Which Trowel for Backsplash: A Guide to Choosing the Right Trowel for Installing Tile Backsplash

Installing a tile backsplash can transform the look of a kitchen or bathroom. However, choosing the right trowel is key to getting professional looking results. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the factors to consider when selecting a trowel for your tile backsplash project.


When installing tile, the right trowel makes all the difference in getting a smooth, even application of thinset mortar. Trowels come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each designed for spreading thinset for specific tile sizes. Choosing the correct trowel ensures proper coverage under the tiles to achieve a strong bond.

With many types of trowels available, it can get confusing determining which one is right for your backsplash tile. In this article, we’ll explore the features of different trowel types and provide recommendations to take the guesswork out of choosing a trowel for backsplash installation. Read on to learn how to select the proper trowel for a seamless backsplash tile project.

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Trowel for Backsplash Tile

There are several aspects to evaluate when choosing a trowel for installing backsplash tile:

Tile Size

The size of the tile you are installing is the primary factor in trowel selection. Larger tiles require a trowel that holds more thinset mortar to provide ample coverage on the backside. Smaller mosaic tiles need less mortar and are set with a smaller notched trowel.

Make sure to use a trowel recommended for your specific tile size to ensure proper spread rate and adhesion.

Notch Size

Trowels have notches cut into the blade surface that determine how much thinset is applied with each pass. Larger notches disperse more material and are used with bigger tiles. Smaller notch sizes are ideal for mosaic tiles in order to control the spread rate.

Match the notch configuration to the tile size for efficient thinset application and to avoid having too much or too little mortar underneath.

Blade Size and Shape

Trowel blades come in different widths to allow focusing the mortar spread into smaller or larger areas. For backsplashes, narrower blades provide greater control in tight spaces compared to wider pool trowels.

The shape of the blade will also affect how the thinset is dispersed. Square notched, v-notched, and u-notched blades all have slightly different spread patterns.


Trowels are constructed using various materials including stainless steel, carbon steel, and plastic. Stainless steel offers the greatest durability and longevity. Plastic trowels are more affordable but wear out faster.

Consider how frequently you’ll be using the trowel when choosing between longer-lasting steel or disposable plastic models. Steel trowels are ideal for multi-day backsplash projects while plastic works for small DIY jobs.

Recommended Trowels for Common Backsplash Tile Sizes

Here are the recommended trowel types for some of the most popular backsplash tile sizes:

Mosaic Backsplash Tile

Tile size: 1/4” to 1/2” square tiles

Trowel recommendation: 1/4” x 1/4” square notched trowel

The small squares of mosaic tiles require only a thin coat of thinset mortar. A 1/4” square notched trowel is ideal for getting full coverage without overloading the tiny tile. The square notches allow excellent control when combing the thinset evenly over the surface.

Standard Backsplash Tile Size

Tile size: 4-1/4” x 4-1/4” square tiles

Trowel recommendation: 1/4” x 3/8” V-notched trowel

The most common backsplash tile size of 4-inch squares installed in a grid pattern works well with a v-notched trowel. The 1/4” x 3/8” configuration applies the right amount of thinset to properly adhere the medium sized tiles.

Large Format Tile Backsplash

Tile size: 12” x 24” rectangular tiles

Trowel recommendation: 1/2″ x 1/2″ square notched trowel

For large format backsplash tiles, a 1/2” square notched trowel allows spreading a sufficient layer of mortar to fully support the heavier tiles. The larger grooves dispense enough thinset to completely cover the back of high-profile tiles.

Subway Tile Backsplash

Tile size: 3” x 6” rectangular tiles

Trowel recommendation: 1/4” x 3/8” square notched trowel

The elongated shape of subway tiles calls for a trowel with a notch size to match the tile thickness. The 1/4” x 3/8” square notched trowel provides full mortar contact while keeping the ridges of thinset parallel, allowing the subway tiles to be inset evenly.

Hexagon Tile Backsplash

Tile size: 1” to 2” mosaic hexagon tiles

Trowel recommendation: 1/4” x 1/4” V-notched trowel

For small mosaic hexagon tiles, a 1/4″ v-notched trowel is ideal to work the thinset into the joints between the tiny tiles. The v-shape notches allow precise control over thinset application for intricate hexagon mosaic patterns.

Types of Trowels for Backsplash Projects

Now that we’ve covered trowel features and size recommendations, let’s look at the common trowel classifications you’ll encounter when shopping for a backsplash installation trowel:

Square Notch Trowel

Square notch trowels have notches cut in a grid pattern across the face of the blade. The uniform square notches provide excellent coverage and control when setting mosaic sheets and small tile. They are available with notch sizes from 1/16” up to 1/2″ to handle any tile size.

V-Notch Trowel

V-notch trowels have a distinct zig-zag v-shaped notch pattern cut into the blade. The v-shape provides channels to hold mortar allowing smooth, even application. They are ideal for most tile sizes and have notch sizes ranging from 1/16” to 1/2”.

U-Notch Trowel

U-notch trowels feature a rounded u-shaped notch. The curves provide more surface contact between the tiles and thinset for very strong adhesion. U-notch trowels have notch sizes from 1/8” to 1/2” to pair with common tile sizes.

Notch Gauge Trowel

Notch gauge trowels have removable blades to allow switching between notch configurations. A single trowel handle can be fitted with blades from 1/16” to 1/2” in square, v, and u notch shapes. This versatility makes them useful for installing a variety of tile sizes.

Key Considerations When Using a Trowel for Backsplash Installation

Once you’ve selected the right trowel for your backsplash tile, keep these techniques in mind when applying thinset mortar:

  • Hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle to the surface to ensure proper notch contact.
  • Apply even pressure when combing thinset over the area to reach a consistent depth.
  • Use the flat side of the trowel to knock down any high ridges left by the notched edge.
  • Maintain notched edges to avoid wear rounding over the corners which alters mortar spread.
  • Replace plastic trowels once notches become visibly rounded or deformed.
  • Clean trowel thoroughly after use to prevent dried thinset affecting spread rate.

Proper handling and care of your trowel will help achieve beautiful backsplash results. Don’t forget to account for the skill level of the installer when choosing a trowel size. Beginners may want to use a slightly smaller notch to make achieving the right mortar depth easier.

Frequently Asked Questions About Trowel Selection for Backsplash Installation

Many first-time tilers have additional questions when selecting a trowel. Here are answers to some of the most common queries:

What size notch trowel for subway tile backsplash?

For a standard 3” x 6” subway tile, a 1/4” x 3/8” square or v-notched trowel provides ideal thinset coverage. The 1/4” notch matches the tile thickness while the 3/8” spread ensures proper adhesion.

What size trowel for mosaics?

Small mosaic tiles require a 1/4″ x 1/4″ trowel with square notches. The tiny grooves allow just enough thinset for the mosaic pieces without overspreading. A v-notch or u-notch can also work but may be harder to control with the small tiles.

Is a U or V notch trowel better?

This depends on personal preference and the installation situation. U-notches provide greater mortar contact for very secure bonding. V-notches allow slightly better control for detailed cuts and alignment. Both create excellent thinset ridges.

Can I use a plastic trowel for backsplash?

While metal trowels are ideal, flexible plastic trowels can be used for backsplash projects. Just be aware plastic wears faster so replace once notches appear rounded off. Only use plastic for small DIY backsplash installations.

What size trowel for 12×24 wall tile?

A 1/2″ trowel with square or v-shaped notches is recommended for large format 12″ x 24″ wall tiles. The 1/2″ notch ensures adequate mortar to fully support the tile and prevent voids forming beneath the surface.


Choosing the right trowel makes achieving professional looking backsplash tile results much simpler. Matching the trowel size and notch shape to your tile dimensions ensures a perfectly combed thinset layer. Pay attention to the factors outlined here including tile size, notch configuration, blade size and shape, and material type when selecting a trowel.

With so many options, it can be overwhelming deciding on the proper trowel for your upcoming backsplash project. Follow the recommendations here based on your tile size and type to take the guesswork out of choosing the perfect trowel. Applying the thinset with the right technique will help create a backsplash you’ll love showing off for years to come.