Installing Countertop Tile
Once you've established your countertop layout, you can start setting tile.
Be sure your countertop surface is thoroughly clean of dust and debris.
Prepare only enough mortar to be used within 30 minutes, this will prevent it from drying out.
Spreading Out Adhesives
Now you can work in sections setting the full tiles. Scoop some adhesive on the countertop and spread it evenly within one section using the straight edge of a notched trowel. Try not to cover up your layout lines, you'll need them to align the tiles.
Using the notched edges of the trowel, comb out the adhesive. Hold the trowel at a consistent angle (around 45 degrees) so the top of the adhesive has a uniform height. The pattern of the ridges isn't important.
If the adhesive is too dry, the ridges won't comb out evenly and there will be gaps. If it's too wet, the ridges won't hold and they'll blend together.
Again, work right up to the layout lines, but try not to cover them up.
Setting Edge Tile
We usually set the edge tiles first. The layout for the rest of the counter is probably going to key off these edge tiles and you want them in place first so that the other tiles are lined up properly.
(However, there is another school of thought that says set the field tiles first and then come back later and set the front edge tiles. This way you’re not leaning over the counter and bumping the edge tiles with your belly as you set the tiles along the back of the counter.)
If you’re using a “V-cap” trip piece, run some 100% silicone adhesive along the lip that will come in contact with the edges of the plywood and backerboard. It will hold better to those surfaces than mortar.
Then press the pieces down into the mortar. Quickly move on to the field tiles. Don’t fuss with the spacing too much at this point.
Setting and Spacing Tile
Set all of your full tiles first, leaving any cut tiles around the perimeter or by the sinks for last.
Align them behind your edge tile and along your layout lines.
Some tile are cast with spacing lugs along the edges so you can butt those up and get uniform grout lines. And some tile come pre-mounted on plastic grids so the spacing is already established.
Once the tiles are in place you want to set them into the mortar and get them all at the same height. You can use a rubber mallet or grout float to press down any tile that’s sticking up. You might also need to pry up some tiles to add/remove mortar.
After setting a section, clean up any mortar that has squeezed up between the tiles. A putty knife or pencil works good for this. Also, sponge off any mortar on the tile surface.
Setting Perimeter Tile
After setting all of your full tiles you can measure, cut and set the tile around the edges and around the sinks. Cut and test fit them first, then set them all at once. The cut edges should face the wall or sink opening where they won't be seen.
Sometimes you won't be able to trowel the adhesive directly on the countertop, like for the cut tiles at the sides or around the sink. That's when you need to "back butter" the tiles individually.
A tile backsplash is a common way to finish the wall around a countertop. It's also a nice touch for a laminate or other type of countertop.
You can choose to only go up one row of tile on a backsplash, or carry it up pretty far on a wall. On non-tile countertops, like in a kitchen, a lot of people will put tile from the countertop all the way up to the cabinets.
Another option is to build a separate backsplash piece made out of the 3/4" plywood and tile over that.
Keep your grout lines consistent with those on the countertop. Leave a space for expansion joints along the bottom where the backsplash meets the countertop, and also in the corners where two walls meet.
Use rounded bullnose tile to finish off the top of the backsplash. Check the tops of the tiles with a level to keep them straight.