I am going to share a few tips today about how to install penny tile.
So, you’ve seen the befores and afters of this room, and while I love the DIY floating wood vanity and painted hardwoods, the biggest impact in this room for sure is the wall-to-wall penny tile. That’s because it is everywhere.
Perhaps you are considering mosaic tile? Maybe you just want it in a discrete area, or maybe a full wall, or maybe even several walls if that’s your fancy. Just in case you are semi-interested in this, I am here to share a few tips. And if you aren’t semi-interested, just go with it. But let me be clear, I have been kind of dreading this post. That’s because installing this tile was for sure in my top three most difficult house updates I’ve ever done (another one in the top three is re-doing our hardwood stairs and I am leaving the third spot open because I have commitment phobia). But you can learn from my mistakes! Follow these tips for installing round penny tile and this project will not fall in your top three (or even ten) most difficult projects.
Tip 1: Do not trust internet photos; get a sample.
We got our tile from The Tile Shop (no freebies, we paid for it). The Tile Shop had by far the best price and fast and excellent service. In short, it rocked. BUT, the tile we got looked nothing like the tile on their website. Here’s the website pic:
It not only looks green but it is called “moss”. I didn’t want green, I wanted gray. Luckily, I did a bunch of research before ordering including searching for photos by tile name, number, etc. I wanted the tile I saw on other sites, but didn’t want to commit without getting a sample. The impatient side of me was not too happy about that, but I am so glad I did get the sample just to know exactly what I was getting. As you can see from the above photo and the rest of the pics of the room, there’s a pretty big difference. So accept the fact that you’ve got to wait a little longer before tiling up your bathroom, and make sure you are happy with your tile by getting a sample first.
Tip 2: Take your time and do it right.
You can see seams, tile direction changes, and lots more. Do.Not.Suck.At.This. Take your time and do it well. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel – just check out this post and this post and this post from the DIY all-stars at Young House Love. (Side note: researching the install method for this tile was the first I’d heard of the Petersiks or their blog – did I live under a rock before then? Likely yes. Or at least in the haze of two little kids and no time for the internet). These posts will get you off to a great start. Most of all, take your time, go slowly, and use common sense. If it looks funky when you are putting it on the wall, wiggle it around and fix it. Grout will not solve an ugly tile job.
Tip 3: Start level and keep it level.
Use a ledger board to start off level. This means get a long board, screw it into your wall, and make sure it is level. This will hold up your tile and get you off on the right foot.
Then you need to keep it level. I started this project when M was out of town. I was taking care of my two cuties so could only tile after they went to sleep for the night. That can be tough, but by far the worst part was the morning after the first night of tiling when I checked out my progress and realized my tile was not remotely level. It had a wave going on – not the goal of tiling. So I tore it all out (and took no photos to memorialize my total failure). Thereafter, I decided to use a level to check at least every 3 rows to make sure I maintained level throughout. It worked! It slowed my progress a little, but it is way way better to go slow than to have a wiggly tile wall. You can keep things level with painter’s tape, like this:
Tip 4: Use a little screwdriver to clean thin set from in between your tiles.
You have to strike a balance between using enough thin set to attach your tiles and not so much that it oozes between your tiles. But you should err on the side of ooze, which means you need to remove the oozing thin set. I tried a bunch of tools for this and my most effective tool was a little screwdriver.
For best removal, I waited 2-4 hours (two to four, not 24) to remove the thin set with my screwdriver. That way it was not too soft or hard, but just right for removal.
Tip 5: Don’t screw up your outside corners.
Not everyone will deal with outside tile corners. But if you do, it is tricky. Look how awful this can be:
Ahh, ugly. I spent MANY sleepless nights worrying about this. I bought a bunch of random things to rig a good outside corner. But in the end, I used wood dowels, which I painted to blend with the room.
So grab your dowels, glue those suckers into your edges (Liquid Nails), and then grout right up to them. This will give you a much more professional finish than just trying to cut your tile to match or grouting your edges. Trust me on this.
Tip 6: Get your hands into it.
I usually use a grout float. That’s what normal people do. But with this mosaic tile, I found it so much more efficient just to grout everything by globbing it up and squishing it in with my gloved-hands. No pics of this, because both hands were very occupied and very dirty. So just scoop and squish. Then use your grout float to remove the excess grout. And remove even more excess grout with your microfiber towel. I found this to be the best way to avoid any tiny holes in my grout (or big holes) and create a smooth and even finish.
So that’s it. A few extra tips for you when installing penny rounds or other mosaic tile. Anyone else tackle this job and have tips to share? Don’t be shy – feel free to share in the comments (click at top of post). Or maybe you were
smarter more cautious and skipped this project altogether? Really, once I figured out how to do this I got into the swing of things and couldn’t be happier with the result. I promise, you will love it and pet it, for sure.
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