fourth-inch cement board. The base must always be clean, flat and very stable. Movement causes tiles to loosen and crack.

The two most common types of adhesive for securing tiles to a substrate are ready-to-use organic mastic and powdered cement-base (thin-set) adhesive. Mastics, which are weaker than thin sets, are more easily affected by heat or water.


Tile grout is made from sand and cement. It’s mixed with water or, to increase durability, an additive. Usually white, it’s also available in colors, but these may be inconsistent if the grout isn’t mixed well or if it dries unevenly. For best results, follow the label’s directions.

After installing tile, let the tile adhesive set for the recommended amount of time before grouting. Don’t let the grout dry on the tile; remove the last hazy traces by scrubbing the tiles with clean cheesecloth. Apply caulk wherever the tile meets another material. Grout and caulk must cure before they will withstand water. Check the label for the recommended curing time.


Most tile suppliers will rent or lend tile-cutting equipment. If you have to cut a quantity of tiles, a rented wet saw is the best tool. A portable cordless tile saw fitted with a diamond blade can make straight cuts in tile, but make sure the tile is securely held on a stable surface before cutting.

Ceramic tile is extremely hard--use carbide-tipped drill bits and fit power saws with blades specified for cutting ceramic tile. To avoid chipping the glaze, drill and cut through the face of the tile, not the back.