How to Cut Tiles
Time Required: 2-4 hours
The majority of home tile installation projects will require some tile cutting, whether to fit pieces in corners, along household fixtures or in irregular places. For projects that require minimal cuts, manual tile cutters may be the most practical choice. For giving straight, accurate cuts to numerous pieces of tile, renting or buying a wet saw may be worth the investment, especially over multiple projects. This guide reviews how to cut tiles with a wet saw, explains different types of cuts and compares the tool with a manual tile cutter.
Tip: Buy a few extra pieces of tile to practice the cutting techniques before working on the real thing.
A wet saw is a power tool that uses a water-cooled diamond blade to make quick work of cutting tile. The diamond blade does not have teeth, which makes it ideal for more delicate cutting needs. Like a table saw, a wet saw usually has a sliding table that feeds the tile into an overhead blade. A pump sprays a stream of water over the blade while it is running to keep it from overheating.
- Before cutting, make sure that the wet saw’s water reservoir or tray is full.
- Before using any tool to cut tile, measure the glazed side of the tile to determine where you need to make the cut. Use a straight edge to mark the line with an erasable marker.
- Prepare to cut tile with a wet saw by aligning the tile on the table. Set the protective rip fence so that when the tile’s layout mark meets the blade, the widest part of the tile is between the blade and the fence. This keeps your hands as far away as possible from the blade during the cut.
- If you are unsure how to position the tile, try setting up in different positions and choose the one that supports the largest section of tile on the table during the cut.
Safety: Wear eye protection and gloves while using any saws. Keep fingers as far away from the blade as possible to avoid accidents, and do not wear loose clothing or jewelry that could get caught in the blade.
- Turn on the saw and give it 15 to 20 seconds to get up to speed any time you begin using it.
- Holding the tile glazed side up with both hands, feed it along the fence and into the blade.
- Push slowly, letting the saw do the work and keeping your fingers away from the blade.
- Push the piece between the blade and fence until it completely clears the blade.
- Before removing the tile, turn off the saw and let it power down.
- Unplug the wet saw when not in use.
Safety: Do not cut if a small stream of water is not flowing over the blade and tile. Water is essential to keep the blade cool and produce quality cuts. Check to see that all water delivery systems are working correctly before use.
- Measure and mark the sides and the end of the notch on the piece of tile.
- Make two straight cuts along each side of the notch. Reset the fence after the first cut to make the other cut.
- Stop each cut when the blade reaches the line marking the end of the notch.
- If the notch is wider than 1 inch, reset the fence to make a series of parallel cuts spaced about 1/4 inch apart. Stop each cut when it reaches the line that marks the end of the notch.
- Break off the individual pieces between the sides of the notch.
- To trim the remaining jagged edge, put the tile back on the saw with the blade inside the notch and just touching the jagged edge.
- With the blade running, slide the tile sideways, keeping pressure on the tip of the blade to smooth the jagged edge.
Diagonal cuts on a tile are made point to point (or corner to corner) and are common for diamond tile patterns.
- Set your saw’s miter guide to the appropriate angle that best matches your measured layout line.
- Make sure the layout line is directly on the front of the cutting blade.
- Feed the tile slowly into the blade, especially when you near the end of the cut, where most breakage occurs.
- This same technique can also be used to make miter cuts to result in triangular pieces.
- Bevel cuts are typically 45-degree cuts along the edge of tile.
- Use bevel cuts for inside or outside wrap-around corners, as an alternative to the rounded edges of bull-nose tile or where two walls meet.
- L-cuts are angled cuts for fitting a piece of tile in a corner, around a cabinet or along piece of molding.
- You can customize your tile with L-cuts by measuring out and marking the cuts you need to make on the tile, then using a combination of straight cuts and notches to cut out the full shape.
Plunge cuts (including internal cuts, cut-outs or hole cuts) are necessary when making space for vents, outlets, drains or any other protrusions through the tile surface.
- Make a plunge cut by positioning the material glazed side down directly underneath the cutting wheel and lowering the wheel onto the work piece, allowing the tile to be cut from the center of the material.
- Many cuts that require a circular opening, such as a toilet drain cut-out, can be successfully completed with a rectangular or octagonal hole in the tile. The toilet base will cover the area and give it the finished look you desire.
- Score marks from the blade should remain unseen in the finished job as they will be on the backside of the tile.
Manual tile cutters and wet saws have different advantages.
- Manual cutters are sufficient for ceramic tile and straight cuts. They may take more time but require less skill and are less expensive.
- Wet saws are better for such types of tile as porcelain and natural stone tile. Wet saws are preferable when a job requires numerous or specialty cuts such as openings for drains, AC registers, outlets or beveled edges. They may take less time but require more skill and are more expensive.
- Manual tile cutters may be less effective at cutting tile narrower than 1/2 inch.
Tip: Be sure to use a manual tile cutter that’s at least one inch larger than the dimensions of the tile you need to cut.
- Begin cutting with a manual tile cutter by placing it on a table, arranged perpendicular to you.
- Bring the lever on the tile cutter towards you to put the cutter wheel in the start position.
- Position the tile in the cutter, glazed side up, so that it’s beneath the blade rails and snug against the end stop, with your measurement mark arranged over the cutter’s central guide line.
- Carefully guide the hand lever forward over the cutting mark so the cutter wheel slices through the tile. Push the lever until it reaches the end stop.
- Push down on the lever, applying enough pressure to break the tile into two pieces.
- Use a sanding sponge or tile rubbing stone to blunt the sharp cut edge of the pieces.
Knowing how to cut tile and choose between the different tools for cutting can help save money on tile installation projects in a floor, kitchen, bathroom and more.