This Lil Piglet

How to Install Backsplash DIY

Finished backsplash

Long overdue and in no particular order, the first DIY tutorial, with pictures and instructions, in my series of DIY Home Construction.  We have many more tutorials to come but have simply not had the time because we have been busy doing things like this for the last year.  All DIY tutorials will be listed under Readers then DIY Home Construction on the blue menu bar of this blog.  If you want to keep up-to-date on new DIY posts, I suggest subscribing to our email in the text box in the right sidebar.  I also suggest following me on Twitter and Facebook for conversation about these topics.  I hope you will follow us along with our DIY experiences.  🙂

One thing you might be wondering is why we would take on such a large project; why not just pay someone to do it for us?  The prices installers charge are insane and if we had to pay someone else to do it, we wouldn’t have been able to upgrade most or any of our house features.  Another reason is because these things really aren’t hard, with a little knowledge and a little elbow grease, anyone can do these projects. I created this series to show you just how easy it really is to accomplish; if I can do it myself, so can you.  We literally saved thousands doing the tile ourselves.

Materials You will Need – All Supplies can be purchased at your local hardware store

Some of the tools mentioned

  • Backsplash tile – You will want to have a little extra tile, over the square footage of  the area you are tiling, in case of mistakes or cuts that will be required.

  • Mortar – Backsplash mortar is not the same thing as floor mortar; wall mortar has a higher glue/sand content making it stronger to hold tiles vertically on the wall and resist gravity.  If you are using glass tile, you will require a light color mortar because it will show through the tile.  If you are installing a heavier tile, like stone, on the wall, you will require the proper backing to support the tile.  For example, drywall/gypsum board is fine for a lighter weight til like the one in this tutorial and like most backsplash tile but for rock/stone as a feature wall, you will want to ensure it has a  heavier backing like plywood.  Check prices, we found the 25 lb bag to be cheaper when you are considering a larger area.

  • Electric Tile Saw and/or Tile Cutter – With the amount of tile we have had to cut for this house we invested in a professional electric tile wet-saw.  For smaller projects, like backsplash you can get away with a small table wet-saw/tile saw and do not need to put out the money on a professional tile saw.  Check for a sale, sometimes you can get these saws at 40% or more off. Note: You cannot use a regular dry saw, the wet-saw lessons the chance of backsplash tile from breaking when cut. For cutting small bits of tile you can use a hand tile cutting tool.
  • Hand Trowels – You will need a notched trowel for mortar and a rubber float trowel for grout.
  • Utility Knife 
  • Permanent Marker
  • Grout – Choose a grout color that will compliment your backsplash; there are tonnes to choose from light to dark.  We chose a “Bone” grout color to compliment the multi-color glass and slate pieces of tile in the backsplash, the same grout color we chose to use with the darker floor tile.  The color is your chose and based on personal taste but a general rule of thumb is a darker grout compliments lighter tile and a lighter grout compliments a darker tile.

  • Small Screwdriver or similar thin tool – I found a 3/16 flat screwdriver worked best to remove any excess mortar that may squeeze through the tiles after installation.
  • Sponges, Rags and a lot of Clean Water
  • Measuring tape
  • Tile trim – 1/4 ” tile edging
  • Straight tin snips
  • Level
  • Grout SealantBefore the backsplash should be used or have water splashed onto from use, seal the grout after the drying period, 24 hours.
Step 1: Prepare your working area.  We taped off the granite counter with some disposable paper so we had easier cleanup.  You don’t really need to do this as long as you clean up the mess before it dries.  Make sure the wall has been cleaned and is free of dust/dirt before you apply mortar or the mortar will not stick as well.  You will want to have some rags to wipe any excess mortar onto as you work.
Step 2:  Before mixing your mortar, map out your work area.  You will want to center your tiles off the middle of the wall/working area.  We have taps that come out of the wall, making it a little more difficult to work with for cuts; if you have taps that come out of the countertop, you will not have to worry about this extra step.
>>What we did was take a full 12″ X 12″ tile, premade on a netted backing from all the individual glass and slate smaller tiles, hold it centered in front of the taps level with the counter and take a black permanent marker to mark a line  on the backside of the tile just above and just below the taps.  Do not use marker on the front side of the tile.  Then we took the utility knife and cut the netted backing on the entire width of that 12″ X 12″ tile section on both of those lines.  We then had 3 tile sections, 1 to go above the taps, 1 to go below the taps and the middle section to be cut around the taps.  We took the middle section and held it directly in front of the taps then marked lines on the netted backing on either side of each piece of the taps using the permanent marker.  We then used our utility knife to cut each of those lines, setting aside these cut sections careful not to be mixed up when later installing.  For other vanity setups, a general rule, is to start by centering your first backsplash tile in the middle of the wall and work out towards the walls; the cuts will be on the edges.
Step 3:  When mixing the mortar, follow the instructions on the package correctly.  When you have the consistancy of batter where it will fall off the trowel, you have mixed it correctly.  You can do this by hand or with a mixing beater.  Hubs has one he attaches to a drill but we had a lot to do; for smaller jobs, you can easily mix by hand.  Tip: Add less water, you can always add water if it’s too thick but if you add too much water you will have to add more mortar to thicken and may end up wasting a lot.
>> Using a v-notched trowel at a slight angle spread the mixed mortar onto the work area. Your backsplash tile should indicate which type of v-notched trowel to use with the mortar.  For this project, we used a 9″ 3/16 v-notched trowel. You will have done it correctly when you see the lines in the mortar. Do not put on too much mortar or you will be spending a lot of time cleaning it off.

Step 4:  Install the tile edging/trim for an area where the edge of the tile will be exposed.  For this area we have the top and one side exposed so we took 1/4″ tile edging and used tin snips to notch where we wanted to bend the corner so it would be one continuous piece of trim. After notching, you can easily bend the trim into the shape required.

>> Place the trim into position in the previously spread mortar. Use the level to make sure the trim is in a level position on the wall or your backsplash will not look good.  Now use a spatula trowel to spread a little more mortar on top of the trim extension (the part that will remain underneath the tile), not the trim that will be exposed.  Any excess can be cleaned off later.

Step 5: Using the tiles you previously mapped out and cut  ahead, place the first tile against the wall.  Press by hand onto the wall to secure into place.  Add the 2nd tile into position and continue on until complete.  These tiles are specifically cut to match up as you go but there were pieces that had to be cut using the hand tool to go around the taps.  If there are small pieces you have to fill spots with, be careful when washing that they stay in place.

Step 6: I believe the time you are required to wait before cleaning is listed on the mortar package but we found the best way was to leave it dry for 10-15 minutes and then clean of any excess with a sponge and clean water. Ring out the sponge well or you will water down the mortar. We also used the small screwdriver to scrape the extra mortar out between the tiles while it was still wet.  We did this because it is almost impossible to remove once it has dried.  Also, you have to have these spaces clear of mortar before you can fill them with grout.  I spent extra time cleaning the front of the tile because with this tile there were slate pieces that seemed very hard to get the mortar and grout off after it had dried even slightly.  Taking the extra time will save you a lot of time in the end.

Step 7:  Because we had slate tile pieces in the multi-tiles, we had to seal those slate pieces with stone sealer before we could grout.  I did not take pictures of this step because most tile backsplash does not require this.  I suppose we like the extra work. 😉


Step 8:  After the mortar has dried for 24 hrs you can grout the lines between the tiles.  Choosing a premium sand grout is key to having a nicer end product.  You can get away with a cheaper grout but you may regret it.  Mix the grout as to the directions on the package; it should be close to the consistency of thick mud but not so thick you can’t spread it.  Use the float rubber trowel to spread the grout into the cracks of the tiles, usually using a diagonal swiping motion.  The more you can scrape off the front of the tiles, the less you have to clean off later but avoid indents into the lines between the tiles.  Once you have filled all the lines between the tiles, leave to dry for 10-15 minutes.  Using a sponge with clean water, swipe the excess grout off the front of the tiles.  I found long swiping motions were more effective and avoided indents into the drying grout lines.  If you accidentally gouge too much grout out of a line, you can always take some wet grout onto your finger and fill the hole; you can then use your wet sponge to smooth it back out. The first clean is basically to get all the excess grout off the tile, especially the sand off.  After this 1st clean, you can allow the grout to dry for 20 more minutes before cleaning the grout film off a 2nd time.  The grout will not be dry yet so be careful cleaning.  You can wait longer but as I said, you will have a much harder time cleaning the grout off, especially if you have a textured tile like we did.

Step 9: Clean, clean; clean. You can scrape any hardened grout off the tile edging with a paint scraper or small screwdriver but be careful not to scratch it.  Paint all the grout lines with a grout sealer product; all grout lines should be done at least twice before you are done and ready for use.  Using a grout sealer will protect your grout lines from getting dirty or staining; in my opinion it’s a must.

We have not installed the mirror or plugs yet but we’re getting there.  The backsplash project was a large one in itself.  The grout picture above is from our kitchen island but we did the same steps for all backsplashes in the house.

Finished Vanity Backsplash


6 comments on “How to Install Backsplash DIY”

  1. Oh wow, I really love that look! Turned out nice!

    • Thank you so much for saying so! 🙂 It was a lot of work and such a pain, my fingers were actually bleeding…not so nice trying to type but it was worth the end result. I should’ve wore gloves; lesson learned! LOL

  2. Great job! I love how you have the faucet coming out of the wall instead of through the sink. C

    • Thank you. 🙂 We like the wall taps too and if it weren’t for finding them fairly reasonably priced, we would have had regular sink taps.

  3. I am getting ready to complete this project this weekend in my bathroom. This was very helpful. I hope that mine turns out just as nice.

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