How to Tile a Kitchen Countertop

Video Transcript

Video Transcript

RON HAZELTON:
Now there's a southern California and northern California and then there's way up north California, and that's where we're headed today, to the town of Eureka, to visit Tim and Jeannie Tillman, who live with a very shall we say, prominent kitchen countertop for way longer than they care to admit.

So you guys got a countertop that needs rescuing, huh?
JEANNIE TILLMAN:
We sure do. Boy, wait till you see it.
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
RON HAZELTON:
I'd love to see it.
JEANNIE TILLMAN:
Okay, it's a real eye-opener.
RON HAZELTON:
Wow —
[LAUGHTER]
TIM TILLMAN:
Exactly.
RON HAZELTON:
Oh, boy, that gets your attention, doesn't it? Yeah?
TIM TILLMAN:
It really does.
RON HAZELTON:
I'm sure this is going to be coming back into style very soon. You want to —sure you want to take it out, right?
JEANNIE TILLMAN:
We'll put it on eBay, how's that?
[LAUGHTER]
RON HAZELTON:
All right. All right — so what were you thinking here? I know you want tile.
JEANNIE TILLMAN:
Tile would be very nice. Something to warm up the kitchen — maybe an ivory, something to kind of go along with the — the warmness of the wood.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay —

After turning off the water and disconnecting the plumbing below, Jeannie and Tim lift out the sink.

Come back towards me — it seems kind of loose to me, guys.

Next to go is the vintage green countertop.

Okay, ready on three. One, two, three. Lift it up — uh, yeah, it's coming free.

Our new countertop will consist of three layers. First, plywood for support and strength. Second, a concrete waterproofing panel and finally, the tile.

Now this is the plywood that we're going to be putting right on top of your cabinets. It's three-quarter inches thick. We're going to be cutting this with a circular saw. Ever use that before?
JEANNIE TILLMAN:
No, I haven't.
RON HAZELTON:
After I show Jeannie how to operate the circular saw, she really gets the hang of it. Tim and Jeannie place the plywood foundation on top of the base cabinets and drive in several screws to secure it in place. Now we have to cut a hole for the sink.

Earlier, I traced the outline of the existing sink onto a piece of cardboard, cut out a template and marked its center along the front edge. Next, we mark the center of the sink opening and we align the center marks on the template with the center mark of the opening.

Okay, and then we can trace the outline —since you're putting the old sink back in here.
JEANNIE TILLMAN:
We'll take it from here?
TIM TILLMAN:
Okay.
JEANNIE TILLMAN:
Thank you.
RON HAZELTON:
Tim traces the outline of the template and then begins cutting the opening with a jigsaw. [JIGSAW SOUNDS]

Hold up there. I'm going to put a couple blocks on over here, or actually one. This will —

These blocks will prevent the sink cutout from crashing into the cabinet below as Tim complete his cut.

Okay, see how nicely that works? No binding the blade, no falling through.

As he finishes, we simply remove the screws from the countertop and lift the cutout portion away. With the plywood in place, it's time to start on the reinforced concrete panel, called concrete board or backer board. We cut this to the proper width by scoring the surface with an inexpensive scoring tool and then simply breaking it along the score line.

Next, Jeannie uses a spiral cutting saw, fitted with a masonry bit to cut the sink opening. [SOUNDS OF SAW] We apply fast-drying thin-set mortar to the plywood using the notched side of a trowel to create quarter-inch high furrows or ridges — then lay the concrete board in place and attach it with galvanized nails.

And then come down — there you go. [NAILING SOUNDS] So then down here, you're going to have fairly good-sized tile.

Now we're ready to start tiling. First though, we do a test run without mortar. The object here is to come up with a layout that looks balanced and avoids unsightly narrow pieces.
[SOT]
With our layout decisions made, we begin with the edges. Because the wood underneath can expand and contract, cracking L-shaped edge tiles like these, we'll use two different adhesives — a flexible tile mastic on the sides and thin-set mortar on the top.
  [SOT]
With the edges done, we're ready to start on the field tiles. Once again, the notched edge of the trowel is used to create uniformly high ridges of mortar. Now this guarantees consistent thickness and insures the face of the tiles will be flush and flat.
JEANNIE TILLMAN:
How's that?
RON HAZELTON:
That's good.

We insert vinyl spacers to keep the joints the same width and frequently check the rows to make sure they're straight.

Hold that in place, just like you're doing.
JEANNIE TILLMAN:
Okay.
RON HAZELTON:
As we approach the sink, it's time to cut our first tile.

All right, Tim. So this is we — where we have to make our cut. We've got to cut this piece off right here. This is a scoring type tile cutter. Very simple to use. We're going to lay this in here. And if you look up underneath here, there's a little wheel — you see it right there?
TIM TILLMAN:
Yeah, I do.
RON HAZELTON:
Put that right on the mark, bring it back here, press down the handle. I'm going to run that wheel across the face of the tile, cutting through the glaze then we just press down with the handle now. And we get a nice clean cut.

Jeannie lays the cut pieces around the sink while I butter the backs with mortar, a useful technique for small pieces like this. For the vertical tiles on the backsplash, we use pre-mixed tile mastic, starting at the bottom and working up.

Between the first and second row, we add a decorative border. Now normally, we'd have to give the mortar 24 hours to dry before grouting the tile joints, but this is quick-setting mortar, which means we're ready to go in only three hours.

Grouting is a two-step process. Using a rubber float, we first distribute the grout across the surface, and then press it firmly into each joint.

The — the wide side back here —
JEANNIE TILLMAN:
Oh, I see.
RON HAZELTON:
But the motion is still the same. It's pushing down.

Next, we rake off the excess by holding the float at a steeper angle and moving diagonally across the tile from corner to corner. Finally, we wash the face of the tile with a damp sponge, making sure to rinse frequently. Then remove any remaining dry, powdery residue by polishing with a paper towel.

So with the cabinet drawers and sink back in place, there was only one thing left to do.

You know, Tim, these really are coming back.
TIM TILLMAN:
You're welcome to take it with you.
RON HAZELTON:
[LAUGHS] I declined Tim's offer and left that eye-popping countertop behind. Who knows, the Tillmans might want it as a reminder of just how much they accomplished today.

Cut and Lay Attractive Ceramic Tile to Replace an Outdated Kitchen Countertop and Backsplash to Modernize Your Kitchen

Replace an old countertop and backsplash with a durable and attractive ceramic tile motif in an updated color. Remove the sink and the old countertop, and then learn how to build a new foundation or underlayment for the new tile counter and how to cut, set, and grout the tile.

Disconnect the Plumbing and Water and Remove the Sink
Step 1

Disconnect the Plumbing and Water and Remove the Sink

Turn off the water supply beneath the sink. Disconnect the hoses and drain before lifting the sink out of the countertop. Remove screws beneath the countertop that hold it to the cabinet, and then lift it and carry it away.

Cut a New Countertop Base from 3/4-Inch Plywood
Step 2

Cut a New Countertop Base from 3/4-Inch Plywood

Mark the dimensions for the new countertop on 3/4-inch plywood. Clamp a metal straight edge along the mark and cut the base panel out with a circular saw.

Position the Plywood Countertop and Screw It to the Cabinet
Step 3

Position the Plywood Countertop and Screw It to the Cabinet

Place the base for the countertop on the cabinets and secure it with screws to the top of the cabinet.

Trace a Template of the Sink and Cut a Hole in the Plywood
Step 4

Trace a Template of the Sink and Cut a Hole in the Plywood

Make a cardboard template of the sink and center it in the countertop above the cabinet doors. Trace the outline of the template and cut the opening with a jigsaw. Attach temporary supports to stop the cut piece from falling.

Cut Concrete Board to Match the Countertop and Sink Opening
Step 5

Cut Concrete Board to Match the Countertop and Sink Opening

Cut backer-board to match the countertop. Score along the cut line and break the board. Cut the sink opening with a spiral cutting saw and masonry bit.

Apply Thin-t Mortar to the Plywood and Secure the Backer-board
Step 6

Apply Thin-t Mortar to the Plywood and Secure the Backer-board

Use the notched edge of a trowel to apply fast-drying thinset mortar to the plywood in 1/4-inch ridges. Set the backer-board in place and secure it with galvanized nails.

Position Tiles without Mortar to Determine the Best Spacing
Step 7

Position Tiles without Mortar to Determine the Best Spacing

Arrange two rows of tiles in a staggered bond along the edge of the counter in a balanced design that requires the fewest cuts. Be sure to allow space that represents the grout seam between the tiles.

Use Two Different Types of Adhesive to Allow for Expansion
Step 8

Use Two Different Types of Adhesive to Allow for Expansion

Apply flexible tile mastic to the countertop's sides and thin-set mortar on its top to prevent the edge tile from cracking. Set the edge tile first, then set the whole field tiles, using vinyl spacers to position the tiles uniformly.

Measure and Cut Tiles to Fit the Sink and Edges
Step 9

Measure and Cut Tiles to Fit the Sink and Edges

Score tiles with a scoring tile cutter along measured cut-lines, pressing down on the handle to break the tile. Butter the cut-tile backs with mortar and set them in position. Use mastic to set the backsplash tiles.

Grout the Tile Work after Three Hours of Drying Time
Step 10

Grout the Tile Work after Three Hours of Drying Time

Distribute grout across the tile and press it firmly into each joint using a rubber float. Rake off excess diagonally across the tiles. Clean the face of the tile with a damp sponge, rinsing frequently. Polish with a paper towel.