Full bathroom remodel, part 7: tiling the countertop

Jim Mallery | Improvement Center Columnist | March 2, 2015

Seventh in an eight-part series on bathroom remodeling

Part 6 explained the ins and outs of installing a bathroom vanity. With the vanity base in place, it's time to tackle the countertop.

Many homeowners who are doing a bathroom remodel want a stone or porcelain-tile countertop because it's easy to install, though you have the option of getting a single-piece of slab granite or marble to top off the vanity. Because you are covering a small area, you might find a bargain from a stone fabricator who has usable scraps of granite or marble. If you go that route, all you have to put on top of the vanity is the slab.

Tile counter starts with a plywood base

If you are tiling your counter, you must first create a plywood base. Attach a 5/8- or ¾-inch piece of plywood to the top of the vanity in the shape of your counter using 1 ½-inch, ring-shank nails. Screw and glue a matching piece of plywood to that so you have a double thickness. Cut holes for your sink using the template that came with the sink.

sink template for vanity countertop

The sink template is in place; the hole will be cut with a scroll saw. Because the backerboard is DenShield, a standard wood blade can be used. Most other backerboards would need to be cut separately from the wood, using a masonry disk on a grinder and a very good dust mask.

tile vanity top with hole cut for sink

A primary layer of thinset, allowed to dry, made up for the difference in thickness and gave a solid base. The mosaic was buttered with a minimum coating of thinset and pressed into place.


Next, cut holes for the sinks in ¼-inch backerboard and attach the backerboard to the plywood base according to manufacturer's instructions -- usually with a layer of thinset and screws, or roofing nails.

Note: If you have the type of sink that is held to the counter with clips, the counter may be too thick for the clips to span. You will need to cut chunks out of the bottom piece of plywood so the clips only have to span the depth of one sheet of plywood.

Tiling the top

vanity counter top tile placement

The tile is set in place to be marked for the sink cutouts. The curved cuts can be made with a masonry disk on a grinder or with multiple cuts with a wet saw.


Your main concerns for a tile countertop are the cutouts for the sinks and the edging. If you are using one-foot tiles, you can cut the oval shape for the sink with a grinder and masonry disk. Or you can tediously cut chunks with your tile saw till you have the rounded shape. Remember, the sink overlaps the edge of the tile, so it needn't be a smooth cut.

Edge: Some tile comes with matching edge pieces that make the job easier. In the absence of matching edge pieces, you have a couple of options. You can use wood edging that matches the cabinet, and grout between the wood and the tile. Or, if you are using stone, you can polish the edge of the top tile, run it about ½-inch beyond the plywood underlayment and cover the edge of the underlayment with a 1 ½-inch strip of the same stone.

Backsplach: Technically, you would put your backsplash over ½-inch backerboard, but for a small, four- to six-inch backsplash, you can just put the mortar over the drywall.


No big trick to mount the mirror; it can be held to the wall with mastic or, more commonly, clips. Just follow the instructions. Make sure to wear heavy long sleeves and gloves to protect against gashes, should the mirror break.

If you have a custom mirror made, the glass company may do the mirror installation when they deliver it.

Next, part 8: finish with fixtures

About the Author

Jim Mallery, a semi-retired journalist and onetime registered contractor, has extensive experience remodeling, repairing and rebuilding homes.