What's the Best Way to Remove a Little Bit of Tile?
April 25, 2019 6:39 PM   Subscribe

There is a mosaic tile backsplash in our kitchen that was installed flush to the bottom of the microwave over the range. That microwave is now broken, and we have a new microwave to install. Because nothing is ever simple, the new microwave is just enough taller than the old microwave that I now have to remove a single row of tile so it will fit. How do I do that?

My initial thought had been that I wouldn't have to remove any tile at all but it turns out that the mounting plate for the new microwave overlaps the existing edge of the backsplash (half on, half off). The options are either remove a single row of tile or fill in the space above it to the same thickness so the mounting plate sits flat. If I did the latter then I'd also have to drill through the tile in order to mount the plate, and by the time I got the necessary drill bits and tried it I'd probably ruin the tile anyway (large holes required and small tiles to drill through). So! Removal it is! Please do not suggest leaving the tile in place. It won't work. Neither will raising the kitchen cabinets by the same distance.

The space I need to clear is 30 inches wide, and literally the height of a single row of tile (the tiles are about ¾" × 4"). There's grout between them. I tried chipping away the grout under one tile to see if it would just come loose without too much struggle, but it seems the backing is pretty robust. I don't know the best plan of attack here. I have basic hand tools, but no grout or tile tools. I own only the most basic Dremel (rotary, not reciprocating, with no speed control). I do need to preserve the row of tile underneath the row I'm removing, as it will be visible under the back of the new microwave.

What tools and techniques do I need to remove the appropriate amount of tile neatly (and cost-effectively)? How do I ensure I'm not destroying the drywall to which the tile is attached? Everything I've found about cutting that sort of tile is about doing it before installation, not after the fact. If the solution is just a hammer and chisel, there are only 30 inches of this work to do and I've done worse, but I need to know that's actually a reasonable plan before I really get started. After I chisel out the grout, how do I get the tiles loose from the wall?
posted by fedward to Home & Garden (2 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Start out with a grout saw to remove the grout from the row you want to remove. You can stack up the saw blades for wider grooves. Or use them as spare blades because you probably will need spares before you are done. The blades will wear out.

Remove the grout all the way to down to the drywall if you can. Then keep sawing or else use a utility knife to cut right down to the drywall. Those mosaic tiles usually have a fabric backing that holds them all together in position relative to each other so you want to make sure you cut the fabric from first row away from the second row or else when you pull one row off, the second row will come with it.

Use a flexible thin putty knife to slip behind the tile from above and try to cut through the adhesive holding it to the drywall. I'm assuming the vertical distance you need to remove is the 3/4" dimension.

You will probably pull off some of the paper from the drywall, but you can repair that later. Most of the damage will be covered by the mounting plate. If there is some drywall that is visible below the microwave, patch it with drywall patch or spackle. Sand and paint before installing the microwave.

The grout saw is a lot of muscle work, but probably not too bad for just 30 inches. You can also buy or rent an electric oscillating multi-tool and buy a grout blade for it. This works a lot faster but you need a bit of skill and a steady hand because you can saw right through tiles crookedly.

One more thing. If your microwave is also a range exhaust hood connected to an external vent, check the dimensions very carefully on the old and new microwave for the position of the vent connection. You might have to make some adjustments of the vent pipe and that could be a bit of a hassle.
posted by JackFlash at 8:12 PM on April 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: This was perfect, thanks. The grout saw work wasn’t particularly hard. The bit with the putty knife was hard to start, but once I got a corner in I found I could rock it from side to side and cut through the glue without too much work. Then I couldn’t find my pack of sandpaper but I scrounged some up. Thank you!
posted by fedward at 5:38 PM on April 27, 2019

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