How to Cut Tiles
Time Required: 2-4 hours
Home tile installation projects frequently require some tile cutting, whether to fit pieces in corners, along household fixtures, in irregular places or for other purposes. Choose the best tile cutters or other tools for your needs based on such factors as the type and quantity of cuts and tile material.
This guide reviews how to cut tiles using tile saws, cutters, grinders and other tools, as well as how to choose a cutter and how to make different types of cuts.
Tip: Buy a few extra pieces of tile to practice the cutting techniques before working on the real thing.
Cutting tiles with glass cutters, manual tile cutters, angle grinders and wet saws all have different advantages.
- Glass cutters and carbide-tipped pencils are inexpensive and can be sufficient when you only need to make fairly simple cuts on just a few tiles.
- Manual cutters are sufficient for ceramic tiles and straight, accurate cuts. They may take more time but require less skill and are less expensive than power tools. Manual tile cutters may be less effective at cutting tile narrower than 1/2 inch.
- Angle grinders are ideal for cutting tile that’s fixed to a wall or cutting special shapes, such as circles or squares, at the center of pieces of tile.
- Wet saws are better for natural stone and porcelain tiles, especially 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.
- There are several methods for cutting tiles by hand without a tile cutter, using a cutting tool such as a glass cutter or a carbide-tipped pencil.
- 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.
- Firmly press the edge of the glass cutter or carbide pencil along the line, using a carpenter square as a guide. Do not cut entirely through the tile.
- When using a pencil, you may need to make several cuts.
- Place the scored tile over a wire hanger on a flat surface, aligned with the scored line.
- Press gently on both sides of the tile until it snaps cleanly.
- Sand rough edges with a sanding sponge.
- Begin cutting with a manual tile cutter by placing the tool 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 stone to blunt the sharp edge of the pieces.
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.
- Angle grinders are handheld power tools that can be used for abrasive cutting as well as sanding and polishing. When equipped with diamond blades, they are particularly useful at making curved, square and circular cuts for floor drains and other uses.
- Begin by measuring the tile and drawing the shape of the cut with a marker or pencil.
- Secure the tile to a work bench or other work surface with a clamp.
- Pull the angle grinder carefully along the cut line to score the tile.
- Make deeper cuts along the score until you cut through the tile.
Tip: For some shapes such as rectangular cuts, score the tile on both the front and the back.
- Angle grinders and rotary tools offer the most effective ways to cut tile while it’s still glued to the wall or floor.
- Mark the location of the cut with a marker or pencil. Fixing a piece of masking tape along the mark can make the line easier to follow and help prevent chipping.
- Use a spray bottle to wet the tile with water to reduce dust.
- Pull the angle grinder carefully along the cut line to score the tile.
- Make repeated cuts along the score until you’ve cut through the tile and subsurface.
- Wedge a small pry bar under the cut piece and gently pry it loose.
Safety: Take all precautions to avoid breathing tile dust. In addition to wearing eye protection and a dust mask, seal the vents and room from the rest of the house with plastic sheeting and tape. Open windows if possible. Vacuum up the dust after cutting.
- 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. Wet saws can be used indoors, but are recommended for outdoor use.
- 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.
- 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 safety goggles 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 15-20 seconds to get up to speed whenever you begin using the saw.
- 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 and are common for diamond tile patterns.
- Set your saw’s miter guide to the appropriate angle that best matches your 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 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 are necessary when making space for vents, outlets, drains or any other protrusions through the tile surface.
- Make a plunge cut with a wet saw 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 as the toilet 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.
Once you’ve cut your tile, you’re ready to install the pieces and the tile edging trim for your room's ideal tile pattern. 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.