Thursday, October 27, 2011

Subway Tile Back Splash

The kitchen back splash is done! I'm pretty excited to share this project because A) I love how it turned out and B) I did all the work myself! Zach gave me a ton of advice along the way, but I cut, mortared, and grouted each and every tile with my own two hands!

Here's a reminder of what it looked like before:

I've always been a fan of subway tile. It's simple yet classic, and at 23 cents a tile, just right for our budget. We priced subway tile online and called a few local stores before going with Lowe's, who offered the best price. Along with the standard 6" x 3" white tile, we picked up some bullnose trim pieces for the edges of the back splash. The tiles were pre-spaced, which means they had little ridges on each edge, eliminating the need for plastic spacers.

I used this guy to cut the tile:

It's a Skil wet saw, and I highly recommend it. Although it does get your crotch a little wet. Really. Water sprays straight at you when the saw is on. If you buy pre-spaced tile, keep in mind that those little ridges on the sides make the tile a bit harder to cut straight. This is because it has the tendency to rock back and forth against the fence of the saw when you are pushing it through. (I noticed this most when I cut a tile in half and was left with an edge that only had one ridge.)

This saw can cut beveled and mitered edges...

Both extremely useful when tiling a niche.

We took advantage of the empty wall space next to the stove to create a spot for olive oil, salt and pepper, things we use often when cooking. It frees up counter space while still keeping them within easy reach of the stove.

Zach used a reciprocating saw to cut a hole in the wall then used 2 x 4s to frame it out.

I then tiled around it, using the bullnose tile for the inner edges and beveling the tiles in each corner at a 45 degree angle. This took forever; I made a few mistakes along the way and had to pop off some tiles and re-cut them. But I eventually succeeded, raising both my mortar-crusted fists in the air and declaring victory.

After the mortar dried for 24 hours, it was time to grout. Because the space between tiles was small, we used unsanded grout. We considered using white grout to match the tiles but in the end went with a light gray color (it's actually called "silver"). We like how the gray makes the tiles stand out (Note: it also makes imperfections stand out, so you have to make pretty even cuts).

I just followed the directions on the bag of grout. (Which were unhelpfully all in icon form, kind of like an IKEA manual.) I did learn one thing; a little grout goes a long way! If you leave a lot of excess grout on your tile (even when you think you scraped enough off), you will be doing a lot of scrubbing. You can always go back later and touch up any gaps in the grout line.

I finished up the back splash by sealing the grout. Since the tiles are glazed and don't require sealing, I went with a no VOC brush-on sealer (rather than one that sprays on and seals both the tile and grout). I also caulked the seam between the back splash and counter with white silicone caulk.

Obviously we still need to work on the cabinet fronts. In the meantime I'll just view it as extra motivation to keep our cabinets organized. Not that I have a problem with being unorganized. Except, as Zach will tell you, when it comes to where I put my glasses.


  1. It looks really great! Oh, and I love the idea for the niche to store oils and salt and pepper. How handy!

  2. I'm so impressed with you guys - this look fantastic!