The story of our non-traditional Subway Tile Backsplash Project
It was a fun family project. Better said, let’s put the wives together so they can DIY.
I said non-traditional DIY because, despite all the researching and staring at subway tile backsplash pictures on Pinterest for hours, we followed absolutely no instructions in this project.
BUT! it turned out great, and I want to share our easy DIY subway tile backsplash tips with you.
On a sunny Sunday, Julie and I decided it’s time to fix the eyesore wall of the kitchen island and refresh her kitchen’s look with white subway tiles.
We were looking at the ugly wall for a while with questions like “How to install subway tiles at the corners?” and “How we’re gonna tile around the electrical outlet” or “What kind of layout pattern we’re gonna choose?”.
Most importantly, where to start?
Well, here it goes. Keep scrolling and reading… who knows probably you’ll get inspired for a subway tile DIY project soon. 🙂
What did we need for this tile backsplash project?
Our tile toolset was the following:
- Daltile subway 3 in. X 6 in. Ceramic Modular Wall Tile (12.5 sq. ft. / case) from our best friend, Home Depot.
Manual Tile Cutter. (If you have a big surface to cover, you might want to get a saw.)
- Sanding paper
Can you put tiles on drywall?
When we started the project, we discovered that the paint is a little chipped in some places.
Most likely, the white paint the previous owner used on the wall had some moisture damage. I sanded down, and we found out that below the surface, we got drywall.
Water-resistant drywall is a good backer board to install backsplash tiles around sinks and other places in the kitchen. These kitchen surfaces might get high humidity, and it could affect regular drywalls. The boards are made from water-repellent gypsum and are covered by water-resistant paper.
So, the short answer is yes; you can put tiles on drywall. Just make sure if you install the subway tiles around sinks and splashy areas, choose a water-resistant backer board.
Where to begin a backsplash subway tile project?
We prepared the wall for the tiles.
We only needed to protect the floor and used an old bed sheet for that. If you need to protect cabinets, counters, etc. you might want to use painter’s tape.
We also removed the outlet cover (Remember when you deal with outlets and switches you want to do it with the power off)
Since this kitchen island won’t have any sink in it and we don’t have to worry about water and moisture, we decided to apply the white subway tiles directly to the painted drywall.
However, I sanded the paint down a little bit with medium-grade sandpaper.
How to layout subway tile backsplash
There are so many cool subway tile installation patterns. Go ahead, google it or jump on Pinterest and do a little research.
Here is a pix about the most commonly used subway tile layouts.
If you scroll back up, you can see this kitchen already has a subway tile pattern with the most common one (number 3 on the pix above). So we decided we won’t complicate things and followed the same pattern.
Once you decide on the subway tile layout pattern, you can jump into the next step.
Installing subway tile without spacers
We used OmniGrip 1 Gal. Maximum Strength Tile Adhesive to put the tiles.
Julie is right-handed; therefore, she started to put the tile adhesive on the right side of the wall. (I would start from the left:).) Anyway, I took over the trowel and applied the glue to the wall in small sections at a time.
Once we had a thin layer applied and only one big trowel to work with, I held it in a 45-degree angle to take off the excess. This not only removes extra adhesive but also creates grooves that will make the tile stick and stay on the wall forever.
Once the wall had the groove, Julie started to put the tiles following the classic subway tile pattern. For this layout, you have to cut the tiles in half in every second row.
Remember? We used no instructions.
So just grabbed the first tile and lined it up with the beginning of the right edge close to the floor. The margin on the floor was our guideline because it is fairly leveled.
To apply your tile in a subway pattern, start with a full piece of tile on your first row, then cut a piece of tile in half to begin your second row.
You’ll have several minutes before the adhesive sets, but remember to work step by step and small sections at the time. It will give you time to do little corrections like if one tile isn’t straight or too far away from the other.
How to cut subway tile without wet saw
And now we got to the fun part. Soon enough, you’ll get to the end of the row, and you’ll have to cut a tile.
We had no wet saw. BUT, we had less than 27 square feet wall to work on. Our backsplash DIY project was small, and we were up to the challenge to use a manual tile cutter.
So when we had to cut a tile in half or when we got to the outlet, we had to cut and used the manual ceramic tile cutter.
We marked the tile with a pencil where we needed to cut and went outside to make the magic happen. Here is a super quick video of how to use a tile cutter.
Cutting a subway tile with a wet saw is so much easier and time saver. If you have it, use it. If you really wants that precious little thing, rent it.
how to tile around electrical outlets
Once we got close to the outlet, we marked the tiles with a pencil and cut it.
The good news is, even if you use a manual tile cutter and your cut isn’t perfect, the outlet cover will hide the imperfections. So don’t be afraid; just keep going with the project.
How to install subway tile backsplash corners
And now we got to the other fun part.
Make sure you don’t cut a lot of tile in advance to the same size. Often happens the wall is a little bit shorter or longer in the different rows. Go figure…
We waited to finish each row and marked the last tile with the pencil before cutting it.
Since the wall was leveled and it is kind of hidden under a big counter, we decided we don’t use spacers, but I strongly suggest if you think your eyes will see every little imperfection use them. They keep the tiles level and evenly spaced.
That’s it! We didn’t grout yet, but when we will we won’t use a dark color as they did on the kitchen wall. I’m not sure why the previous owner decided on the dark grout color…
Now the kitchen looks more welcoming and it got a nice farmhouse charm with the subway tiles.
Subway tile kitchen backsplash DIY was fun and easy.
So easy it attracted the little one to help us out too. 😉
Let’s see what we learned by DIYing this kitchen backsplash:
- Labor was for free. For sure, we saved hundreds of dollars.
- We had no strangers in the house the whole day long.
- It took only half-day for two people to finish this project.
- We had fun and learned how to install subway tiles.
- I truly believe we made less mess than a crew of workers.
While the women were working on the kitchen makeover, my husband was working on a super cool entryway bench. Can’t you tell the whole family loves DIY home decor? 😉
If you like DIY projects and want more ideas, check out our home improvement posts:
- How to reclaim on old wooden table
- How to update your backyard on a budget
- Bean bag chair tutorial
- Colorful spray painted planters
Have you worked with subway tiles? Let me know your tips in the comments.
As always, don’t forget to pin it and share so others can get into the DIY groove too.