How to Install Handmade Tile

This is a basic guide to install your own tiles.

Tools/Supplies Needed

Rubber gloves
Notched Trowel
Large bristle brush
Paper towels
Terry cloth or old rags
Rubber float for bigger projects
2 bowls or buckets
Clean water
Masking tape
Adhesive and Grout to use with Handmade Tile

Recommended Brands: TEC Superflex, Mapie, C-Cure, Custom Building Products

Before You Begin

Verify your order is complete and you have all supplies necessary.
Lay out the project to see if the measurements are correct and check where possible cuts may lie. This also allows you to see the amount of variation in the tiles. They can be arranged to enhance this inherent quality.
Cutting tiles - Wet saws are the best to cut straight lines on handmade tile.
Tile Surfaces

Concrete is the best surface to adhere tile to and comes in three forms for tile installations:

Poured Concrete with no sealers added to surface
Hardibacker ceramic tile backer board comes in several different thickness. Score and cut like sheet rock or cut with masonry saw blade.
Unpainted Sheet rock or Dense Shield is the next best surface with which to adhere tile.
Surface Preparation for Handmade Tiles

The work surface must be structurally sound, dry, and free from oil, grease, dust, loose or peeling paint, concrete sealers or curing compounds. Clean all surfaces with a dry towel. Sand painted surfaces. All wood should be sealed with a polyurethane. Begin when fully dry.

Mortar and Adhesives for Handmade Tiles

The Handmade Tile Association recommends using a concrete based mortar adhesive.

Mix adhesive into a creamy peanut butter consistency and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Do not make up more than you can set in a 20 to 30 minute period.
Remix and apply or follow manufacturer's directions.
With gloves on, spread mortar over surface with a notched trowel. To guarantee full coverage with our tile, we recommend applying adhesive to the back of the tile as well as the surface it is adhered to.
Allow tiles to sit for at least 24 to 48 hours if possible before grouting the surface.
Silicone or PL 200 may be used to adhere tiles for smaller projects, and silicone specifically for glass tiles as it dries clear. If you plan to adhere tile to wood, we recommend PL 200. Both come in caulking tube dispensers.

Notched trowels are used to spread and "comb" adhesives onto the underpayment. Two sides of the trowel are notched with either "V" or "square-shaped" notches.

Use a square-notched trowel for setting thinsets on horizontal surfaces. Use v-notched trowels for setting mastics on vertical surfaces.

Trowels also come in different notch depths. Use one that's two-thirds the thickness of the tile you're setting.

If you don't want to invest a lot in trowels, you can get less expensive plastic ones at your tile supply store.

TIP: Another helpful tool for scooping out adhesives and grout, and for spreading adhesives in narrow places is the margin trowel.

Many handmade tiles are not completely flat.  That's when you need to "back butter" the tiles individually. Spread the adhesive on the back of the tile with a notched trowel. If the tile is too small you can also use a margin trowel to spread the adhesive and scratch in notches with the edge of the trowel.  Set the tile giving it a little twist to insure good contact with the underlayment.

Clean Up

Always clean your hands, tools, and bucket in a separate bucket with clean water. Mortar dumped in the sink will ruin the drain.

Grout for Handmade Tiles

Grout is the filler between the tile joints. It is a concrete material but not an adhesive.

Choosing Grout

There are three types of grout: Sanded, Unsanded, and Epoxy

Sanded grout - used for joints larger than 3/16" and used in most handmade tile installations.
Unsanded grout - used for joints smaller than 3/16" and used mostly with commercial tiles.
Epoxy grout is new to the grout world. Consult a distributor of tile materials for its best uses.
Using Grout

Follow manufacturer's directions. If grouting dimensional or matte tiles, use masking tape to protect the tile surface. Taping speeds the clean up process and prevents grout from adhering to unglazed areas. Remove tape once grout has been cleaned.

Use clean cool water and mix grout to a creamy peanut butter mixture.
Holding a rubber grout float or using gloved hands, force grout diagonally into joints ensuring joints are completely filled.
Clean right away with a dry terry cloth or paper towels. Do not add more water, it can weaken the grout.
Once cleaned, let sit for 48 to 72 hours to cure.
Choosing a grout color


This example of grout choices is on the same color glazed tiles.  There are significant differences when choosing a grout color. White grouts with dark colors will create a griding effect. Gray grout is the old standby; you usually can't go wrong. Black grout can be beautiful, but it will fill any crackles in the glaze and will show up changing the look of un grouted tile, so do a test before settling on black grout.

Handmade Tile Association
34 Thirteenth Avenue NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413

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