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How to cut tiles - the first cut isn’t the deepest

How to cut tiles - the first cut isn’t the deepest

With an tiling project (especially for kitchen and bathroom tiles) there’s going to be some obstacles in the way that you have to deal with. Whether they are a toilet or a wall edge, the best way is to cut around them.

As hacking away with scissors won’t cut it, getting clued up on the tools and techniques to handle the ceramic stuff is the way forward. This is where we come in to give you the headlines on what to use and how.

If you’ve not found us before, we have a whole series of blogs to get you on your merry way to tiling heaven that you can find here. 

Now, without further ado, here’s the important stuff:

Safety first - duck and cover

 Equipment list:

  • Safety goggles
  • Protective gloves
  • Face mask
saftey glasses, gloves and mask when doing any tile cutting

As the last thing you want when DIYing is a trip to A & E, we cannot stress enough the importance of covering your vulnerable bits appropriately. 

To prevent low flying ceramics from lodging themselves in your eyes, safety goggles are a must. As you also will be working with blades and sharp things, you will need to invest in a pair of protective gloves. Trust us when we say sneaky shards will try to pierce you any way they can so you'll definitely want to have a barrier between your digits and anything with a cutting edge.

Once you’ve got these safety features in place, you’re good to go.

What is the best way to cut tiles?

The best cutting tool and technique are dependent on what you are cutting; it’s a different horses for different courses type of thing.  Find a quick reference below: 

Type of tile Type of cut Tool for the job
Ceramics, 15mm thick or less Straight Tile scorer, tile cutter, tile-cutting machine
Porcelain and natural stone Straight Diamond blade wet-saw tile cutter
Curved Tile nippers, wet-saw tile cutter, hacksaw with tungsten carbide rod

Cutting without a tile cutter - use a tile scorer

For most straight cuts on ceramic, a manual tile cutter which snaps the tile for you is the best choice but there will be times when you just can’t get the right angle to make the score and snap.  This is where the tile scorer comes in and this is how you use it.

tile scriber for manual scoring of tiles

You will need:

  • Metal ruler
  • Pencil/ felt tip pen
  • Tile scorer
  • Beady eye
  • Pop-eye arms
  1. After you’ve measured the tile gap (remembering to allow for joints), use a metal ruler and pencil to draw a line on the tile face where you want your straight cut.
  2. Still using your metal ruler as a guide, run your tile scorer down your drawn line. Apply pressure to deepen your score as this will make the snap easier and cleaner.
  3. Using your Pop-eye arms, snap your tile by putting your tile on the edge of a table and pushing down on the scrap part hanging over the edge. Alternatively, place a pen under the score line to create a ramp and push down on both ends of the tile. 

Using a tile cutter

Like the tile scorer, this is great for cutting straight lines and is usually used for wall edges and sides. These are great for cutting ceramic tiles and for cutting floor tilesAs the lever does most of the hard snapping power for you, you can get away without having Pop-eye arms. 

manual tile cutter for scoring straight line and snapping

  1. After you’ve measured and marked your tile (as with the tile scorer), place your tile face up into the cutter so that the line meets up with the machine markings. 
  2. Score the tile from bottom to top. You may need to do this a few times - the better the score, the better the cut.
  3. Once you’re satisfied with your score, bring the lever down carefully until you hear the snap.

Cutting porcelain tiles and cutting natural stone tiles

Porcelain tiles can be cut with normal manual tile cutters, providing they are 15mm or under in thickness. If your tiles are over 15mm thick, these machines just won’t cut the mustard so it’s best to get the big boys out and go electric.

The T-Rex of the cutting world is a blade covered in lots of small diamonds which make it hard enough to take on the tough stuff. The electric tile cutter is usually called a wet-saw and as the name suggests, there’s water involved so it can get very messy. Picture water spinning and spitting in your face and all over you; this is why we recommend you clad yourself in waterproofs and goggles.

small electric cutter for ceramic and porcelain tiles
small electric cutter
Electric wet cutter with diamond tipped blade for cutting porcelain tiles

In terms of how to use an electric tile cutter, each product has its own instructions, so we recommend you stick to those after you have marked up your tile as per for other methods. 

You can use an angle grinder too, but more care needs to be taken as they can be dangerous and not as precise.

Cutting tiles with tile nippers

Tile nippers are a great little piece of kit but like anything that nips, can be painful if you’re not careful.  

Following the manufacturer’s instructions on this is a definite must; think delicate hand skin trapped between tight metal and you know where we're going. That said, wear protective gloves, go carefully and slowly and you should be fine.  You may even start to love them!

tile nippers for manually removing pieces of tile by hand

The design is very similar to pliers and they are used mainly for the little cuts it would be difficult to do with anything else.  They are also good for curved cuts if you cut little and often.

  1. After you have marked up your tile, start chipping away with your nippers in small cuts to reach the line.
  2. As you get close to your mark, take extra careful nips so that you don’t overshoot or damage your tile.
  3. When you have cut as close along your line as you can get, file or sand your edge down with a tile file or very fine sandpaper. Then wipe the edges with a damp cloth.
  4. Sit back and admire the tile you’ve just brilliantly altered with the power of your grip strength! Woohoo! 

Cutting curved tiles and cutting around obstacles

This is slightly trickier to do than a straight cut but it can be done! As most obstacles tend to come in curved shapes (think bathroom pipes, toilets etc), the best place to start is getting that curve right.  For that, you will need to make a template or use a contour gauge.  Both are simple and we’ll walk you through it.

You will need:

  • Contour gauge profile tool 
  • Paper (cut to the size and shape of your tile), scissors, pen
  • Tile nippers
  • Manual tile cutter

How to use a tile contour gauge profile tool

  1. Line up all parts of the tool so that they are straight. 
  2. Line up your tool with the obstacle you want to template.
  3. Push the tool into it as far as your tile would need to go.
  4. Lock the impression into place.
  5. Line up and draw round your gauge impression on your tile.
  6. You’re ready to cut your tile curve.

How to make a tile cutting template from paper

  1. Get a piece of paper that is the same size and shape as your tile.
  2. Starting from the side of the paper that has the obstacle, cut long 5mm wide slits all the way down that side. Don’t cut all the way through the paper; stop approximately just after where the obstacle would be. 
  3. Lay your paper in line with where the tile would go, lining up the slits with the obstacle.The slits should be going up and around it.  Make sure you’ve accounted for joint gaps when placing your paper, as this will mirror where the tile will sit exactly. 
  4. Press and fold the slits at the base of the obstacle.You should notice that your folds copy the line of the obstacle. 
  5. Mark in pen along the folds to create your curved line then cut along it.
  6. Place the paper on top of your tile, mark on the tile in pen along the curved line.
  7. You’re ready to cut your tile curve.

    Now you have your template, it’s time for the main event. If you’re working with ceramic tiles, a manual tile cutter and some tile nippers are a great choice.

    1. Using your manual tile cutter, score and snap off any large pieces of unneeded tile so you can get closer to your marked curved line.
    2. Get your tile nippers out and follow the guidelines above to cut to your mark.

    If you’ve got porcelain, thick tiles or quite a tight curve to cut, you’ll be better off with a wet-saw tile cutter. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to curve that cut and (with a bit of practise) Bob’s your uncle and all that jazz. 

    As always, we at love a bit of show and tell so if you’ve found this blog useful and want some unashamed praise, post your pics on instagram or facebook to share with others.

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