How to Tile a Countertop

A ceramic tile countertop is durable, beautiful and easy to install.

Materials and Tools:

utility knife
power drill
measuring tape
carpenter's square
cement backerboard
3/8" wood strips
pneumatic nailer
2" galvanized screws
notched trowel
ceramic tiles (with bullnose trim)
1x2 tack strip
tile spacers
rubber grout float
grout sealer


1. Begin by turning off the water shutoff valve to the sink and placing a bucket under the supply line. Remove the coupling nuts, then the "P" trap, allowing the bucket to catch the water. Next, loosen the clamps holding the sink in place and slice through the caulking between the sink and countertop with a utility knife. Remove the sink.

2. Remove the stove. Remove any brackets or screws that are holding the countertop in place. Be sure all screws are removed. Use a utility knife to slice through the caulking between the countertop and wall. Remove the countertops.

3. Measure the span of the base cabinets, from the corner to the outside edge. Also measure the depth from the front edge to the wall behind at both ends. With a carpenter's square, check the square of the walls at any corners. Also check the level at this point and inspect the cabinets and make any necessary repairs.

4. Have plywood cut to size at your local home supply store (or use a circular saw). Next, add 3/8-inch wood strips along the countertop to adjust the height (if necessary) with a pneumatic nailer. Position the plywood on top of the cabinets, flush with the cabinet edge. Attach the plywood with two-inch screws driven into the cabinet framing every two inches.

5. Cut cement backerboard to size and position it directly on top of the plywood. Remove, then add mastic to the plywood with a notched trowel and set the backerboard on the mastic. Secure with galvanized screws. Cover the joints between the backerboards with fiberglass tape. Apply a thin layer of mastic over the joint to create a smooth surface. Sweep and vacuum the surface when the mastic is dry.

6. Measure the area out for the sink and cut away the backerboard and plywood with a jigsaw.

7. Dry fit the tiles by drawing perpendicular lines in the corner of the countertop using the front edge as a guide. This will provide you with the starting point for the tiles. After dry fitting, see what cuts, if any, need to be made to the tiles to cover the area. Also dry fit bullnose trim around the edge.

8. Attach a 1x2 tack strip along the edge to support the bullnose trim until the mastic dries. Using mastic and a trowel, "butter" the edge of the bullnose trim with mastic and place on the counter edge. Once all trim is in place, move to the countertop. 

9. Spread mastic on the countertop evenly with the trowel. Use a twisting motion to set tiles in place, beginning along the front edge of the counter. Insert tile spacers to maintain consistency in the layout and to leave room for grout.

10. Next, spread mastic on the wall and on the back of each piece of tile and trim for the backsplash. Add bullnose trim at the wall base, where it meets the tile. Once the trim is in place, measure the wall to find the center above the stove. Create a design with trim and tile and put it in place. Continue until the backsplash is complete.

11. Around outlets, hold tile in place and mark cut lines with a pencil to determine the cuts to be made. Use longer screws to reattach the outlets to compensate for the new tiles.

12. Spread grout with a rubber grout float into the joints. Try to get the joints flush with the surface. When the grout firms up, scrape excess grout. Give the tiles a good cleaning with a damp sponge, being careful not to pull any of the grout out of the joints. Once the surface is dry, buff and polish the tiles with a dry cloth. Allow to cure 48 hours. Apply a grout sealer with a sponge.

13. Once the sealer has cured, the project is done. This installation takes around 3 days and costs around $1,500.

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