Tiling: a beginner’s guide

Having recently bought a new house, I have spent some considerable time in DIY stores lately, most notably Q&B. For those uninitiated in the ways of such places, if you picture the scenes from Shaun of the Dead where the zombified suburbanites wander around with a pale complexion, glazed eyes, fixed stare and a feeling of worldly inevitability about their fate similar to that of an elderly lemming at Beechy Head, and then make it a little more desperate, you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about.

I’ve spent so long there, I was mistaken for a member of staff the other day.

One of the tasks I took on was re-tiling the kitchen. Luckily, the Q&B website and a number of other useful, if not entirely accurate, forums suggested this was an easy task. For those taking on a similar task, here’s my handy step-by-step guide.

Step One: Research
As a guide, there are probably more ‘how-to’ guides on tiling than there are scholarly texts on brain surgery. And more opinions on the best ways to do it than the national Womens’ Institute conference on the techniques of jam-making. To save time, I recommend the following: Do not read them. Any true male DIY-er will know best anyway. Trust your instinct.

Step Two: Preperation
Work out how many tiles you will need. You can do this by working out the surface area of each tile and the surface area of the wall, or you can guess. Whichever you do, you will be wrong. Take that number and mutiply it by four. Every manual in the world says ensure your work area is clean, and free of obstructions. Again, ignore this. My suggestion is to cover the entire area with as much of your unwanted tat and nik-naks as possible – this will save your kitchen work-top being cacooned in grout which can only be removed by a skilled team of JCB operatives.

Step Three: Cutting and sticking
Ensure you have a good tile-cutter. It may not give a superior finish, but when the tiles explode sending shrapnel into places very few dare to tread, you can at least feel that you tried to make the process go more smoothly by buying high quality tools.
Be careful using tiling adhesive. This is an unusual substance created by NASA scientists in the 1950’s working in Area 54 under the codename ‘non-sticky-stick’. Neither a solid, gas or liquid, this bizaare concoction is brittle and easily broken when attached to either a tile or a wall, but when left on hands, clothing or kitchen worktops even a diamand cuttter will have trouble removing it. I have email evidence that a one Frederick Smith still has on his left index finger, some tile adhesive he used in 1932 when he and his wife Mavis bought their house on Evingdale Crescent, Sidmouth. Doctors are baffled, and he’s not really up for amputation. Interestingly, the tiles fell off the wall after only 6 months. Mavis was not impressed.

Step Four: Grouting
Having got your tiles into place, you have only minutes to grout the entire room before tiles start falling from the wall like stars in a Beatle-esque hallucinagenic scene. Essentially, you will be covering the tiles in cake-icing. Regardless of what colour your chosen tiles are, you will end up with an off-white look. If you’ve prepared well, you will have a grouting tool to give the perfect finish to your tiling. Simply run this along the gaps between tiles, and hey presto you will have grout everywhere except in between the tiles where it’s supposed to be.

Step Five: Cleaning
Now, for this stage I recommend investing in the following: an axe, a JCB, an electric carving knife, bow-torch, a team of demolition experts, and goggles. This is by far the longest stage. No matter how clean your tiles were after grouting, the tiling fairies will have visited overnight and recovered everything with grout. This can only be removed from the surface of the tiles or worktops with intensive work. I recommend wearing a dust-mask however, as even the lightest of sneezes will apply enough force to the group between the tiles for it to fall out.

So, there you have it. An indespensible guide to tiling. But before I close, here’s an appeal: Scientists, if we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we invent something which can stick tiles?

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