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Install Mosaic Tile Sheets

Tips to Make the Job Easier

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Ceramic tile tends to come in sizes of 6 inch or 12 inch square, or even larger, ranging up to 18 inches square.

But when you get into the world of small 1 inch or smaller square tiles (called tesserae, plural), installation can be quite difficult. In the ancient days of tile installation, during the Roman and Greek periods, tile installers would painstakingly lay each tessera individually. Nowadays, who has the time for this?

But it is not just a matter of time; it is a matter of accurate installation. Installing hundreds of little tiles within one square foot is a recipe for crooked lines. Multiple iterations make your kitchen or bathroom floor look terrible.

Solution: Mesh-Based Tessarae. Or Is It?

The solution--we think--is to use mosaic tile sheets. Often 144 tiles, more or less, are affixed to a fiberglass mesh sheet, which holds all of the tiles in place. This mosaic sheet represents one square foot. At first glance, the mosaic tile sheet is your friend!

True, we have improved upon the ancient technique of installing individual tessarae. But it's not a smooth slope all the way to flawless completion. Here's why:

Unified bundles of mosaic tessarae do not behave the way a single 12" x 12" tile might; they still can warp, shift, and create lippage, giving your new tile floor the look of an ancient Roman floor, and not in a good way.

Here are a few tips that will make the project of mosaic tile installation much easier:

Cutting Mosaic

The beauty of mosaic is that you minimize cutting. With the big tiles, due to their larger scale it's impossible to get away without cutting. But mosaic is almost like having a big 12"x12" tile that has pre-scored perforations every inch.
  • Cut from Back: If you need to cut a mosaic sheet, cut from the back with a utility knife.
  • Or Top, With Scissors: If you prefer to cut the mosaic sheet from the top with scissors, it is harder to get a clean cut. You will need to slightly bend the two courses of tiles between which you are cutting. This gives your scissors room to fit.
  • Avoid Cutting Tiles: As much as possible, make sure the mosaic tile sheets are cut between tiles. It is difficult to cut individual tiles.
  • If You Must Cut Tiles: You have several options for tile-cutting, ranging from dirt-cheap to pricey. Presumably you won't be cutting a lot of mosaic, in which can you can use a rail cutter and a tile nibbler. The rail cutter (or snap tile cutter, as it is sometimes called) can cut an entire row of tiles by scoring them and then snapping them in half. The nibbler looks like a pair of pliers, and it allows you to cut one tile at a time.

Embedding the Tile

  • Careful of Shifting Tiles: Remember that even though the tiles are affixed to a single sheet, the sheets are flexible and do not necessarily keep the tiles within perfectly square. After you embed the mosaic tile sheet in the thinset mortar, you need to make sure that the tiles within the sheet are properly lined up.
  • Go Easy on Thinset: You think you've laid down the proper amount of thinset. Then you press down the mosaic, and thinset mushes up between the tiles. Thinset mush isn't such a big deal when you're dealing with big, single tiles (12"x12", for instance), because you only have four edges to clean. But when it's 144 tiles in a mosaic, cleaning out the seams can be a royal pain, and it never looks good. Moral of story: use less thinset than you think you'll need.
  • Tamp Into Thinset: Use a small piece of plywood (about 8 inches square) and a rubber mallet to tap down the mosaic sheet into the thinset mortar. This flattens it out, giving it a nice smooth surface. Also, it ensures that the mosaic tile sheet is firmly embedded in the mortar.
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