True story: I took on laying tile for the first-time EVER and damn did it come out lookin’ good. In this comeback installment of Yes You Can!, I’m going to teach you (yes, you) how to tile a fireplace hearth. Even if you’ve never done it before. Just like me.
Let’s take a second to honor these mod af cement tiles for a hot sec. Designed by Dabito (my design hero) for Saba Tile Company, these geometric beauties come with the most amazing add-on: they’re polycoated. You’re probably like, WTF poly what? GIRL. You never, ever have to seal them!!
In a typical cement tile installation, you’ve got at least two sealing processes. Then add to that the 24 to 72 hour waiting times. Give me a tile that saves me time (and time is money, yo), I’m freaking in!!
Ya might ask me how I learned to tile. All’s I can tell ya is what I believe: my grandpappy, who passed away before my time) sits on my shoulder and whispers the deets in my ear. It’s like how I learned to use a nail gun; I picked it up and just gave it a shot. Da-dun-tsss 🥁 Trust me, honey; you’ll be real surprised at the things you can do, too.
LET’S LEARN HOW TO LAY TILE, BOO!!!
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
8”x 8” cement tiles (22)
Standard thinset mortar mix
Sponge (or rag)
Wet tile saw
Extras for wood trim, where applicable
Wood from the stockpile
Nail gun (ideally, a framing nailer vs. straight finish nailer)
2” steel finish nails
DEMO THOSE HEARTH TILES
Using a hammer and mini crowbar, and starting at a grout line, carefully and assuredly bang out the old hearth tiles. They may come off in pieces or the entire tile—it will fully depend on how well they were installed.
(Mine was right-quick. They were terribly installed. 😂)
ASSESS THE FOUNDATION
My old hearth tiles were laid atop a newly poured concrete foundation (in a not-so-hot kind of way). It’s important to make sure this surface is level (or damn near close) before laying new tiles to avoid the possibility of stress cracks.
To do this, get a straight piece of scrap wood and a level. Cut to size, if necessary. Determine if any areas need to be lifted or chipped away. With the trowel’s flat side, fill in any gaps with thinset and let set for about 30 to 60 minutes before laying new tile.
PREP YO THINSET
To mix thinset, pour water in the bucket before the mortar mix. Consult the package instructions for a mixing ratio. If you’re prepping a smaller batch (like I did), pay close attention to consistency, which should resemble toothpaste. Tile guy approved method right there.
Using a mixer attachment, mix for five minutes, let sit for five, then mix again briefly before application.
PRO TIP: Consistency is muy importante. If it’s too thick, it’s difficult to spread and may take forever to cure. Vice versa, if it’s too thin it will not only take forever to cure, it may shrink when it does and weakens the overall bond. Optimal consistency ensures a strong bond.
LET’S LAY SOME TILE
Break out the tile pile and spacers. As a guide, lay out the tile pattern and determine a starting point. Using the trowel’s notched side, spread an even layer of thinset and firmly press each tile down. Lay out more thinset, lay another tile, add spacers and make slight adjustments as you go. Allow thinset to cure 24 hours before applying grout.
PRO TIP: Even though I leveled out the hearth’s foundation, I started laying tile in the center since it was ever so slightly the highest point. Laying the tiles out in advance ensured proper placement.
Spacing will vary from tile to tile. In this case, the grout line is teeny weeny—between 1/16” to 1/32”. Cut up pieces of chipboard worked like a charm.
If you need to make cuts in your tile (I sho did!), grab a measuring tape and mark the tile cut on the right-facing side with a pencil. Use a sharpie, if you dare. Then break out the wet tile saw, line it up, and go-go-go!
WHEN IN GROUT
Refer to thinset mixing instructions above. 😂 The one stirring difference is consistency. You’re looking for a thicker viscosity that bears resemblance to peanut buttaaa. Prepare a second bucket with water and a sponge for excess wiping.
Using a grout float, work your mixture into the joints. I recommend swiping up and down as well as side to side. Some areas may require a little extra elbow grease or maybe your finger to get it in there—just sayin’. Wipe away the excess being sure not to take too much or too little away. You want these babies so fresh and so clean, clean! Let cure 24 hours before adding any weight.
PRO TIP: Sanded and unsanded grouts are different. Unsanded grouts are smooth and great for super skinny grout lines. Sanded grout is gritty, stronger and recommended for grout lines ⅛” and larger. Sanded grout was in my stockpile, so I went for it regardless. I’m diggin the look. Earthy crunchy. Literally.
BONUS SECTION: THE WOOD TRIM
A normal person goes to the store to buy new wood, but I’m not normal. With a heaping wood stockpile to peruse, I found a solid plank and ripped it down to size. When you live in an old home, there’s no such thing as standard or plum. That’s called custom, baby.
Measure the width x length x height of the hearth. On a table saw, start by ripping the trim’s height (mine’s 1⅜” tall). Using a measuring tape to mark blade placement. Rip a few extra pieces in case cuts go bad. Determine the trim thickness (mine’s ¾” wide). Back at the saw, rip the trim once more, except this time width-wise.
SAFETY FIRST! The wood is rather skinny to rip at this point. As you make the cut, carefully reposition yourself to support the longer, already-cut side and steer clear of dat saw.
On a miter saw, set the angle to 45-degrees. Note the direction of the cut. On the backside of the newly-ripped trim, mark out the dimensions of the heath. Make sure to leave enough room to account for the depth, which will allow the angled corners to align properly. Cut it up, then double check the fit. If it’s sagging anywhere, cut a few homemade shims to prop it up.
Lastly, give those suckers a quick, light sanding. Apply a couple of coats of fast-drying polyurethane to let the wood grain shine. Grab a nail gun, fill ‘er up with finish nails and shoot those suckers in nice and tight.
POLYCOATED TILES ARE MY HERO. These aren’t your Mama’s cement tiles. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do anything for the right pattern. Having the luxury of a seal-less tiles affords me time and that, my fronds, is the best gift of all.
If you’re after a fireplace makeover on a budget, then doing it yourself is a damn good way to make sure you save them shekels, boo.
Gracious thanks to Saba Tile Company for gifting The Glamazon with these beautiful cement tiles. Your support of this budding lifestyle blog is much appreciated! As always, all opinions and experience expressed are my own.