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Tool Guide for Cutting Tile & Stone

After the project has been planned out and materials bought, it eventually comes time to start cutting the tile or stone. Using the proper tools and technique will help achieve a professional looking installation and cut down on wasted material. This guide will help identify some the commonly used tools for cutting tile and how to use them.

The type of material being cut helps to determine the type of tool that needed. For example, with some materials such as natural stone and brick, it is best to use a wet tile saw. Other tile material including ceramic, porcelain, and quarry tile can be cut using other tools besides a tile saw including tile nippers, tile snap cutter, and carbide-tipped pencil. Additionally, the type of cuts you need to make will be important in your tool decision. Straight cuts, notched cuts, and circular cuts all require different cutting tools and techniques.

If you will be doing mostly straight cuts (or rip cuts), there several tools available for your disposal. A carbide-tipped pencil, tile snap cutter, and wet tile saw can all be used to make simple straight cuts. By turning the tile, diagonal cuts can also be performed with these tools.

At some point, most wall tile jobs will also require notched cuts or hole cuts for tiling around receptacles, electrical outlets, and outside corners in walls and appliances. To create a seamless installation, the tile must be cut out around the receptacle for a quality, finished look. These cuts cannot be done with a carbide pencil or tile snap cutter and can become disruptive to the workflow without the right tool.

There are two methods for creating outlet cuts. The first way requires making a notch in the side or the corner of the tile. The second method requires cutting the receptacle shape directly from the middle of a tile. Tile nippers are commonly used to notch the sides or corners while a tile saw with a plunge cut feature can be used to cut a square receptacle directly from center of the tile.

Finally, if you are tiling a bathroom or kitchen, you will need curved or circular cuts for fitting around pipes, drains, toilet bases, and sink pedestals. Smaller, circular cuts can be performed with a drill and a carbide tipped or diamond tipped hole saw attachment. With a hole saw, you can drill the hole straight from center of the tile. Hole saws generally come in smaller sizes and are great for small outlets such as pipes.

A tile saw can be used for curved or half-circle cuts from the side of a tile. To make a large hole cut, a common technique is to make a half-circle cut out from the side of two tiles. The tiles can then be fitted together to create a large, circular hole. Tile nippers, a smaller hand tool, are also very commonly used for circular or curved cuts from the side of tile. With tile nippers, any irregular cuts can also easily be made.

For a more in depth guide to carbide-tipped pencils, tile snap cutters, tile nippers, hole saws, and tile saws, be sure to check out rest of our:


Tile Snap Cutter & Carbide-Tipped Pencil

Straight cuts are the most basic cut that is used over and over. Fortunately, you don't need an expensive tile saw to get simple straight cuts done. Manual or hand tools are a great option for one time jobs and small projects. Carbide-tipped pencils and tile snap cutter are both inexpensive and easy to use tools that with a little practice, will produce accurate straight cuts.



Carbide-Tipped Pencil

Straight Cuts
If you only need to make a few straight cuts, a carbide-tipped pencil is a very cost-effective and easy approach. To make a cut, use a speed square as a guide, and score a line with the pencil by quickly dragging it across the tile a few times. With the other side of the pencil, snap the tile along the scored line. Then use a rubbing stone to smooth the edge of the tile.



Tile Snap Cutter

Straight Cuts
A tile snap cutter (sometimes called a rail cutter) is a great tool for small projects that require more than a few straight cuts. While an inexpensive option, it does require some practice to get straight cuts and is also best for smaller jobs. Using the same principle as a carbide-tipped pencil but with mechanical leverage, a simple three step process is used to cut the tile. Most tile snap cutters will have the speed square and diagonal fence built right into the tool.

First, score a deep line across the surface of the tile with the cutting wheel. Next, reposition the tile so that other side of the handle, or the "snapping nubs," rest on top of the tile. Then press down on the handle to break the tile into two pieces. Finally, use a rubbing stone to smooth the edge of the newly cut tile.

Tips:
Practice on cheap tile that is similar in thickness and shape first. This will help you to get the hang and feel of the tile snap cutter. The first score is important. Be sure to use a forceful enough motion when making the first score across the top of the tile, but don't use to too much pressure that causes the tile to break. A second score may be used, but a third score or more tends to result in a break that is not clean.

Snaps may not be exactly 100% straight. However, these edge pieces can be placed along the wall side and covered with baseboard. Only straight cuts can be made with a tile snap cutter, and other tools are required for notched, curved, and beveled cuts.



Tile Saw

Wet tile saws employ a diamond blade with a water system to keep the blade cool and minimize dust. Tile saws come in a range of sizes from small, table top designs ideal for small DIY jobs to large, overhead rail saws that can accommodate large format stone and tile. With a tile saw, a variety of professional and accurate cuts can be performed.

Table top tile saws are the most commonly used tile saws and come with either a fixed tray or a sliding tray. With a fixed tray, the material is pushed across the table towards the blade so that a cut is made. A sliding tray is fitted with rollers and the material is placed on the tray. The tray is then pushed to across the table to meet the overhead blade for cutting. With these types of tile saws, straight cuts, diagonal cuts, and notched cuts can all be performed. Many sliding tray tile saws will also have a plunge cut feature to make square hole cuts while a mitre or bevel cut feature will allow for angled cuts commonly used for counter edges.


Straight Cuts

While straight cuts are the most basic cut, it is still important to use the proper technique to achieve consistent and clean cuts each time. Before starting a cut, wait for the stream of water to cover the blade. The water is important for minimizing dust, keeping the blade and material cool, and preventing heat buildup that can cause the tile to chip and break more easily. As you push the tile through the blade, watch the marked line, and adjust the tile as necessary to keep the blade on the line. If you have a shiny tiles, you might find the tile hard to mark, so if the mark is difficult to see, put masking tape down first and then mark on top of that.

For the best quality cuts, move the tile slowly through the blade with harder material requiring to slower feed rates. After finishing the cut, keep both hands on the tile and slide the table back, clearing the blade before turning the saw off.


Diagonal Cuts

To make a diagonal cut, use the same technique as a basic straight cut. If you're cutting larger size tile, you might find that while rip cuts are a breeze, diagonal cuts can become a problem. Once the tile is turned, it might not fit because the lip of the sliding try is too close to the blade or the tile is too large to fit between the fence and the blade.

In order to overcome a tile that is too big without having to purchase a larger saw, lay the tile directly on top of the fence. Another technique is to build up the sliding tray with something like hardibacker on both sides so the tile will be above the fence but still have something solid to rest on. You won't be able to use the fence as guide, however, so be sure to mark the tile before cutting. For large corner to corner cuts, cut half the tile first and then flip the tile around to finish the cut. This will help to keep the tile from breaking.


Notched & Curved Cuts

With a wet tile saw, professional and clean looking notched cuts can be made fairly easily. To make a notched cut, first mark the sides and end of the notch with a wax pencil. Next, cut along both of the marked sides, stopping at the end mark. Finally, between the side cuts, make a series of parallel cuts that are about a 1/4" apart and stopping at the end mark.

Now that the major cuts have been made, the excess material can now be removed by breaking off the individual pieces. To smooth out the end for a finished look, place the jagged notch end right up to the saw blade. With the blade running, slide the tile sideways across the blade to smooth the end for a completed notch.

Using the same technique for notch cuts, a tile saw can also be used to make curved cuts. Mark the line with a wax pencil and make straight cuts up to the marked line. Remove the "fingers" and smooth the edge with a rubbing stone. To make a large, circular hole such as for base of toilet or a sink pedestal of sink, make a curved or half-circle cut from the side of one tile and repeat from the side of another tile. Finally, fit both of the tiles around the fixture opening, putting the half-circle cuts together to make a single opening.


Square Hole Cuts

At some point, you'll likely need to make a square hole cut in a tile for an outlet. When cutting large format tiles, the need for precision square hole cuts is especially important. Square hole cuts are easily performed if your saw has a plunge cut feature. Most saws with this feature allow the cutting head to be lowered to the material to make a plunge cut from above. On some tile saws, the table itself is spring loaded, allowing the table with material to be brought up to blade for the plunge cut.


Mitre Cuts

Many tile saws will come with a mitre cutting feature such as tilting cutting head that allows for precise mitre cuts. Mitre cuts are commonly used for countertops and when the you need nice, finished-looking edges. To make mitre cuts, mark the tile for both the cut and mitre. Typically, a mitre guide for 45 and 22.5 degrees is included and will allow you to quickly and precisely make the mitre cut.



Tile Nipper & Hole Saw

Many tile jobs will eventually need circular or curved cuts, especially if you are doing a kitchen or a bathroom. Cutouts for drains, shower heads, sinks, toilet bases, and other pipe outlets are all circular by nature. While it can seem daunting to make these cuts, there are few tools and techniques that will help to easily accomplish these types of cuts.


Tile Nipper

Circular Cuts

A tile nipper, similar to a pair of scissors or pliers, is used to remove to small amounts of material from tile and are very commonly used to make curved cuts in ceramic tile. While just a tile saw can be used, it requires more cutting, adds wear and tear to the blade, and is messier than using tile nippers. To create a curved cut using tile nippers, first mark the line for the cut. Next, use the tile nipper to bite away the excess material. For a concave curved cut, start nipping from the middle, and for a convex curved cut, begin at the outer edge. Be sure to always wear safety glasses because it is common for pieces of tile to go flying when using tile nippers.


Notched & Irregular Cuts

A tile nipper allows for tile to be fitted around odd or irregular shapes, and while better suited for circular cuts, it can also be used when there is only a couple of tiles to notch. To make a irregular cut, use the same technique as for circular or curved cuts. First, mark the line to be cut and then use the tile nipper to remove the excess material. When using tile nippers, it is important to nip small amounts of material at a time because nipping too large of pieces can result in breaking the tile.

With the score and nip method, the tile can be notched. However, using the tile nipper for these types of notches typically results in cuts that are not clean. While these unclean cuts are not ideal for a creating a finished look, they can be used around pipe fittings and other receptacles that will have a decorative plate over them.

Tips

1. Before you begin nipping the tile, first mark the cut with a wax pencil. Next, ]use a scoring wheel to score the mark. This will help the tile nipper snap the tile off at the scored line rather than having the tile break off past it.

2. Take your time and make small nips. Working too fast and taking large nips increases the risk of breaking the tile past the marked line. If this happens, you'll need to start over with a new tile or settle for the uneven cut.

3. After finishing nipping the tile, use sand paper or a rubbing stone to finish smoothing the edges of the tile. This is an important step for creating a smooth and even finish, especially if it is going to be an exposed edge. Be careful as newly nipped edges can also be very sharp.

4. Tile nippers are best suited for curved cuts but can used for notched cuts if needed. For straight cuts, use a tile snap cutter, tile saw, or carbide pencil.


Hole Saw

Circular Cuts

If you're tiling a bathroom or kitchen, you'll more than likely need to a make circular hole cut in the tile to accommodate items like pipes for a faucet or shower head. With a drill and a carbide-tipped hole saw attachment, you can drill through ceramic and softer tile materials like marble. For hard materials like porcelain and granite, a diamond-tipped hole saw can be used. Both types of hole saws feature a metal cylinder with saw teeth around the top edge.

Before beginning, make sure the tile is in a secure position to prevent the tile from spinning or slipping as you drill. The tile can either be placed on a non-slip material such as rubber or neoprene, or it can be gently secured with clamps. Instead of drawing a circle for the pipe or marking the sides, it is often easier to mark a cross in the center of the pipe location as a guide. With many hole saws, it is typical to use a pilot bit with the hole saw as a guide. However, with tile, it is common for the pilot bit to crack tile, so you may opt to not use it.

Instead of just drilling the tile, one technique is to first take a dry sponge and drill a hole out of it. Now wet the sponge plug and put it inside the hole saw bit. This will help to keep the hole saw cool as you drill, and you won't need to stop every few seconds to dip the hole saw in water. However, you will still need to re-wet sponge every so often, but it will allow you to concentrate more on the drilling than worrying about keeping everything cool.

Next, take a 2x4 and drill a hole that is slightly larger than the hole saw bit you will be using for the tile. Center the hole from the 2x4 over the marked hole on the tile. The 2x4 will not only serve as a guide, but will also allow you to put even pressure across the face of the tile. Without the even pressure, the tile becomes more prone to cracking.

With the hole saw bit inside the 2x4 hole, start to drill very slowly. Be sure to press down on the 2x4 as you drill so that pressure is applied evenly across the tile, stabilizing it. As you drill, let the bit do the work by using gentle, even pressure and not pressing down hard on the drill. You want the bit to just fit snugly against the tile as you drill but don't press down too hard as it will cause overheating and excessive noise.

As you drill, instead of drilling straight down, slowly move the handle from side to side. This will create a slightly larger hole as you drill, which will help to release pressure as the bit gets deeper into the tile. Remember to keep everything cool and eliminate vibration as much as possible for a crack-free tile.