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Prepare the wall

This applies mainly to tiling in a bath. For a backsplash in the kitchen, you can work directly from the existing drywall.

The precursor of cement backer board was cement stucco that was applied over wire mesh (lathe). When it became obvious that this type of application stood the test of time better than other methods, cement backer board was developed to make installation easier, cleaner, and faster than stucco.

Keep in mind that the backer board is quite rigid. You'll want it to be as plumb as possible to look good once the tile is on.

What does this mean? You might have to do some shimming if your studs are warped. I've even used a block plane to take off the high part of a slightly warped stud. You can use a plumb bob from the top plate to the bottom plate to determine if you have issues to deal with.

Install your backer board

Now that you've got off all the green board or drywall, you're ready to install the backer board. The easiest way to do this is to screw it right to the wooden studs. You can also nail it up if you use hot-dipped ring-shank nails.

It's always a good idea to hang 15-pound roofing felt on the studs as a moisture barrier before installing the backer board.

To cut the backer board, use a circular saw blade made for this purpose. And be ready for some monumental dust. Note: wear a dust mask! Some brands of backer board have lines on the surface so you can score it with a utility knife and snap it.

Some installers recommend leaving an eighth of an inch between adjacent boards and filling the gap with silicone caulk. Why? I'm not sure. But do leave the gap between the tub and board and caulk it.

After hanging the backer board, get out your drywall tools and tape the joints using fiberglass tape and tile adhesive. This will ensure that you have a flat surface to mount your tile on and further waterproof the whole assembly.

Lay out the tile

Just like any other DIY project, preparation and layout are the keys to a professional-looking outcome. You'll strike control lines to be sure that your tile starts off on the right foot. Then, just keep building from there. In most shower enclosures and on kitchen back splashes, you'll be safe starting off and ending up with full tiles on the vertical run, finished off with a half-bullnose tile.

For the lateral, or horizontal run, you can start off with a full tile on either the inside or outside and work from there. As an alternate approach, your tiles can alternate, as bricks do -- start with a full tile on one course, start with a half tile on the subsequent course, etc.

If you're tiling a counter top back splash in the kitchen, you can use specialty rounded tiles for the bottom course.

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