Tiling a wood shelf is absolutely possible, and practical. The tile will protect against staining, while adding to the ambience of the shelf. People have been doing this since the late 19th century, when homeowners would cover their bathroom shelves with white tile (although white shows dirt well) in order to protect against germs and beautify the environment. The average do-it-yourself homeowner can tile his or her shelf or shelves in two to four hours, depending on the amount of shelves.
Waterproof your shelves if they will be exposed to water or moisture. Use backer board fastened with backer board screws. You can also glue it to the shelf. You may also want to coat the shelf with primer before you cover it with backer board. Regardless of the method, make sure that your wood shelf is well-protected from water or moisture. Failure to waterproof your wood before you cover it with tile -- if the shelf will be exposed to water -- will result in tile and shelf failure and collapse.
Wood shelves can be done with most any tile available, from natural stone to ceramic tile. You will need to use tile adhesive to bond the tile to the wood shelf. When installing the tile, make sure that no cut edges are exposed on the edges of the shelf; this could be dangerous and cause you to cut or scrapes your hands.
Be creative when tiling your shelf. Break your tile into pieces and install a mosaic pattern; or install checked patterns, patterns with mixed colours or designs, glass tile or Mexican tile. Avoid using heavy and thick tile; it will weigh the shelves down and coul cause collapse.
Draw layout lines on your shelf by using a square and a pencil. This will help you place your tile squarely and appropriately. It will also help you see how your tile will fit onto the shelf before you apply the glue; once the glue has been laid down, you will have a short time to install the tile.