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How To Cut Tile

When you install tile, part of the job is cutting pieces to fit. That intimidates a lot of people, enough to pay someone else to install the tile for them. However, cutting tile really isn't that difficult. In fact, with the right tools, it can be down right easy. We'll discuss the different techniques and tools and we'll explain the differences when cutting different types of tile.

Caution Always wear eye protection when cutting tile. Use caution when handling cut tile as they may have sharp edges.

Tile Cutting Tools

Tile Cutters: Tile cutters are used to score and break ceramic tiles. The tile is placed over the fulcrum. The handle has a blade wheel that is run over the tile to score the surface. Next, the metal foot is set onto the tile surface. Pulling the handle down puts pressure on the tile on each side of the fulcrum (which is directly under the scored line), causing the tile to snap into two pieces.

Tile Nippers: Tile nippers are similar to pliers except they have two sharp blades, similar to nail clippers, that nip off pieces of a tile.They can be used to remove stray pieces that were not removed in a cut, or to make irregular shapes.

Tile Saw / Wet Saw: A wet saw uses a rotating blade to grind through a tile. Water is added to a pan under the blade. The water cools the blade and reduces dust resulting from the cutting.

Tile Hole Saw: A drill bit with grinding material embedded in it to cut holes through a tile. This is commonly done to accommodate plumbing fixtures.

Making a Straight Cut

The most basic cut is a straight cut. First measure the size of the space for the tile. Don't forget to leave space for the grout. You can make this cut with a tile cutter, a tile saw or tile nippers. Nippers don't leave a very straight edge and are more likely to break the tile. A tile cutter or tile saw is a better choice. If you need to cut two sides of a tile, follow these steps and then just repeat them for the second cut.

Using a tile cutter, place the tile on the cutting surface. Place the cut line over and parallel to the raised metal bar; the fulcrum. Next raise the handle and align the tile precisely with the cutting wheel. Starting on the edge of the tile near you, press the blade down onto the surface of the tile. Press it hard enough to score the surface of the tile and push the blade way from you while maintaining the pressure. You want a continuous line in the tile surface from edge to edge.

Tip: Many tiles have rounded edges. make certain to maintain the pressure, even as you follow the rounded contours of the tile. If you don't, the tile is likely not to break on the line, leaving small jagged pieces near the edges.

With the surface scored, lift the handle and position the metal foot over the tile, roughly at its center. Set the foot in position and pull the handle down with enough force to snap the tile in two. If the score was made properly, the tile should snap cleanly along the line.

In most cases the tile will have a slightly rough edge. Use a sanding block to smooth the visible edge but don't worry about the edge of the tile that will be hidden by grout.

This method is suitable for smooth ceramic/porcelain tiles. If the texture is too rough or the tile has a raised pattern or shape, then a tile saw should be used instead.

Cutting an Inside Corner or Two Intersecting Straight Lines

Cutting an Inside Corner

If you have to cut a piece to fit around a corner, it will require two cuts. You can't use the technique above to make this cut because it will result in two pieces. You could install the two pieces fitted tightly together, but the line will almost certainly be visible. Instead you can use a tile saw or tile nippers to make the cut. This technique can also be used for intricate cuts with more angles.

Tip: We recommend buying or renting a tile saw for your tile project. A tile saw is not terribly expensive - you don't have to buy top quality to get a decent tool. A tile saw will usually give you better cuts, better results, do it faster and will handle special cuts that you can't do with a tile cutter.

If you use nippers, there is a chance that the tile will break unexpectedly. To minimize this risk, always make small nibbles of material. Use a pencil or marker to mark the cut line. Use the nippers to cut away small bits and work your way up to the line. You will likely have a pretty rough edge, a sanding block will grind away material to yield a smooth edge. Don't worry about the edge that will be below the surface and hidden by the grout.

For better results, a tile saw can be used to make each cut. It will be necessary to run the tile into the blade along the first cut line and then carefully pull it back out once you reach the end of the cut line. An alternative to pulling the tile out is to turn off the saw and wait for the blade to come to a full stop. Reposition the tile for the second cut. Take care that the piece being cut off does not get caught between the blade and another surface, turning the fragment into a dangerous projectile. Run the piece into the blade along the second cut line, stopping just as the intersection of the two cuts is reached.

Note: Because the blade is circular, the bottom edge protrudes a little further than the part of the blade cutting the top edge of the tile. This results in the bottom of the tile being cut a little further than the top. in most cases, this won't matter, but is something to be aware of when making special cuts.

Cutting a Curve

Cutting a Curve in a Tile

Occasionally a curve is required to fit a tile around a contour. Tile nippers are one way to get a curve, as is a special carbide coping saw. However, my preferred method is to use the tile saw. Start by drawing your curve onto the tile, a permanent marker makes a line that is easy to see and will stand up to the dust and water. The technique is to feed the tile into the blade to make a series of cuts to remove material inside the curve.

Tip: Tile cutting is a skill, not a tough one to learn, but a skill none-the-less. it may be a good idea to buy some extra tiles, or if your tiles are too expensive to waste, some similar cheap tiles for making practice cuts upon. Getting the hang of tile cutting will help prevent waste of expensive or limited tiles.

In the example to the right you can see that many cuts have been made up the cut line. After the cuts are made, the pieces can be snapped off. It there are large bits remaining, use the blade to grind away unwanted tile. To finish the work, use a round file or convex flat file to remove material and to smooth the exposed edge,

Cutting a Hole

Cutting a hole requires the use of a tile hole saw or masonry bit. Small holes are drilled similarly to drilling a hole in wood except that a masonry bit is required. Larger holes will require a hole cutter bit. In both cases, the bit will be mounted in a power drill. If given the choice, I prefer to cut a hole in a tile before it is installed. This reduces the risk of damaging other tiles, and if this one breaks, simply start over on another piece. That is not so easily done with installed tiles .

A drill bit placed onto the surface of a tile will tend slide or wander. In order to keep the bit on target, it is help to make a small chink in the surface glaze. Attempts at this will sometimes result in tile breakage, so a light touch is needed. There are various ways to make a starting mark. one method involves using a nail set and tapping it lightly with a hammer. Another method is to use the cutting wheel on the tile cutter to make a small scratch. The score may be enough or may need to enlarge it with another tool. A sure fire method is to drill a hole through a piece of plywood using the same sized wood bit. Place the wood over the tile and secure it firmly, then drill the tile with the masonry bit. The plywood acts as a guide for the masonry bit.

Place the tile on a wooden surface. Place the tip of the drill bit on the nick you made and slowly start the drill. As the bit begins cutting, increase the speed. Press down firmly, but too much pressure can cause the tile to crack. Hold the tile as you drill so that it does not spin along with the bit.

Tip: Tiles are going to break. Some cuts will be unsatisfactory. Everyone, even pros, make mistakes and end up cutting the wrong size or place. ALWAYS buy plenty of extra tiles to allow for waste. It you are doing a large rectangular room, 5% extra may be fine. If your room has a variety of corners, shapes and obstacles, 10% is probably a better safety margin. Furthermore, having spare tiles to make repairs in the future is always a good idea because tiles are often impossible to match later on.

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