Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tiling and Mastic and Grout...Oh My!

Time flies when you're having fun!  We've been so busy with friends, and events, and building, and trying not to screw up every DIY project I try that I haven't been here in awhile.

Although it's been a couple weeks since I wrote about a project (find the last one here) doesn't mean we haven't been busy beavers workin away on some others.  We've got quite a few projects in the works but this one happened the other weekend!

Subway tiles, ya'll!

We had tossed around a lot of ideas for the backsplash some of which being tin tiles, cracked glass looking tiles, stainless steel, etc. etc. etc.  But after perusing Pinterest a while back I came across white subway tiles with dark grout and it was love-at-first-pin.  (Can I just take a second here and ask how much your quality of life improved once you discovered the fantastic-ness that is Pinterest?? Unending posts that make you want to workout, bake a cake, organize every drawer in your home, and build a  table out of pallets all at once! YES!)

  • 3 boxes of 3x6 white subway tiles
  • mastic
  • unsanded charcoal grey grout
  • grout float
  • v-notch trowel
  • grout sponge
  • 2 buckets for washing away grout
  • 3 ft. long stick for anchor
  • 1 bag of 1/8 inch spacers

The process started with Hubster screwing a long board to the wall to act as an anchor for the tiles that were behind the stove.  This ensured that the tiles wouldn't start to slide down the wall as the mastic was drying.  He put it just low enough for one row to run beneath the counter.  I didn't want the bottom of the tiles to be really visible when you looked at the stove.

I was all gung-ho about this whole thing until it actually came down to start frosting my wall with this mastic gunk and slapping on the tiles.  I did a nervous little dance and hesitated for a good 10 minutes until I finally took some inspiration from NIKE and just did it.

Holding the trowel at a slight angle to its long edge, use a sweeping motion to spread the mastic across the wall. When applying the mastic you only want to work in small sections so it doesn't have time to dry out before you can get a tile on it.  I would also spread some on the back of the tile as I went.

I started with a whole tile in the corner so I wouldn't have to do some funky cutting like I would have had to if I started from the other end.  I set the tiles directly on top of the board, but for the top of countertop I left a spacer's distance so matching grey caulk can be applied at the bottom.  

I wanted a staggered look so I started the next row with a half tile. 

 I just kept with this repeating pattern until it came time to cut around the window ledges.  It was the most scientific method of measuring that you would have ever laid your eyes on...kidding.  It was more of a "hold the tile up, guess where the angle will go, draw a line, cut it out, realize that it was WAY off, and try it all over again" sort of method.  

It's a great thing that grout and caulk can cover a whole slew of mistakes.

To cut the tiles we bought this great little wet tile saw from Menards.  There was a sale so this guy only set us back about $40.  Don't worry, you can get your own for only $49.99 right now.  BEST investment if you're going to take on a project like this.

So...spread mastic, press on tile, make sure it's snug against the spacers on all sides, repeat.  Thrilling, I know, but it was really fun to step back every few rows (ok, I looked like every few tiles) to see the progress and transformation that was happening.

I made it to the window the first day and then started back up the next day.  After everything had been tiled I let it sit overnight so the mastic can harden and create a permanent bond.  Each morning I came down and slowly peeked around the corner hoping and praying everything was still up, I didn't want to feel like this poor sap.

The third day of this whole ordeal brought me to grout.  Oof.  If the thought of permanently adhering ceramic pieces to my walls didn't freak me out enough, the whole grout-ing process had me equally if not more nervous.

Using a grout float (specially designed grout smoothing tool which is basically a heavy piece of rubber with a handle) I spread the grout over the tile lines.  I found it easiest to wipe over the line to smush it into the cracks and then wipe diagonally over the line to clear away the excess.  The angle of the arrows in the pic show what I mean.  *please note that 'smush' is a highly technical tiling term...believe me?*  

Each section should only sit for about 10-15 minutes before you go and wipe off the remaining grout.  As I moved down the wall I kept a mental note of how long each section had been done.  You don't want it to completely dry because that stuff basically turns to rock when dry.  This part was THE. MOST. FRUSTRATING. part of all.  I had never tiled before so I had no idea what to expect when washing the grout off.  I thought that after 2 swipes it be good...oh how wrong I was.  

I dipped my grout sponge in a bucket of clean water and rung it out as much as possible (too much moisture will cause your grout to turn holey and bumpy) and wiped the tile lines with a circular motion.  Imagine trying to wash mud off of your white kitchen floor, all it did was leave dark grey smear lines all over the tiles.  

So I dipped the sponge in a 'rinse' bucket and wiped in a circular motion again.  A little more came off but now I had dark colored water lines coming down from the grout.  I let it dry for a bit longer and repeated the process until it was almost completely clean.

I read that if you get the big chunks and most of the streaks off and then come back and buff it with a dry lint-free cloth your tiles will be good to go.  That internet sure is smart because that's exactly what I did and it worked like a charm.  I went back after the grout had dried a bit longer and went over every single line but it made a huge difference as you can see below.

After an entire Saturday of grouting, washing, climbing on counters, scraping, and 2 sore arms from buffing tiles this lil gem emerged. 

 It is exactly the way I imagined it before I started and I could NOT be any happier with it.

I still have some tiles left to put up around the fridge and all the edges still need to be caulked but I think it is such a great transformation.  I love that it defines the kitchen area from the dining area and really jazzes the space up.  Now that we've got the tile up we decided we no longer like the light that we had bought for above the sink, so now we're on the hunt for the perfect silver industrial looking lamp.  Something along these lines...


I think the truth of most DIY projects is that 99% of the battle is just having the Kahunas to start the project in the first place.  I didn't know what I was doing besides watching some Youtube videos and reading some online articles and other blogs.  
Unless you're blindly attempting electrical work or something which in those cases "What you don't know CAN kill you". 

I'm thoroughly in love with how it turned out.  How about you? Have you done any tiling work that you absolutely adore?  Any major mishaps with mastic? Let's hear about it!

I am not claiming in any way to be an expert tiler.  I am just sharing what worked best for me.  


  1. Looks great! I was thinking about using black grout on an upcoming project but I heard it's a nightmare to work with, did you guys have any qualms?

    1. Thanks, Paige!
      When I first started washing the grout away I thought I was never going to get it all off, but as long as you're patient and continue to use the 2 buckets of water you will get there. It was time consuming but I went back and buffed each individual tile and each grout line. 3 days of hard work for a long time of loving it...totally worth it in my book.

      Good luck when/if you go ahead with it!


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