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How to Lay/Set Mexican Tile

Setting Mexican Tile

The irregular shapes of Mexican tile makes the process for setting them a little different than setting commercial ceramic tile. The consistency in the size of factory tile allows for narrow grout joints and the use of a straight edge to assure that rows are straight and level. In contrast, handmade Mexican tile are generally set with a 1/8 inch grout joint and the process requires adjusting each tile to achieve the desired look. This section of our website is designed to give you some things to consider when installing your beautiful Mexican tile.


Site preparation

There are many good resources on the web including some good YouTube videos that cover the proper way to create a structurally sound surface on which to place your tile. There are also several good books on the subject including “Setting Tile” by Michael Byrne, Taunton press. The important considerations to remember are:

• Take your time and create a solid backing structure. Failure to do this can result in cracks and even loose tile over time.

• Make sure your starting surfaces are flat, square and plumb. If there is an issue that can’t be corrected, understand how it will impact the tile layout and how best to minimize it’s affect on the finished project.

• For vanity tops, consider how you will treat the exposed edges and make sure the structure is of adequate thickness to support it. We offer V cap, bullnose and quarter round trim for this detail.


Planning your layout

For horizontal surfaces:

• Find the center of the surface in both directions and draw lines at your marks for centerline reference. Lay a line of tile out in both directions with the first tile centered over the centerlines. If the leftover space at the end of the rows requires a cut tile, it should be more than half a tile in width. If not, instead of starting with a centered single tile, try re-laying the tile, this time beginning with a tile on each side of the centerline.

Figure 1:  The centerline was drawn for this powder room vanity then shifted to the right equal to the width of the blue trim tile on the left to keep the trimmed orange tile on both sides equal width. In this example the tile were placed on each side of the centerline and then shifted to the right.


For Vertical surfaces:

• Find your vertical centerline and layout a line of tile to determine if a tile centered over the centerline or tile on either side of the centerline will give you more than half a cut tile at the ends of the run. Once you have determined the tile layout, use a level and draw a vertical line to mark one edge of each column of tile. Make sure these lines are parallel and plumb (level).

• For establishing the first line for tile rows, measure from the floor up: one tile width plus a grout line width (i.e. 4 1/8 + 1/8 = 4 ¼). Draw a level line at this point. Take several measurements along this line to the floor to make sure the floor is relatively level. If not, you may need to adjust your line up or down to balance out the bottom grout line so it is not too thick or too thin at any point. You can continue making horizontal lines up the project surface to help in the initial placement of your tile.


Placing your tile:

• Screw a straight board to the work surface with the top edge on the first line you marked. Mix your thinset per the manufacturer’s instructions and apply to the work surface from the board up to the second line using a ¼ inch tooth edged trowel. Position your row of tile so they rest on the board and are spaced 1/8 inch apart using tile spacers.

• Butter the back of any tiles that are concave with thinset so the back surface is flat before placing them. Once the tiles have set about a minute, check to see if they seem firmly in place, then remove the board and adjust the tile as shown in Figure 2 by lightly tapping the edge of the tile with a 3-4 inch putty knife using a hammer. Nudge the tiles up or down and/or rotate them slightly as needed. Once you are satisfied with their position, press firmly on each one to make sure they are well seated in the thinset without air bubbles underneath.

• Wipe off the face of the tile and remove excess thinset from the grout joints with a tile setting sponge. Place several rows of tile or partial rows of tile at a time and once they are set and adjusted before moving to the next rows.

• Keep checking the overall appearance of the rows and columns for any tile that seem out of skew. If there is a tile in the array that you want to adjust but will not budge with gentle nudging, remove the tile using a putty knife or a screwdriver, gently tapping it between the bottom of the tile and the work surface. Be ready to catch the tile when it comes loose or have a soft surface for it to land on. Scrape the thinset off the work surface and the back of the tile. Apply a new coat of thinset to the backside or the tile and place it back into position.


Figure 2: This illustration shows greatly exaggerated out of square tiles for demonstration purposes.

Incorrect: The upper row of tiles has been placed with the bottom edges level using a straight edge. The variation in size and shape is very noticeable along the top edges and at the grout joints. Correct: The lower row is the same tile but they have been adjusted up or down and rotated slightly to balance out the look of the tile and to give the row a more level look.