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?".

Click on the toolbox below for the tools you will need.

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.

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, its in the top tools section below.

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.

A slightly easier way is by using a mechanical cutter. The tile is placed in the machine, the handle, which has a circular blade on the end is pushed over the tile and then the clamp is wound down onto the tile which breaks it in the required place. For only £15.00 its worth its weight in gold. Electric tile cutters are now widely available, easy to use...and cheap! They make the job so much neater.

Last but not least in the "straight line" category is the hand saw. A tungsten carbide cylindrical blade literally wears its way through the tile. 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

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

Profile Gauge

Profile Gauge

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 with a pencil.

For all the tiny cuts needed in the corners of tiles to fit into awkward corners 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. Pieces half a blade length should be attempted and no more than a quarter of an inch deep. It is possible, by being patient and careful 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

For holes in tiles there are two ways. You can either drill, using a small masonry or tile drill, small holes all the way round the diameter of the hole and then insert your tile saw to join up the holes. After which you will need, for neatness sake, a tile file to smooth of all the drill edges. Or you buy one of these drill bits.

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.

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!!

To drill ceramic tiles first make a mark with the hand held tile scribe below. Put it in the place where you need the hole and twist it so it scores the glaze. Then use a power drill with the hammer action turned off. The drill bit should be the smallest you have to start with. 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.

Don't fancy doing this project yourself? We work with Checkatrade to ensure that we recommend only reliable and trustworthy tradesmen.

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