Sometimes I get asked how to backbutter mosaic tiles. I constantly have to tell people that you really don’t need to. There are very few instances when you’ll need to backbutter a mosaic tile. Normally if you feel the need to backbutter mosaics it is easier to simply use a larger trowel on your substrate.
It is, however, a very handy thing to be able to do when needed. In the case of all these photos I chose to backbutter, or more pointedly put the thinset on the back of the tile rather than the substrate. The width of the niches these mosaics were going into was smaller than the size of my trowel, which makes it difficult to properly comb thinset on the back of the niche.
To backbutter mosaics simply grab a scrap piece of your substrate, in this case it was kerdi-board, and comb the thinset onto it just like you would if you were installing the tile to it.
Then place your mosaic sheet into the bed of thinset and push it back and forth into the thinset, again, just like you would if you were installing it.
Once you get it bedded properly, peel the sheet of mosaic off of the scrap piece of substrate. You’ll have a sheet of mosaic with thinset fully covering the back of every tile in the sheet. You can then just install it wherever you need it.
If you are using translucent, or semi-translucent glass mosaics, which is simply big words for stuff you can see through, be sure to flatten the ridges in the thinset first so they are not seen through the mosaic.
This works well in the back of niches, small areas that need mosaic, or anywhere else it’s difficult to stuff a trowel full of thinset into. It also ensures complete coverage if you are doing something like placing mosaic tiles on the ceiling of a shower.
In the few instances you actually need to have thinset on the back of a sheet of mosaics this is a very handy trick to have in your bag.
You can click on any of these photos for a full-size example of my horrible photography skills…
Your site has been the most helpful and straightforward.
I have followed your steps on rebuilding my shower. I about to tile and I have one question about perfectionism on the top layer of deck mud.
I have everything level and sloped- but when vacuumed the sand comes up and can leave divots. The floor is solid but I am scraping and sanding to try and get this layer perfect. How needed is this? I have swept away as much loose “sand” as possible without vacuuming. Can there be slight “humps” in this layer or does it have to be perfect? It is relatively “flat, not level” and follows the preslope to the drain.
I have another question about this job- just to help me sleep at night and from obsessively checking my crawl space.
The house was built in 1957 and had water damage under the shower and toilet. I ripped everything out and installed all the new subfloor, joists, toilet and blah blah blah. No damage up the walls from what I could tell. In the shower, I ripped everything out up a row or two on the shower wall tile. (It’s white and in great shape so we want to keep it- I wish the damage was under the peach and turd brown tiled bathroom!)
So, my other question is, am I good if I did everything you suggested with shower pan and deck mud? I was able to go under/behind the wall tile with a little space when I build the shower pan. How do I, is there a method to help ensure water does not seep behind/around/ the junction between the floor and wall?
I hope that makes sense.
Thanks for all your help.
Hey there…..I always appreciate the advice given. Getting ready to do my shower mud base via your instructions. Looking ahead I’m doing a mosaic basket weave on floor. How can you check for good coverage. Seems like pulling up the sheet is a bad idea. Maybe look for thinset in the grout lines of the mosaic?
I have used your site many times over the years as a reference whenever I come back to another tiling installation.
This is a great tip to help back butter mosaic tiles! Question for you: I am doing a fireplace surround, and have an extremely narrow space to tile. I have some mastic (Mapei – Type 1), will this technique work with mastic as well as it does with thinset?
Thanks for your help!
Yes, it works the same way with mastic.
Your web site has been an amazing help. I built my shower and I did my first tiling job a few weeks ago, with your help.
Due to time pressure, I decided to hire a tiler for a kitchen floor, and he said he would like to do the tile for the shower. I showed him the mosaic tiles we bought, and he said they were no good for a shower floor. They have a mesh backing, and he said it would dissolve in water and the tiles would come loose.
He told us to go to the tile store he deals with, and they would have the right tiles, very close to the pattern we had. My wife took the mosaic tiles to the store, and the sales person looked at the tile and said it was fine. They said all their tiles had that type of backing. The only ones that didn’t were made for a swimming pool. They actually said if our tile guy told us they were no good, then we should get a new tile guy.
Now I am really confused. The tiles are Rocersa Burlington glazed porcelain, if that helps. If you pick it up, the row of tiles will fall right over. He said the right ones are stiff, and would actually stay somewhat flat.
If you have any advice or experience in this area, I would sure love hear what you have to say.
Those tiles are fine, and the tile store is correct, you need a new tile guy. This one has just enough information to be incompetent. Mesh backed tiles are fine in shower floors, they are not fine in submerged applications, like swimming pools.
Just curious, why are mesh backed mosaic tiles not good for pools? Isn’t the only function of mesh to hold the pattern until it’s secured with thinset?
Because the mesh needs to be bonded to the tile. Glue used to bond mesh to tile is water-soluble. (stupid, I know). So your mortar will not have 100% coverage behind your tile and the portions that are not bonded with thinset are bonded with water-soluble glue. Constant submersion will lead to failure.
Doesn’t really apply to this article but I have a question for you – I’m finishing up a shower now with 4×12” ceramic tile, and there’s 1 tile that’s really bugging me as it’s set in too much. It’s been on the wall for 5 days now and is surrounded by other tiles. Is there a good way to get it off the wall without damaging the durock or other tiles?
I would take a hammer and bust that tile into little pieces, then pry those pieces off the backer. This is the best way to do it without screwing up any of the other tiles.
I am replacing my shower right now based on your topical waterproofing redguard over hardibacker book example. I feel like I am having to use a lot of drywall shims to get everything even and square about my shower base (swanstone) is there a number of these shims you would not feel comfortable stacking? I am using furring strips (0.25″) on some of the studs to get the hardibacker to sit out far enough to drop down into the pan past the flange but on others I am stacking like 4 of these drywall shims to make it all even. otherwise I guess I will have to sand down the furring strips to make them thinner. 2nd question: on the hardibacker how close to the corners does it have to be supported? like if I have a stud that is 2-3″ from the corner can the hardibacker stick out and then I caulk, mesh tape, then thinset it to the other panel where it meets at the corner. Is it possible to back cut the hardibacker slightly like a rabbet cut on the bottom to get it to overhand into the pan.
Unless you’re going above 10 or so you can stack as many as you need. Above that there are better options. 2-3″ away from the corner is fine. Yes, you can rabbet the bottom if you want, although it’s a pain in the ass with cement board.
I have used a low pile roller to “back butter mosaic” – works great.
I have also used your tip above. It works great too.
I am considering installing a 6ft x 2ft x 3/8in slab of marble for in front of my fireplace. I am a happy ditra user, but was also interested if you have any recommendations for the underlayment as i have not laid marble before. I appreciate you wise (ass) words and you have helped me tile an entire bathroom complete with tub to walk in shower conversion (all schluter products). Thanks for your time.
Since it a single slab you can use nearly any approved underlayment in that application. I would likely use cement board there, no real need for ditra or anything like that with a single slab.
Previous: “It also ensures complete coverage if you are doing something like placing mosaic tiles on the ceiling of a shower.”
What is the best technique for keeping the mosaics on the ceiling?
Comb the thinset on the ceiling, backbutter your mosaics and place them up there, then pound them in firmly with your grout float.
Excellent site. I am planning a black and white herringbone pattern for the bathroom floor. I want to use black grout for the black tiles and white grout for the white tiles. Is there a method to separate the spaces between the tiles and use one grout color at a time?
You can just use painters tape. Do the black grout first! You can get white grout off of black, you will never get black grout out of white.
Hello Floor Elf,
This is a question separate from this post. Oh yeah, and thanks for the books, they have answered several questions I had, but raised at least one:
You mention that I should not lay 2 x 4’s (wood, whatEVAR dimension) directly on concrete because the wood will absorb moisture from the concrete over time. So I have a concrete floor and I need to build a partial wall along one side of the shower (the top portion will be ludicrously expensive glass). Two sides are ‘walls’, one side is a half wall (sink on other side), one side is Kerdi-curb. Here is some ideas I have had, but need the Expert Elf:
Can I paint the concrete under the partial wall?
Use a piece of Kerdi membrane along the bottom edge of the 2 x 4?
Use Red Stuff (please say no, I don’t have any and don’t want any)?
Your books are very useful, and as I said, I’m all over them. Using Kerdi including a kerdi shower pan. I’m not made of $$, but this really did seem to be the best option given that I have SOME money ;->
If you are building a 1/2 wall you can put pressure treated dimensional lumber directly on the concrete. It will not move enough to affect any tile. The ‘no wood on concrete’ is for building a curb where the lumber is the only thing in the curb, and it’s solid so no room for ANY movement. With a 1/2 wall it’ll be fine. You can also use kerdi or the red stuff.
I want to thank you for this tip. I have been noodeling how I was going to be able to set my mosiac 1″ hex tile in the small space between my tub and the wall. It is a rounded corner tub and tapers to within 1″ of the wall, clearly to small for even a putty knife. I considered trying to cut notches in a plastic trowel, but I think this solution beats that approach.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! This technique was amazing to use in an area it was difficult to get a trowel in without making a mess everywhere. Every other website said to back butter with the trowel, but i found it was hard for me to do this without pushing a lot of grout through the mesh and up into the tiles. I am redoing my bathroom, and your site has been invaluable to me. Thank you.