Cutting Ceramic Tile

This story covers making cuts in ceramic tile.


Cutting tile requires a little skill and patience. Save installation time by practicing a few cuts first.

If the cut tiles in your project will be the same width, cut all of them at once, trowel on the adhesive, and lay the tiles. If the tiles will not be uniform, cut each one separately. Do not let adhesive set longer than its working time while you're making the cuts.

Tile cutting is accomplished with a variety of tools. For only one or two cuts, you need only a tile nipper or a rod saw with a carbide blade. A snap cutter makes quick work of cutting thin tile, such as most wall tiles.

Rent a wet saw to cut thick tiles. If you have several tiles to cut, the wet saw will prove worth its cost. Water is used to cool wet-saw blades. It comes from an outlet or from water in a trough below it. Do not use the wet saw without water.

Cut tile edges are rough. Either hide them under toe-kicks or smooth them with a masonry stone.


Less than five minutes to mark and cut each tile

Felt-tip or china marker, tape measure, snap cutter, wet saw, masonry stone, tile nippers

Measuring and marking tile precisely; cutting tile with nippers, snap cutter, or power saw

Install backerboard and field tile


Sizing the Cut: Straight Cut

Place the tile to be cut flush to the wall or obstruction, lined up on top of an installed tile. Place another tile over the tile to be cut, with its edge against the wall. Trace the edge with a marker. Draw the cutting line parallel to the mark but shorter by the width of two grout lines.

Sizing the Cut: L-Shape Cut

Place the tile to be trimmed first on one corner, then the other, marking the cut lines with a full tile as you would for a single straight cut. Cut each side shorter than the mark by the width of two grout lines.

Sizing the Cut: Curved Cuts

Set the tile to be cut against the obstruction, lining up its edges with tile already laid. Mark the width of the cut by setting a tape measure on each edge of the obstruction. Move the tile to one side of the obstruction and use the tape to mark the depth of the cut.

Making Straight Cuts: Snap Cutter

Insert the tile in the cutter, aligning the scoring wheel on the cut line. Pull or push the scoring wheel across the cut line, using firm pressure throughout the stroke. Score the tile in one pass. Hold the tile firmly in place and strike the handle with the heel of your hand.

Making Straight Cuts: Wet Saw

Set the tile securely against the fence with the cut line at the blade. Turn on the saw and feed the tile into the blade with light pressure. Increase the pressure as the saw cuts the tile and ease off as the blade approaches the rear of the cut. Keep the tile on the table at all times.

Making Curved Cuts: Step 1

Using a wet saw, make several relief cuts from the edge of the tile to the curved cut line. Relief cuts do not have to be exactly parallel to each other, but make sure they stop just short of the curved line.

Making Curved Cuts: Step 2

Place the jaws of tile nippers about an inch away from the curved line and carefully snap out the waste at the relief cuts.

Making Curved Cuts: Step 3

Working the nippers on the cut line, snap away the remaining excess. Don't try to "bite" through the tile with the nippers. Instead, grasp the tile tightly with the tool and use a prying motion.

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