Gilles' Outlet

November 15, 2009

Tiling a baseboard

Filed under: Tiles — Gilles @ 4:55 am

A section of tile baseboard is installed. Special care is taken to match the new baseboard to the existing work. Usage of a tile cutter is demonstrated.


Skill Level: 2 (Basic)

Time Taken: About 1 hour

This bathroom features a tiled baseboard. During a remodel, it became necessary to replace a section of the drywall. That meant removing and later reinstalling the tile baseboard.

I usually prefer to install baseboards last, after painting walls but in this case, I decided to install them before, as an experiment.

The project starts after the drywall was hung and fully taped. The pipe at the center of the picture is a toilet supply line.

Left: I used an 8’’ stiff putty knife to scrape loose any contaminant like drywall joint compound.


Right: I used a shop vacuum cleaner to clean the area. I scraped and vacuum cleaned until all surfaces were clean. I also cleaned the area with a damp sponge. This took only a few minutes.

Left: I marked the height of the existing baseboard on a new tile. The tile rests on a few tile wedges (about 1/16’’ thick). This creates a grout line at the bottom of the tile, between the floor and the baseboard.

I was able to purchase new tiles matching existing ones. If this was not possible I could have saved existing tiles, cleaned them up, removed the thin-set on the back with a belt sander and re-installed them.


Right: I marked a level line on the area to tile. This will allow me to remain at the same height as I tile. For maximum accuracy, I used the longest level fitting in the space.

Left: Detail of the top layout line. This is essential for the baseboard to seamlessly blend in with the existing baseboard.


Right: I positioned new full tiles along the wall to get a feeling of the layout. I precisely spaced them to simulate grout lines.

Left: On the left side, there was a small gap, about 1’’. It is typically not desirable to install small tiles (less than 1/2 full tile). However, in my case, this area will be hidden by a toilet bowl so I decided to ignore this and install a very small tile anyway.

If this was a problem, I would balance the layout by shifting tiles on one side or the other and / or installing half tiles on both sides.


Right: A snap tile cutter. With this tool, I can cut a tile within about 45 seconds and I consider myself very slow.

The first few tiles you cut with this tool will break, but once you get the routine down, it is easy, fast and safe.

Left: The tile is positioned in the tool so the line on where to cut is immediately under the scoring wheel.

Right: Score the tile by moving the handle slowly, pressing gently but firmly. The wheel scores the surface of the tile. It is important the score depth has a score a consistent depth.

I typically score the tile two or three times, making sure I do not deviate from marked line. This would create several score lines close together and increase the likelihood of breaking the tile.

Left: The wheel is then swapped for the breaking tab. This piece of steel presses the tile against a bead built-in the body of the tile cutter. This causes the tile to break clean along the scored line.

Before pressing the handle, I usually make sure the scored line lies directly above the bead of the tile cutter. This maximizes my changes to cut the tile without breaking it.


Right: The tile snapped clean exactly on the scored line.

Unfortunately, the snap tile cutter cannot make small cuts (aka less than 2 or 3 inches) because in those small cuts, the breaking tab does not fully rest on the tile.

Left: The cut edge is sometimes sharp so I usually smooth it up with a tile rubbing stone. A few passes is enough to give the cut edge a factory look.


Right: I placed the cut tiles along the wall, respecting grout lines, to verify the layout one more time. As expected, there was still about 1’’ empty on the left.

Left: I mixed some thin-set and let it slack for about 10 minutes, as indicated by the manufacturer. Letting the thin-set slack is important to proper mixing and therefore, best adhesion. I also located an assortment of tile spacers and tile wedges.

Right: I used a notched trowel to apply thin-set on the back of the tile. This is called “back buttering”.

I could have applied the thin-set directly to the wall and then pressed tiles in place. I decided not to because I found it difficult to use a notched trowel on the wall so close to the floor.

Left: After pressing the tile in the thin-set, I made sure that the top of the tile was aligned with the top layout line. I also used a speed square to set the tile square with the floor.


Right: It took about 10 minutes to tile the baseboard and I did not work fast. A grout line between the floor and the baseboard was maintained by using tile wedges. I also used masking tape to hold tiles in position until the thin-set dries.

Left: The baseboard immediately after finishing tiling. There is still thin-set on the tiles and it needs to be wiped off before it dries.


Right: The next day, thin-set had dried so I removed the masking tape. Some grout joints had thin-set in them. This interfere with grouting and needs to be removed.

After a few days, the thin-set hardens and it becomes difficult to clean grout joints.

Left: I used a small screwdriver to remove the thin-set on every single grout joint.


Right: I used a damp wet sponge to remove all traces of thin-set.

The next step is grouting. The manufacturer of the grout recommends waiting for at least 48 hours after tiling, so I waited.

Left: I mixed grout according to manufacturer’s instructions. This involved letting the grout slack for a few minutes.

I used sanded grout because joints were bigger than 1/8’’.


Right: The grout, ready to use.

Left: The grout is then scooped using a grout float and applied to the tiles. The float is used to pack the grout in the joints.

When all joints have been filled, I waited for the grout to start to harden.

Right: Grout joints are full of grout and there is grout left on the tiles themselves. This haze will be removed during the next step. It is important to let the grout harden before proceeding to the next step.

When the grout has harden enough BUT before it is totally hard, I used a grout sponge to remove excess grout and shape grout joints.

You absolutely need to watch how fast the grout hardens: if you wait for too long, the grout will harden on tiles and the only way to remove it would be to use an acid tile cleaner. This chemical is harsh and could ruin tiles.

Tools Used:

  • Putty Knife
  • Vacuum Cleaner
  • Level
  • Snap Tile Cutter 
  • Speed Square
  • Notched Trowel
  • Tile Spacers and Wedges
  • Grout Float
  • Sponge
  • 1 Gal bucket

Materials Used:

  • Ceramic tiles 
  • Thin-set 
  • Sanded grout
  • Masking tape


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