Before you think about laying tiles, there are a number of steps you'll need to take and some specialised tools and techniques you should master to make the job easier.

Sound planning

Tiling either walls and floors is relatively easy, as long as you follow a few basic rules. The most important thing is to plan the project, including how many tiles you are going to need and where the tricky sections will be.

Never take safety for granted.  Always protect your eyes with safety glasses or goggles when cutting tiles. Wear gloves where possible to avoid snapped tile edges because they can cut you. Also wear gloves when laying the adhesive and grouting.


The right tile

Ceramic tiles are the most popular choice and they are available in a wide range of colours, sizes, patterns and shapes, with square tiles being the most common.Their other characteristics include:
  • They are thinner than floor tiles;
  • They are easier to cut; and
  • They are brittle and can chip or break easily.

Most standard tiles have square edges and require the use of plastic spacers to keep them apart when they are being laid. If you are going for solid colours, make sure that you buy all the tiles you need from the same batch because colour quality can vary.

The other option is universal tiles. These have bevelled edges and/or spacing lugs built in to ensure the correct spacing.

For the finishing around the edges and boarders, rectangular border tiles, ceramic edging trims or mouldings are available. 


Preparing the surface

It's crucial that the surface you are tiling is flat and even because any unevenness will show up in the finished result. The surfaces must be clean, dry and hard. Newly plastered walls must be allowed to dry thoroughly and any old finishes (such as wallpaper) should be removed. If the surface has been painted proceed as normal unless it is gloss paint. In this case you will need to cut a cross hatch pattern into the surface to give the adhesive something to hold on to.

If the surface you plan to tile is not stable it can be primed with a PVA-based adhesive. A special waterproof adhesive should also be used in wet areas.

If the surface has been tiled before, don't try to remove them. If they are still attached firmly the new tiles can be fixed on top with a good adhesive. The only thing to remember is not to line up the tile edges in the same place as the old ones.


Drawing up the plan

First of all calculate the number of tiles you'll need. This can be done by calculating the height by the width. Multiply the two numbers together and then allow 10 per cent if it is a large flat space or 20 per cent if there are lots of edges and fiddly spots.

Patterned or highlight tiles should be planned next. Draw up their positions on a piece of chart paper. Make sure that the plan is drawn to scale highlighting where all of the feature tiles should sit.
  • Measuring from the floor, measure the height that the tiles will reach including
    the border. If a narrow strip of tile is left at the top, move the bottom row up by  half a tile.
  • Mark out the first horizontal row of tiles. This is the row that will sit first above
     the floor. Use a spirit level to ensure they are level. This must be less than one  tile height above the floor. Using masonry nails, nail a thin piece of wood along  this line as a guide. The tiles will sit on this until the adhesive dries.
  • Using a plumb line (a string with a weight attached), mark a vertical line down
    the centre of the wall. Then mark out the vertical rows on each side of this line. Expect that the tiles will not be straight at the edges as very few walls are truly straight. In some cases this will leave you with a small tile in the corner. If this is the case, shift the alignment to one side to give you a full tile in the corner.


Laying the tiles
  •  The first step is to apply the adhesive evenly over the surface to be tiled.  Use a notched spreader to do this. Make sure that the coating of adhesive is even. Don't spread the adhesive too far to start with as it may start to dry before you get to it with the tiles.
  • Start in the corner laying the tile on the timber guide. Lay further tiles next to
     the first, ensuring that they remain level and evenly spaced, using spacers if the tiles are not the universal variety. Continue up the wall focusing on even 
  • When the tiles have dried, remove the timber guide. Then measure the size shape of the fill-in tiles required.
  • On hard edges remember to overlap the tiles to get a neat and even finish.Alternatively, you can use a variety of ceramic or plastic edge finishes.
Cutting tiles
  • To get an accurate cut place the tile face down and overlapping the next tile.
    Mark the edge of the tile with a pencil or crayon. Turn the tile over with the 
    glazed surface up and join the two marks with a line.
  • Score along the marked line with a tungsten-tipped cutter. Draw the cutter long  the line towards you. To get a clean cut try and do this with one stroke.
  • Place the tile with the score line up, over the top of a small skewer with the
    skewer running the length of the score mark. Put pressure evenly on both sides of the tile pushing downwards. There is also a variety of tile-cutting tools  available. Ask your local hardware store or tool hire store for information on  what would best suit you.
  • If it's absolutely necessary that a thin strip needs to be removed, use a pair of  tile-nibblers to slowly cut away the unwanted part.
  • To cut around odd shapes such as pipes use card cut-outs to transfer the shape  on to the tile. To get a clean cut use a tile saw. This has a blade designed to cut through ceramic tiles and is similar in shape to a hacksaw.
  • When sticking the tiles to the wall in confined spaces, apply the adhesive to the back of the tile instead of the surface. To achieve an even finish, make sure the thickness of the adhesive is the same as you have been applying to the wall.


  • When the tiles have dried you can start applying the grout. If you have used
    spacers, now remove them. Use a spreader to force the grout into the gaps 
    between the tiles. Spread in all directions to ensure the gaps are well filled.
  • When all of the gaps have been filled, wipe away any excess with a clean
    sponge. Allow the grout to start to dry and then start to remove the remaining  grout sitting on the surface of the tile. Use an old towel to polish the tiles as you go and run a damp cloth over the grout lines to make sure that they are all smooth.  


When you've finished, it's time to apply the fittings and fixtures. This may require you to drill through the tiles
  • Place a piece of masking tape on the surface of the tile where you want to drill  the hole. Mark the tape with a pencil. Put the drill tip on the mark and start the  drill.  Start slowly as this will best allow the tip to cut into the tile.  The tape will  help stop the drill bit skating over the surface of the tile.
  • To prevent the tile from cracking when tightening a screw fixing, make sure that  the wall plug is fully seated in the wall behind the tile. Tightening a screw expands the plug in the hole.  If the plug is still seated within the tile, the tile  may crack.