Close-up of lugs on lugged tiles

Close up of the lugs on lugged tiles

I actually get a load of traffic to my blog with this very question (welcome to my blog which you found by typing that very question). A lugged tile is simply a tile that is self-spacing.

Lugged tiles are most commonly found in the form of 4 x 4 inch or 6 x 6 inch wall tiles commonly used in bathtub surrounds, small showers, and kitchen backsplashes (normally by builders). Standard tiled bathtubs normally use lugged tiles.

Each tile has two or three little ‘nubs’ on each side of the tile which, when stacked upon one another, keep the tiles a consistent distance apart. You can see the lugs in the photo above (click on it for a full-size version). The nubs of the tile actually stack on top of each other to create a nice, even grout line. With the standard lugged tile this grout line is just a bit under 1/16″.

While the 4 and 6 inch square tiles are the norm there are other sizes and shapes of lugged tiles. Some subway style tiles are lugged as well. These are rectangular, the most common being 3 x 6 inches, and are stacked in a running bond or brick pattern.

How lugged tiles create a grout line

How lugged tiles create a grout line

Lugged tiles are easier to install because they eliminate the need for spacers. By creating the grout lines in this manner you are normally ensured a consistent space. There are a couple of things you need to watch out for, though. Since the tile are consistently spaced any inconsistencies in your substrate will show up in your grout lines and throw them off.

If you have a bow in your wall, like where the wall goes over pipes or an out-of-plane stud (insert lame joke here) the vertical portion of your grout line will actually widen a bit over that area.  Since the tile must conform to the wall this bow will push out and, by following that shape, the face of the tile along that grout line will also push out. Since the nubs are together this will cause the face of the grout line to actually get wider.

This is not normally a big issue but you do need to watch out for it or you will get to a certain point past this hump in the wall (insert another lame joke here) and wonder what the hell happened to your grout line.

Close-up of lugged tiles grout line

Close-up of a grout line in lugged tiles

This same problem can occur with a horizontal grout line – that’s a bigger problem. Vertical bows in the wall usually only affect the vertical grout line from the tub to the ceiling – so the entire grout line – but does so fairly consistently. Horizontal grout lines, on the other hand, will only affect that area and not the entire grout line which runs through the whole shower, knowwhatimean? That line will get larger then smaller and look like crap – don’t do that.

Another thing to be aware of as you are setting lugged tiles is, due to the small size of the grout line, any inconsistencies can throw the entire installation out of whack in a hurry. You need to constantly check your grout line to ensure it is still level and straight as you set your tile. Due to the size any inconsistencies are magnified – they stick out like RuPaul in a biker bar.

If you just want a basic, quick, inexpensive tile surround for your tub or shower the 4 or 6 inch lugged tiles are the way to go. They are readily available, fairly inexpensive, and easy to work with. You should still take your time to ensure a quality installation, though, and don’t make it look like drunken elves did it in the middle of the night.

Feel free to ask any questions you may have. I’m gonna try to answer some of the very basic ones first – here you go:

Yes, you can use spacers with lugged tile. You need to ensure, however, that the spacers are inserted either between the lugs or between the spaces between the lugs. One or the other to create consistent grout lines.

If your tiles are actually 4 1/4″ square rather than 4″ don’t panic! It’s completely normal and what I commonly refer to as 4″ tiles. There is actually a historical reason behind that particular tile size but that is a subject for another post.

When using lugged tiles you should…

  • Use non-sanded grout due to the small grout line
  • STILL waterproof your shower first! These, as any tile, are not waterproof. You still need a proper substrate
  • Have a flat, level substrate – even more so for these tiles
  • Not use them on anything but a wall – they are not made for flooring applications.
  • Check the lugs on each side of the tile as you set them – sometimes they get chipped of which will throw off your grout lines.

If you have any other questions just ask away! I answer every one of them – I’m just super cool like that. 8)

{ 44 comments… add one }

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  • Mike Tursellino

    Good morning Floor Elf. As always appreciate the excellent advice. from following your conventional mud shower floor , i am close to finally finishing….I have a question about lugs, and grout. I used daltile subway self spacing with continuous lugs on the walls and a mosaic on the floor. The grout lines for the subway are slightly under 1/16 butting them together. Do you think it would be OK for me to use spectralock pro epoxy? or is the part C grit no good for this, if not what grout do you recommend for full shower.

    Also, Let me know if there is a way for me to send a monetary thank you for all the excellent advice!

  • Kathie Caprilla

    Thank you so much!!!! I have been in a flooring business since 2003 and an issue has never come up with a subway tile. Our builder is using a high performance grout that states that it can be used for joints from 1/16″ to 1/2″. The grout is flaking out of the joints and doesn’t seem to be setting up fully. The subway tiles are lugged all around so they are stacked together. I’m guessing an unsanded grout should have been used. My business sells product only and we do not install thus, I was blindsided when this situation came up. Thanks so much for the education. You rock!!!!!

  • Bridgett

    Hello, I see many people try to convey a tile or situation due to it on several post, but not seeing a very clear answer. I have completed a 3×6 glazed subway tile to my shower. Set in a brick pattern. I do not have “Lugs”, but rather have the continuous “Bumper”. My glaze runs over the edge, but not the complete depth of the tile. Seems each tile would give a 1/32 and set together giving 1/16, however ONLY half way up to the top, not to the thinset. I then ADDED an extra 1/32 spacer (yay for finding) and added that to the joint. All came out perfect. However, now when I take a 1/16 spacer, they barely fit just at the top of joint and in no way go in. I put a 1/32 spacer in and goes totally in with wiggle room. So, your article states use unsanded grout, but later a person asked about Fusion and you said that was fine. Would I be fine to use Permacolor Select or should I just be sad and use the unsanded? Big Thanks!

    • Roger

      Hi Bridgett,

      You can use permacolor select on that – I have. Permacolor select also makes an unsanded base (same colorant) if you’d prefer that.

      • Bridgett

        So, I totally can use Permacolor Select with no real risk or could? You would suggest Permacolor Select or Perma Unsanded? I read about “Grout Bridging” and of course now has me nervous haha. I never have loved the look or feel of unsanded, can deal, but no love. Not 1/16″. Thanks.

        • Bridgett

          Trying to post picture, but I can’t seem if going up?

          • Roger

            Sorry Bridgett, the plug-in for photos is buggy. The photo may be too large to upload to the comments, the size limit is for smaller photos. Not sure exactly what it is, though, I’m just a tile guy… :D

        • Roger

          You can use the regular without issue. The only thing you need to do is take your time and ensure that you get the grout packed into the joints well – to avoid bridging.

          • Bridgett

            Okay, I made the picture very small haha hope this works just for visual confirming. Your such a helpful ELF and I appreciate it.

  • Brian


    I just discovered that we have lugged tiles in our shower/tub enclosure. I was about to remove the old grout with an oscillating tool. But, I’m guessing that we might not want the oscillating tool blade cutting through tile lugs.

    What’s the soundest way to remove old grout in this situation?

    • Roger

      Hi Brian,

      You can still use the oscillating tool. It likely will do very little to no damage to the lugs, and it doesn’t matter if it does anyway. They are only used to space the tiles from one another. Once the thinset cures they serve absolutely no purpose and won’t negatively affect anything if they are damaged.

      • Brian


  • Steve Buchwald

    I have a bay window sill that is plywood treated with polyurethane. This will not ever take too much weight on it as it is just a window sill. It is about 17″ x 44″. My wife wants me to install bathroom wall tiles on the plywood. There is only 1/4″ clearance between the window bottom and the plywood. Therefore, no room for CBU. What do you suggest,? Can I lay the tiles on the plywood? Thank you.

    • Roger

      Hi Steve,

      You can, but you’ll need to rough up the poly first – thinset won’t bond to it. It may or may not last, no way at all of telling. Wood moves A LOT.

  • Kevin

    Hi Floor Elf, thanks for all the guidance!
    I’ve got the same question as some others on this particular topic (lugs). I’m hoping you can explain further. I’ve got 3×6 subway tiles with a continuous lug all the way around, from the back of the tiles to about halfway up the thickness of the tile. The edge of the lug is unglazed, but the edge of the tile above it is. Looks to me that butting tiles together leaves really only the glazed portion of the tile edge exposed. Do I need to add spacers to ensure the grout can adhere to the unglazed edge? Not really a lug then?

    Thanks! Here’s a little picture:

    glazed on top and halfway down the side
    __tile surface_____ / not glazed down there
    |_ /


    • Kevin

      Ok, my little picture didn’t turn out like I hoped. Hopefully my description is clear…

  • Shanana

    Just to clarify, the tiles have 1/16″ lugs on all sides, two on the long sides, one on the short sides. So when the tiles are staggered, which is normal for subway tiles, the lugs do not meet on the top and bottom and you get 1/16″ spacing. It’s the sides that are the problem, since the lugs cannot fail to meet.


  • Geneva

    You have the most imformative and organized site on tile I have ever seen!! Love what your doing with the emails and this blog too! Keep it up!

    Your Awesome!!!!


  • Mark T

    Where can I purchase the lugged 3×6 white subway tiles. The lowes and Home Depot do not carry them in the Phoenix area.

    • Roger

      Hi Mark,

      Shoot Karl an email at Tell him I sent you, he’ll take care of you.

  • Caitlin C.

    Hi again Roger,

    I’ve purchased 3″x6″ lugged white subway tile – I’m planning a non-traditional 1/3 offset pattern (rather than a standard “brick layout” effect).

    It appears it will result in quite a thin grout line (slightly less than 1/16″, I believe you said). I have also purchased “Fusion Pro Single Component Grout” which supposedly “combines the best benefits of Cement and Epoxy Grouts” (I liked the fact that this grout is premixed and Ready-To-Use, has “unsurpassed stain resistance” and there is “no sealing required”) But upon closer inspection, this is definitely a SANDED grout…


    It says it can be used for “grout lines 1/16″ to 1/2″… But if my grout lines seem to be a hair LESS than 1/16”, do I truly need to exchange this for an unsanded grout?

    If so, would you recommend any particular type or brand for this application?

    Thank you soooooo much for your help! I’ll be drinking beers until I learn your official verdict…


    • Roger

      Hi Caitlin,

      It will work fine on your grout lines.

  • Scott

    Hey Roger,

    Really appreciate your site!

    I’m a carpenter workin’ on my own place up here in B.C., for-ever and a day now :rockon: Goin’ for it above my tub/shower surround with a 6×6 plain ceramic tile set on a 45 in the field with same 3×6 tiles as a border. As it stands I’m gonna have cut edges butted up to finished edges. Is this advisable? Do-able? Liv-able? Any tricks o’ the trade here to deal with what the grout isn’t going to hide? I’m sure my layout isn’t original i.e. seen it in other places I’ve worked on.

    Thanks eh,


    • Roger

      Hi Scott,

      Get a rubbing stone, they are sold in the tile department. Once you make your cuts run the stone over the cut edge, it will smooth them out and they will look fine against the factory edges.

  • Joan

    Can I apply ready to use universal adhesive tho vinyl floor tiles ? (mastic )

    • Roger

      Hi Joan,

      No, it’s not made for that. I have no idea what you’re attempting to accomplish, but if you let me know I can tell you how to do it properly.

  • Catherine

    Hello Floor Elf,

    I am hoping you may be able to help me. I picked up some 3×6 white subway tiles from Menards for a tub/shower surround and just noticed they have a “continuous spacer” all the way around. Unlike the tiles you have pictured above with the two little lugs on each side, these tiles have a ridge all the way around. As a matter of fact, I’m not even able to see between these tiles when butted up together. Only just half the depth shows.

    I love the 1/16 grout line but the issue is that my installer is concerned these tiles will only give me a surface grout line and not allow any grout to get down between the tiles. He recommends adding an additional 1/16 spacer. Personally, I don’t want that large of a grout line. He’s planning on coming tomorrow to install but I’m wondering if maybe I should pick out a different tile. What are your thoughts?

    • Roger

      Hi Catherine,

      If you look closely at those tiles along the edge they should be unfinished. Wall tiles are extremely porous before they are glazed, the unglazed surface on the sides (where the grout will bond) are extremely porous and hold the grout well. That said, he feels uncomfortable with them (and it may be an issue, I can’t see your tile from here :D ) and you don’t want bigger grout lines – a different tile may be the way to go.

  • Tom Hendrix

    I just picked up my subway tiles for my shower. They’re a perfect 3×6 on the back face and slightly less on the front (glazed) face, leaving a half-depth grout line gap of 1/16″ width. Can I install them butting up against each other or do I need to add additional spacers? My concerns with butting them up against each other are tolerance of structure movement – would they crack, pop off, etc. and is the grout deep enough/voluminous (is that a word?) enough to hold itself in place?

    Floor Elf for president. Love doing things right. :corn:

    • Roger

      Hey Tom,

      Yes, you butt those. If you look at the edge there should be a little ridge that goes from the flat back then down to the face of the tile. These are meant to be stacked on one another. If excess movement occurs it will grind away the back part of that ridge long before any grout cracks. And yes, there is plenty of space for the grout (unsanded) to bond correctly to the sides of the tile.

      • Tom Hendrix

        :dance: Thank you!

      • Jeff

        I have daltile subway tiles no lugs. They sound like the tiles described above. I also want a very thin grout line. Will butting them up work like you described. I didn’t understand the ridge you describe. The tiles seem to have what I call an offset top glaze, going all around the tile about half the depth of the tile. Is that the ridge you referred to?

        • Roger

          Hi Jeff,

          I don’t know what you mean by an offset top glaze. If you imagine taking a flat rubber band and wrapping it around the perimeter of the tile it would look like the ridge I mean.

  • Sara

    Floor Elf,

    I was looking at a product information sheet for Laticrete Premium Mastic. (Yes, I know you say never to use this, but my super disagrees and it will be him fixing the inevitable problems.) The information sheet ( says never to use the mastic with lug-back tiles on floor applications. Why is that?

    • Roger

      Hi Sara,

      Because mastic does not have the compression ability as regular thinset. It is not stable enough to be used on a floor you plan on walking over. Use thinset, seriously.

  • john

    I’m getting ready to do a subway tile install in my bath. I’m using 3×6 tiles along with a 6″ cove bottom – it will be cut to length on the top to match the floor. I plan on using the “lugged” grout line of 1/16″ but am not sure what to do when I cut off the lug on the aforementioned 6″ cove. I haven’t been able to find 1/32″ spacers which I guess would account for the cut off lug.

    PS – Any thoughts on how to handle an inside corner on a 6″ cove? The don’t manufacture a premade one.

    • Roger

      Hey John,

      Get some tile wedges. They are just little wedged pieces of plastic normally sold by a 100 or so. The taper from about 1/8″ to nothing. Just push them in far enough to get the correct spacing. I miter the inside corners.

  • Bill B.

    Roger, I’ve been reading your on line info and things make sense-mostley. My question is regarding floor tile. I have vinyl sheet goods on the bathroom floor now. Once I remove that do I have to put down Hardi Board on top of the builders substrate which I think is floor grade plywood. My concern is if I add hardiboard type substrate on top of the existing plywood and then add the orange kerdi sheet, then the thinset and tile the added height will effect the seating of the toilet. Your thought greatley appreciated, BB

    • Roger

      Hi Bill,

      You can install another layer of plywood and install the ditra directly to it. You don’t need the backer in there. You can always get a thicker wax ring, your flange does not need to be flush with the tile, it can be below it.

      • Bill B.

        Thanks for the fast answer. Glad I can do the plywood and not the backer board on the floor. That makes things easier. Bill

  • MK

    Use unsanded grout for lugged tiles…

    Twine was used as spacing…

    How to install a shelf…

    Dude, I’ve said it before (back when I coined the term “elf-help”) but you RULE!

    I’m midway through my first (and last?) tiling gig–a smallish shower. I had a plumber install the drain/concrete floor, the hardibacker, and the lining. I first hammered out the old tile (mortared in one unplumb corner up to three inches thick, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, ORIGINAL INSTALLER), and am now installing the tile. I saw the plumber’s wife yesterday and told her he underbid the tiling portion of the job. I think he quoted only $1,000, or maybe $1,500. I said the job SHOULD HAVE BEEN priced at $10 THOUSAND. Sheesh! What a job. But…I’m taking my time, checking things twicet (like Santy), and am pleased with myself and my progress.

    Coming here again just now, though, to recheck your How to Tile a Ceiling video, I was THRILLED to be reminded NOT to finish ALL the corners before I first install a shelf or two (Thank you tiling elf gods!), and NOT to use sanded grout with lugged tiles (ty again TEGs–tiling elf gods). And all this just from random browsing.

    Thanks again, Floor Elf–your site is JUST fabulous.

  • Bibb

    this is so enormously helpful! thank you, kind stranger!!

  • Bibb

    i have 2 questions! you know when tiles started being manufactured with lugs? i am having my bathroom done in salvaged subway tile (because i want it to look like an old pre-war bathroom with not-perfect grout lines, rather than a new perfect one.) i don’t know the year of the tile i bought from a salvage yard (they did not know either) but there are not lugs on it, so knowing this would help me know at least how old it is not! also- 2. what size grout line did they use in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s and what color, if you know? i don’t want to mess up my plan of having it look authentically old by choosing modern size grout line and color! thank you so much!!

    • Roger

      Hey Bibb,

      Lugged tiles didn’t begin appearing until the mid-fifties (in large quantities anyway). Before that twine was used to space the tiles. A horizontal row of tile was set, then a piece of twine was set on the top edge of the row, and the next row stacked on top. The twine was left in the installation and simply grouted in. This left a bit more than a 1/16″ grout joint. If a tile was installed in the 40’s or before, unless you had a metric shitload of money – you got white or gray. :D There were, at times, black, but that was rare as well.