DIY Tile Mosaic

Use these tips and techniques to top off a table or counter with a DIY tile mosaic.

By Benjamin Hardy | Updated Feb 7, 2018 3:02 PM

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DIY Tile Mosaic

Photo: Flickr

Anyone can create a real tile mosaic on almost any surface top. The technique is much easier than it sounds. First you should look in a tile store to see what is available (watch video: “touring a ceramic tile showroom”) Then decide on a pattern you want. There are many books available that give step-by-step instructions as well as design ideas.

Sketch your pattern on the surface you’re going to tile over. You can tile over almost any surface. The first step is to prepare the surface, making sure the tile will adhere to the surface. You do this by scoring the surface with a utility knife, then coating the surface with a mixture of watered-down white glue. Next you take a tile cement, commonly known as thin set or mortar, and spread a thin coating over the surface. Place your tiles in the cement according to the pattern you drew. After the cement has set, fill the gaps between the tiles with tile grout. Most people think grout is available only in white. If you look in a hardware store you’ll find many different colors of grout available. Use a trowel to apply the grout over all of the seams between the individual tiles, then wipe away the excess with a sponge. Tiles range anywhere from $2 to $50 a square foot. The cost of the project is up to you.

How to create a mosaic on a countertop
Have you ever been in a cafe or restaurant and admired the mosaic tile on the tabletops or walls? Well, it’s not that hard to bring that look into your own home. Where’s a good place to add a mosaic in your home? Kitchens and bathrooms are the obvious choices, but anywhere you want to add a decorative accent is fine. For example, consider embellishing a corner table purchased from an unfinished furniture store. This is a great little project. All you have to do is add a coat of paint and then make a small mosaic on the tabletop using some different size tiles. This same technique works equally well for a larger area, such as a countertop, as for a small space, such as an accent table.

Before starting this project, what should you do first?
Take some time researching what you want to do before you start laying tiles down. There are tons of books on ceramic tiles at your bookstore. A recommendation is to just thumb through them to get some inspiration for your design. Once you have a basic idea of what you want to do, it’s a good idea to draw a sketch of your design.

Then you’ll want to place the actual tiles on the countertop, starting from the center and working outwards, to make sure you’re happy with the design. Try working with some diamond shapes, border the edges, and fill in the rest with a simple mosaic. Once you have everything in place, take a magic marker and mark the tiles’ location.

You may be doing this over plywood. What do you do if you have a different surface to work with? You can really apply ceramic tile over any surface as long as it’s rigid. You just have to make sure that the tile mortar has something to grab on to. Since plywood is really smooth, take a utility knife and score the surface by making lattice-shaped cuts. Then take a watered-down white glue and apply a light coat to the surface to help seal it from water and improve adhesion.

How do you actually cement the tiles to the surface?
Before you cement the tiles in place, you have to prepare the tiles for the mosaic sections. How do you do that? This is where you can get some aggression out. Take a mix of tiles, wrap them in a towel, take a hammer and give them a good whack. This is the simplest way to get the broken pieces of tile you’ll need for the mosaic sections. For the border mosaics, we’re going to need some smaller pieces of tile. For the smaller pieces you use a tile nibbler to break off pieces the size you need.

To cement the tiles in place, use mortar that you can buy at any tile store. You just trowel the mortar on about 1/8th-inch thick. Use the edge of the trowel to score the mortar, then put your tiles in place. For the mosaic sections you use the same process. Take the different pieces of tile and arrange them however you like. Try to keep the spaces between tiles to 1/8th of an inch.

How much does a project like this cost?
Tiles can cost from $2 to $50 per square foot. The technique is the same for all tiles. Your cost will depend on the size of the project and the cost of the tiles you select.

How do you finish the project?
You have to grout the tiles after the mortar has set up or dried. Remember, tile grout is available in many colors, not just white. Select one that matches and apply it by using a grout trowel. Smear the grout over the top of the tiles, filling in all the seams. To clean the tiles, wipe off any excess grout with a sponge. Let it dry overnight, and you’re done!