Floors and walls are rarely straight, square and uninterrupted by obstacles like outlet boxes, pipes, corners and jogs. In nearly every ceramic tile installation, you may encounter some oddly shaped areas you need to work around. While every odd shape may be unique, the method of installing tile to fit problem areas remains the same. Implement a few tricks of the trade to maneuver around any object that comes in the path of your ceramic tile installation.
Measure and Mark
Odd shapes and obstacles in a room often have more attention called to them if the tile isn't cut cleanly around it. Uneven or jagged cuts often occur if proper measurements and tile marking isn't done. Whenever possible, hold the tile itself up to the oddly shaped area you need to tile around and draw the shape right on the surface of the tile with a grease pencil. If you can't get the tile itself around the area, try making a template out of cardboard or paper that is cut down to the size and shape of the tile. Cut the cardboard or paper to go around the object or area, then place it on top of the tile and trace its edge to indicate the area of the tile to cut away.
Often an oddly shaped area requires a notch cut to be made in the tile, either in a corner to fit around an outlet, or out of one side of the tile to fit around a pipe or valve. Make the corner cuts on a tile wet saw by making two cuts that intersect one another to remove the corner. Notches in the side of the tile are made using a wet saw and a pair of tile nippers. Make the two parallel cuts on each side of the notch on the wet saw, then make several more parallel cuts through the interior of the area until it resembles the teeth of a comb. Cut the teeth away from the notch with a pair of nippers.
Hole and Round Cuts
Sometimes the odd-shaped area requires a hole or half-circle cut into the tile to fit around it. Make any hole to fit over a pipe or valve with a hole saw that has a guiding bit. Clamp the tile down tightly, put the bit in the center of the tile and drill straight down. Half circles cut into the side of the tile are made similarly to side-notch cuts. Draw the half-circle on the tile, then make several parallel cuts into it on a wet saw. Cut out pieces that remain with a pair of nippers to reveal the half circle.
Most tile installations that go around odd shapes continue just like the rest of the floor or wall tile installation. Occasionally though, the area is too irregular to get the trowel into, meaning you can't spread the mortar adequately. When this happens, instead of attempting to get the mortar onto the substrate, apply it to the back of the tile. This is known as back buttering. Smooth the mortar onto the entire back of the tile in a thin layer with the flat edge of the trowel, then carefully place the tile into position and tap it into place with a rubber mallet.