Installing a tin tile backsplash can add vintage charm and visual interest to your kitchen. Tin tiles have been used as backsplashes for over a century, bringing a historical, industrial flair. With their eclectic shapes and patina, tin tiles create a textural feature wall that makes a statement. Installing them takes planning and precision but it’s a DIY project that’s manageable for an experienced homeowner. Follow these steps to learn how to install tin tile backsplash.
Choose the Tin Tiles
Tin ceiling tiles, also called tinplates, come in various shapes, sizes, and designs. You can find antique embossed tiles reclaimed from old buildings or new repro metal tiles mimicking vintage styles. Consider the look you want before purchasing:
- Antique tiles – These salvaged tin tiles have dents, patina, and rust, adding to their aged appeal. Look for tiles in good condition without large holes or damage. They come in many patterns like diamonds, circles, or squares.
- Reproduction tiles – New tin tiles have a shiny, uniform look without patina. They’re stamped in traditional designs and shaped like diamonds, hexagons, octagons, or rectangles.
- Solid colors – Some tin tiles come in solid metal colors like copper, brass, silver, or gold rather than basic tin. This creates a glamorous or industrial modern vibe.
- Novelty shapes – Look for octagonal, starburst, or irregular freeform tiles for an eclectic aesthetic. There are also tin tiles with decorative center emblems.
Make sure to buy enough tiles to fill your backsplash space. Measure the area and purchase 10-20% extra to allow for cuts and damages. Also, get matching trim pieces like bullnose corners or crown molding.
Prepare the Backsplash Area
Installing tin tile backsplash starts with readying the backsplash space:
- Remove existing backsplash completely – Take down old tile, grout, adhesive, drywall, or anything currently on the wall. Scrape and sand until you have a smooth surface.
- Clean and dry the area – Wipe away debris, grease, and dust so the tin tiles will adhere properly. Allow any damp areas time to fully dry.
- Repair and paint the wall – Fix imperfections in the wall like holes or uneven areas with spackle and sanding. Prime and paint with a high-quality latex paint.
- Mark plumb lines – Measure and mark perfectly straight vertical and horizontal lines where the first tiles will go. Use a level tool to ensure accuracy.
Proper prep creates a smooth, clean surface for applying the tin tile backsplash. Rushing this step can cause the tiles to come loose over time.
Plan the Tile Layout
Before installing, map out the tile layout. Tin tiles have an irregular look so planning avoids mismatched patterns:
- Draw the backsplash area to scale – Sketch the dimensions including windows, outlets, cabinetry. Mark plumb lines.
- Experiment with tile patterns – Arrange the tile shapes on the sketch to visualize pleasing placements. Avoid obvious repeating patterns.
- Balance cuts – Position whole tiles in the main zones and plan tile cuts near edges and corners. Hide cut edges against cabinets or trim.
- Work symmetrically outward – Central focal points look best with mirrored patterns radiating outward. Place whole tiles there first.
- Leave room for grout – Allow 1/8″ spacing between tiles when laying them out. Grout fills these joints during installation.
Take time playing with tile arrangements to find a layout you love with varied shapes and textures. Having a set pattern makes installing the tin tiles much easier.
Install Backer Board
Before applying tin tiles directly to the wall, you need to install backer board. This cement board provides a rigid, stable surface that withstands moisture:
- Measure and cut cement board – Mark and cut panels to fit your backsplash area. Leave a 1/4″ gap along the top and sides.
- Pre-drill holes – Drill holes through the backer board every 8″ across the surface. This allows moisture to escape.
- Attach boards with screws – Place boards over plumb lines and use cement board screws to install every 6-8″. Screws should penetrate studs.
- Tape seams – Cover all joints between backer board panels with special alkaline-resistant mesh tape.
- Mud and finish – Spread thinset mortar over tape with a trowel to embed. Feather and smooth it for a flat look.
Once the cement board is fully installed, inspected, and dried, you have a suitable surface for applying tin tiles. Backer board prevents warping or sagging issues.
Adhere the Tin Tiles
With proper prep work complete, it’s time for the fun part – installing the tin tiles! Follow these tips for properly adhering tiles:
- Apply adhesive generously – Use a notched trowel to spread thinset adhesive evenly over a small work area on the backer board.
- Place first tiles along plumb lines – Arrange planned focal tiles on guide lines. Press firmly in place, sliding to collapse trowel ridges.
- Work outward symmetrically – Fill each section by working outward from centered tiles, maintaining the pattern. Keep tile spacing even.
- Check level and alignment – Periodically set level along tile edges and rows. Adjust anyone not aligned properly.
- Cut edge and fill-in tiles – Measure and snip border tiles with metal snips. Use small pieces to fill gaps. Hide cut edges if possible.
- Clean excess adhesive – Before it dries, scrape away any adhesive squished between tiles with putty knife or rag.
Work methodically to maintain neat rows and smooth mortar coverage on the back of each tin tile. Consistent pressure embeds them flat in the adhesive.
Apply Grout and Sealant
Grout fills the spaces between tin tiles, providing a finished look:
- Let adhesive cure fully – Allow thinset mortar to dry completely, about 24 hours, before grouting. Test a tile corner to check.
- Mix non-sanded grout – Follow package directions to mix a smooth, spreadable grout for narrow tile joints. Avoid sand-based grout with tin.
- Spread grout across the surface – Use a grout float or squeegee to fully fill tile joints. Spread diagonally moving the excess grout over tiles.
- Wipe tiles clean – Once the grout firms up, about 20 minutes, wipe tiles diagonally to remove grout haze and residue. Rinse the sponge frequently.
- Seal grout once dry – Apply grout sealer 1-2 days later following manufacturer directions. This protects grout from stains.
Take care to fully clean grout residue from the surface of the textured tin tiles. Any remaining film will be difficult to remove once dried.
Finish With Trim and Sealant
Finish off your new tin tile backsplash with these final accents and protections:
- Allow tiles to dry – Give the grout several days to cure fully before proceeding with final steps.
- Apply trim – Cut and install any coordinating crown molding, bullnose edging, or other trim pieces with adhesive and nails.
- Seal tiles – Use a clear metal sealer to protect the finished tin tile backsplash. Apply two coats following label directions.
- Silicone caulk perimeter – Caulk where the tiles meet countertops, cabinets, or adjacent walls to prevent moisture and debris buildup.
Once everything is dry, you can complete the space by reinstalling outlet covers, sconces, curtains, and other fixtures. Then step back and admire your vintage-inspired tin tile backsplash!
Tips for Maintaining Tin Tile Backsplashes
Follow these tips to keep your tin tile backsplash looking antiqued and interesting for years to come:
- Use mild cleaners – Clean soiled tin tiles with soft cloths and gentle dish soap and water. Avoid harsh chemicals that can pit or discolor metal.
- Re-seal as needed – Look for signs of wear on grout or silicone caulk and re-seal areas as needed to prevent moisture damage.
- Tighten loose tiles – If any tiles become loose over time, carefully remove them and use fresh adhesive to reset firmly in place.
- Embrace patina – Minor rusting, paint loss, and scratches add character over time. Refinishing or painting tiles alters their appeal.
- Handle delicately – Take care not to bend, dent, or scratch old tin tiles when cleaning. Use light pressure and non-abrasive supplies.
- Test cleaning solutions – When deep cleaning, try cleaners in inconspicuous spots first to ensure they don’t react with old metal or grout.
With some basic care and maintenance, a tin tile backsplash brings vintage character to your kitchen for many years. The natural weathering only adds to its rustic charm over time.
Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Tin Tile Backsplash
What tools do I need to install tin tile backsplash?
You’ll need basic tools like a tape measure, pencil, level, utility knife, tin snips, caulk gun, mixing bucket, notched trowel, grout float, sponges, safety glasses, work gloves, and knee pads. Specialized tools include a jigsaw with metal cutting blade for any detailed cuts.
What type of adhesive should I use?
Use white latex thinset mortar adhesive designed for wall tile. Pre-mixed mastic adhesives won’t adhere metal tiles reliably long-term.
How do I cut the tin tiles?
Aviation snips designed for cutting metal work well for straight cuts. For curves, notches, or specialty shapes, use a jigsaw with a fine-tooth metal cutting blade. Use eye and hand protection.
Can I install tin tiles directly over drywall?
Drywall alone can’t support heavy tin tiles. Backer board creates a durable, moisture-resistant surface needed for a long-lasting installation.
How do I remove old grout from antique tin tiles?
Use a Dremel tool with a grout removal bit to gently loosen old grout. Chisels and scraping tools can damage the antique tiles. Remove grout carefully to avoid denting or scratching.
Should I use sanded or unsanded grout?
Sanded grout is too abrasive for use with delicate tin tiles. Use an unsanded floor and wall grout. Make sure it’s suitable for joints 1/8” or smaller.
What color grout should I use with silver tin tiles?
White or very light gray grout complements silver tin tiles without detracting from their metallic shine. Dark grout would create too much contrast.
How long does tin tile backsplash installation take?
Plan on the installation taking 2-3 full days with drying time included. The tile planning and layout process can also take several hours to complete.
Installing a tin tile backsplash brings aged character to modern and traditional kitchens alike. With careful planning, quality materials, and skillful technique, you can achieve durable, eye-catching results. While the process takes time and physical effort, the ambiance a weathered metal mosaic backsplash adds is well worth it. If recreating the vintage look is appealing for your home renovation plans, follow the guidance above to install tin tile backsplash successfully. Embrace imperfections and allow natural patina to develop over time for the most authentic aesthetic. With some patience and creativity, you can install tin tiles as a backsplash feature that stands out while standing the test of time.