Beginners Tips to Tile a Backsplash

In: Kitchen Tutorials

Beginners Tips to Tile a Backsplash

beginners tips to tiling a backsplash graphic black letters on white subway tile

I figured, I should share a post on tiling my backsplash.  Certainly, there are many other places you can go for instructions on how to do this, but I think I have some interesting tips to give a newbie tiler.  This was my first experience dealing with tile and I have to say… It was a learning experience.

I should let you in on a secret…  My project persona is more of an immediate gratification kind.  If you’ve noticed, you can do most of my projects in a weekend or less.

I hate waiting.  hate it, hate it, hate it.
I won’t tolerate it.
Therefore, this tiling business, really was character building for me.  I’ve become a bit more patient since the entire endeavor… Maybe…  Probably not, but it sounds nice right?
First off-  Let me give you the low down on the equipment and supplies that I used for my backsplash project.  I’ll also give you the price break down because seriously… I got some deals.
A few months ago, I was scanning the front aisle at Lowes for some good deals.  You know, the clearance chunks that are just waiting by the registers. Back at home, there was 1 -3″x 6″ white subway tile and a mat of the 2″ x 3″ little subway tiles sitting on the counter.  They had been there a while awaiting a decision.  I couldn’t decide until I saw them… 
Gleaming white 3″ x 6″ glossy subway tile.  
3 boxes going for $.02 per tile!  That’s 80 tiles per box for a grand total of $4.80!  That’s right, I just scooped up 30 sqft of subway tile for under $5!  Ridiculously lucky!
This wasn’t enough so a couple months later when I was buying all my tools- hidden behind all of the tile boxes was the same discontinued tile I bought on clearance!  They wouldn’t go down to $.02, but I did get them for $.11 each.  Still a good deal.  Then I bought 30 extra and 6 bullnose edge tiles.  The total was like around $25 for all of the tile.
After getting this crazy deal, it was time to actually learn how to put these up in my kitchen.  Yes, I could have written a step by step tutorial, but why?  What a waste of time when there are a million and one videos on Youtube with professionals showing you.  Here is the video that I feel prepared me the most and made it look easiest.
My tile had the same little 1/16″ nubbins on the sides so I didn’t need the spacers either.
Fast forward… a while. 
 Let’s talk about tools. 

Mapei unsanded grout, group sponge, and rubber grout float


Necessary Tools
So, what your going to need for a simple subway tile backsplash.  I bought a lot and returned some things so I’m going to give you a nice shopping list.
1.  A tile/wet saw.  
I didn’t have a great tile saw, in fact, my mom gave me one for Christmas that she bought on black friday for at $30.  It’s a 4″ wet saw and honestly, it worked like a dream.  No problems at all.  In fact, I just saw the same one in either a Lowes, Home Depot, or Menards flyer for the same price.  Totally worth it since it costs more than that to rent one for a day at one of those stores.
2.  A tile cutter
Again, I just picked up the most affordable one at Lowes for around $20 and it worked great.  It’s really nice to not have to fire up the wet saw for every straight cut.  The tile cutter is necessary in my opinion.

Tile cutter on a wood plank


3.  A tile nipper
This is a nice little hand held tool that allows you to take small chunks off of the tile at a time.  My tip- don’t try to cut straight lines with this tool.  Use only half of the cutter to nip off small pieces at a time, otherwise if you try to use the entire blade, you’ll most certainly break your tile.
nipping the corner of a white tile with tile nippers

4.  V-notch trowel
This is an obvious one, but I bought a 9″ trowel and it was too big for my area.  A smaller one would have been better to work around all of the outlets, and easier to back butter the tiles since I’m not as adept as a professional -in my opinion.

used v-notch trowel


5.  A cheap-o plastic putty knife
This is just to scrape the mastic out of the bucket and put on your trowel.  Then you don’t get mastic all over the place.
6.  Tile sponge
This is just a big  sponge you find over by the tile supplies.  I bought 2 because you are going to need one extra person to help wipe the grout.  I totally thought I could do it alone- my biceps and shoulders thought differently.  I had to call in reinforcements.
7.  Rubber grout float
Again, obviously this is needed.  I bought a 9″ one and it worked really well.
8.  5 Gallon Buckets
I needed 2 of these.  1 for grouting. 1 for clean water when your sponging the grout off of the tile.
I mixed the grout in one then dumped the dirty sponge water into it as we sponged the excess off.  So we had 1 dirty water bucket, 1 clean water bucket.  Just made it easier since you can’t dump grout in the sink… DO NOT DO IT.  VERY BAD FOR PLUMBING!!!!!
9.  Sanding stone
This is really nice because when you use either the nipper or the tile cutter, your left with a really sharp edge.  This just sands it down smooth.  

tile sanding stone


Unnecessary Tools
I bought a couple things that just were not needed and I returned once the project was finished.
1.  A handheld tile cutter/nipper combo
 Totally unnecessary and hard to work with.
2.  Attachment for mixing grout with your drill
It’s like a big beater for mixing in your 5 gallon bucket.  I didn’t use it because of a couple reasons- I read that you should hand mix your grout because you don’t want so much air incorporated into the mix, it makes it weaker and will cause a weird haze on your tile.  I used a cheap wooden spoon from the kitchen to mix my grout.  Worked great.

mixed grout in orange bucket with spoon standing in the middle
I don’t have many photos of the process, but you don’t really need them.  Like I said, there are a ton of resources out there and the video above pretty much sums it up.  This project seems more intimidating than it really is.  See…

White un-grouted subway tile backsplash with outlets and white cabinets
Some of my cuts got a little hairy around the outlets, but who cares as long as the face plates cover them.
white un-grouted subway tile backsplash under wooden shelves
Grand total without the cost of tools- those get used again…
 That’s right, under $50 for a brand new backsplash.  Why doesn’t everyone do it??
Up next is the Big Kitchen Reveal!
Don’t miss it!


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  • Rachael N Karl

    Love it! I really want to do this someday to our backsplash… everything is so BROWN in our kitchen. I painted the uppers a creamy white and left the bottoms the oak my husband loves. The two tone doesn’t look bad but I really want to pain the bottoms now. Love your kitchen, it turned out beautiful!

    • Erica

      I love 2 tone cabinets- If I get tired of cleaning the white all the time, I may switch to a gray on the bottom. Thank you so much for reading!

  • Creative Canvas

    I absolutely love your tutorial!!! I’m having a semi tiny house built and starting a new blog to share the progress. i’m going to finish a lot myself so pinterest is going to be my source. Thank you, you’re an inspiration and I can not wait to get started.