Tile-cutting techniques and tools

Make your next DIY tile job a success with perfect cuts

By Michel Roy


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Whether glass, ceramic or stone, tile offers up so many decorative possibilities for surfaces around the house. And it is a great project for all DIYers. Tiling requires proper substrates, correct adhesives or mortars and good layout. But in almost every tiling job you take on, there will come a time (or many) when the tiles need to be cut. You need to have a number of tile-cutting techniques and tools to call upon.

Tools of the trade

Soft, glazed ceramic wall tiles are typically quite thin, making them easy to cut. Straight cuts are easy with a standard snap cutter. Snap cutters use a scoring wheel, guided by a pair of rails, with pressure applied by a lever arm. Locate the cut line accurately and make only one scoring pass, then apply pressure to the lever to snap the tile along the scored line. Do a few test cuts to figure out how much pressure you need to get a clean cut. And be sure the scoring wheel isn’t wobbly, which can lead to an equally wobbly cut.

Tile nippers look like pliers and have pincer jaws that nibble away at tile when you need to make a curved cut. Pre-score the curve with a carbide- wheel glass cutter, then use the nippers to remove the waste tile gradually back to the line. It’s best to twist off tiny pieces by pivoting the handles downward while keeping a firm grip on the tile. Unless you get a lot of practice, the cuts will look a little ragged, which is okay if the cut edges will be covered by mouldings or fixture trim.

There are other simple tools available that rely on the hardness of carbide particles. Carbide-encrusted rod saws fit in a coping-saw frame for cutting curves; and there are carbide-encrusted jigsaw blades for the same purpose. Carbide tools will cut softer materials, but you need to be prepared for some breakage.

Diamonds are a tiler’s best friend

In the case of harder materials, such as porcelain, natural stone and glass tiles, diamonds are key. Even for softer materials, nothing beats diamond cutting for ease of use and predictable results. I recommend diamond cutting tools for even first-time DIY tile projects; they can make the difference between a perfect cut in two minutes and an hour of cursing and broken tiles. The availability and affordability of diamond cutting tools these days is remarkable. You can also rent these tools, but if you plan to use it for more than a few days, the investment may well be worth it, even for a DIY tiler.

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