How to Lay TileHard flooring, including ceramic and quarry tiles, stone, and slate, creates a hardwearing, waterproof finish that is perfect for busy areas of the home. Laid correctly, it will give years of service.

This flooring is not as easy to lay as soft floor tiles, so it is worth planning the layout first on graph paper and investing in the correct cutting tools.

Ceramic tiles
Plan the layout of ceramic tiles as for soft floor tiles, then fix two marker battens (furring strips) against the edges of the last whole tiles laid. Use a try or combination square to ensure the battens form a perfect right angle, and on a solid floor secure them with masonry nails.

Apply adhesive with a notched spreader to an area of about 1 sq m (1 lsq ft), and lay the tiles according to the dry run. Use pieces of thick card or floor tile spacers to maintain even gaps for grouting. Lay up to a dozen tiles at a time, using a long straightedge and spirit level to check that the tiles are straight and the surface horizontal. Work across the room in this fashion, then leave the tiles for 24 hours to set before tackling edge tiles.

To mark an edge tile for cutting, follow the technique described for soft floor tiles. A proper floor tile jig will make cutting easier. Apply tile adhesive to the back of cut tiles, not the floor. Leave the floor for 24 hours, then grout it. Apply grout with a dry sponge to lsq m (1 lsq ft) at a time, neatening joints with a grouting tool or piece of dowel.

Wipe off excess grout with a damp sponge and, when it has set, buff the surface with a clean dry cloth.

Quarry tiles, stone, and slate
Plan the layout and set out two guide battens in the same manner as described for ceramic floor tiles. The battens used should be twice the thickness of the flooring.

Dry-lay a batch of tiles and nail the third batten to the floor so that it butts against them and is parallel to one of the other battens. Check that the battens are level, adding packing pieces to adjust them if necessary.

Mix mortar from one part cement and three parts builders’ sand. Lay a 12mm (Kin) thick bed for quarry tiles and 8mm for stone and slate, leveling it by dragging a notched board across the bay. The cut notches at each end of the board should be the thickness of a tile less than 3mm.

Sprinkle dry cement over the mortar, then lay all the tiles to complete the bay. Insert floor tile spacers or pieces of dowel to maintain even gaps between machine-made quarry tiles. Use the point of a trowel to form 10mm gaps between hand-made tiles and slabs.

Tamp down the tiles with the unnotched side of the board until they are level with the battens, and wipe any mortar from the face of the tiles before it hardens.

Move the outer batten to form another bay of the same size and work section by section across the room until the main area of the floor is complete. Leave to set for one or two days. When the tiles can be walked on, remove the battens, and fit the edge tiles. Apply mortar to the floor and level it first with a small notched piece of board.

Seal joints with a waterproof grout or point with a dry 1:3 mortar mix.

Cutting techniques
To cut ceramic and quarry tiles to fit around obstacles such as pipes and external corners, mark the cutting line on the tile and nibble away the waste with pincers. When most of the waste has been removed, smooth the rough edge with a tile file. Stone and slate must be chipped away with a bolster chisel and hammer. For cutting ceramic floor tiles, hire or buy a floor tile jig capable of cutting thicknesses up to 18mm.

Ceramic tiles can be laid on a plywood sub-floor over floorboards, but a suspended timber floor may not be strong enough for other types of hard flooring. Solid floors provide an ideal base, and hard flooring can be laid where there is underfloor heating or no damp-proof course.

Practical tip
Tiles with a smooth back can be laid on a thin 3mm bed of adhesive, but tiles with studs will need a 6-12mm bed.