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Why the Right Trowel Matters

Almost every contractor knows that using the correct tools for a job often makes physical work more manageable and improves the overall craft. That said, selecting and using the proper trowel for your next tile installation project is no different; it’s just as important as choosing the correct thinset and grout.

Before learning about various trowels, let’s begin at the base layer: Thinset.

Insufficient thinset coverage can weaken and compromise an entire tile system, ruining your project and costing valuable time and money. No one wants to rip out tiles because of voids or gaps in mortar coverage. Conversely, using an overabundance of thinset results in raking out excess mortar from the joints, making the job messy and yielding less coverage per bag. Additionally, using too much thinset may lead to lippage issues, which you may recall from my previous post.

Knowing the correct type and size of the trowel to use on your next tile installation sets you up for success and an overall less stressful process. This blog post explores why the right tile trowel matters and how it can significantly impact your projects.

What Trowel Types Are Available?

Several tile trowels exist-each designed for a specific purpose and installation. It’s important to note that sizes and types of trowels vary depending on the manufacturer and regional preferences. Always refer to installation recommendations for your tile and adhesive to ensure a successful installation. Using the proper notch trowel for the size and shape of the product being installed is extremely important and should not be overlooked. With the variety of trowel products on the market today, the “one-trowel” approach should not be embraced. Each tile is different, so a corresponding trowel should be used. Here are some common types:

V-Notched Trowel

The V-notched trowel has V-shaped notches, which provide better control over adhesive distribution. It is often used for installing smaller mosaic tiles or tiles with thin-set adhesives. V-notches come in different sizes, including 1/8”, 3/16”, or 1/4”, depending on the tile size and substrate conditions.


U-Notched or Square-Notched Trowel

These are  the most commonly used trowels for tile installations. They have straight sides and either a square notch, or U-shaped notch. Square notches are typically used for smaller tiles, while U-notches are suitable for larger tiles. The size of the notches vary, ranging from 3/16”to ½”, depending on the tile size and adhesive requirements.

Square and U-Notched_Trowel

How to Read Notch Sizing?

Reading tile trowel notch sizing may initially seem confusing, but it is relatively straightforward once you understand the notation system. Trowel notch sizing is typically represented in fractions or metric measurements, indicating the depth and width of the notches on the trowel.

Fractional Notation

Fractional trowel notch sizes are represented using measurements such as 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″, etc. The first number represents the width of the notch, while the second number represents the depth. For example, a 1/4″ x 1/4″ notch size means that the width and depth of each notch on the trowel are 1/4 of an inch.

Metric Notation

Metric trowel notch sizes are expressed in measurements, such as 6 mm, 8 mm, 10 mm, etc. The measurement refers to the width of the notch. For instance, an 8 mm notch size means that the width of each notch on the trowel is 8 millimeters.

Always consult the supplier’s recommendations for the appropriate trowel size for your specific tile installation project.

What About the Design of the Trowel?

There is more to trowel design than just material and comfort. Important factors to keep in mind include:

  1. Handle Ergonomics
  2. Grip Comfort
  3. Handle Material
  4. Weight and Balance
  5. Durability
  6. Maintenance and Cleaning
  7. Compatibility with Adhesive

Considering these factors makes choosing the right trowel easier. Select one that provides a comfortable grip, reduces fatigue, offers durability, and enhances overall control during tile installation. Remember to prioritize comfort and choose a trowel that feels right, as it can significantly impact your tiling experience.

What Are Other Key Installation Factors?

Beyond the appropriate trowel selection, other vital factors must be considered throughout the installation process. Every step is crucial, from choosing suitable tiles to preparing the surface. The size, shape, and notch-type of the trowel can significantly affect adhesive coverage and, ultimately, the durability, performance, and aesthetic appeal of the finished tile job.

  • Proper Adhesive Coverage: The primary function of a tile trowel is to spread adhesive evenly on the substrate. Achieving proper adhesive coverage is essential for ensuring the tiles adhere securely and maintain their position over time. The size of the trowel notch determines the adhesive applied to each tile’s back. Using a trowel with the wrong notch size can result in insufficient adhesive coverage, leading to weak bonds and tiles that may loosen over time. Conversely, using a trowel with too large notches can lead to excess adhesive squeezing between the tiles, causing lippage or uneven surfaces. The goal is optimal adhesive coverage.
  • Substrate Consistency: The substrate type and condition influence tile trowel choice. Working with a smooth and even substrate, such as cement board or a properly prepared concrete surface, a trowel with larger notches may be used since the adhesive will adhere well to the surface. However, if the substrate is uneven or imperfect, a trowel with smaller notches helps compensate for irregularities and provide better contact between the tile and adhesive. Adapting the trowel size and notch shape to the substrate conditions helps to achieve a level and long-lasting tile installation.
  • Material Compatibility: Different types of adhesives require specific trowel configurations to achieve optimal performance. Thinset mortar, for example, is a common adhesive used in tile installations. It typically requires a square or U-notch trowel, with the size determined by the tile dimensions and substrate conditions. On the other hand, if you’re working with a tile adhesive that comes in the form of a mastic or a pre-mixed adhesive, a trowel with V-notches or a serrated edge may be more suitable. Understanding the compatibility between the adhesive and the trowel notches is essential for a strong bond between the tiles and the substrate.
  • Time and Efficiency: Using a suitable tile trowel improves the quality of your tile installation and saves time and effort. A trowel suitable for the tile size and shape allows for efficient adhesive application, reducing the need for reworking or adjusting tiles during installation. Excessive adhesive can be difficult to clean, and may interfere with grouting. Using the proper trowel can minimize clean-up time and avoid potential complications during subsequent installation steps.

The tile trowel is often an overlooked aspect of tile installation, but its importance cannot be overstated. The right trowel (size and shape) ensures proper adhesive coverage, facilitates tile placement and alignment, improves efficiency, and enhances the installation’s long-term performance.

Before starting your tile installation project, research your tiles’ specific requirements and consult industry guidelines or professionals. By choosing the appropriate tile trowel, you set yourself up for success, achieving a beautiful and long-lasting tile installation that adds value and aesthetic appeal to your space. Remember, the right tool can make all the difference in tile installation.

To learn even more, check out this [su_youtube url=”” width=”400″ height=”200″ responsive=”no” title=”Trowel Size for Tile Installation”]:

Have other technical questions? Contact our QA&T team!