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Before you begin adhering tile to the now prepared surface it is recommended that you lay out your tile first. At this time you can move tile around to create a pleasing arrangement. If you have variation in your tile colors then this is an opportunity to balance the placement of the various shades. You don't want all the darker tiles clustered together for instance. Favorite or unusual tiles can get a more central placement.
layout tile
 
 

Now we are ready to install the first tile. I recommend that you start in the upper corner of the firebox opening. These corners can be your referrence points to aid in getting the proper spacing. Begin by selecting your first tile and apply adhesive thoroughly to the back side. With a custom job like this I usually 'back butter' each individual tile rather than troweling the adhesive onto the prepared surface. This ensures that each tile is completely bonded by adhesive. It also allows you plenty of time to get the placement right without feeling rushed to get a group of tiles up before the adhesive begins to set. In this way you can take as many hours, days or even weeks to be sure your tile are where you want them. I recommend using a powder mixed thinset adhesive. They come in big bags at home depot. The more expensive ones have modifiers in them to make them more flexible when set. I recommend these. They often come in white or grey. If you are using a light or white grout later then I recommend the white adhesive. Mix according to instructions.

Below from left to right the tile is buttered with adhesive.Next it is pressed into place making sure adhesive squeezes out around the edges. you can wipe off the excess if need be. I then use painters 'blue tape' to hold the tile in place until they are set. This usually doesn't take too long when adhering to backer board. Maybe fifteen minutes or so. Leave the tape up as long as possible. If you remove it early take care not to break the bond between tile and backer board or you will have to remove the tile and reapply the adhesive.

 
buttering tile
first tile
corners
  Install the bullnose tile around the opening in the same manner. My tile are designed so that there are no cuts made. When this is not an option make your cuts as unnobtrusive as possible and keep your tile sizes symmetric. For example you could make a shorter piece that falls in the middle of a stretch of bullnose, or you could have two shorter tiles at each end of a stretch. A good layout will minimize these modifications. Here the bullnose are in place and a stretch of 1x1 tiles are adhered to determine the placement of the outside border tiles. I can adjust the grout joint to make up for a tight or loose fit to a point. If the grout joint becomes impossibly large or tight then modifications may need to be made to the surrounding wood. Here of course everything fits perfect! Again down the bottom I run a row of tiles to establish the placement of the bottom border tile. When all the border tile are glued up I am ready to start filling in with the 1x1 tiles.
 
fitting bullnose
start 1x1tile
start closeup
 
Use a square to pencil in reference lines to keep your tile straight.
Work in sections so that you can control your grout lines.
Working in one section at a time you work your way around the fireplace.
 
useing square
apply in sections
install the tile
 
Continue around the face of the fireplace.
The hearth area is done in much the same manner although here you don't need to use the blue tape.
Except for a few pieces headed back to the kiln for refiring the glueing up part is finished.
 
one half
hearth area
almost finish close
    The next step is grouting. Unfortunately my camera batteries died when I grouted this job so I will have to use another example fireplace for this phase. The principles are identicle however. The grouting tutorial will be coming soon. Sorry for the wait. I have tile to press!  
 
almost finished

 

Installing tile on a metal insert style Fireplace.

This is Part Two of a tutorial for the installation of handmade tile on An insert fireplace.
by: Richard Pruckler

Installing handmade Tile part two