How to Install Quarry Tiles

| Last Updated: August 23, 2021

Tools Required
  • Utility knife
  • Carpenter’s level
  • Carpenter’s square
  • Chalk line
  • Grout float
  • Tape measure
  • Hammer
  • Old toothbrush
  • Notched trowel
    or spreader
  • Tile cutter
  • Tile nippers
  • Pliers
  • Shop vacuum
Materials Required
  • Cement backerboard
    and screws
  • Fiberglass tape
  • Dry mortar
  • Quarry tiles
  • Tile spacers
  • Latex thin set mortar
  • Work gloves
  • Sponge
  • Tile cleaner
  • Silicone caulk
  • Clean rags
  • Safety glasses
  • Silicone grout sealer

Before You Begin

End Closet Clutter

To install quarry tiles remove the existing flooring material including the baseboard and trim and clean the surface so it is free of dirt, oil, paint, and wax. Use pliers to pull out any staples on the floor and thoroughly clean the surface of the floor with a shop vacuum.

Use a claw hammer to remove nails in the baseboard and trim. If you’re carefully removing the nails from the trim you can reuse it, otherwise plan to purchase and install new trim after the tile is installed.

The key to a good tile installation is the soundness of the underlayment so there’s no danger of tiles cracking from a flexing floor. One-half-inch thick cement backerboard is a good choice for setting base for a tile floor and it can be installed over a stable plywood subfloor or a tightly nailed hardwood floor. If the floor bounces when you walk on it, renail the subfloor to the floor joists. Also add rigidity with the addition of bridging between the joists. You can shim the subfloor with wooden shims driven between the top edge of the joists and the bottom face of the subfloor.

A concrete slab or floor is a good setting base for a tile floor if the concrete is flat, even and if it’s stable without any cracks and thoroughly clean.

In the planning stage, remember to include door thresholds, which are wood, metal, or marble strips that bridge the gaps between different floor surfaces.

Step 1 : Plan the layout of the cement backerboard panels

These rough-edged panels are heavy and sold in a variety of sizes. Because of its weight the 3-foot-by-5-foot or 4-foot-by-8-foot panels are a good choice.

Plan to lay out the panels so they’re perpendicular to the subfloor. It helps to use a chalk line to lay down guidelines to follow. Plan the layout so there is not a four-corners joint because the corner edges are its weakest point. Stagger the layout of the panels so there’s always one continuous edge to provide the most strength. Choose backerboard panels with premarked screw locations for the easiest installation.

Step 2 : Lay out the backerboard

Depending on the size of the room and the size of panels, determine what panels require cutting. Use a tape measure to mark panels for cutting, then use a straightedge and utility knife to cut through them. Wear work gloves and safety glasses when cutting because the backerboard has rough edges. Score the panel on both sides with the utility knife, then press down near the score line.

Step 3 : Spread the mortar adhesive and lay the panels

To install quarry tiles mix powdered mortar according to the manufacturer’s directions. Use a trowel to spread the mortar adhesive on the subfloor and comb it out so it is smooth. Place the first row of panels on the chalk line. On subsequent rows lean the panels on edge and gently lower them in place leaving about 1/8-inch space between them. Allow for a 1/4-inch gap between the panels and the walls.

Secure the panels with backerboard screws. Then fill in the joints with the mortar adhesive and lay down fiberglass tape embedded in the adhesive where one or both edges are square or cut. If the panels have rounded edges no tape is required, just fill in the joints where both panel edges are uncut. Make a second application of adhesive to cover the tape and feather the edges.

Step 4 : Lay out the floor with reference lines

Measure the room to find the center of two opposite walls and use the points to snap a chalk line across the length of the room in the center of the floor, dividing the room in half. Snap another chalk line perpendicular to the first so the two lines cross in the center of the room. Use a carpenter’s square to make sure the center point is square.

The goal for the layout is to use as many full tiles as you can and end up with at least half a tile width in the areas where the tiles meet the walls. Use tiles to lay out a row across the width and length of the room. Leave a little spacing for the grout joints or use tile spacers between the tiles. This dry layout gives you an idea of any adjustments needed.

Step 5 : Apply the adhesive

Give the backerboard a final wipe down with a damp sponge to remove dust. Then follow the manufacturer’s direction to mix and apply the adhesive. Provide good ventilation and follow the suggestions for safety precautions using the adhesive.

Spread the adhesive in an area approximately 10 square feet in the center of the room at the intersection of the reference lines you drew. Then use the lines as a guide as you work your way outward toward the walls in each quadrant.

Step 6 : Install the whole tiles first

Lay the first tile where the chalk lines intersect and twist the tile back and forth so it becomes embedded in the adhesive. Continue laying tiles out from the center and use tile spacers (set on end so they’re easy to remove) between the tiles to maintain straight grout lines.

If adhesive oozes up between the tiles, clean out the excess between the tiles before it dries and wipe off any adhesive on the face of the tiles immediately with a solvent-soaked sponge or rag. Follow the manufacturer’s suggestion for the appropriate solvent.

Step 7 : Cut tiles to fit

Set the remaining tiles making sure to butt the edges against each other. To make sure the tiles are level, lay a scrap piece of 2×4 or other lumber on the tiles and gently tap with a rubber mallet to embed them in the adhesive.

After laying all the whole tiles, mark and cut tiles to fill around the perimeter of the room. To mark border tiles, place a full tile on top of the tile at the edge of the field and another tile on top of it. This will mark the distance to the wall, which is the size of the tile needed.

Carefully measure any tile that requires cutting to fit. Then use a tile cutter for straight cuts and a hand-held tile nipper for the more tricky curved cuts. A tile cutter works similar to a table saw. Position the tile under the cutting wheel of the cutter along its marked cutout line. Then pull the wheel toward you to score the tile. Lift the cutting wheel, strike the handle and snap the tile along the mark to complete the cut.

To use a tile nipper on a tile marked with a cutout line, center the cutting blade on the scribed line and exert pressure by squeezing the handles together. Hold the side of the tile with your other hand. Often this requires making a notch and taking small bites out of the area and then enlarging it. Use a round file or rotary grinder to smooth rough edges of areas that have been nibbled away.

Step 8 : Let the tile adhesive dry

Before the adhesive has fully set, use pliers to pull out the tile spacers. Keep foot traffic off of the newly tiled surface for at least 24-48 hours depending on the recommendations by the manufacturer.

Step 9 : Grout and seal (if necessary)

Mix grout according to manufacturer’s directions, usually to a consistency of a thick paste. Use a rubber float to force the grout between tiles. Hold the float almost perpendicular to the floor as you push grout into the joints.

Wipe away excess grout which can leave a haze on the surface of the tiles.

Use the end of an old toothbrush to strike the grout lines so they’re uniformly smooth. As quickly as possible, wipe off the excess grout from the surface of the tiles, usually best done with a large damp sponge followed by polishing with a dry cloth. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for curing and sealing the grout.

Step 10 : Install the wood trim

Use a silicone caulk to seal the small space between the tile edge and the wall around the perimeter of the room. Then install the baseboard trim and door thresholds.

Welcome! We hope you’ll find the job costs of home improvement projects useful when you’re deciding whether to do a job yourself vs. hire a contractor. We’re the authors of 20 home improvement books, most notably Home Improvement for Dummies©, Bathroom Remodeling for Dummies©, Carpentry for Dummies©, Plumbing for Dummies©, and Painting and Wallpapering for Dummies©. Our most recent book Fix It and Flip It is in its second edition. We’ve appeared as home improvement experts on television programs such as CNN, Dateline, the Today Show, HGTV and many others.