How to Cut Ceramic Tile With a Tile Snap Cutter

Hand holding cut tile in tile cutter
Steve Gorton / Getty Images

Homeowners wishing to do their own tile work have two tools at their disposal to cut the tiles: wet tile saw or tile snap cutter. If you want to do the job cheaply and without burdening yourself with yet another large one-off tool cluttering your workshop, the snap tile cutter will be your best option.

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What a Tile Snap Cutter Is

A tile snap cutter, also known as a rail tile cutter, is a manual tool for cutting straight lines across ceramic, glass, or stone tile.

A tile snap cutter is closer to a glass cutter than it is to the other tool for cutting tile, the wet tile saw. A glass cutter has a carbide wheel, which is slowly drawn across the glass with force to create a score mark. Once the score is made, the glass is snapped off by hand or with a tool along the line.

A tile snap cutter works in much the same way. A tile is inserted into the tool. A cutting wheel, mounted on a rail, is drawn by hand across the tile surface once or twice.

After the score is made, a built-in tile snapper is moved into place over the score. After the user pulls back on a lever, the snapper presses on the score until the tile snaps in half.

Tile Snap Cutter vs. Wet Tile Saw

A wet tile saw produces accurate cuts suitable for visible work. Every tile professional owns one and good models are expensive. 

Just like a table saw for wood, a spinning round blade cuts through the tile, with one exception—the blade is continually bathed in water to cool the tile and control debris.

Wet tile saws produce clean, accurate cuts. Tile snap cutters can often produce an edge that, while straight, will have a few ragged sections.

Professionals often use both a tile snap cutter and a wet tile saw. The tile snap cutter helps tile workers make lots of cuts in tile. Plus, they can make these cuts in the installation area, not off to the side or outdoors (since it's best to use wet tile saws outdoors).

Wet tile saw
Parinya Khaowsakul / Getty Images

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Excellent for small projects such as bathrooms.
  • Tile edge-work can be covered with baseboards, molding, or cabinets.
  • Best for tile 1-foot-square or less.
  • Except for the snapping motion, tile snap cutters are mostly quiet.
  • Snap tile cutters are dust-free and safe to use.
  • Though tile snap cutters can cut glass or stone, they work best for ceramic or porcelain tile.

Cons

  • Tile snap cutters are more difficult to use for more expansive projects like large basement floors or big kitchens.
  • While the line will largely be straight, they are imperfect. Within that line will be smaller surface irregularities to make the cut less than perfect.
  • Tile snap cutters can produce only straight lines, not curves or holes.

Tips For Using a Tile Snap Cutter

  • Learn How to Use It: Cutting tile with a snap cutter is a three-part process. First, draw the cutting wheel firmly across the surface of the tile, deeply scoring the surface of the tile. Second, re-position the tile so that the snapping nubs of the tile cutter rest on top of the tile. Third, press down on the cutter so that it snaps the tile.
  • Practice on Cheap Tile: Practice on a few sheets of the cheapest possible tile that is relatively the same shape and thickness as the tile you intend to use for your project. These are practice tiles so you can hone your mastery of the snap cutter. Either pick up broken tiles at your tile store or purchase a few.
  • Emphasize the First Score: Score the top surface of the tile with a very forceful motion. But if you press too hard, you will break the tile. At most, you can score the tile a second time. But three or more scores usually result in a very ragged score that will not produce a clean break.
  • Hide the Edges: Accept the fact that snaps will not result in perfectly straight lines. In most cases, this does not matter because the uneven side will be placed against the wall side and covered with a baseboard.
  • Rent Better Models: Snap tile cutters are sold for as little as $25 to $50. But if you're planning on a large installation, you may want to rent one of the larger commercial models.
  • Wear Safety Glasses: Though tile snap cutters don't produce the fast-moving shards of tile like wet tile saws do, they still can shoot pieces of tile in your direction. Always wear safety glasses when using tile snap cutters.