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3 Best Methods for Cutting Ceramic Tile

Synopsis: If only there was one tool for cutting tile, unfortunately not! By assembling a number of tools–some expensive, some not–you can make every kind of cut you will need to tile your bathroom wall, kitchen floor or back splash. This project aims at guiding you about cutting tiles successfully to fill the awkward shapes that you always have left over when tiling. You want to cut for at least one room of your house.  And you want those cuts to be perfect, straight, and trouble-free.

With many styles of ceramic tile flooring to choose from, you’re sure to find a selection that’s perfect for your project. Ceramic flooring is affordable, durable and looks great throughout the house.

Ceramic tiles including the earthenware, stoneware or porcelain tiles are hardwearing materials which are why they are used for dado walls, rooftops, table tops and various other purposes. In cases where they are being used as construction materials, most of us will confront the need of cutting them at some point in time. There are several tools to use when cutting or shaping ceramic tile. Tile is much like glass. When you score the glazed surface cleanly and then apply pressure to each side of the tile, it will almost always break quite cleanly on the score mark.

Tile cutters have a carbide wheel just like standard glass cutters. The simple tile cutters have a fence that holds the tile square to the cutting blade. You slide the handle while applying pressure and you get a clean, straight line. Press down on the back of the handle and the tile pops.

cutting ceramic tile

To make the procedure of cutting ceramic tile easy, three different tools and techniques are recommended the most. However, one should keep in mind that cement, stone, terracotta and a certain type of porcelain tiles should only be processed using a wet saw.

  1. Manual Snap Cutter
  2. Tile Nipper
  3. Wet Tile Saw

How to Cut a ceramic tile with Manual Snap Cutter

Homeowners wishing to do their own tile work are presented with two major tools to cut the tiles: the wet tile saw and the snap tile cutter.  If you want to do the job cheaply and without burdening yourself with yet another one-off tool cluttering your workshop, the snap tile cutter will be your best option. The snap tile cutter is completely different.  Also known as a rail tile cutter, it works like a glass cutter. A glass cutter has a carbide wheel, which is forcefully and slowly drawn across the glass to create a score.   Once the score is made, the glass is snapped off by hand or with a tool.  A snap cutter works in much the same way, except the tile is inserted in the machine, and the wheel is drawn across it.

A manual snap cutter comes in really handy for making straight cuts. If you want to make a perfectly straight cut, the manual snap cutter is what you’re looking for. Handy as it is, it is a worthy investment as it only ranges around $200 (decent quality) and is available on any home improvement online portal or shop.

Follow the guide to cut a ceramic tile with manual snap cutter:

  1. To use the snap cutter, initially, you have to prepare the tile and mark the line.
  2. After marking the line, place the tile firmly against the front guide, lift it and depress to score a straight line.
  3. After scoring, depress the handle in order to snap the tile in two pieces. If you’re cutting ceramic tile (more than one), clamp the fence into the same position as the first cut and place the tiles succeedingly.
  4. However, you should brush the debris away after you’re done with the cutting procedure.

Cutting Ceramic tile with Tile Nipper

But most of the times we want to make irregular cuts across the edges rather than the straight cuts. In such cases, using an efficient tile nipper is beneficial as the snap cutters can’t make the irregular cuts. Also, known as the nibbling tool, it can be used to make a half inch or an entire inch distant cuts from the edge by making the scoring lines. This tool is also used to make notches or tiny cutout. The best part about the nippers is that they are relatively chip ranging from $10-$25 based on their quality. However, the drawback of a tile nipper is that the cuts that are made using it are not as clean, unlike the rest two tools.

  1. To make a cut using the tile nipper, initially use a snap cutter for scoring the lines.
  2. After scoring, nibble the tile chips one by one slowly from the tile area that is to be removed.
  3. Removing larger bits will shatter the entire tile and therefore, patience is what you require while nibbling the tile away.

How to Cut a Ceramic tile using a Wet Saw:

The precision of tile cuts are made using the wet saw, but one has to be experienced to use the wet saw. Wet saws are largely available in different models, different sizes both for renting and owning. Therefore, find a prominent home improvement center or portal to purchase a budget priced wet saw which can be available for around $60. In case if you are looking for a wet saw that can handle the bulk job, get a professional one which costs around $500. 

The tile saws come with pumps which squirt water on constant basis onto a sharp diamond blade. Inexpensive saws do not have any pumps but have the ability to keep the made submerged. It’s a mandatory to have a splash guard for the wet saw if you want to use it in the indoor environment with the help of scattered spray. However, using it outdoors is recommended because of the dust and splatter it delivers. In case if you want to make curvaceous cuts, employ a radial arm wet saw.

  1. To cut a tile with a wet saw, initially set it on a smooth surface. If the saw comes with a pump, put the pump in a pan and fill the pan with water.
  2. Test it and make sure it’s functional before proceeding to cut in a way that it supplies water stream to the diamond blade.
  3. If your saw doesn’t have a pump, fill the pan to a certain level such that the blade stays submerged in water and keep filling the water after every 20 cuts.
  4. Now, take a marker and mark the tile on the surface in the shape you want to make a cut.
  5. To make straight lines, place the tile on the tray pulled away from the diamond blade. Turn on the saw, hold the tile rigidly against the tray, slide it and let the blade cut the tile.
  6. To make angle cuts, switch to the protractor like mode and cut notches by making small and parallel cuts that are around 1/4 inch distant. Take a tile nipper and finish the work by nibbling the chips away.

Cutting tiles is only difficult if you cannot get through the glaze. The tool needs to be a proprietary tool to do this and it is no good trying to make do with all sorts of things you have found in the garage. As with most, if not all building work, the money spent on decent equipment will save you a fortune in wasted materials, time and things you have broken in temper.

Ceramic tile work is really not too hard. You don’t need expensive tools for the most part and the job can often be finished in one or two days. To get great results you must be able to measure accurately AND have decent hand-eye coordination. If you are sloppy, you better hire a pro. Using any of the above three methods, you can succeed in cutting ceramic tile without any obstacles. Based on your requirements, budget and also the type of cut you want to make, use a suitable tool and make a ceramic tile cut. If you have any doubts regarding the usage of any tool, approach in the comment section for further guidance.

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Chris Winters - June 6, 2017

It’s interesting to see that ceramic tile can be cut with wet saws in order to prevent dust from spreading. We happen to have a lot of ceramic material that we want to use to make an outdoor walkway. I think that we should work with a ceramic cutting service to make sure that each piece is cut to an exact specified size.

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