Granite tile provides the beauty and durability of granite at a fraction of the cost of a full slab, making it a great choice for DIY projects. While granite is popular, especially for kitchen countertops, it can be expensive. However, with proper planning and by following essential installation steps, you can create a stunning granite tile countertop that will stand the test of time without breaking the bank. 

Tools Needed

Installing a granite tile countertop requires having the right tools on hand. Be sure you have the following:

  • Level — To check that your cabinets are level before installation
  • Square — For checking 90-degree angles
  • Tape measure — For taking measurements
  • Safety glasses — To protect your eyes
  • Carbide tipped scoring tool — For cutting cement backer board
  • Circular saw — For cutting plywood
  • Drill with screwdriver bits — For drilling screw holes
  • Jigsaw — To cut out the sink opening in your countertop
  • Notched trowel — For applying thin-set mortar
  • Rubber padded grout float — For forcing grout into tile seams
  • Sponge — For wiping away excess grout
  • Stone polisher (rent) — To polish rough granite edges
  • Tile saw (rent) — For accurately cutting your granite tiles

Having these tools on hand will make the installation process go smoothly for you.

Today’s Homeowner Tips

Renting a stone polisher and tile saw can save you money if you don’t need them frequently.

Materials Needed

Along with the right tools, these are the materials you’ll need for a granite tile countertop installation:

  • 1/4 x 12″ x 12″ granite tiles — Granite tile can save you thousands compared to a full slab
  • 3/4″ plywood — Used to build up your countertop substrate
  • 1/4′′ or 1/2″ cement backer board — Serves as the tile underlayment for your countertop
  • Screws — For securing the plywood and backer board
  • Masking tape — Helps when marking tiles to be cut
  • Thin-set mortar — For bonding tile to cement board
  • Unsanded grout — For filling the joints between your tiles
  • Grout sealer — Protects the grout from stains

How to Install Plywood Substrate

Checking for levelness helps avoid cracking grout lines later on, so always start this DIY project by verifying that your cabinets are level in all directions. Then, remove existing countertops and cut 3/4″ plywood to the size of your countertop, allowing for overhang. For thicker edges, double up plywood layers.

Position plywood on cabinets. With the plywood in position, measure from the cabinet to the edge of the plywood. Next, transfer this measurement to the top of the substrate, adding half the thickness of the cabinet frame, and mark the location for the screws.

Drill pilot holes and screw the plywood to the top of your cabinet frames. Alternatively, screw from below to brackets or a ledger strip located inside the cabinets.

Securing the plywood substrate prevents movement that could dislodge your tiles over time. Be sure to allow for overhangs and attach securely using screws.

 Plywood Substrate
Plywood Substrate
(Image Credit: Canva)

How to Install Cement Backer Board

The cement backer board prevents sagging. With your plywood substrate in place, covering it with cement backer board provides an ideal surface for mounting the granite tile.

  1. Cut the backer board to size by scoring it with a carbide-tipped scoring tool and breaking it as you would drywall.
  2. Cut outdoors and wear a respirator to prevent dust inhalation.
  3. Screw 1/4″ or 1/2″ cement board to plywood using countersunk screws. 
  4. Attach 2″ perimeter strips flush with the top.
  5. Cover all cement board joints with fiberglass mesh tape to prevent cracks.
  6. Use a jigsaw to cut out the hole for your sink based on the sink template that came with your sink. 
  7. Fitting the substrate around the stove will depend on the type of cooking surface you have. A freestanding stove requires no substrate, while a drop-in stove will need backing between the stove and the wall.

The cement backer board gives added strength to support the tile while providing adhesion for the mortar. Take safety precautions during cutting and attach securely.

How to Polish Granite Tile Edges

Polishing rounds and smooths sharp, rough edges on granite tiles using a specialized stone polisher.

I recommend using a stone polisher, which uses a series of coarse to fine pads. Begin with a coarse pad in the 50 to 150 grit range and work up to 3000 to 5000 grit. Then, hold the edge at a slight angle and steadily move the polisher across each edge.

Lastly, make edges uniform by easing any sharp corners. Work outside as the process is messy. Polishing the tiles gives them a finished look and prevents unsightly chipping.

How to Lay Granite Tile

With your substrate prepared, laying the granite tile is the next step. Using proper techniques helps ensure the tiles stay firmly in place.

Generously apply thin-set mortar to the cement board using a notched trowel for adequate coverage. Lay full tiles on the outer edge first, butting them together. Remember to overhang the tiles to allow for the edging.

While granite tiles average 1/4” thick, individual tiles can vary. To compensate for thinner tiles, use a thicker bed of mortar. Check with a level as you go so all tiles are the same height. 

Next, place tiles side-by-side, aligning layout lines as needed to maintain the pattern. Avoid spreading more thin-set than can be tiled over before it dries down. 

How to Cut Granite Tile

Once you lay all the tiles, use a tile saw to cut pieces to fit along the wall.

First, grab a tile saw designed for cutting stone to make straight, accurate cuts. Use water to control dust. Then, make multiple gentle passes when cutting granite, slowly lowering the blade for a clean edge.

Trying to cut granite tile using the wrong tools can result in binding, chips, or uneven edges. I recommend investing in a specialty blade made of granite, which can improve cutting quality.

How to Install Tile Edging and Backsplash

Adding edge tiles around the perimeter and a backsplash completes your countertop installation.

When the top is complete, apply thin-set to the side of the cement board substrate and position the edge tiles. For a uniform look, align the joints with the top. Then, use tape to hold the edge tiles until the mortar has dried.

Finish edges and backsplash with tiles from the main slab batch for a uniform appearance. Carefully apply edge tiles to prevent slipping before mortar sets.

How to Apply Grout to Tile

Properly sealing grout prevents discoloration. Grout fills the joints between tiles, and the correct technique protects appearance and durability.

Start by using a rubber-padded grout float to force the grout into the seams. Then, wipe off the excess with a damp sponge.

Once the grout has dried thoroughly, apply a high-quality sealer to the seams to prevent stains. Install the sink, faucet, and appliances to complete the job. Quickly polish away any dried grout haze.

applying grout
Grout Application
Image Credit: Canva

So, Is Installing a Granite Tile Countertop Right for You?

While granite tile requires careful installation, the ability to do much of the work yourself can make it an attractive and cost-effective option. If you’re comfortable using the necessary tools and techniques, your new countertop can look stunning while providing lasting quality and style.

For some homeowners, the extensive cutting, precision alignment, and grouting challenges may outweigh the savings versus hiring a professional. Great results depend on allowing adequate time for each step and having assistance, so consider the pros and cons of DIY versus professional installation before beginning.  

FAQs About Installing Granite Tile Countertops

Is special mortar or grout required for granite tile?

Yes, I recommend using thin-set mortar and grout formulated specifically for granite and other natural stones. These provide a stronger bond and resist staining better.

How are tiles aligned when installing a granite tile countertop?

Granite tiles often have subtle layout lines. Aligning these makes setting the tiles easier and creates a uniform appearance. Some tiles may vary slightly in dimensions and require adjusting with spacers.

What kind of blade is best for cutting granite tiles?

Granite is tough on standard wood and tile blades. Use a continuous, diamond-edged rimmed blade designed for cutting stone on a wet saw for the cleanest cuts.

How long does the mortar need to cure before grouting granite tile?

I recommend waiting 24 to 48 hours after applying thin-set mortar before grouting granite tiles. This time frame allows the mortar to fully cure so tiles remain firmly bonded.

Can granite tile countertops have an overhang?

Yes, extending the tile overhang beyond the cabinet frames is common. The cement board and plywood substrate provide the strength to support this overhang. Edge tiles help contain the overhang.

Editorial Contributors
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Laurie Engle

Expert Writer & Reviewer

Laurie Engle is a freelance writer who provides insights to homeowners on topics such as the home warranty industry, relocation issues, and real estate trends. As a licensed Realtor since 2001 Laurie has acquired extensive expertise in dealing with home warranty companies and navigating the intricacies of the real estate market. In addition to her commitment to helping clients with their home buying and selling needs, she maintains a sharp awareness of market dynamics, including property values, interest rates, and local regulations.

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Amy DeYoung


Amy DeYoung has a passion for educating and motivating homeowners to improve their lives through home improvement projects and preventative measures. She is a content writer and editor specializing in pest control, moving, window, and lawn/gardening content for Today’s Homeowner. Amy utilizes her own experience within the pest control and real estate industry to educate readers. She studied business, communications, and writing at Arizona State University.

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