Remodeling Tips and Reviews

Which trowel sizes to use for what tile

Which trowel sizes to use for what tile

Dec 30, 2011

A common question we get is how do I know what size trowel to use for my tile choice. The answer is common sense when you think about it. You will want to use smaller teethed trowels with smaller tile. So a 3/16 x 5/32 V notched trowel is good for up to 2″ tile.  At the opposite end of the spectrum are 12×12 tile and above. those tile logically need a thicker bed of mortar to support them. A square notched 1/4″ trowel will work fine there.

Here are the various trowel sizes for your job:

3/16x5x32 V notched small tile trowel: 2″ or less in size tile

1/4″x 3/8 U notched trowel for 12×12

1/4x 1/2 U notched Trowel for larger tile

What will happen if I use the wrong size trowel?

Well, if you use a small trowel on large tile there will not be enough mortar to set the tile in and in all likelihood you will crack up the tile over time and have to redo the job. Part of the reason you want a larger mortar bed for larger tiles is that no floor is ever perfectly level and having a good bed of mortar allows for high and low spots and you set the tile in place and tap it down. At the other end of the spectrum is using a larger trowel for small tile. Here you have the opposite problem. mortar will typically ooze out of the sides of the tile and it will not easily set up, rather it will slide around and make laying the tile nearly impossible. The goal with any tile job is to set up the tile so it looks flush and level and starts  to set up within 15- 20 minutes of setting it. Otherwise you would have to lay a few rows then break while you wait for them to set up.

How thick should my tiling mortar be?

I prefer to work with modified mortar, its only a few dollars more per back and holds up a lot better over time than standard mortar does. I have two rules when I am making a batch of mortar, I like it to be the consistency of pudding and I like to be able to put a blob on my index finger and turn it upside down and have it stick. Too runny and you have trouble getting the tiles to set up, too thick and you will have trouble setting the tiles in the mortar as well as troweling it.

Tip: Keep in mind when working with Mortar there are two colors,  grey mortar and white mortar. You can also add a bag of your grout choice to the mix to darken or tint the mortar so it looks more like your grout. This will help conceal any mortar that creeps up between the tile.

What exactly is mortar anyway?

Concrete, Mortar, Brick Mortar and Grout all have the same ingredients. The glue that holds them together is Cement. Cement is as old as the Romans and is a simple mix of  lime and clay to form a clinker(synthetic mineral mixture ), then pulverizing the clinker into powder. From there all you do is add water and it will set up to make just about anything from the hoover dam to a skyscraper. Mortar is nothing more than sand and cement, grout adds sand and color, concrete adds large fillers, usually rocks and sand. The more filler the less strength it will have. So when you see 3500 psi or 5500 psi, you know that the higher the number is the more cement is in the bag or truck as the case may be.


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