How to Tile Kitchen Countertops



Old Formica that has chipped, de-laminated, or just worn out its welcome means total countertop replacement.

Glazed ceramic tile (vs. granite): inexpensive, low maintenance, more style and trim choices.

Sink Removal:

Shut off water, uncouple water lines and P-trap (pipe wrench). Plug the wall pipe with rags. Pry off tops of faucets, unscrew and remove. Loosen “threaded valve washers” (tap “tabs” with screwdriver). Metal sinks have clamps, cast iron sinks are caulked. Remove clamps or cut caulk and pull sink.

Remove Backsplash:

Cut Formica at backsplash/counter junction with drywall knife. Mark top of backsplash and remove with pry bar. Pry against a wood block to protect drywall.

Remove Countertop(s):

Countertops are screwed underneath to corner blocks in the cabinets. Remove screws and tap the counter UP with wood block and hammer, lifting evenly along the entire length, bit by bit. Use a hammer, chisel and/or pry bar to get started. Save as a measuring template for new valve and sink holes.

New Sub-surface: Plywood

Kitchen counters are 25” +/- wide. Cut 3/4" x 4 x 8 sheets of plywood lengthwise to 24”. Set the factory (uncut) edge of the plywood ¼” past the drawer face below, flush at ends. Tack down in two places, pre-drill undersized pilot holes (w/countersink for screws) into cabinet wall centers and corners. Use #8 x 1 ¼” flat head, Phillips screws or 6d (marked on box) finish nails. Using old countertop, mark sink and valve holes. Cut with jigsaw (drill holes for valves and jigsaw blade).

Cement Board:

Cut ½” X 3’ x 5’ sheets of cement board OUTDOORS. Use a table saw for best results but a power saw is ok. Pre-drill valve holes with special abrasive bit (tile supply-also used for holes in new tile). Cut sink hole after cement board is installed. Vacuum dust asap. Glue cement board (tubes of construction adhesive in caulk gun), laying continuous beads around sink hole, all edges, and 3” apart inside. Drill pilot holes w/countersink for #8 x 1” FH Phillips screws and DON’T skimp on screws, esp. at edges and sink.


Most kitchen sinks leave very little room for error front and back so make backsplash thin by gluing ½” cement board directly to drywall, lower than outlets (allow room for tile or wood cap of choice) and bottom tight to cabinets. Use construction adhesive and pre-drilled screws to wall studs.

Tile “Bullnose” (front edge)

Pre-formed bullnose tile with rounded, raised corner (tile supply, esp. Home Depot) is easiest. Remove drawers after marking top of drawer face. Clamp a thin slat(s) to cabinets to rest bullnose tile on while mastic sets. BN tiles may need to be cut for drawer face clearance and a tile “wet” saw with diamond blade( tool rental) is a must for all tile cuts.

Wood Bullnose:

If a wood counter edge is desired, select a hardwood trim (any profile) but; 1/ bullnose must extend above the cement board to match tile thickness, 2/ must allow for drawer face clearance (bottom may need to be cut with table saw). Sand, stain and clear coat before installing as water will discolor raw wood. Sub-surface at stove/oven may need to be cut back for bullnose (pull stove first). Install with adhesive and 6d finish nails, pre-drilled. Install wood or tile bullnose first, then place field tiles.


Lay out tiles on dry surface, starting in front with full tiles and working back. Use cross shaped ¼” tile spacers (tile supply), two per tile edge. Adjust layout as needed to avoid thin tile cuts (meaning you may have to set full tiles in center of counter and work outwards instead of working front to back). Make ALL tile cuts before applying mastic and drill valve holes. Use pre-mixed tile mastic (worth the cost vs. mixing your own) and a 1/8” toothed tile trowel (tile supply-again). Remove a section of pre-laid tile, spread mastic evenly with flat edge of tile trowel and then make “toothed” grooves (ALWAYS holding the trowel at 45 degrees to prevent high or low mastic ridges). Press WET tiles firmly into place and tap with rubber mallet, re-using spacers and checking for evenness often with straightedge. If tiles aren’t even, remove tiles and add or subtract mastic as needed). Remove excess mastic at joints with screwdriver and damp tile sponge (tile supply) to avoid “chipping” excess tile mastic the next day. Set backsplash tiles last after counter has set a minimum of 2 hours. Place a 1/8” slat on counter tiles (coat with Vaseline or WD-40 for easy removal after tile has set) to ensure a straight looking backsplash. Install wood or tile cap LAST (for wood, allow tile to set overnight-glue and nail in pre-drilled pilot holes) Allow overnight drying for all tile before grout.


Choose grout color AFTER tile has set (don’t “guess”). Tile stores have take-home brochures showing grout color. Fold back the brochure to potential colors and place against tile to decide which color is best. Hint: Light grout will show stains more than dark. Some grout colors come pre-mixed but if not, mix in a 1 gallon bucket, adding water and mixing often until grout has “stiff cookie dough” texture. Let grout sit for 5-10 minutes to “slake” (allow water to spread evenly throughout mix). Apply grout with a rubber grout trowel (tile supply), spreading diagonally to avoid pulling grout out of joints. Experiment with small areas, small amounts of mix and work your way up. Sponge off excess grout, always diagonal to joints, before moving on. Clean sponge regularly, re-wetting and squeezing sponge until squeezed water is clear. A thin film will form to be polished the next day with dry rags. Re-paint drywall if needed.

Replace sink/faucets:

Set metal sinks on a bead of adhesive, no grout needed. Grout around cast iron sinks. Re-attach in reverse order, adjusting valve “threaded” washers below to proper “new” height. Clean P-trap before re-installing. Clean kitchen thoroughly to avoid complaints from the chef. Done!