Careful layout of a ceramic tile job can minimize the number of tiles you need to cut, but no amount of planning can completely eliminate the need to cut partial tiles where the tiled surface butts up against walls or cabinets. Knowing how to cut tiles is, therefore, an essential part of tiling. Partial tiles that have clean, smooth edges will make the overall tile job look professional, while rough, ragged cuts will forever draw visual attention—no matter how well you perform the rest of the tile installation.
Professionals typically use a power wet saw to cut ceramic, porcelain, or stone tiles for wall, floor, and shower installations, but for smaller jobs, most DIYers find that a simple snap tile cutter is sufficient. Widely available in many styles at home improvement centers, tile outlets, and online retailers, a snap cutter uses a non-skid reinforced steel base that houses a rubber pad upon which the tile sits. Dual steel rails guide a cutting wheel that scores the tile and a pressure pad that snaps the tile.
The tile is placed into position in the cutter over a metal ridge that runs parallel to the path of a tungsten carbide scoring wheel. The tile is scored by firmly moving the scoring wheel across the face of the tile surface. Then, by placing the pressure bar pad across the tile and applying firm downward force on each side, the tile snaps across its score line.
Snap tile cutters come in many styles, costing as little as $20 or as much as $200. The high-end models are heavier and more stable, and they may have a miter guide that makes it easier to cut tiles at an angle, which can be helpful for diamond-pattern tile layouts. But even budget models, like the $20 HDX 14-inch Rip Ceramic Tile Cutter Model # 10214X from Home Depot used in this demonstration, can do perfectly adequate work for a small to medium-sized job.
Limitations of a Snap Tile Cutter
Standard ceramic tiles up to 3/8 inch in thickness generally can be cut quite easily with a snap tile cutter. There is a limit to the tool's use, however. Ceramic floor tiles more than 3/8 inch thick are difficult to cut with this tool, as are porcelain tiles and natural stone tiles, both of which are notably harder than standard ceramic tiles. Where a snap cutter is not practical, the alternative is to use a power wet saw, which uses a diamond blade that can cut these materials with ease. A wet saw is also called for when you have any very large tile job that requires lots of cutting since it makes the job much easier. Wet saws are available for lease at tool rental outlets and home centers, but DIYers who do frequent tile work may want to invest in an affordable model of their own.
Eye protection should be worn when using a snap tile cutter. It's not uncommon for small, sharp fragments of tile to go flying at the moment the tool snaps the tile.
Equipment / Tools
- Snap tile cutter
- Eye protection
- Sanding sponge
- Utility knife (if needed)
- Ceramic tile
Set Up the Cut
Mark the face of the tile at the top and bottom edges to indicate where you want to cut. Place the tile glazed side up onto the bed of the cutter beneath the cutting wheel and pressure pad, aligning the cutting marks with the guideline on the bed of the tool. Press the edge of the tile firmly against the end stop on the cutter. Some tools have an edge guide to hold the side of the tile in place. Move the cutting wheel along the rails until it rests against the near edge of the tile.
Score the Tile
Once the tile is exactly positioned, score the tile face by firmly pushing the tungsten carbide scoring wheel across the face of the tile surface, from the near side (closest to you) to the far side. Apply slight downward pressure as you push the cutting wheel. It may require a second pass of the cutting wheel to get a visible score line, but don't attempt to cut through the tile with multiple passes. Too many scores will chip the edge of the glaze, producing a rough finished edge.
Snap the Tile
With the tile scored, the next step is to make the snap cut. This is done by lifting the handle and letting the pressure bar pad pivot down onto the approximate center of the tile.
Apply firm and gentle increasing downward pressure to the handle. This will force the pressure pad to apply even pressure to both sides of the tile over the metal snapping ridge. If it has been properly scored, the tile will snap cleanly across its score line.
Variation: Cutting Mosaic Tile Sheets
This tool can also be used to cut mosaic tile sheets, such as ceramic subway wall tiles often used for kitchen backsplashes. If cutting a tile sheet, start the scoring wheel at the bottom of the first tile, then carefully, slowly, and deliberately score each individual tile in order.
The trick is to make sure you have a solid score across the entire width of each tile. This can take some time if you are working with sheets of very small tiles. If you don't have clean score lines, the tiles may not snap cleanly apart, especially at the edges, and you may end up with chips in the tiles' surface glazing.
After scoring, apply downward force to each individual tile, one at a time, to snap them. Then, sever the mesh backing with a utility knife to separate the sheet into two pieces.
Sand the Sharp Edges
If the edges of the cut tiles are sharp or jagged, use a sanding sponge to blunt the sharp edges of the cut.
You are now ready to install the tiles.