Installation of Handmade 3x6 subway tile (Fireclay debris series)

maxee123July 23, 2013

I would like to know tips and important details regarding the installation of handmade 3x6 subway tiles. I am using Fireclay Debris series tiles.
Does anyone have experience with this specific type of backsplash?
With regard to:
1). Size of grout line
2). Sanded or non-sanded grout
3). Grout or caulking where backsplash meets granite countertop

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We just finished a fireplace surround using 2x6 and 2x2 tiles from the Debris series. This tile is uniquely beautiful, but has some qualities which make it tricky to work with.

Our grout lines ended up being extra-wide to accommodate the uneven edges of the tile. The installation instructions say 3/16 (sanded grout) but ours are more like 1/4".

Where planes meet, (the wall/counter line) use caulk, not grout. You can get caulk colored to match your grout from several companies. There is a lot of settling and movement in this line-it needs to be somewhat flexible.

This tile is very thick and the side edges are not completely covered with glaze. They are very rough. So, you really don't want any edges to be exposed--edges should butt up to cabinetry or trim--something to "hide" them. The engobe glaze is very sloppy-looking, as there is a white underglaze peeking out on the sides in addition to whatever color the tiles are.

I love the handmade quality of these tiles They're a challenge but the end result was well worth the trouble. I was lucky to have a tile setter who appreciated them and enjoyed the fussing.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 1:09AM
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Thank you so much. This is just what I need to know in order to move forward. My tile just arrived this afternoon and I see what you mean about the uneven edges and the thickness. It is absolutely gorgeous and I do not want to make any mistakes now that I have gotten this far...almost there!
I have laid out several pieces. The tile man who came by earlier today to give me an estimate saw only the small 2x4 sample. ( tile had not arrived yet). He said I could go 1/8 or 3/16. Not sure he would say the same after seeing the larger tiles. He seems experienced but not sure if he has set this tile before.

Also, I would like to know if you used a grout color matching or contrasting
your debris series tile. My tile is Butter Toffee. Tile setter recommends matching tile.

Once again thanks so much for taking your time to help me out.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 4:48PM
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I would just have the tile guy go with the narrowest grout line possible, given the constraints of the uneven tile. It will still be much wider than you are used to seeing!

Because of those wide grout lines, I would *try* to match the color as closely as possible. You may not have any luck though, with the Butter Toffee. I wanted to match my tile (Cyclone with engobe, which is a deep gray with green-blue undertones) but there wasn't anything even remotely close from any grout company. So, we have a contrast. The design was complicated to lay out and had to fit EXACTLY, so that's another reason for the wide grout lines. It gives you some space to play with so that you don't have to make cuts.

Here is a pic of the tile:

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 6:38PM
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Hi, Shanghaimom,
Your fireplace tile looks amazing. I love the design and the entire look. I now have a much better idea what to look for as far as grout lines and matching/blending color. Yours is an inspiration. It is stunning...I can't believe what a difference the design at the top portion makes. Very cool!
Thanks so much for sending this photo.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 11:18PM
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When we laid out our backsplash (also fireclay debris), I felt that if you focus on a throughline rather than lining up one edge, you could get pretty small grout lines. But once I laid it out, I felt like the handmade nature of the tile really made a bigger impact if you had larger grout lines. Ours are 3/16".

And you should always put caulk, not grout, at any change in plane with tile...between the tile and the counter, for example.

Contemporary Kitchen

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 9:57AM
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Fireclay Debris tiles are so lovely. I would only offer one piece of advice. My Sonoma tiles are handmade-ish, so the edges, particularly the corners, are sometimes not perfectly flat. That can result in lippage. Ask me how I know. My subway backsplash is beautiful, until I turn on my UCLs. Lippage shadows are cast. It bothers me a lot, so I don't use my UCLs. Bummer. I think it could have been avoided with extreme care and probably slightly wider grout lines to even out the disparity. I think I might be able to mitigate the lippage shadows if I move my UCLs more forward, but that's a project for another day.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 11:51AM
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