How To Cut Tiles
Cutting tiles is an essential part of tiling any room which is why honing your skills in this department will help you greatly. Becoming proficient at cutting tiles will not only allow you to carry out tiling projects accurately but will also enable you to reduce waste, saving you money. Once experienced at cutting tiles you can even begin to carry out more specialised tasks, like cutting curves in to tiles. You can learn how to cut tiles using either an electrical or manual tile cutter, with links to specific guides provided above. Specialist manual or electrical tile cutters are used for cutting a wide range of wall and floor tiles to size.
Ceramic tiles are the easiest to cut and similar techniques can be used for porcelain. Natural stone tiles do not have the same glass-like cleaving pattern and may be more reliably cut with a wet wheel saw or angle grinder rather than a scoring tool or traditional hand-held cutting wheel or diamond point.
Learn How to Cut Tiles for a Range of Tiling Jobs in Your Home
Cutting tiles is considered one of the most difficult aspects of tiling. Ultimately the way you cut the tiles will determine whether or not your tiles will fit within the intended format on a wall or floor. Planning is important in avoiding small cuts which look unnatural. Applying the tiles to the substrate is actually considered to be the easy part, so getting your tile cuts right is very important. Once you know how to cut tiles you can undertake a variety of tiling projects in your home, from entire bathroom and kitchen refits to simply replacing broken tiles.
Safety First When Cutting Tiles
When cutting tiles remember you are working with extremely sharp and potentially dangerous equipment. Protective glasses and gloves are essential. You may wonder why you need to protect your eyes, this is because small pieces of tile can chip off while cutting. Also make sure you give yourself plenty of room to work in, take your time and ensure there are no distractions whilst cutting tiles. If dry cutting tiles using a hand held abrasive cutting disc then you may need a mask to protect you from the dust.
Straight Cutting Ceramic Tiles – How To Cut Tiles By Hand or Jig
This is probably the most basic skill and may be all you require for small wall tiling projects where tiles are generally thinner than floor tiles and easier to break with a score line as a guide. You can use one of the shop bought combined cutting tool and jig systems that keep the scoring point travelling in a single plane or if you prefer, a hand held ceramic cutting wheel or point. Make sure the jig is larger than the tiles you need to cut so that they can fit below the guide bar.
Allow for Grout Thickness
Measure the gap where the partial tile will be installed and subtract the thickness of your required grout line-space. Mark a cutting line on the face of your tile using a suitable graphite or wax pencil.
Correct Positioning in the Tile Jig
Line up the cutting line using the guides on your chosen jig with the cutting point nearest to you and make sure the tip will touch the marked line at the start and finish of the cut. Once set up; start with the cutting point touch the marked line at the edge of the tile closest to you.
Cutting the Tile by Jig
Using a fluid motion and sufficient pressure; move the cutting point across the tile once, scoring the glaze of the ceramic. A single score should be sufficient unless the point is worn or the tile particularly tough or has a surface texture.
Snapping a Ceramic Tile Using the Jig
After completing the score line; make sure the tile is correctly positioned and the jig handle is towards you. Apply firm pressure and if everything goes according to plan; your tile will break cleanly.
How to Cut Tiles by Hand Using A Hand Held Cutting Point or Wheel
Using a suitable straight edge held firmly on top of your tile; Make sure the cutting wheel or point will touch the guide line at both edges of the tile. You will need to allow for the thickness of your tile cutter when positioning the straight edge. With the straight edge held firmly; position the cutter at the furthest edge away from you and pull the cutting point towards you across the tile using a firm and fluid motion to score the tile. Place a shallow support below the scribed tile and pressing firmly; snap the tile along the score.
How to Cut Tiles with a Wet Saw for Straight Cuts
Wet wheel tile cutters behave more like a grinding wheel than a saw blade with cutting teeth and use a wheel with abrasive particles embedded into a metal disc. In order to lubricate the cut, remove debris and dissipate heat; the blade normally sits in a water trough. You can certainly learn how to cut tiles without a wet saw but for the novice and even professional tiler; having a reliable method of cutting ceramic, porcelain and stone tiles can save a lot of money simply by reducing waste due to breakages.
Marking to Get Accurate Tile Dimensions After Cutting
Unlike a scored and snapped tile; a tile cut by abrasive disc will have a section of tile abraded away. Hence you will need to mark your cuts using a consistent method. If you keep the cutting line central then part of the measured tile will be removed. A better way to cut tiles is to position the mark so that the disc travels along the edge of the line on the waste side. Always follow the same method to avoid cutting tiles that are too wide or too narrow.
Using the Wet Wheel Saw
If the cutting bench is fitted with a guide then lock the guide such that the tile can fit tightly against the guide without snagging and will correctly follow the line of cut.
Position the wheel guard to stop water overspray and help protect you from the wheel
Switch on the machine and when the rotating blade has reached its speed start cutting the tile.
You may wish to notch the opposite end from the start of the cut to avoid breakaway when the cut is complete. Allow the cut to proceed smoothly without applying too much force. The aim is to allow the abrasive disc to cut evenly without too much pressure being exerted and interrupting its rotation or potentially jamming the blade.
Upon completion of the cut, there may be a small nub of tile that can be smoothed off by touching the tile against the rotating disc. Alternatively the nub can be cleaned using an abrasive carborundum block of suitable grit size.
Removing Corners and Straight Sided Cut-Outs from a Tile
Manual tile cutters are suitable when a complete strip of tile is to be removed with a single score line but there are times when you need to remove a part section from a tile edge or a corner with 2 or more cutting lines. When this happens you can either score the line and use tile nippers or make use of a grinder with suitable cutting disc. By far the easiest method is a tile saw.
Using Tile Nippers to Remove a Section of Tile
Tile nippers are really custom made pliers for tiles that allow you to nip and crush a small section of tile. They can be used to make simple cuts that remove a corner or follow a curve for intricate shapes. Mark out the area to be removed and scribe the line to provide a weakness to help break the tile cleanly.
Place a small amount of the waste area of tile between the jaws of the nippers. Using firm pressure; grip the tile and use a twisting action to break away a small fragment of tile. Repeat the process to slowly break away the waste area of tile. Avoid trying to take away large pieces or you may find the tile fractures unexpectedly. As you approach the score line, apply even pressure and a twisting action that encourages a fracture at the line.
Cutting Away a Corner from a Tile on a Wet Saw: L-Cuts
You may be able to set the saw guide for each cut or prefer to follow the cutting lines with the abrasive wheel by eye. With the abrasive disc cutting from the waste side of the line; follow each line in turn to reach the intersection and the corner should come away cleanly. Make sure to support any tile overhang while cutting to help eliminate sheer stresses.
You can clean up any nibs with a gentle abrasive action against the cutting wheel or use a block instead.
Cutting C-Sections Using A Wet Saw and Nippers
It is extremely difficult to cut a c-section on a wet saw but relatively simple to make a series of parallel cuts. After marking out, cut the outer marks from the waste side down to the base guide line. You may be able to score the base of the c-section with a hand held tile cutter or jig and break it away cleanly. Alternatively cut a series of parallel lines down to the base line then use nippers to remove each small section of tile.
Cutting L-Shaped Corners and C-Sections with an Angle Grinder
Electrical sockets, box sections and window sills are just 3 of the common challenges that may require you to remove a c-section or L-shaped corner from a tile. A modification of this technique can be used for curves although we will talk about that later.
If you are removing a c-section then it may be best to start with the internal cut to ensure the tile is supported and protected. Mark out the area to be cut and lightly follow the guide lines, working from the waste side of the line towards the corners using a suitable diamond blade. Make the initial cuts from the front face. Turn the tile over and repeat from the back surface until the waste section is removed.
Clean up the edges gently with the disc or if you prefer use an abrasive block.
Cutting Tile Curves Using an Angle Grinder
When you need to cut a curve, you may find that the best tool for the job is an angle grinder.
You need to mark out the curve using a suitable template. Thick card makes a good template that can be used to check that the tile will fit once cut. Use the template to mark the pattern on the front and back of the tile.
If the tile were paper thin then it would be relatively simple to follow the curve. Unfortunately the thickness of wall tiles and especially floor tiles makes it difficult to accurately follow the curve to the full depth of the tile. Diamond wires or an abrasive band-saw would be better suited to cutting curves but are unavailable for on the job and DIY applications hence the use of an angle grinder.
On the exposed face of the tile; use the angle grinder to follow the curve on the waste side of the guideline. This is to ensure a clean line if the tile is grouted with a visible decorative curve.
Once the front has been scored to 1-2mm deep, turn the tile over and again follow the curve staying on the waste side of the line. You may find that to get to full depth you have to cut a series of small tangents that encroach into the tile. This doesn't need to be a problem providing the front tile face remains intact. Once the waste has been cut away, tidy up the edge using a combination of angle grinder and abrasive block. You won’t need to do this if the edge is to be concealed
Drilling Holes in Tiles
As part of the tile cutting process; you may need to drill holes in a tile to protect internal corners or act as a guide for an abrasive hole cutting saw or abrasive coping saw for tiles.
There are a range of diamond tipped and ceramic points available for cutting or drilling small holes that can benefit from a similar technique.
Drilling Holes for Rounded Decorative Corners
Decorative panels and inserts for mosaics may require a fixed size square or rectangular hole with squared or rounded corners. A hole has a diameter so your guide hole can’t start on the line or corner – It will then cut away part of the tile within the body of the tile rather than stay within the waste. You need to find a point equidistant from both sides forming a corner so that the drill at its widest point will just graze both lines. This is less complicated than it sounds and can easily be estimated using a piece of card with a small hole of the correct size.
Once you have the centre-point marked for your drill hole; the next step is to try and stop the drill point wandering while it starts to cut the hole. Wood and metal can be marked with a centre punch but this could cause a tile to shatter. A piece of translucent tape can be placed over the mark. This is quite soft and will help keep the point accurately located until it begins to bit into the tile. Use the drill on its slowest setting and let the drill cool if it begins to overheat. Alternatively make a jig and place it over the tile to hold the drill bit in place during the cutting operation.
Cutting Holes in Tiles for Plumbing Pipes and Taps
From narrow bore heating and plumbing pipes to wide bore sink and toilet waste pipes; you may need to cut holes in tiles that can’t be easily accommodated with a simple ceramic drill bit and will need to use an abrasive hole cutter.
Hole cutters can be bought with a central drill bit that simultaneously drills or follows a guide hole to prevent the main cutter from wandering but most are made from a cylinder with the cutting edge coated in an abrasive material. Even with the cut-out accurately marked on your tile; you’ll find it near impossible to start the cut without the cutter wandering and damaging the surface of the tile.
Preventing a Hole Cutter from Wandering
Luckily, you can make an excellent guide hole using a waste piece of plasterboard.
Mark the hole using a template, pair of compasses, section of pipe or even the hole cutter itself. Once you have the guide marked; score round the hole into the card/paper surface of the plasterboard until you reach the plaster layer below. Position the cutter and start rotating it slowly to cut through the plaster layer. Remove the waste and fix the plaster board over your tile in the correct position. You may wish to place another piece of plasterboard below the tile to act as a soft surface when the whole is complete. Anchor the guide in place and slowly start to cut the hole in your tile. You may prefer to arrange the tile in a position to be able to stand over it. When the drill bites; the torque can whip the drill handle sideways and you will be able to use your hands and legs to prevent this while you maintain control. You may find a small amount of water helps lubricate and cool the cutting operation.
Once you are through into the base plasterboard; remove the plug and remove any sharp edges from the tile with a cylindrical abrasive block.
A pillar drill not only makes the job easier but helps keep the hole square to the tile surface without the risk of wandering or cutting the hole at an angle.
Making A Hole In Situ for an Extractor Fan or Ducting
It’s not always possible to cut the holes in tiles before they are fitted onto walls and floors. If you need to cut a tile in-situ then modify this technique to suit. A suitably large piece of plaster board can be held in place temporarily with double sided tape or props and a hole cut through the tiles and even the wall or floor to accommodate pipes, lighting or ductwork for an extractor fan.
Don’t use too much tape in case the “grab” might pull tiles away. If in doubt, simply score and remove the board a piece at a time once the hole is completed then remove the tape. The weight of a large board may be enough to stop it moving if you have someone to assist you.
How To Cut Mosaic Tiles
Mosaic tiles are often supplied on a mesh for easy installation. Even though mosaic tile pieces are small; there are numerous occasions when you will need to cut the tiles rather than just cutting the strip to fit. The usual rules of marking out and allowing for grout thickness apply so it generally comes down to a choice between scoring and nibbling the mosaic pieces, wet cutting or trying to dry cut them while still on the sheet. If you want to keep the sheet intact then use a jig to secure them tightly while dry cutting the sheet with a hand held grinder. With small pieces; it’s easy for them to go astray so make sure you don’t use your hands to hold them in place. You could remove the part strip and cut individual pieces with a wet wheel and accept that they will become unstuck from the backing mesh.
This guide is not fully comprehensive and you may prefer to read some of our individual guides for handling specific situations or tile types such as marble, travertine, granite or quartz as natural or synthetic stone have different cutting properties compared to ceramic or porcelain.
Cutting Curves in to Tiles
Wet abrasive tile saws are ideal for cutting wall or floor tiles when you need a straight or angled cut but can prove quite tricky when you need to cut a smooth curve. There are abrasive files and cutting wires that fit into a coping saw type handle and can be used to follow the curve. One of the most popular ways used by tiling professionals is to fit a hand held angle grinder with a diamond tipped disc and following the curve carefully
Tight Curves or Internal Edges with a Rounded Internal Corner
Sometimes, you may find you need a tile with a square or rectangular cut-out on one corner to fit round a feature or curved edge. In this case you may be able to use a tile drill to cut a hole for the curved corner first.
Find a ceramic drill slightly larger than the curve you need to cut. Draw the outline of the area to be removed and find a centre point for the drill so that the cutting edge will just graze the straight cuts to form a rounded corner. Apply clear tap to the area to avoid chips and help stop the drill tip wandering. Mark the centre point then carefully cut the hole. Finish the straight cuts using a wet abrasive electric tile saw.
Cutting Internal and External Elliptical Curves and Gentle Arcs in Tiles
Many guides will describe how to cut tiles with a series of straight cuts to fit internal and external corners but not every tiling project has “square” edges. One of the more common problems with some DIY tiling projects is needing to cut a tile to fit a curved area or large circular arc. Creating a pedestal or raised step around a corner bath is a classic example of a project involving internal and external curved tiles.
Creating a Template
Create a template in card and use this to mark out the desired arc on the front and rear of the tile. Practice cutting curves using scrap tiles with an angle grinder fitted with a ceramic cutting disc. These discs are used dry and often have diamond particles embedded into the edge. Take all the usual safety precautions with gloves, mask and eye protection. Dry cutting is more dusty than a wet slurry method so this should be carried out in a suitably ventilated area.
How to Cut Curves into Tiles
If you try to cut straight through the tile; the blade is likely to wander off line and spoil the tile. You want to gently follow the curve using just the edge of the disc. The aim is to let the cutting tool do the work with minimal pressure and help maintain full control. Repeat the process several times to create a smooth curve. Once the exposed decorative edge has been cut; you can repeat the process from the back of the tile until the pieces separate.
Finish the edge with a suitable abrasive rubbing stone. You may want to create a very slight chamfer to reduce the risk of edge chipping. Exposed curved edges can be protected using flexible metallic and plastic edging strips that can be trimmed and bent to follow the curve. Curved stone edges may look better with a slight 45 degree chamfer.
How To Cut Porcelain Tiles
Unlike fired ceramic tiles that have a hard glaze over a relatively softer substrate; porcelain tiles are vitreous fired meaning that the mass of the tile has melted into a uniform glass-like mass. This makes porcelain exceedingly hard and difficult to cut with just a simple tile cutter. For this reason it is customary to use an electric tile cutting machine with a fine blade to stop chipping as the best way of cutting porcelain tiles.
If you have never cut porcelain floor tiles or wall tiles before then practice supporting and cutting a spare tile while following a guideline. This will help condition a new blade and reduce the likelihood of chipping. It is really important to support any overhang as porcelain tiles, while tough are very brittle and may fracture as the cutting proceeds.
Measure the tile and mark the line to be cut using a suitable wax pencil. Make sure to allow for the spacing of the tile so that grout lines will remain consistent. You can also tape along the edge using a suitable masking tape which will help reduce the risk of chipping
Scoring Porcelain with a Tile Cutter
You can make clean cuts using a traditional cutting point. Line up the tile; making sure the tile stays level with the cutting head. Slide the point along the tile; making sure to stay on line. With firm, continuous pressure; bend the tile downwards until it snaps. Clean up the edge gently with an abrasive block to match the original edges.
Cutting Porcelain with a Diamond Wet Wheel
There are 2 types of wet cutting for stone and porcelain tiles: those with an overhanging blade that moves over the tile surface and those like a saw bench where the tile to be cut is passed across a stationary rotating blade. They are essentially the same so we will describe the saw bench method as this type of equipment is most often acquired for DIY tiling.
Make sure to arrange the bench and support your porcelain tile from one side of the cut to the other. This may mean making a surround or makeshift support from plywood for the large 600mm porcelain floor tiles.
Align your guide mark with the cutting wheel making sure to bisect or follow the line edge depending upon your preferred marking method. Slowly yet smoothly guide the tile towards the rotating cutting blade and feed the tile across the blade until the cut is complete. Don’t try and force the tile or apply uneven pressure as this may cause it to chi
Drilling Porcelain Tiles - Cutting and Drilling Holes in Porcelain
You may need a clean hole in porcelain to fit fixing screws, prepare cut outs for sockets or provide a space for radiator or plumbing pipes. The technique is relatively straightforward and can be used with diamond points for small holes or tubular guided cutters for larger diameter holes.
You may be able to cut small holes of a few mm over a scrap of plywood as a support; mark the position of the hole to be cut and cover with thick tape. This will reduce chipping and make it easier for the drill point to cut into the tile without wandering. Larger holes may need an initial drill hole as a guide but diamond core cutters should be mounted in a rigid pillar drill. Support the tile on a scrap of plywood with a pre-cut hole to accept the core cutter once the hole is completed. You can also use a pre-cut hole in plywood accurately mounted on top of the tile to prevent wandering as the grinding/cutting operation takes place. Fix the tile to prevent torque suddenly shifting the tile if the cutter starts to stick. Use the drill on its slowest setting to cut the hole and make sure it doesn’t overheat or the tool may stick
Cutting Porcelain Tiles with an Angle Grinder
You may find you need a way of cutting porcelain tiles around toilet or pedestal openings for pipes and waste but need a curved cut rather than a hole. An angle grinder is perfectly suited to cutting curves in tiles.
Mark out the curve to be cut and make it clear which side is waste. It’s easy to get carried away and get score marks on the wrong side if you’re not careful. A cross of electricians tape is a useful marker. Make sure to mark the curve on the front and rear of the tile.
With the tile face upwards; gently follow the curve with the edge of the angle grinder using minimal pressure. Your aim is to get a clean curve that is less likely to chip. Turn the tile over and make a series of small cuts. The blade should only run into the waste side of the tile while small cuts will prevent jamming and allow you to maintain control. This technique can be adapted to cutting tiles in situ working gradually from the waste side of the tile, removing waste in sections.
Once you have the curve cut, you can tidy the edge using an abrasive wheel or abrasive curved block. The level of finishing depends upon how much of the cut is visible and whether you are using polished porcelain tiles.
Cutting Porcelain Tiles – Tips to Avoid Chips
Cutting outwards from the body of the tile towards the edge can result in breakout where small chips of tile fly away the pressure and speed of the cutting tool: avoid breakout by notching both sides of the tile before making the full cut. This should help control breakout.
Use tape – It’s an old trick joiners, carpenters and tilers use to reduce chipping. Simply use tape along the cuts to reduce chips.
Work slowly and avoid jerks – Try and avoid forcing cutting tools. Your job is to keep the cut on course but the cutting edge will abrade the tile smoothly if it is allowed to maintain a steady cut, jerking and jamming are both likely to cause chips so it’s better taking a little while longer to complete the cut rather than push for a faster finish.
Safety is paramount when cutting porcelain tiles