How to Tile a Tabletop
Practice your tiling skills while making a fabulous, functional table! After you master this, you'll be able to tackle any tiling task.
Before you tackle a full-scale floor, wall, or countertop, you may want to take on a project that gives you a chance to practice each step. Tiling the top of a small table provides this opportunity.
It's a surface on which you can carry out tile installation techniques on a small scale: prepping the surface, dry-laying tile, snapping layout and reference lines, applying mortar, and setting and grouting the tile. If the dimensions of the table won't accommodate a setting of full tiles, you can practice cutting edge tiles, too.
Tile can add new life to an old table. If the top is a little warped, you can set small tile, which doesn't crack as easily as large tile. If the table is severely warped, sand it with a belt sander first. The tabletop installation shown here uses thinset for the adhesive, but if the table is primarily decorative and won't receive heavy use, use organic mastic as the adhesive.
What You Need
- Tabletop tiles
- Chalk line
- Framing square
- Utility knife
- Margin and notched trowels
- Grout float
- Masonry stone
Step 1: Dry Lay Tile
Lay one course of tiles without thinset on the table across its width and another course across its length. Adjust the courses to leave at least a half tile at the edges, if possible. Mark the ends of the table at the edges of each row.
Step 2: Snap Grid
Remove the dry-laid tile; snap reference lines at the marks on the table. Test the intersection of the lines with the 3-4-5 triangle method or a framing square. Adjust the lines if necessary to make them perpendicular to each other. Snap additional layout grids if necessary.
Step 3: Spread Thinset
Mix enough thinset to cover the table (or a section of it). Spread thinset to an even thickness with the straight edge of a trowel, keeping it within the layout lines. Then use the notched edge to comb the mortar to create ridges.
Step 4: Lay Tiles
Starting at the intersection of a layout grid, lay the field tiles in the pattern of your choice, keeping them on the layout lines and spacing them as you go. Remove excess mortar from joints and let the mortar set up. Measure and cut any edge tiles, rounding the cut edge with a masonry stone.
Step 5: Set Edges and Mortar
When the mortar is dry, set the edge tiles with the factory edge to the outside of the table. Let the mortar cure and force grout into the joints with a grout float. Let the grout set up and scrape the excess off with the float. Clean the tiles at least twice and remove the haze with a soft rag.