DIY Tiling: The Ultimate Checklist of Tools You’ve Probably Forgotten
If you’re taking on a DIY tiling project, you’ll quickly learn that there’s more to it than just picking your tiles and buying your adhesive and grout. You’ll also need to make sure you have all the essential tools for tiling to ensure you can get the job done right and achieve a professional finish before you even think about fixing tiles down permanently.
If you’re struggling to know where to start with acquiring the right tile tools, or you’re worried you’ve forgotten some crucial pieces of equipment, there’s no need to panic. Below, we’ve put together the ultimate checklist of tiling tools you’ll need when taking on a DIY tiling job, as well as how and why you need them in your arsenal.
From the basics like measuring tapes and pencils to more specialist tiling tools like tile cutters, trowels and grout floats, we’ll be covering it all.
- Tape measure
- Spirit level
- Wooden battens and nails
- Tile cutters
- Tile spacers
- Mixing paddle
- Notched trowels
- Grout floats
Having accurate measurements of the area you’re planning to tile is crucial, making tape measures a vital piece of kit to have in your tool box. Tackling tiling without one or fashioning your own makeshift way to measure the area is likely to leave you with inaccurate calculations and some nasty surprises further down the line.
Before you get stuck into your project, invest in a decent measuring tape with clear markings. You can pick one up for under £10, but make sure you buy one that will stretch to the full length of the area you’re tiling for the most accurate measurements. Alternatively, opt for a laser distance measure for easy, quick pinpoint precision.
To ensure all your measurements are spot on, be sure to measure the area you’re tiling as well as the tiles themselves, just in case there are any minor discrepancies. Next, do the whole process again (at least one), just to be 100% confident that all your calculations are completely spot on. It may sound unnecessary, but this attention to detail at the start will help you avoid any potential shortfalls when you come to fix your tiles down permanently.
Having a trusty pencil to hand during your tiling project (or tucked behind your ear if you really want to look the part) is a basic piece of kit that no pro or novice tiler should be without. A standard pencil will do the trick, but you can also buy special builder’s pencils that are ideal for marking on glossy surfaces like porcelain or ceramic tiles for a clear, visible line.
When it comes to marking tiles for cutting, you need to have clear guidelines if you want your cuts to be straight and accurate. A rookie error many DIY-ers make is to only mark the top and bottom measurement, leaving plenty of room for error. Instead, when you’re measuring your cuts, use a ruler to draw out your cut line along the entire tile. The same goes for cutting out holes to go around pipes – draw a rough outline of the hole position and dimensions, as this will give better accuracy.
The use of pencils doesn’t end there though. They can also be used on floors and walls to mark out starting points such as the centre of your floor or the horizontal level on a wall, as well as other key measurements. By pre-marking out these points, you can make sure your tile lines stay on track for an even fix.
The key to pulling off a decent looking tiling job is laying them evenly, keeping both horizontal and vertical lines straight. This isn’t something that should ever be done by eye or using an existing feature like a wall or skirting board as a guide. More often than not, these existing features are rarely straight and you’ll end up with wonky tiles as a result.
Instead, put your faith in a spirit level to get the true level of floors and walls and you’ll stand a better chance of getting that flat, smooth finish you’ve been dreaming of. As with tape measures, this handy piece of kit is something you can pick up for minimal cost at your local DIY store and can save you a whole lot of time and money on silly mistakes.
When using your spirit level, be sure to focus on both the horizontal and vertical levels – not just one – to get a fully accurate picture of how even a surface is. Before you start installing your tiles, always check if the surface is even, so you’ll know if you need to do any surface preparation to level it out.
Some unevenness can be corrected using a thicker layer of adhesive or tile wedges, but if you’ve got huge variations you may need to apply a self-levelling screed for floors or tile backer boards for walls. This preparation could save you a whole lot of time and effort in the long run. We’d also recommend checking the levels of your surface as you’re laying tiles, as this will give you the opportunity to correct any potential mistakes before the adhesive is set.
If you’re tiling walls, you’ll also need some straight wooden battens and nails at the ready. As mentioned above, you’ll need to find the true level to get the tile rows laid straight vertically and horizontally, and the easiest way to maintain the level while laying tiles is by fixing a wooden batten to the wall.
The wooden batten will act as your starting guide for the bottom row of tiles as you work your way up, keeping your lines on track. However, it can also act as a support rail to ensure tiles don’t slip out of place while the adhesive dries. You can also use vertical battens to ensure your edges are straight.
Your wooden batten should be at least 25mm thick and ideally 50mm wide, although you can go slightly smaller or bigger depending on what you have to hand. In terms of length, the batten should run the full length of the wall, but you can use smaller pieces if necessary (providing they follow the same line).
To attach your batten to the wall you can simply nail them in, ensuring you use nails that are long enough to get a good purchase on the wall. We’d recommend that at least 2.5cms of the nail tip goes into the wall.
You can also use wooden battens as a gauge rod to plan out your tile pattern layout. To do this, simply lay a line of tiles on the floor with tile spacers between each one and place the wooden batten on the top edge of the tiles. Next, use your pencil to mark out the position of the tipes and gaps to give you an accurate guide to work from as you lay your tile rows.
In almost every tiling job, you’ll need to make tile cuts to ensure they fit the area – unless by some miracle you have floors or walls that are perfectly equal! The easiest and most efficient way to do this is using a tile cutter.
There are a few different options for tile cutting tools that can be used to make light work of large tile cutting jobs and give you precise cuts. These include manual rail cutters, electric wet wheel tile cutters and electric handheld tile grinders.
Manual rail tile cutters: these are perfect for novice tilers as they’re easy to use with a simple mechanism that provides precision cutting. They’re often relatively cheap to buy, too. They’re suitable for use with most tile types, although for harder materials like quartz and other natural stone you may need to use an electric tiles cutter.
Manual rail tile cutters work by scoring the tile using a scribe wheel made from a strong material such as tungsten carbide. Once your line is scored, you simply push down the ‘breaking arm’ that puts even pressure on the tile to break it along the scored line – leaving you with a clean cut. Available in a variety of sizes, they can be used to cut ceramic and porcelain tiles both big and small.
Wet wheel tile cutters: often favoured by the professionals, wet wheel or electric tile saws typically provide you with a much smoother cut edge. They’re also robust enough to cut through natural stone with ease, so if you’re laying natural stone tiles, buying or renting a wet wheel cutter is a must.
Wet wheel tile saws work by using an electric motor that spins round a sharp diamond-encrusted blade that uses friction to cut through the tile. To prevent the blade from becoming too hot or getting clogged with dust, they also feature water jets that spray the blade to keep it cool.
These machines also allow you to make more intricate tile cuts beyond straight lines, such as cutting around corners or pipework. However, you need to familiarise yourself with how they work properly to make sure you’re operating them safely. The addition of water can also make them messy to use, so ideally set up the saw outside or use sheets or plastic coverings to protect surfaces inside.
Tile grinders: you can also use a standard angle grinder to cut tiles freehand, and with the right blade attachment, they can be ideal for cutting curves or circular holes in tiles. If you do decide to use an angle grinder as your preferred tile cutting tool, you’ll need to make sure you buy special diamond cutter blades.
Unlike the wet wheel these are dry tile cuts, so they do make a lot of noise and dust. Because of this, make sure you set up your tiling station outside. We would also recommend that you use a workbench and vice to secure tiles in place before beginning to cut, preventing tiles from slipping out of position or the grinder flying off and causing an accident.
Tiles nippers: if you don’t fancy using a tile grinder to make intricate, non-linier cuts then a tile nipper will be your next go-to. This nifty handheld tool looks like your standard pair of pliers, but when applied with pressure to tiles, you can snap off small chunks in a controlled way to get the perfect size cut you need. They’re the ideal tile cutting tool for making smaller cuts to ensure your tiles fit snugly around pipes, light switches and plug sockets with minimal hassle.
In many circumstances, you may need to use a combination of these tile cutting tools for precision cuts. Whichever ones you decide to use, you should always make sure you’re wearing protective eyewear, face masks and ear protection with electric tools.
When it comes to doing a good job of your tiling, the devil is in the detail, and overlooking the importance of using tile spacers between your laid tiles could easily result in a shoddy looking finish.
Whether you’re laying small metro wall tiles or large format marble-effect floor tiles, always make sure you have a ready supply of tile spacers to hand. These plastic cross-shaped pieces are incredibly cheap to buy and are an effective way to make sure you have uniform gaps between each and every tile.
They should be placed around all 4 edges of the tile to keep the gaps even. Tile spacers come in sizes that range from 1mm up to 6mm. For smaller tiles, you may want to opt for a 1mm or 2mm thick spacer, whereas larger tiles may need something a little thicker like 4 or 5mm to provide ample space between each one.
They can be used in two ways. One way is to use them as a four-way divider by pushing them between the four corners of a tile. If you do this, you need to make sure they’re pressed far enough in that you will still have room for grout to cover them.
The other option is to use them vertically between the edge of two tiles so they’re sticking out. Once the adhesive is dry they can then be removed before grouting. With the latter method, we’d recommend using a few up-ended tile spacers along the edge of large format tiles to maintain a consistent space the whole way along the tile.
Buckets are a handy piece of equipment to have around at the best of times, but when it comes to mixing your tile adhesive and grout they’re essential, as you’ll need to combine the powder with water. This is where having at least one sturdy bucket to hand is a must.
Whether you choose to mix your adhesive and grout by hand or with an electric mixing paddle, you can save yourself a whole lot of mess by using a bucket. The main criteria is that your mixing bucket is made of a strong material like a heavy-duty plastic or metal that can hold at least 10L, as well as the weight of heavy adhesive.
If you opt to use something less suitable like an old washing up bowl or standard domestic bucket, you could find yourself with a much bigger clean up job at the end and a broken bucket leaking everywhere, too!
If you’ve ever baked a cake you’ll know that using an electric cake mixer is far easier and quicker to get the perfect batter – and similar principles apply with mixing up your adhesive and grout. Yes you can do it by hand using a trowel, but if you’re mixing large volumes, investing in a mixing paddle attachment for your power drill or buying a specialist power mixer machine could save you a lot of arm ache and time.
Although mixing paddles aren’t essential tiling tools, they can be useful and will help you get an even mix, ensuring you’re not left with those annoying powder pockets at the bottom of the bucket.
When it comes to spreading adhesive onto your walls or floors, a notched trowel is the only way to do it. If you don’t have a notched trowel, don’t start the job. The reason being is that the notches in the trowel help to create better adhesion between the tile and the substrate (or surface) as the grooves create suction. If you use a flat-edged trowel, the end result will be tiles coming away from walls and floors.
Notched trowels are used to apply adhesive to the surface where your tiles are being laid. To apply correctly, scoop adhesive onto the trowel using the narrow ridged end and spread it evenly onto the surface using the flat underside. Don’t worry too much about the grooves at this point, the main aim is to get full coverage on the surface first.
Next, you want to make sure all the ridges run in the same direction, either horizontal or vertical, as well as ensuring there is an even distribution of adhesive mixture. To do this, lay the trowel flat onto the surface then lift the edge without ridges away at a 45 degree angle, keeping the notched edge pressed to the surface. Then smoothly run it through the adhesive in the same direction to create even lines.
When picking out the right notched trowel for the job you’ll need to consider the size and shape of the notches. In terms of size, stick to the rule that the larger the tile the larger the notches you’ll need, as those suction grooves will need to be bigger to hold a larger, heavier tile in place.
For the shape, square notch trowels provide a thicker base layer of adhesive on the surface and are best used for laying floor tiles, whereas the curved notch versions are better suited for installing wall tiles.
As the final stage of sealing your tiles, getting the grout application correct is key to guaranteeing the longevity of your tiles. This means using a grout float that is used for nothing other than applying grout sealant between your tiles.
While you may be tempted to use a standard trowel or spatula, they don’t have the same flexibility that’s needed to ensure full and even coverage between the tiles. Without this crucial seal, your tile may be left with voids that can allow water and dust to seep in behind the tile, resulting in damp issues and eventually tiles popping off.
To avoid this, stick with using a grout float. These tile grout tools look similar to a regular trowel, but they feature a foam base with a rubber bottom that gives it more flexibility to work the grout mortar into the grooves. With the right technique you can apply and press the sealant into all the gaps once your adhesive is dry, while smoothing off the top level finish with a rubber trowel.
For the best technique, apply small amounts of grout at a time. Holding the grout float at a 45 degree angle, sweep it diagonally across the tile gaps to press the grout into the grooves. It’s also advisable to keep a bucket of clean water and a sponge to hand so you can wash off your grout float periodically.
Speaking of sponges, these are a must-have piece of equipment to have in your tiling tool box for the obvious reason of the final clean up process. Firstly, they’re handy to have close by during the grouting process to wipe up any large blobs during application, but more importantly, they’re essential for wiping off grout residue.
However, your average bath sponge or kitchen squeegee isn’t going to cut the mustard here. Instead, you should invest in a heavy-duty dual purpose tile sponge that’s specifically designed to pick up grout particles that can leave your tiles looking lacklustre. With a coarse side that can be used to buffer off stubborn grout spots and a softer sponge side for wiping away finer residue, they provide a winning combination to effectively remove grout film using just clean water.
So there you have it, when it comes to taking on your next DIY tiling job, make sure you have all the above essential tools at your disposal and you’ll be primed for pulling off the perfect finish. To get your hands on all the kit you need, take a look at our expansive range of tiling accessories right now.