We finally finished tiling the ensuite over the weekend,yay! Just one more bathroom to go. The first thing we attempted to tile was the kitchen splashback. Several friends warned us against DIY tiling and recommended we hire a professional, lending stories of tiles 'moving' as the tile cement shifted throughout the job, and disastrous grouting stories. However we had a few friends and family members who had tiled entire bathrooms and kitchens with good results, and when my 5 year old nephew showed me a 1x1cm tile he had just cut out in the garage I thought surely we can do this.
We started the splashback slowly, so my first tip would be give yourself plenty of time to build your confidence. As long as you use tile spacers (below) between your tiles you shouldn't have a problem with the tiles shifting while the cement is still wet, but we still started out doing one row at a time - letting it dry overnight - then the next row. It was slow but made the whole task much less daunting and it's not hard to do a row of splashback when you get home each evening.
The second tip a friend who was gradually tiling a fireplace shared with us was that you don't have to apply adhesive to the wall with a notched trowel the way the pros do. If you're doing the job gradually, it's easier to pencil a grid onto the tiling substrate (villaboard or water resistant plasterboard but NOT 'blueboard' which is for eaves and won't hold the adhesive over time) then use your notched trowel to apply the adhesive directly to each tile. It's slow but for a beginner it's a lot easier and less stressful than the traditional 'working with mud' entails.
This is an area of the shower wall - Watershield coated with waterproofing membrance - roughly penciled to keep our subway tile pattern in order.
As convenient as they seem, I'd steer away from the premixed tile adhesives if you can, because they are VERY stinky and take a lot longer to cure. It's not hard to mix up small batches of dry mix in an ice-cream container and you get used to the right consistency pretty quickly. Remember to add a primer to the mix for wet areas.
The same goes for grouting. Take your time and break it into workable chunks. You can't expect to be able to do a good job as quickly as a professional when you're new to it, and if you commence a big area you might find the grout will start to set faster than you can get back to shape it. It's a good idea to have two people - one person applying the grout with a float, and another person sponging off excess and shaping the grout with a finger or piece of pipe or dowel.
Nothing ruins a perfect tiling job more than grout that looks flat and smudged between the tiles so you need to wipe the excess grout into a concave line while it's still damp enough as in the picture above and the video below.
If you do leave the shaping of the grout a minute or two too long and the grout gets a dragged look, don't worry, just use a wet finger to smooth it out. These ultimatehandyman.co.uk videos are great by the way and there's more on tiling and cutting tiles from them on youtube.
The final tip for DIY tiling I have is to buy a coloured caulk that matches your grout for doing any floor-wall or wall-wall (corner) junctions. You never want to butt tiles against each other because walls inevitably move and you could end up with cracked tiles, so a line of flexible caulk is required.
Dunlop has a range of coloured caulks that match their grouts, as I'm sure other manufacturers do. We used 'Misty Grey' grout and caulk and they matched perfectly and worked really well.
Again, a finger moistened with some dishwashing detergent is perhaps the best tool for shaping the caulk, but these little yellow plastic doovers from Bunnings are also good. Have an old rag or paper towel on hand for wiping excess caulk onto as you go.
So the tiling of the ensuite is done, and I've booked a shower screen measure up for Thursday. It's so wonderful to see so much hard work coming to fruition - a real payoff of DIYing. Would we ever appreciate a shower area quite so much if we hadn't tiled it ourselves?