Installing A Tile Countertop Home Improvement

While planning my new kitchen I considered a number of different materials that I could use for the countertops, but like my last kitchen, I eventually settled on tile for a number of reasons. First, it’s a job that I can handle myself, unlike granite or other stone products. It’s also possible to do it in stages, with days between each step. Not that I’m against getting it all done quickly, but it is a big job and it takes the pressure off if it can be done over a few days.

Now before I get into this I will say that I’m not one for doing things the easiest or the cheapest way possible. So if your idea for reading this is to somehow save money in doing something similar yourself, you should put that one to rest right here. This is by far one of the more expensive ways to cover a kitchen counter.
With that said, if done correctly you end up with something that is not only unique, it may be the hardest and most durable surface possible for a kitchen work surface. Since it is ceramic tile, it is also extremely heat resistant.

My kitchen layout for the base cabinets is fairly simple. A large “L” with the double sink beneath the window, and another smaller unit on the other side of the stove. I built the base cabinets in place, then covered the top with two layers of exterior grade plywood. This provides a very strong, stable and flat base for the tiles:

counter top base

The nosing of the countertop can be handled a few different ways, but I chose to tile it over and built out the edge for that. Again, I used plywood and beveled it at 45 degrees before gluing and screwing it in place:

plywood edging

Plywood is an excellent base for this, as long as you are using high quality non-porous tile and do a good job of grouting the tile. When properly done, the tile and grout will provide a 100% waterproof barrier and keep moisture from reaching the plywood below. Cement board is also a good choice, but can be more difficult to work with, especially for a nosing detail like I’m doing here.

The tile I chose is a very good quality porcelain that closely matched the composite sink I want to use. As in my last kitchen, I want to have the sink and the surface of the tile flush with each other:

the tiles

As for cost, these tiles were $8 per square foot and I bought 30 square feet. There are cheaper tile of course, but in this instance you get what you pay for. These are the right colour and extremely flat.

To begin, I cut the tiles that would go at the end of the counter beside the stove. I then glued those in place using construction adhesive and left it to dry over night:

glue for attaching tiles

installing a tile countertop

I had to get creative with the clamping to hold the pieces in place while the glue set. The side of the cabinet that I drove the screws into will be covered by the stove after that’s put back in, and will not be visible.

One of the trickier operations was to cut the tile to fit around the corners of the sink. I used a lid from a spice bottle to draw the radius:

installing a tile countertop

Then very carefully cut it out with my tub saw:

installing a tile countertop

I had to be more careful than I normally would be, since I had calculated the tile needed to finish this very closely and didn’t have any to spare.

Before doing any setting, I cut and fit all of the tile in what’s known as a broken ashlar pattern:

installing a tile countertop

I used a similar tile and pattern on the floor in my bathroom renovation from my last house.

With all of the tiles cut for the top, I was ready to set them:

installing a tile countertop

installing a tile countertop

I did the majority of the cuts using my tub saw, since I didn’t want to risk the chance of a weird break when using my tile snap cutter. These tiles are much harder than normal ceramic and were more difficult to cut with the snap cutter.

After I had the tiles on the top set, I cut and fastened the nosing tile. I used construction adhesive again and screws through the joints to clamp them:

installing a tile countertop

installing a tile countertop

After the bottom row dried over night, I cut and glued on the beveled row:

installing a tile countertop

Leaving a gap big enough to grout

installing a tile countertop

I set the tiles around the sink and the next day I installed the sink in that opening. To shim it up level with the tiles, I drove screws in for the rim of the sink to sit on. I then applied a very thick bead of clear silicone around the  opening to set the sink into to seal it:

installing a tile countertop

The sink in place:

I made a video showing the installation from beginning to end:

Here’s a video showing how I grouted the countertop. I used epoxy grout which is expensive, but absolutely the best for this kind of thing. It will never stain and bonds to the tile to form a surface that is impervious to moisture:

At the time of writing this, it’s more than a year later. And even though the kitchen is not yet completely finished, the tile countertop is still perfect – as it was when I installed it.