CONSTRUCT A TILE COUNTERTOP

Level of Difficulty: Experienced Do-It-Yourselfer - Difficult
Completion Time: 5 Days

Of the many different types of countertop materials available, solid hard surfaces are among the most durable and expensive. An economical option that can create very similar beautiful results is that of a tile countertop. Constructing a countertop with granite, marble, or ceramic tile is a wonderful economical option to the solid countertop material. Within a little less time than a full week, the new countertop can easily be constructed and cured. The type of tile and even the grout color can vary greatly. Think about how a tile countertop can be an asset for the kitchen. One may consider adding a new backsplash tile at the same time.

TOOLS

  • Hammer
  • Clamps
  • Cordless drill
  • Tape measure
  • Circular saw
  • Caulk gun
  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Bucket
  • Chalk line
  • Nippers
  • Level
  • Drill bit set
  • Framing square
  • Grout float
  • Jigsaw

  • Straightedge
  • Utility knife
  • Taping knife
  • Tile saw (rental)
  • 1/4" notched trowel
  • Staple gun
  • Permanent marker
  • Pencil
  • Paint roller
  • Sponge
  • Cotton towel
  • Work gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Tarps

MATERIALS

  • Tile
  • Cement board
  • Thin-set mortar (specific type based on tile)
  • Grout (specific type based on tile)
  • Grout sealer
  • 1-5/8" screws

  • 1/4" cement board screws
  • Construction adhesive
  • Fiberglass mesh tape
  • 1" Construction staples
  • Tile Sealant
  • Pigmented caulking
BEFORE ASSEMBLY
  • Make sure to plan to have the kitchen “shut down” for a few days while the construction ensues.
  • When purchasing the tile and supplies, consider purchasing extra in case there are a few mistaken cuts made during construction.
  • The homeowner may need to purchase a new sink that has a “tile rim” so that it can be coordinated easily with the new tile countertop.
  • Prepare the kitchen by removing the old countertop, cleaning the wall behind the countertop, and measuring the size of the cabinets.
  • Carefully select the size of the screws that will attach the countertop’s plywood to the wall so that they are not too long. This helps to protect the plumbing and wiring that may be inside the wall cavity from unintentional punctures.
  • When using a trowel with mortar, it is important to make sure the type and size of trowel is matched to the task and materials.
  • When setting the plywood base onto the top of the cabinets, remember that the front edge needs to be exact for the tile border but the rear edge does not have to be exact. The backsplash will cover up gaps at the back edge.
  • Cement board is an excellent underlayment material choice for tile countertops because it protects the plywood from moisture damage.
  • Plan the tile pattern to avoid small, thin pieces if possible. Shift the pattern one way or the other if needed.
  • When planning the backsplash tiles, make sure the grout lines for the backsplash are spaced far apart from the countertop tile so that it does not appear as if the two surfaces have grout lines that are “almost” lined up. Ideally, offset the grout lines by one half of a tile.
  • Do not cut all the tile out after planning for the tile and before actually setting the tile. The mortar bed can shift the sizes slightly.
  • Grout widths are typically 3/16" wide. Tile spacers may be needed if the homeowner prefers them over “eye-balling” the spacings.
  • Score-and-snap tile cutters are not likely to be useful for a project like this tile countertop. We recommend that the homeowner either rent or purchase a wet saw for the job.
  • Remember there is a difference between mortar and grout. Purchase the recommended mortar and grout for the type of tile used.
  • Applying a tile sealant to porous tile before grouting helps to protect the tile from the grout sticking to the tile.
  • Do not wait for the grout to set before cleaning the excess film from the tile.
  • The drying times for sealants, mortar, and grout will vary a bit depending on the humidity levels in the home.
STEPS
1.1. Measure the cabinets in two directions. First, measure the depth from the front edge to the face frame. Then, measure the cabinets from the left to the right.

1.2. Install cleats along any unsupported edges.

1.3. Mark the measured dimensions on the ¾" plywood.

1.4. Cut the plywood pieces 1/8" smaller to account for slight wall deviations.

1.5. Install the plywood countertops onto the cabinets with 1-5/8" screws. Make sure the front edge of the plywood is even with the cabinet’s frame. The height of the plywood underlayment depends on the type of tile selected as well as the edging pieces. In some cases, it may be necessary to glue and staple down a second layer of ¼" plywood over the ¾" layer. If so:

1.6. Apply several beads of construction adhesive between the two layers.

1.7. Use 1" staples or 1" wood screws after the adhesive. Make sure the fasteners are spaced every 6".

1.8. If there is a dishwasher underneath the countertop, screw a 1" x 3" piece of pine lumber to the wall at the back of the dishwasher to support the wall end of the countertop.

 BUILD A SOLID BASE WITH PLYWOOD

BUILD A SOLID BASE WITH PLYWOOD

BUILD A SOLID BASE WITH PLYWOOD

2.1. Use the template that is provided with the sink or lay the sink upside down onto the plywood in its intended location.

2.2. Trace around the sink’s perimeter.

2.3. Draw another mark ½" inside the outside sink perimeter.

2.4. Cut out the plywood at the inside edge with a jigsaw.

 CUT THE OPENING FOR THE SINK.
3.1. Lay the cement board down on top of the plywood.

3.2. Trace out an opening for the sink.

3.3. Cut with a jigsaw.

3.4. Cut the rest of the pieces with a circular saw.

3.5. Apply latex-fortified thin-set mortar onto the plywood with a ¼" notched trowel.

3.6. Set the cut-out cement board pieces directly onto the wet mortar.

3.7. Screw in 1-¼" cement board screws at every 8" on-center all over the cement board.

 BUILD THE CEMENT BOARD ONTO THE PLYWOOD LAYERS.

BUILD THE CEMENT BOARD ONTO THE PLYWOOD LAYERS.

4.1. Cut the cement board into strips that fit the edge.

4.2. Apply the cement board to the edge with mortar and cement board screws at every 6" on-center as was done with the cement board for the surface of the countertop.

4.3. Peel off fibreglass mesh tape and apply it to the edges of the countertops over the attached cement board.

4.4. Apply another layer of the thin-set mortar over the mesh tape and allow it to set for a few hours.

 COVER THE EDGE

COVER THE EDGE

5.1. Use a pencil and a framing square to plan the tiles. Remember to account for grout lines.

5.2. If there is a corner of the countertop where the pattern can originate, start there to make sure the tiles are set symmetrically.

6.1. Mix up about a quart of latex-fortified thin-set mortar. There should be enough to cover about 6 to 8 sq. ft. of the countertop at a time.

6.2. Spread the mortar with the same ¼" notched trowel over the cement board. Leave the guide lines showing.

6.3. Place the tile onto the mortar bed according to the layout lines.

6.4. Press the tile gently into the mortar.

6.5. Either “eye-ball” the spaces between the tile or use tile spacers while laying out the tile.

6.6. When one section of tile is completed, look over the tile as a whole to verify whether any tile may be crooked or any spacings are larger than they need to be.

6.7. Mix up another batch of mortar for the next 6 to 8 sq. ft. of tile.

6.8. Continue the same steps for setting the rest of the tile.

 START SETTING THE TILE
7.1. Prepare the countertop with straight 2" x 2" pieces clamped to the base of the countertops as a ledger for the edge pieces.

7.2. Set the pieces dry onto the ledger and then draw layout lines.

7.3. Cut mitered angles for the corners of the tile edge pieces.

7.4. Apply mortar to the backside of the edge pieces and stick them to the edging.

7.5. If any of the pieces are still sagging, tape them with masking tape to the top of the countertop for added support.

7.6. Take a break until the edge pieces are set before proceeding to the next step.

7.7. Set the backsplash tile.

 INSTALL THE EDGE PIECES AND BACKSPLASH
8.1. If the tiles are porous or needs to be sealed, do it now before applying the grout. Use a paint roller brush to apply the sealant.

8.2. Allow the sealant to dry for at least an hour.

8.3. Prepare about 6 sq. ft. worth of grout by mixing it to a toothpaste consistency.

8.4. Scoop out a lump of about the size of a baseball onto the tile.

8.5. Push the grout mixture into the crevices of the tile using a grout float. Work the float in several directions.

8.6. Wipe down the grout as the work progresses.

8.7. Clean the excess grout away.

8.8. Use a sponge and small amounts of water to wash away the grout.

8.9. Continue until there is a light film left on the tile.

8.10. Change out the water pail frequently.

8.11. Polish the surface with a cotton towel.

8.12. Grout the next section of tile, clean, and finish all the rest of the sections.

8.13. Grout the backsplash next.

8.14. Use a pigmented caulking, not grout, for the joint between the countertop and the backsplash.

 GROUT THE TILE

GROUT THE TILE

9.1. Wait at least three days to apply the sealant.

9.2. Apply the sealant liberally and allow it to absorb.

9.3. Wipe away excess sealant with a clean, lint-free cloth.

10.1. A year after the installation, the grout lines can be cleaned.

10.2. Apply a sealant after cleaning the grout.