Cutting Ceramic Tile With a Hand Tile Nipper

Hand Tile Snipper

Tile snips and white tile lying on a table.

When you perform a ceramic tile installation project, you'll be after tile cuts that have nice, clean edges. That is fairly easy to accomplish with straight cuts using a snap tile cutter.

But what about the small corner or curved cuts? Well, for those applications you use a specially designed hand tool called a tile nipper or tile snips. These hand tools are inexpensive and very simple in design, allowing the user to break off small pieces of tile in a controlled fashion, thereby allowing curved or straight cuts.

In this tutorial, you'll learn some tips on how to use the tile nipper and make successful, clean tile cuts. Please note that when using the tile nipper or even a snap tile cutter, make sure to wear proper eye protection to prevent injury from flying chips of tile.

Start at the Corner

Tile nipper pinching tile from the sheet of white tile.

If you are cutting a straight piece of tile that will be a finished edge, it is a good idea to score it using the scoring wheel from your snap tile cutter. That way, the tile will break in a smooth, clean line as you nip pieces off. If you will be cutting a tile edge that will be concealed, then this step is not necessary.

If you are making a curved cut, then mark the cut using a fine marker or pencil and make sure to take small nips. With a concavely curved cut, you want to start from the center of the material to be removed. With a convexly curved cut, start at the corner edge and work out as with a straight line cut.

For straight cuts, it is usually best to start from the corner with the nipper held at a slight angle and work out and across the tile removing small bits of tile. Do not take big chunks of tile, as that will cause the tile to snap in an uncontrolled manner and usually snap where you did not want it to break. Patience is key when using this tool.

Continue Cutting in Small Pieces

Tile nipper pinching the white tile sheet.

Continue working your way across the tile, cutting gradually and reducing the amount of remaining excess tile material. When you are within 1/8-inch of your desired point, you can make your finish/final cuts parallel to the cut line, tangent to the cut line (if a convex cut), or continue making very small nips around the interior of the cut if a concave circular cut is being made. Again, patience and forethought go a long way to a successful result.

Final Cut

Tile nippers next to the white sheet of tile with cut pieces nearby.

If you have successfully and patiently followed the above tips, you'll end up with a nice clean cut tile edge. Experiment with some scrap tile yourself before making any cuts that count. A tile nipper is a tool that requires some "feel" to work with, but it is quite easy to use.