How to Lay Ceramic and Stone Tiles

Tiling a floor, whether it’s with stone tiles or ceramic tiles, essentially follows the same process, although the methods used for cutting the tiles to shape may vary. The steps for tiling a floor are:

  • Clearing the room and preparing the surface
  • Test laying to plan the layout
  • Marking the layout
  • Cutting tiles for the edges
  • Putting down adhesive
  • Laying the floor tiles
  • Finishing off

Clearing the room should be fairly easy but preparing the surface could take a long time. If there’s old vinyl, lino or carpet then it all has to come up and be thrown away. Tiling a floor on top of an existing surface is tempting but it really isn’t worth it, you are likely to be making a job for yourself in the future which will not be easy.

Tiling a Floor: Going Over a Concrete or Timber Base

If the base underneath the old covering is concrete or screed then brush off any loose or flaky stuff and chip out any bumps. If it’s not very flat at all you may have to put down a layer of self-levelling screed. This will make the job longer but tiling a floor that’s not reasonably flat may lead the new tiles cracking under load.

If the floor is timber it should have a layer of plywood, at least 1.8cm thick, put down first to counteract the flexing of the floorboards. Screw down the board with countersunk screws so that the heads don’t damage the underside of the new tiles. Give it a couple of coats of PVA adhesive diluted with one part water to two parts PVA to seal it ready for the tile adhesive.

It’s best if you can remove the skirting boards and remount them when you’re done. The means that any minor mistakes made when cutting floor tiles at the edges will be hidden by the boards when they go back on.

Tiling a Floor: Testing and Planning the Layout

If you want the process of tiling a floor to go well, the more planning and test laying you do the better. Don’t worry about getting the tiles lined up with any of the walls because the room will not be square and the walls won’t be straight. Just keep the tiles square to each other.

Lay a row of floor tiles across the middle of the room from one side to the other and line them up so that there is the same amount spare at either end. Then lay another line at one end of that row, at 90 degrees to it, and get that one centred so that there is the same amount spare at either end. You will need to shift your first line up and down to match with the positioning of the second line. Notice that you have not yet laid any glue down; we are not tiling a floor yet!

This gives you your key points of your layout so mark the corners of the end tiles on each row and draw lines on the floor, either with a long straight edge and a marker pens or a chalk line (probably easier).

Tiling a Floor: Marking and Cutting Tiles

Working on your second row, lay a new tile over the first tile in that row and push it flush against the wall. Mark a line on the underneath tile where they overlap. Now put the top tile in place of the lower one and take the marked tile away for cutting. This will then become the tile that fills the gap between the full tile and the wall.

Then the tricky part of tiling a floor; cutting the tiles. Ceramic tiles can be cut with a tile cutting jig but will need to be warmed up a little with a blowtorch or hot air gun first. Scribe the line with a strong sharp knife then cut it in the cutter, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Most quarry tiles are now made thin enough to be cut with a ceramic tile cutter but if you are tiling a floor with proper stone tiles you will need to buy or hire a stone tile cutter.

Tiling a Floor: Adhesive

Now it’s time for the glue. Take all the tiles up and lay adhesive down the wall where you laid your second row, but in a strip just wide enough for that row and the cut row next to the wall. Lay the row of complete floor tiles down first, lining it up carefully with your marked line, then lay the cut tiles in the gap between this row and the wall. Use tile spacers as it helps to keep a regular gap while tiling a floor and that will make the finished floor look much more professional.

Most flooring will come with a recommendation for an adhesive to use and it’s probably best to stick to that while tiling a floor. Work backwards away from the line you first laid, putting down adhesive as you go. Don’t lay adhesive at either end until you’ve measured, swapped and cut your end tiles. It’s much easier to go through that process without the tiles accidentally sticking down.

Tiling a Floor: Finishing Off

Finishing off tiling a floor is usually about grouting and here again you should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations as to what to use and how much to put down. But it’s an important part of the process, good grouting will stop moisture and spills getting down under the tiles and causing problems in the future.

Wipe off excess grout as you go as it is tough to remove when dried out and may result in chipped tiles. Some tiles will need a protective finish once they have dried out.

But as long as you take it slowly you will finish up knowing that tiling a floor is something you can do yourself and have a finish you can be proud of.