How to Lay Ceramic Tile on a Laminate Countertop

Video Transcript

Video Transcript

RON HAZELTON:

If you have an outdated laminate countertop like this and you've been thinking about replacing it with tile, well you'd be looking at quite a bit of work.  First of all you'd have to tear out the old laminate countertop and then replace it with a piece of plywood.

That is until inventor Armand Tavy came up with a system for putting ceramic tile right on top of a laminate counter top like this. Hey, Armand.
ARMAND:
Hi Ron, how are you.
RON HAZELTON:
Where did you get this idea?
ARMAND:
Well as a tile setter, I always felt guilty about removing an existing top and just throwing it away.  I said why not take advantage of it and find some way to get mortar to stick to it.
RON HAZELTON:
And you've done that.
ARMAND:
And I've done that.
RON HAZELTON:
I'd like to jump right in and see how this works.  Armand starts by applying a specially designed adhesive directly to the laminate countertop. 
ARMAND:
I'm using an eighth inch V notch saw-tooth trowel.  I found out this is the perfect size with just the right amount of glue so that you don't have too much.  You have enough to do the job but not so much that you make a mess.


RON HAZELTON:
Now this adhesive is not intended for attaching tile but instead paper -
ARMAND:
This is a fiberglass reinforced paper. The countertop itself, the laminate is not friendly to mortar.  We know that.  So the glue sticks to the laminate, the paper sticks to the glue, mortar loves the paper so we have a tileable surface.
RON HAZELTON:
All right, so this is down and how long do you have to wait before you go to the next step.
ARMAND:
There's no waiting.
RON HAZELTON:
Yeah. 
ARMAND:
You can proceed to the next step.
RON HAZELTON:
Which is?
ARMAND:
Putting a thin layer of mortar on it to acclimate the surface of the paper to the product that you're going to use to install your tile.  If you're painting a piece of wood, you put a coat of primer on it.  Then you put the finish coat. So we're going to  put a skim coat on this to get the paper ready for the finish coat.

RON HAZELTON:

Many countertops like this one have raised lips on the front edge to keep water from spilling off.  To create a perfectly flat surface for the tile, Armand and I apply additional mortar to the front third of the countertop then screet off the excess with a straight edge. 

Just to see how this system works on a variety of surfaces, I've set up a piece of bead board to serve as a back wall.  Once again the adhesive is applied directly to the surface. And the paper laid on top completely bridging and concealing the grooves in the paneling underneath. Then like the countertop, a skim coat of mortar is applied. 

[MUSIC]

A laminated countertop backsplash is prepped the same way.  First adhesive, then paper. 

[MUSIC]
Now what we've really done here is converted a plastic laminate countertop into a –

ARMAND:
Basically almost a concrete surface.

RON HAZELTON:
Yeah.  Yeah and you've done it by adding really nominal thickness here.

ARMAND:
From zero to about a sixteenth of an inch on the front leading edge because of a slight crump in the radius of the leading edge of the countertop to keep water from dripping off the counter.

RON HAZELTON:
Very cool.  Before we continue I make a trip to my truck to collect a bag of thin set mortar I picked up earlier at the home improvement center.  From here on the process is the same as for any tileable surface.  The thin set mortar is applied then raked with a notch trowel. 

The ridges left by the notch trowel distribute the mortar evenly, leaving it a uniform thickness I am applying additional mortar to the inside corners of the bull-nose tiles that line the countertop.  This process called ‘buttering’ eliminates any voids underneath reducing the likelihood that the edge tiles might crack if their bumped or struck. 

Armen inserts spacers between the edge tiles then starts on the field. Now notice how the mortar appears wet.  One of the biggest causes for tile failure is trying to cover too large an area at one time which can allow the thin set to start drying before the tiles are laid on top.  You can avoid this problem by mixing smaller batches of mortar and working smaller sections at a time.

Tapping the tiles with a rubber or plastic mallet also helps them settle into place and bond with the mortar.  Spacers keep the joints a consistent width and in alignment.  Now Armen has come up with his own version of the tile spacer.  The disk shape keeps it sitting on top of the tile and makes it easy to remove.  One side of the spacer is used on straight runs and the other is designed for the corners where the joints intersect. 

With the deck tiles in place Armen applies mortar to the back wall.  Here he starts at the bottom then stacks one row on top of the other.  Once again the spacers keep the joints uniform and prevent the tiles from slipping downward.  Remember I mentioned the spacers were easy to remove?  Well now you can see what I mean. 

Grouting is the next step. Armen mixes his a bit on the dry side - the idea here is to use a fair amount of pressure to force the grout to the bottom of the joints filling them completely.  Then he holds the rubber float up on edge and removes the excess from the face of the tile.  A damp sponge and water take care of the final clean up. Usually this needs to be done a few times to completely remove the surface haze.  Changing the water frequently helps.

So there's been no trade off by leaving the counter here and going with this system.

ARMAND:
Absolutely no compromise whatsoever.

RON HAZELTON:
So what else could you put this on besides the plastic laminate?
ARMAND:
Just about any surface you can think of that you have on your countertop, I don't care what it is, it will go over it, Ron. Wood, plastics, metal.  Just about anything.

RON HAZELTON:
You got any more tricks up your sleeve.

ARMAND:
Yes, I do, Ron.

RON HAZELTON:
Will you come back and share them with me?

ARMAND:
I'd be delighted.

RON HAZELTON:
Okay, it was fun.  I got one favor to ask -could you take us out with a few more bars of that song about the smile.


ARMAND:
Sure.  Here goes.  [SINGS] It has magic powers most would say and we all would probably agree.  For anyone who tries to beat it can't simply win you see.

Use this innovative tiling system to put ceramic tile directly on top of plastic laminate, metal or wood countertops

This method, developed by Armen Tavy, uses a mastic and fiberglass reinforced paper mat to turn any surface into one that can be tiled using standard thinset mortar. It requires no concrete backer board and adds very little thickness to the surface.

Prepare the Existing Counter Top
Step 1

Prepare the Existing Counter Top

Begin the process by applying a specially formulated adhesive that is made for just this process. Spread the glue liberally, using a 1/8" V-notch trowel. This seems to be the perfect size for this application, allowing you to get enough adhesive down to be effective, without making a big mess. Once the adhesive is spread, apply the fiberglass reinforced paper with a flat bladed putty knife. Make sure you work out any air bubbles and that you have a smooth surface.

Apply a Base Layer of Mortar
Step 2

Apply a Base Layer of Mortar

Use a putty knife to apply a skim coat layer of mortar to the paper surface. This prepares the paper for the thin set in the same way that primer prepares wallboard for paint. You should also use this step to fill any dips or rolls that may be in the pre-formed countertop. Simply apply more mortar in those spots, and then screed off the excess with a straight edge.

Spread the Thin Set
Step 3

Spread the Thin Set

Once the skim coat layer of mortar has dried, you can begin to apply and rake the thin set with a trowel, just as you would with any other tile installation.

Preparing the Bullnose
Step 4

Preparing the Bullnose

The bullnosed tile is applied first. These are the pieces that go on the front edge and round over the corner. These pieces need to have extra mortar applied directly to the tile. This process is called buttering. Buttering the bullnose will give it added strength, ensuring that it won't crack or break under the wear and tear that it may get in your kitchen.

Tile the Field
Step 5

Tile the Field

Install spacers in the bullnose, and then begin laying tile in the field behind it. Make sure that you work in small enough areas to ensure that you can get the tile down before the mortar starts to set up. If you don't then you may find that you have loose tiles later on down the road.

Space and Set the Tiles
Step 6

Space and Set the Tiles

Continue installing spacers as you lay the field of tile. As you are working, you also need to use a plastic or a rubber mallet to lightly tap the tiles that are placed. This will help them bond with the mortar and ensure that they are set firmly, without large gaps of air underneath that may later cause cracking. Once the tiles are all in place, the spacers can be removed.

Apply Grout
Step 7

Apply Grout

Use a float to force grout to the bottom of the joints. Next, turn the float on edge and remove the excess grout from the face of the tile. A damp sponge or rag can be used to complete the clean up. The step with the sponge or rag may need to be repeated several time to completely remove the haze left behind by the grout.