Ceramic Subway Tile: 3 Pro Installation Secrets
I have 3 tips to share for ceramic subway tile. The first is a lesser known layout technique for subway tiles. The second is an installation detail and the third is a cutting method done tutorial style. Let’s get right into it. Also, don’t forget to check out my previous post:
Quartering your subway tile layout
The normal way of installing ceramic subway tile is to start in the middle or end of a wall and each row is staggered, or offset, from the other. You start with a whole tile then a half tile and go back to a whole tile, etc. The problem with this is when you don’t like how your rows end. Maybe they don’t wrap the corner the way that you like or maybe it leaves a tiny cut in the corner. That’s where this quartering technique comes in.
Quartering your subway tile gives you another layout option. Basically it works like this: Instead of whole/half tile rows you would install 1/4-3/4 rows. Say you’re installing normal 3×6 white glossy subway tile. Your first cut would be 1.5 inches (1/4 of a 3×6 ceramic subway tile). Then the next row would start with a 4.5 inch cut. This gives you a 1/4-3/4 offset all the way up.
Sometimes this layout is just what you need to make your corners wrap properly or to keep you out of a little tiny sliver in your installation.
Bonus: This quartering layout technique also works when installing square tile on point (diagonally).
Hide the cut edge
With typical white ceramic subway tile you’ll have to have cuts on the ends of your rows. There’s no way around it. If you are starting a row with a whole tile/half tile then the half tile is a cut tile. Most ceramic and porcelain tile have a slightly rounded edge on them. In the photo above you can see that the half tile loses the rounded “shoulder” that the full tile has. This can cause that cut edge to be proud, or stick out a bit, from the other tiles. This edge can then show up in certain lighting or just when you simply run your hand across the tile.
To get around this I will usually apply a bit more adhesive to the full tile next to it so that it “rounds” into the cut edge. The photo below shows half of the tile back buttered to keep the edge from sticking out past. It’s a pretty simple trick that helps with the details.
ceramic subway tile cutting tip
One thing that can be annoying when cutting ceramic subway tile is always having to set the guide in two different positions depending on which row your are working on. Here’s a way of cutting both rows of subway tile and keeping the guide in one position.
First of all this works for modular subway tile. Modular means that two tiles with a grout joint are the same as a lengthwise tile. You can make it work for non-modular tile but you’ll have to make your own spacer.
Here’s how to do it photo tutorial style:
A word of caution: This will only work if you are meticulous about starting on your plumb layout lines. Also it won’t work if your walls aren’t plumb. You may be able to use this for 2-4 rows at a time but don’t cut all your cuts before you start if you don’t have plumb walls. It’s probably not a good idea to make all the cuts before you start if you haven’t done a lot of tiling anyways.
Those are 3 secrets that many pros don’t even know in regards to ceramic subway tile. Do you have any subway tile secrets that you want to share? Let’s hear them in the comments below.
And don’t forget to read: Subway Tile Installation: Three Basic Tips