How to Tile the Inside of a Niche

Tiling in a niche can be tricky…  There are several ways to do so but depending on the desired layout, it can be a challenge especially when you’re hanging small pieces of tile upside down and trying to keep them in place.  Even if you’re doing inside box miter cuts on your bull nose trim for a quality look, it can first of all, be very hard to get them in without creating a mess of thin set and what not…  and that’s mainly for the smaller soap bar or shaving cavities in the wall.

First thing is first…  after I figure out how I’m going to trim the edges off whether it’d be using bull nose on the wall side and creating a picture frame look or inside bull nose with box miters, It’s important to set your field tile up to the niche area accurately so there’s no gaps.  Any cut tile should be beveled off and smoothed out with a sanding stone so there’s no rough edges.   All of this takes time to get right and look good so just make sure that you’re not in a rush.  Sometimes you will have to cut extra tiles, dry fit… dry fit again and again to make sure things will fit snug and allow for a grout joint.  You can also feel like Gumby trying hold a few tiles in place while you’re getting accurate measurements, too.

Normally I will start by setting the back wall of the niche first.  If you’re just continuing the field tile, which is a little easier sometimes – be sure to draw out your lines or use a laser level to make a good match on the grout lines so everything blends together.  This should also be considered during your layout process so keep that in mind.  For other applications like mosaics, you will just have to check and see how well they’re mounted on the mat.  That inspection is both for cutting and setting.  Cutting mosaics with a wet saw almost never works successfully because the water will of course work the glue loose that’s holding the tile to the mesh or paper backing…  I prefer using my tile slicer but sometimes you have to use a grinder, nippers etc…  to make things work.

Installing mosaics in a tile shower niche

…made a bracelet out of left over mosaic tile :-)

For smaller mosaics there are two good ways to mount them without a mess:

  • Lay the sheet out on a flat surface and use masking tape on the top side to hold them together.  This can keep you from having to use 50,000 wedge spacers so they don’t sag all over the place.  Apply thin set to the back wall with a smaller V- Notch trowel but then knock the edges down smooth with a small drywall knife to keep the spread flat and even to reduce the chance of thin set oozing through.  Covering the top of the tile with tape will let you find that out the next day after it’s dry.
  • You can also “pre set” your mosaics to a piece of tile membrane, let dry and then essentially set that whole piece to the wall.  This will make it more like a full solid piece of tile and easier to shim level in the process.  It will also prevent mortar from oozing through grout joints.  (This also works well when doing banners)

Assembling the rest of the niche can be pretty simple once you get all your cuts done right but the problem can be keeping them in place so they don’t shift or sag.  One thing you can do is cut some small pieces of 1×3 or 1×4 to make props but I’m typically not a fan of that since your bottom pieces are normally pitched a hair for water run off.  That method can also put a delay in your time schedule, as well…. but then sometimes you have no choice because it can fit together better at times when you have to let some of the tiles set first then go back and wrap up the final pieces.  This is where having a bag a rapid set mortar around will help you out.

Using Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil Duct tape to assemble and hold together a tile shower niche.

Aside from that, I always have a few different types and sizes of spacer wedges around, maybe a piece of card board (cut up) and definitely some tape.  Since I’ve done all the work on this… I will just go ahead and save you some money now because I’ve tried just about every single type of tape… masking tape, painters tape, frog tape, duct tape etc… and while some will work on many types of tile, they may not work on everything which is not a good situation to be in “mid-niche assembly”.  One thing I’ve found that does seem to stick to anything is a Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil Duct Tape.  It does cost more than standard duct tape but very beneficial to have around.  I have pieces torn off and nudged on the wall (ready to go) for assembling the tile.  Seems to stick well even if there is a little moisture on a piece of tile.

Foil tape is pretty strong so either way, you may want to do a test run ahead of time.  Stick a hunk on a piece of tile and then pull it off to make sure you’re not marring the finish etc… but I have not seen any issues with that yet.  You will find that using some of this tape will speed up the process and aid with keeping your niche tiles the way you want them.

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