When you perform a ceramic tile installation project, you'll need to make tile cuts that have nice, clean edges. For straight cuts on full tiles, the easiest way to cut ceramic tile is by using a snap tile cutter or wet saw. Sometimes, though, you can cut ceramic tiles without a tile cutter. There will be times when you will need to manually cut tiles because the section you need to cut off is too narrow for the snap tile cutter to work effectively. And a snap cutter is not very effective for small corners and notches, or for curved cuts. And it can sometimes be awkward to use on some mosaic sheets.
For those applications, the best choice is to cut ceramic tile by hand using a specially designed hand tile cutter tool called a tile nipper, sometimes called tile snips, which is a great and easy option. 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 either curved or straight cuts.
Standard ceramic tiles are not difficult to cut with tile nippers since the material is relatively thin. Using a manual tile cutter can be a little harder to use on thicker ceramic floor tiles, or on porcelain tiles, which are harder than standard ceramic tiles. With practice, though, tile nippers can work quite well on all tiles except for natural stone like marble or granite.
When you're using a wet saw, which is preferred, you can cut ceramic tile without chipping by working slowly with a sharp blade. But when you are cutting tile without a wet saw by using tile nippers, the process can cause small, sharp pieces of tile to fly, so make sure to wear proper eye protection.
Best Tools for Cutting Ceramic Tile
It's tough to cut tiles without tools. Here are five basic tools that are easily accessible and make a DIY ceramic tile job easier.
- Wet saw: Use for quick, clean straight or angle cuts but requires skill to use
- Tile nipper: Use for tiny snips to shape a tile, takes a little practice
- Snap tile cutter: Use for perfectly straight lines, requires less skill than a wet saw
- Angle grinder: Easy to use for rough angled cuts
- Glass cutter: Use for cutting simple lines on just a few tiles
Equipment / Tools
- Fine marker or pencil
- Eye protection
- Snap tile cutter or glass cutter
- Tile nipper
- Tile stone (optional)
- Ceramic tile
How To Cut Ceramic Tile by Hand
Mark and Score a Cutting Line
Use a fine marker or pencil to mark a cutting line on the glazed face of the tile. Next, score the tile along the cutting line, using a snap tile cutter for straight cuts, or a glass cutter for curved or notched cuts. With either tool, the goal is to score the glazed face of the tile with a boundary line for the area you will remove with the nippers. That way, the tile will break in a smooth, clean line as you nip pieces off.
If scoring with the snap cutting, place the tile on the bed of the tool, then draw the scoring wheel over the marked cutting line. Remove the tile from the snap cutter and proceed to make the cut with the nippers.
For curved cuts or small notches, it is easiest to score the cutting line using a small glass cutter tool, which has a sharp metal cutting wheel that will score the glazed surface of the tile.
Begin to Nip
For straight cuts, it is usually best to start from the corner of the waste area with the nipper held at a slight angle, and work out and across the tile, removing small bits of tile with each nip. Do not take big chunks of tile, as that may cause the tile to snap in an uncontrolled manner and not where you want it to be. Patience is key when using this tool.
If you are making a curved cut, it works best if you nibble away the waste portion in very small pieces, using the corner of the tool's cutting jaw. Taking bites that are too large can break the entire tile. With a concave curved cut, start from the center of the material to be removed and gradually move inward and out to the scored cutting line. With a convex curved, start at the corner edges and work toward the scored line.
Continue the Cut
Continue working your way across the tile, cutting gradually as you remove the waste area. When you are within 1/8 inch of the cutting line, change the orientation of the tool so the jaws are cutting parallel to the cutting line (for a straight cut). If making a convex curved cut, hold the tool so the cutting edges are tangent to the marked cutting line. For a concave curved cut, continue making very small nips around the interior of the cut with the tool still held at an angle to the cutting line. Again, patience goes a long way to a successful result.
Finish the Edge
As you finish the cut, take very small bites with the nipper tool, with the cutting edges right up to the marked cutting line. Generally, the glazed surface will cleave right at the scored line. If the cut edge will be exposed, you can smooth any rough edges of the cut using an abrasive tile stone (rub stone).
If you have worked patiently, you'll end up with a nice clean-cut tile edge, but it's not uncommon to have a false start or two when you first start using a tile nipper. Experiment with some scrap tile before making any cuts that count. A tile nipper is quite easy to use after a little practice.
Should you soak tile before cutting?
How do I stop my tiles from cracking when I cut them?
Using a wet saw is the best way to stop tiles from cracking when cutting them. Whatever method you use to cut tiles, go slowly because patience is the best way to stop tiles from cracking during manipulation.
What do professional tilers use to cut tiles?
Professional tilers use high-capacity wet tile saws and other tools as needed based on the scope of the project.