Kitchen Backsplash: Part I

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October 12, 2016 by Sarah

Can you even believe that we are finally working on tiling the kitchen backsplash? Nearly 3 long years after the renovation began….. This is particularly funny to me considering my brother-in-law just installed basically an entire new kitchen including backsplash in less time than it took me to write up this post (jk, sort of, but actually probably close…shoot me).

And just to refresh your memory on what we were dealing with when we moved in:

kitchen before


And this is what the place looked like (from roughly the same angle) when I last gave you all a progress update a few weeks back:

craftsman kitchen

Glorious AF.

Want to know what is even more glorious? Seeing tile on the walls. Maybe you saw my post on Instagram?

AND WE HAVE TILE. Only 1000 pieces left. #kitchenremodel #stpaulhaus

A post shared by Sarah Perryman (@stpaulhaus) on

Adrian and I got it started together shortly before he had to take off for an event, leaving me to continue alone for a couple hours.

It definitely goes a lot faster with 2 people working (one person handling the cuts while the other person lays the tile), but it isn’t particularly hard or grueling work.

Consider these tips before starting your kitchen backsplash project:
  • Plan the shit out of your project layout

The hardest part of the whole thing was planning out the layout.  You really don’t want to have any small slivers of tile at any of the corners or around the light switches/outlets, so that all needs to be planned for.  I spent a lot of time meausuring and remeasuring everything just to be safe….then I had Adrian recheck my measurements as well.

For instance. I thought it would visually be a good idea to have a starting point directly behind the sink faucet. I layed out the first row only to discover that there would have been a skinny piece of tile at the corner on the second row. To fix this, I moved the starting point over about 2 inches on the first row, so that when I layed the second row there was no small sliver to deal with.  The truth is, little pieces in the corners look weird and they are a pain in the ass to cut. You can’t always get the layout to be perfect, but you can try.

  • Get the right tools for the job

When it comes to tile setting there are a lot of specialty tools out there and it can be hard to navigate through would is necessary and what is essential.

If you are using ceramic subway tile like we are then you absolutely want to have a score and snap device like this to cut the tile:

We got ours at Menards for $17 on sale and it has been a dream.  When we did the backsplash at our last house, we used only a wet saw for all cuts and it was way more time consuming. It has been so nice to have this fast little cutter a step away vs having to run up and down the stairs 1 million times to use the wet saw.

BUT, there are definitely times when a wet saw comes in real handy.  Like for this cut:

Cutting tile around outlet

Basically, we cut a bunch of “relief” cuts in the tile then used the tile nippers to break off the pieces to get it relatively square.  The edges here don’t have to be perfect since they are hidden by the outlet cover.

We got ours as a hand-me-down but you can get an inexpensive one for about $80.


It is a luxury item for sure if you are doing a simple ceramic tile install. If you are doing a small project and don’t plan to use again then I wouldn’t recommend buying one.  Maybe find a used one on Craigslist if you really feel the need?

There are 2 ways to handle tiling around window sills,crown molding, etc. You could cut the tile to fit around any bump out your need or you can get a flush cutting hand saw or multi-tool to cut the molding enough to be able to slip the tile behind.

If you go the cut the tile around it method then you may want to get one of these doo-dads that allows you to transfer and trace the shape of the molding to the tile for cutting a perfect fit.  I did end up getting this from Menards as well but I don’t think it is an essential:

contour gage

Contour Gage

We also picked up these things:


Tile Nippers

Fun little tool that sends small pointy and sharp shards of tile in all directions that comes in handy for fit tile around tricky areas–like for that outlet.


Tile Rubbing Stone

The rubbing stone was a new purchase. We didn’t use one at the last house and there were rough or sharp edges on some of the cut tiles we installed. The cut pieces look so much better after they have been smoothed over, trust me. Buuut if you are really that strapped for cash you can get by without this.



V-Notch Trowel

Trowels come in a lot of different sizes and shapes and you will need to have correct one for your job. Recommendations are based on tile location (wall or floor) and also tile size.


We used a 1/4 x 3/16 V notch trowel with our tile.



V-Notched Adhesive Spreader

Because I was working by myself at a slower pace, I ended up using the v notched adhesive spreader rather than the bigger trowel most of the time. I felt more comfortable using it since you really don’t want to apply your adhesive or thin set in an area larger than you can apply the tile to within 5 minutes or so–this is very important when using mastic because it will “skin over” quickly.



Mastic/Thin Set Mixing Paddle

The mixing paddle was also a new purchase this year and I am completely annoyed with myself that I didn’t get one earlier. It is quite handy and makes mixing 1 million times easier since your drill does all the hard work for you. I got the cheapest one available and it does the job pretty well.

  • Mastic vs Thinset Mortar

Now, I don’t know if this is completely accurate, but this is just what I did so don’t take this as tile setting Gospel. The internets tell me that in areas where you are applying tile to a wall where they will not really be getting too wet it is OK to use mastic which is a water-based adhesive. In areas where there will be a lot of water you DO NOT want to use mastic. Thinset mortar can be used in either instance. Mastic is quite a bit more expensive than a huge bag of dry thinset. I cannot stress enough the importance of reading the labels on these products–make sure you are getting the correct/recommended product for your tile type, size, and specific application.

I used mastic for 3 reasons:

  1. It comes premixed. I did not want to worry about having to mix up small batches of thinset since I will be setting tile over a few weeks. I didn’t mind paying extra for this luxury (and yes I know you can get pre-mixed mortar but it was more expensive than mastic at Menards and I didn’t trust it).
  2. This kitchen backsplash really isn’t getting wet. Maybe a little light splash here or there but it really isn’t going to be seeing a lot of moisture so I feel completely comfortable using mastic in this case.
  3. The mastic has a pretty strong bond immediately once the tile is applied so you don’t have to worry about the tiles sliding around or falling off.

We used this type 1 mastic:


Furthermore, there is a tile setting peel and still adhesive mat on the market. I really cannot comment on that stuff since I have never used it. Sounds pretty handy, but I guess I would feel kind of weird trusting that sort of thing.  This post is basically just a huge Menards Ad at this point why not add on just one more link while I am add it Please note: Menards does not pay me for any of this but I wish they did considering I have spent a small fortune there in the past 10 years 🙁

One last thing I need to touch on now is the use of tile spacers/grout spacers.  Like these:


They come in different sizes from super thin 1/16 to a fat 1/4 inch.

I did not need to use of these because the tile I picked out, from Menards by the way, comes with a small lip/nub things on the edges so spacers are not needed unless you would like to have larger grout lines. I wanted grout lines as small as possible to make cleaning somewhat easier.

As far as the actual application of the tile and grouting goes it really isn’t rocket science, but I should definitely write a separate post about it.  This one is already getting too long and is filled with a mind-numbing amount of information already. I bet you didn’t realize there was so much involved in a kitchen backsplash.  Well its going to get real involved for me over the next few weeks since I have basically committed myself to tiling not just the backsplash area but all the walls in the kitchen floor to ceiling. I may be nuts but I don’t care. I love subway tile and if this kitchen on Houzz don’t make you want to tile every surface in your house then you are dead to me:

KitchenLab traditional-kitchen
Traditional kitchen design by chicago kitchen and bath KitchenLab | Rebekah Zaveloff Interiors


Until next time.


Comment or I'll hate you forever.

Sarah&Adrian @ StPaulHaus

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