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Oh, My Aching Backsplash (Part 2)

So we’ve bought all of our supplies, committed to a pattern, and bolstered our confidence.  Sort of.

Now there’s just one thing left to do before we can dive in, and that’s prepping the work area.  Don’t worry, this isn’t as complicated or time-consuming as it sounds.  In fact, many of you won’t have to do anything at all.

In our case the drywall was slightly damaged from removing the old counter and backsplash.  If you recall, the old counter was white laminate with the attached 3” backsplash.  When we pulled off the counter, the top layer of drywall pulled away with the backsplash.

No biggie, except we were left with a thick layer of paint and drywall paper that stopped abruptly where the old backsplash used to be.  All it took to make this surface smooth enough to tile was using my fingers to pull away the loose strips of paint along the edge to make a smoother transition between the old painted wall and the newly exposed wall.

We also needed to move the faucet out of the way so we could easily access the small bit of wall directly behind the sink and below the window.  We left the handle because it wasn’t too imposing and simply taped it off to avoid getting any mastic or grout on it.

Lucky for me, the hubs can plumb.

Plumbing Hubs

The only other prep work we needed to do was to pull out our stove (it’s electric, so as easy as unplugging it and dragging it away), and then screwing a strip of wood we had laying around our garage into the wall in the gap between the two counters that flanked the stove.

Backsplash Prep

We used a level to make sure the wood was nice and straight, and it came right up to the edges of the counter on either side. The purpose of this wood strip was to hold up the tiles – we decided to tile the entire wall behind the stove, even where it was hidden, just to ensure a continuous pattern.  I have Katie over at ABP to thank for this tip – without her, we’d probably have a droopy, saggy tile pattern that falls all askew behind the stove.

You might also notice we’ve taped off the counters with painters’ tape.  In retrospect, I don’t think this was a very good idea.  Let’s just say the tape was… difficult… to remove once everything was said and done.  If you want to protect your counters by using tape, make absatively, posalutely SURE that you do NOT grout over the tape.  Thank you.

You can also see in this photo that we’ve been laying out our tiles.  That is the final – and perhaps most important – part of the prep work.  We started our pattern in the very center of the stove wall and worked out towards the edges to ensure that we wouldn’t end up with any piddly little tiles to cut along either side.  That would look funny.

For the long wall we just laid the tiles out all along the wall to again make sure we wouldn’t have any tiny little slivers of tile pieces in the corner.  Don’t forget to account for your spacers!  (1/8″ in our case.)

Backsplash Prep

Finally, finally we can get to the fun part.

Because we’re lazy smart and bought the pre-mixed adhesive, we were able to dig right in.

Just dip your trowel into the adhesive and start slathering it on the wall.  Like buttah.  Then drag the notched part of your trowel across the adhesive so you get a bunch of raised lines.  You should have enough adhesive on there so that it doesn’t leave any bare spots behind when you drag your trowel across.  It shouldn’t be too thick, either.  You’ll get a feel for it.

Spreading the Mastic

The amount of area you cover at a time with the adhesive depends on how quickly you can lay your tiles (I heard if you give ’em a couple beers first, they’re a lot easier to lay – har, har).  The point is that you don’t want your adhesive to start drying on the wall before you can lay any tiles over it.

Once you get your adhesive on there, just start squishing on the tiles!  Press firmly to ensure you don’t have any air bubbles.  We opted to lay 2 rows at a time all the way across the length of the wall.  We figured if we worked up instead of across, the top tiles might start to sink down and squish the spaces together in the lower rows.  Just a theory.

Laying the Tile Backsplash

**IMPORTANT NOTE**  We put our 1/8″ spaces along the bottom between the counter and our first row of tiles.  Why?  Most tips we read said to leave this space for your caulk.  You could try to tile right up to the counter if you want, but we figured it might be a little easier to squeeze the caulk into a slightly larger gap.  (Realize I’m saying “caulk” not “grout”.  You do not want to grout between your tiles and your counter top.)

Laying Backsplash Tiles

Just keep going, adding spacers in between each tile.

Laying Backsplash Tiles

If you cover too much of an area with the mastic, just use a putty knife to scrape off the excess.

Laying Backsplash Tiles

If a bunch of your mastic starts oozing up in between the tiles, you’ll want to remove it while it’s still wet.  If it hardens in there, you will curse the day when it comes time to grout.  We found a fantastic specialty mastic-from-crack removing tool (aka. chopstick) laying around in one of our drawers that works great!

Laying Backsplash Tiles

See?  Smooth sailing.  Easy peasy.  Piece of cake with a cherry on top.

Until you have to make the cuts.


I wish I had some fantastic tricks to give you for making the cuts.  Really, I do.  But usually a ruler (or in some cases just eyeballing it) did the trick for us.  Then use your tile cutter or saw and go for it!

Hopefully you’re using cheap tiles like us so you don’t cry too hard when you make a mistake.

Cutting the Tiles
Laying Backsplash Tiles

Sometimes you might have to cut around an irregular shape, like a window sill.  That’s where the nippers come in handy.

Laying Backsplash Tiles
Laying Backsplash Tiles

It doesn’t have to be perfect, just close.  The grout will help cover your imperfections.

I love grout.  It’s the ultra pantyhose tummy-tucker support of tiling.

For the edges we decided to cut our bullnose trim pieces in half lengthwise.  We thought they would look nice like that.  And you know what?  They do.

Tile Backsplash Edge

**Note:  This photo was taken BEFORE we realized our tile saw had a guide to help cut straight lines.  Therefore, we had to remove and re-do that top section to get it straight.  The lesson?  Read the damn instructions!

But now it looks great.  Really great.

Part 3 will be the final installment of this little saga (I know, I can’t believe there are 3 parts either).  Unfortunately it will have to wait a bit because we have not yet had a chance to pick up our caulk!

Has anyone else tackled a tiling project like this?

Have you ever wanted to strangle and kiss your tile buddy at the same time?

Do you have any tips I neglected to mention?

You might also be interested in:

How to Tile A Backsplash (Part 1)

How to Tile A Backsplash (Part 3)

Other House Project Archives


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Ahh tiling..gotta love it. My hubby has tiled two bathrooms with subway tile, a master bath with 4 inch tile, and numerous floors. He says it takes a while but when it is all done it is worthwhile to sit back and admire it..but only if it is straight otherwise I go OCD crazy.. haha
enjoying the posts..


Oh wow, your hubby is a tiling machine! You’re right – I have to step away now-and-then because tiling is not a friendly project for perfectionists. I kept going in behind the hubs and straightening tiles, adjusting spacers, leveling them against the wall, etc. It was driving him crazy!


I used a piece of paper cut to the shape of the tile to make a pattern for difficult cuts, then just traced it onto the tile.


GREAT idea! I have no clue why we didn’t think of that while we were in the throes of tiling… Where were you with that tidbit like a year ago?? ;)

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