I'm messy when I cook, which means the wall behind the stove gets kind of gross. For quite awhile, I had wanted to do a tile backsplash, and when I had some time off between quitting my old job and starting my new one at the end of November, I decided that was the perfect time for tiling.
As usual, I did a lot of looking online and at Home Depot before deciding on tiles. I decided on small, black, glass tiles, then Zach and I went to The Tile Shop in Columbia. We debated between square and hexagon tiles. The square ones would be easier, requiring no cutting, but we both kind of liked the little bit different style of the hexagon ones (we also had a hexagon wedding cake, so I guess it's a thing with us). I wasn't planning to tile the entire wall, just the the couple of feet underneath the microwave, behind the stove. I bought some glass tile nippers for cutting the tiles to create a straight border around the four edges. Thanks to Zach for doing most of the tile cutting!
Before we nipped the tile, I cut out a piece of cardboard from some package we had gotten (Zach does A LOT of online ordering, so we get packages frequently) to be the size of the area to be tiled. Then I laid out the tile on the cardboard to figure out how it would fit. The small hex tiles were connected on mesh backing, so I laid out the pieces and cut them to fit together as necessary. That way we knew where the edges were going to be to know which tiles needed to be nipped. I kept the tile pieces on the cardboard until just before putting them on the wall, so I knew how they were supposed to go.
I had talked to my dad at Thanksgiving, since he's so handy and has done tile work before, to see if he had any tips. He recommended trying Bondera, which is a sort of sticky paper that replaces mastic for attaching the tile to the wall. My dad had never used it, but had heard it works, and it seemed like the perfect thing for such a little area. The great thing about the Bondera is that you hardly have to wait to do the grouting. With mastic, you usually have to wait at least 24 hours before you can grout. Home Depot didn't have Bondera, but they had a similar thing, called SimpleMat, so that's what I used.
I had never grouted before, so I did what any good home improvement novice does these days -- I read about it online. First, you need the right tools, namely grout, a grout float, and a grout sponge. I got a small rubber grout float. I didn't get a special grout sponge, but just used a clean, new, regular sponge that I already had. Then came the question of sanded vs unsanded grout. The info I found said to use sanded grout if your grout lines (the space between tiles) is bigger than 1/8"; otherwise, use unsanded grout. Since my grout lines were small, I used unsanded grout. I got a small container of pre-mixed, unsanded grout at home depot. I picked a medium gray color because I thought white would be too much contrast with the black tiles. I also got some caulk to run between the tile and counter, tile and bottom of microwave/fan, and along the two sides, just to give it a more even edge look.
Once I had all my tools, it was time to get started. First, I measured my area, cut the SimpleMat in pieces to fit, pealed the film off one side, and stuck it to the wall. Easy!
Next I pealed the film off the other side of the SimpleMat, grabbed my cardboard piece holding the tiles and, piece by piece, stuck the tiles to the SimpleMat. Easy again!
Now things got a little more difficult, but mostly because it's hard to get any easier than the first two steps. I read tips online about how to mush the grout on and then put the grout float at an almost 90-degree angle to wipe off the excess grout. There will still be grout on the tiles. Let the grout start to dry for a few minutes, then clean off the grout with a sponge by wiping in a circular motion. There will still be a thin film of grout on the tiles. Let the grout dry all the way, according the instructions on the container, then clean off the film with a damp rag, then buff over it with a dry rag.
Thin film of after grouting
Next came the hardest part -- caulking. Again, I had never used a caulk gun before and didn't really know what it was all about. The key, which I learned by trial and error, is to turn the metal piece at the end clockwise to get the caulk squeezing out and counterclockwise to stop the flow of caulk. When you stop squeezing the caulk gun trigger, caulk will continue to slowly ooze out until you unscrew the metal piece a bit. Try to move the gun along smoothly to avoid getting globs of caulk. Use a wet finger to smooth the caulk. As you can see from the close-up photo below, I didn't do a super fantastic job getting nice even caulk lines, but when I tried to fix it, I seemed to make it worse, so I called this as good as it was going to get.
I sometimes wonder if I should have done the whole wall. I go back and forth on how I feel about it. But, at this point, it would be a lot of work to scrape up the caulk and rip out the tiles to redo it all the way, so we'll live with it this way for the foreseeable future. And it certainly doesn't look bad. I'm actually pretty pleased with my first foray into tile work.