Cutting Ceramic Tiles - How to Cut Tiles without Breaking Them

Summary: Cutting Ceramic Tiles. How to cut tiles to fit into the gaps without breaking them. This project give you guidance on cutting tiles to fill the awkward shapes that you always have left over when tiling.

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A very popular question to Diydoctor is "how do I cut holes in ceramic tiles without them breaking?".

Cutting tiles is only difficult if you cannot get through the glaze. The tool needs to be a proprietary tool to do this and it is no good trying to make do with all sorts of things you have found in the garage.

As with most, if not all building work, the money spent on decent equipment will save you a fortune in wasted materials, time and things you have broken in temper.

Cutting Ceramic Tiles With a Tile Scribe

The first method for cutting straight lines in tiles is the hand cutter or tile scribe. Tipped with tungsten carbide, this tool will score the glaze on any tile.

Mark the tile where you want the cut, lay another tile across the one to be cut as a straight edge, then, pressing down firmly on the cutter, draw it across the tile paying particular attention to the start and finish of your line.

If the glaze is not scored for the complete length of the cut, the tile will break. When the tile is scored, place it over the edge of a work surface or similar so that the scored line is (facing upwards) directly above the edge of the surface.

Press down firmly, holding on to the piece you need on the work surface and then with your other hand, apply downward pressure on the section of tile you don't need that is overhanging. By doing so, this will then break the unwanted section of tile off leaving you with the section you do need and a nice clean cut!

Handheld tile scribe

Handheld tile scribe

Cutting Ceramic Tiles With a Mechanical Cutter

Contractors Tile Cutter

A slightly easier way is by using a mechanical cutter or contractors tile cutter as they are sometimes known. The tile is placed in the machine, the handle, which has a circular blade on the end is pushed over the tile along the line you need to cut and then the clamp is wound down onto the tile which breaks it in the required place.

You may find that with some of the cheaper ones that you need to go over the tile with the cutter 2 - 3 times to make sure that you have completly scored the glaze so the unwanted section will break off easily.

For only £15.00 its worth its weight in gold and will save you a lot of time if you have quite a few cuts to make.

If possible, get one with an adjustable guide as you can then ensure that your tile stays straight while cutting it. You will also then get a nice crisp line.

Contractors tile cutter with guide

Contractors tile cutter

Electric Tile Cutter

Electric tile cutters are now widely available, easy to use...and cheap! They make the job so much neater.

As you can imagine these feature a spinning cutting blade that you push the tile along that then makes your cut.

Again, most models will feature an adjustable guide that you can set to make a specific sized cut and by ensuring that your tile is level with the guide at all times will ensure that your cut is straight and true.

As you will be working close to the cutting wheel, make sure that you take great care and don't get your fingers too close!

Electric tile cutter

Electric tile cutter

Cutting Ceramic Tiles With a Hand Saw

Last but not least in the "straight line cutting" category is the hand saw. A tungsten carbide cylindrical blade literally wears its way through the tile as you pull it back and forwards.

Straight lines are not very easy with this beast, but its ideal for cutting shapes such as cistern corners, or half-pipes.

150mm Tile Saw Blade

150mm Tile Saw Blade

Transfering Shapes onto Tiles

The shapes mentioned above can easily be transferred to the tile, for cutting with the saw, with this little beauty.

Called a profile gauge, it has hundreds of thin "needles" which, when pressed against the profile, will form the outline which can be transferred to the tile by drawing along the edge of the gauge with a pencil on to the tile.

There is one drawback with this tool however and this comes in the form of actually getting the copied profile of your shape on to the tile in the right place. This tool is great at marking out the correct shape but it is then left up to you to measure and mark the tile with the shape in exactly the right place. This can be quite tricky!

Profile Gauge

Profile Gauge

Making Small Cuts in Ceramic Tiles

For all the tiny cuts needed in the corners of tiles to fit into awkward places and around items protruding from the wall such as pipes or sinks, a pair of tile "nips" are needed.

The key to using these things is to not try and cut too much at once and all of the blade should never be on the tile at once.

Tile pieces half a blade length should be attempted and no more than a quarter of an inch deep. It is possible to cut very clean complex shapes, but patience and care are the key! It is possible to cut a full circle with these nips.

1116 TCT tile nippers for walls or floor tiles

1116 TCT tile nippers for walls or floor tiles

Making Holes in Ceramic Tiles

For holes in tiles there are two ways. You can either drill, using a small masonry or tile drill, drill small holes all the way round the diameter of the hole you need to cut and then insert your tile saw and cut along the edges to join up the holes.

Using this method you will need, for neatness sake, a tile file to smooth off all the drilled edges. Or you can get one of the drill bits below.

Circle tile cutter and guard

Circle tile cutter and guard

Again, at £13.00, its a bargain! Neat holes, of all sizes, every time and no frustrations with tiles breaking at the last moment. This particular one is adjustable from 20mm to 94mm and is ideal for bathrooms. The red fence around it is a guard that ensures that nothing gets caught on the cutter as it is spinning on the drill.

As with every project, as well as having the right tools for the job, it is a really good idea to practice first. Buy an extra box of tiles to practice the cuts, it will pay for itself in the long run....A job done on the cheap is one that will probably have to be done twice!!

Drilling Holes in Ceramic Tiles

To drill ceramic tiles, first make a mark in the centre of the hole that needs drilling using a hand held tile scribe. Put it in the place where you need the hole and twist it so it scores the glaze. You can then use a power drill (with the hammer action turned off) to drill your hole.

The drill bit should be the smallest you have to start with. You can then work upwards in drill size until you have the desired size hole.

Most fixings you will use in the bathroom require a red wall plug and a 6 or 7mm hole, you should start with a 3mm hole first, right into the score mark you have made, then go up to a 5mm drill bit, then 7. This makes the operation far less likely to break tiles. Do not put force on the drill, just gentle pressure.

For a practical demonstration of tile cutting, you might like to go to our video section on tiling and watch the how to cut tile film.

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