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<p>Grouting Decorative Tiles</p>

Grouting Decorative Tiles

Illustration by Harry Bates
<p>Smoothing Grout</p>

Smoothing Grout

Illustration by Harry Bates

When you've paid dearly for attractive art tile to complement your home, the last thing you want is to undermine the craftsmanship with an improper installation. And unless you enjoy picking patches of grout out of tiny crevices in the tile, you definitely don't want to fill the joints the usual way, by spreading it across the face of the tile with a grout float. Here's how to get the job done right.

1. Set the tile. Comb latex-modified thinset mortar onto the wall with a ¼-inch notched trowel. Since handmade tiles often have uneven backs, apply a smooth coat of thinset to their back sides. This extra step, known as back buttering, ensures a complete bond between surface and tile.

2. Bag the grout. The next day, cover the edges of the art tiles with blue painter's tape, leaving only the grout line exposed. Then, mix up the grout and scoop it into a grout bag (available at masonry supply stores or on the Web). Twist the open end of the bag closed, and squeeze the bag with one hand to control the flow as you guide the nozzle with the other hand. Fill the joints around the tiles completely. (Slide 1, at left)

3. Tool it smooth. Carefully pack the grout into the joint with the edge of the grout float, or use a plastic teaspoon if you have one handy. Remove the tape and clean up grout residue the usual way, with a sponge and water. (Slide 2)

TOH tip

Before grouting, seal unglazed or crackle-finish tiles with an impregnating sealer to keep them from becoming discolored.