Step 4: Spread the thinset

spread the thinset
Photo: Kolin Smith
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In a clean bucket, combine dry thinset with latex additive, following the proportions on the packaging. Using a drill/driver fitted with a mixing paddle, slowly combine the ingredients until the mix is thick enough to stick to a trowel turned upside down.

Using the straight edge of the trowel, spread a layer of thinset into one quadrant of the substrate, making sure you can still see your layout lines. Turn the trowel around to the notched side, and holding it at an angle, scrape ridges into the thinset.
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    Tools List

    • utility knife
      Utility Knife
    • drill
      Drill/Driver with mixing paddle
    • notched trowel
      3/8-Inch Notched Trowel
    • caulk gun
      Caulking Gun
    • wet saw
      Wet-cutting Tile Saw
      (rents for about $40 a day)
    • four-foot level
      4 Foot level
    • putty knife
      Putty Knife
    • rubber float
      Rubber Grout Float
    • grout sponge
      Grout Sponge

    Shopping List

    1. TILES
    Available at home centers and tile dealers, though most high-end tile requires ordering as much as six weeks in advance. Tiles are sold by the square foot, ranging in price from $2 to about $50. You should look for tiles with a foot-traffic rating of 3 or above (on a scale of 1 to 5). Given a set of measurements, some tile dealers will calculate how much you need, and art-tile manufacturers may make you all the tiles, in the right sizes, to order. But you can also determine the square footage yourself: Multiply the length in inches by the width, and divide the result by 144. Then add 10 percent to that number for waste cuts.

    2. ½-INCH CEMENT OR FIBER-CEMENT BACKER BOARD
    to go over a plywood subfloor and create a flat, stable surface for installation.

    3. CONSTRUCTION ADHESIVE
    to glue backer board to the subfloor.

    4. 11/4-INCH BACKER-BOARD SCREWS
    to screw the backer board to the subfloor. 5. UNMIXED THINSET MORTAR
    Also known as setting cement. One 50-pound bag should be enough. Do not use mastic; it can’t take high heat.

    6. LATEX ADDITIVE
    to mix with the thinset, as the liquid. It improves flexibility and creates a stronger bond than a water-based mix.

    7. TILE SPACERS
    Porcelain tiles can have as little as a 1/8-inch gap between them, while ceramic tiles can be 3/6 to 3/8 inch apart and terra-cotta tiles can be spaced 3/4 inch apart. Handmade tiles may require special surface spacers that accommodate irregularities on the top edge. Buy spacers appropriate for your tile type and the grout lines your layout dictates.

    8. GROUT
    Use sanded grout if the space between your tiles will be greater than 1/8 inch, unsanded if it’s smaller. You can also buy colored grout to more closely match your tile.