Trowel and Error – How to Set Tile the Right Way

How to install tile the right way! Learn NTCA-approved, correct trowel techniques to set large format tile and how to create a stronger bond between the tile and the substrate. Prevent crack transmission, lippage, tile breakage and other costly tile installation repairs.

Tile and stone are very durable materials that can and should last a lifetime. When tiles break, more often than not, it’s due to issues with the substrate or the installation method.
The way you trowel mortar for setting tile makes a big difference. Porcelain tiles, in particular, can withstand extra heavy service conditions. It takes a lot of impact or point load to cause bond loss when installed correctly over a sound substrate. The mortar under this tile was installed using the correct trowel technique. On the other hand, since tile is a hard and brittle finish or a veneer, unsupported space under the tiles actually creates weak spots. That same Porcelain tile may be easily damaged by the same impact, heavy loads and other causes.
Spot bonding with mortar is not recommended to set tile. It may be easier to set tiles flat to each other during the installation, but it’s only a matter of time before just the slightest force causes a failure! The first tile was installed using the NTCA-recommended ANSI Standard – the others were not.

Unfortunately, many tiles are being installed incorrectly, especially very large tiles, and this can result in costly breakage! You get the job done more quickly, but you can’t get proper mortar coverage. Air gets trapped with nowhere to go and leaves the tile unsupported. Swirling the mortar causes voids where the tile is not bonded to the substrate. These voids can result in cracked tile and bond failure under normal use but especially under point load or impact.
In addition to impact and heavy loading, tiles set without proper mortar coverage are more likely to fail under many conditions! To name a few – substrate deflection; shrinkage or creep; thermal expansion in high temperatures; and freeze/thaw applications.

A lack of perimeter and other movement joints affects well bonded tile so imagine when half – or even less – of a tile is adhered. According to the American National Standards Institute and the TCNA Handbook, tile requires a minimum of 80% mortar coverage in interior applications — 95% for exteriors and wet environments. Natural stone tile requires 95% coverage in all areas.
During the manufacturing process of most large tiles, the center tends to dome or warp upward. This warpage requires more mortar to be used and air is even less likely to be removed when the mortar is swirled.

Flatter substrates are also required to successfully set large format tiles as they cover a much larger area. According to TCNA and ANSI guidelines, variations in floor flatness should not exceed 1/4” in 10 feet. When working with large format tile, a tile with any side 15 inches or longer, there is even less tolerance. Variation is limited to 1/8” in 10 feet and no more than 1/16” in 24 inches. The key to successful coverage is “Playing It Straight!” – combing the mortar in straight lines. Trowel ridges running in straight lines are much easier to collapse.
They assist with air removal to maximize mortar coverage and ensure a strong bond to the tile and substrate. The first is to “key in” a coat of mortar into the substrate with the flat side of the trowel. Then, add more mortar to the substrate and comb the mortar in straight lines, all going in one direction. Combing the trowel ridges in straight lines provides better distribution of the mortar. With rectangular tile, trowel ridges should go across the short direction of the tile. This allows better air release when you bed the tile. Be careful not to leave any voids along chalk lines or between tiles. Use a trowel that will help you achieve continuous minimum 3/32” coverage. Larger tiles most often require deeper trowels.
For large format tile, glass tile, natural stone or any tile set on exterior surfaces, “backbuttering” the tile is recommended. Use the flat side of the trowel to get an even coat of mortar and fill all the spaces in the surface. To finish, set the tile firmly, and move it backward and forward across the trowel ridges about 1/8 to ¼ inch. Move the tile only in one direction, perpendicular to the ridges, without moving in the opposite direction or twisting the tile. When you first start setting and then periodically through the installation, remove a tile and check for coverage. Ridges should be collapsed, and you don’t want the tile or the substrate to be missing mortar. Straight trowel ridges collapse with back and forth motion to eliminate voids. You will get a much stronger bond with complete mortar coverage. And remember – the larger the trowel, the more back and forth movement is needed. “Play it Straight!” and always use the NTCA-recommended tile setting method!


pastuleo79 says:

So what you’re saying is my father in law is wrong. I’ll add it to the list.

Ismael y Susy P says:

Super. Thanks sr.

Trigger- Chan says:

good shit.

Alex Lazy says:

Что бля не так с ютубом? На кой хрен мне обучающее видео по укладке кафеля, если я пришел посмотреть мультики?
ps JK

Tom Stillwelll says:

The music is very annoying!

mrlobster1287 says:

this was actually pretty cool and great for annyone looking to do their own tile work^^

Mr M says:

If i ever see that blue t shirt crazy hammer guy walking up my street imma get muh gun.

Giulio Rossi says:

you motherfcker i have my headset at max.

ThatOneDoge says:

What i watch at 4 o’clock in the morning. I’ve never even done construction.

Miles J. says:


I’M WEARING THAT WATCH RIGHT FUCKING NOW!! Sea Ram by Deep Blue. Man I feel dope.

Andy on Guam says:

thank you.

Pootislord says:

What is this, “you should use the method that costs money that funds terrorism”. Yea right buddy, your a government shill

Ernie Lynge says:

its actually really good to know even tho i probably wont use this knowledge.

Amithrius says:

I just took an adderall and drank two monsters. Now I want to tile my entire house but it’s 1:00 am and there isn’t a hardware open.

Nicholas Vadasz says:

This video gave me the confidence to actually lay porcelain tile in my garage. For me it was VERY time consuming but this method does work. I have parked my truck/car on the tile as well as used a floor jack and stands with no issues. Can’t say enough. The straight line method does work!

snipes4ever says:

he used diverent presure when he place the tiles so its not a fair test ect

Tommy Hammernots says:

Do you suggest underlayment when tiling to a slab?

N0rthernLites says:

Now try to tell this to the British lol. They have so many regulations too, but when it comes down to actual work they don’t even know what spirit level or angle is. 🙁

Melody says:

“Trowel and error” and “tile and error” would have both worked as the title…

MajorTendonitis says:

Thank you very much for this video . Great job guys

Johnathon Wheeler says:

Hey i did a video on preping and riasing a floor for tile with self level and Ditra

Edward vp says:


Alan Jewell says:

I use pva glue. Works wonders !!

Siniestro says:

why do you move back and forth the tile in the “correct” way and… don’t move at all the others that are “wrong”?????

Jesus L says:

Coming from a professional tile setter he doesn’t tell you about the humps and dips or when drywall people f****** the walls or when cement people don’t grind down the floors a lot of what he said was true but when you’re out in the battlefield it’s a lot different

Jeremy Bauer says:

That was a fantastic video. Next he needs to do Harley repair videos!

Light1c3 says:

It’s 1 am and I’ve never done any DIY in my life… I can’t stop watching O.o

Andy Kloc says:

It is a good technic but most of the floors are unleveled so then you start playing with tiles up and down to avoid lippage.

Kim Rehmeier says:

The more you know… Why the fk did I watch this? I will never set tiles.

Corporal Unger says:

“It’s only a matter of time before the slightest force causes a failure” 1:06 F*#%ing WALES on it with a hammer… 0_o

Bango Tango says:

Why the hell is this in an asmr playlist??? I’m freaking deaf now!

OneSquirrel says:

Trowel and error LOL

rapandthekillers says:

Love the video format and how the information is delivered.

Vasiliy Gulakov says:

Extremely useful. Thanks! Especially for glass experiment.

Michael Vaughan says:

I think the biggest concern is actually finding a contractor who is willing to do the straight movement. Most contractors I know are unwilling to try anything other than what method they were taught.

Tijmen de Wolf says:

“It’s only a matter of time before the slightest force causes a failure” *whacks tile with a hammer*

jeffr100rs says:

good stuff, top tips!

Alexandr Cifer says:

That was useful. Thank you

Explosive Plastics says:

Why did I watch this?


That method only work on brand new construction not on old house which u have 2 inches difference on the walls . u need to spot the tiles or fill the tiles up with motor or redu the walls and all above cost $$$$$

Tony Arnold says:

Blimey, i won’t swish my trowel around anymore! Thanks

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