Having the right tools makes a tiling project much easier and trouble-free. Unless you've done some tiling in the past, chances are you won't have most of what you need in your toolbox.
The good news is that all of the specialty tools required can cost well under $150, and you can find everything you need at any home improvement store. If you're planning a large tile job, you might want to splurge and buy a tile wet saw, or plan to rent one for a day or two. Otherwise, you can get by with strictly manual tools for almost any tile project.
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Tile Wet Saw or Tile Cutter
A tile wet saw is the best tool for cutting all types of tile, including porcelain, ceramic, stone, and glass. Its blade, which has no teeth but rather a diamond or carbide grit, gets flooded with water during the cut to keep the blade and the tile from overheating. You can rent a tile wet saw for about $50 a day or buy one starting at about $100.
The manual alternative to a wet saw is a tile snap cutter, a simple tabletop tool that you use to score the tile and snap it along the scored line. It works best with ceramic, porcelain, and glass tile.
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A grout float looks like a masonry or concrete trowel but has a rubber base. It's used for applying grout to the joints between installed tiles.
Use the float to force the grout into the joint spaces and to scrape the grout flush with the tile surfaces. There is no other tool that does this job, so a grout float is truly a must-buy tiling tool.
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Pre-mixed thinset and grout are great time-savers, plus you don't have to worry about getting the ratio of water to dry mix right. But they do come with a significant downside: cost.
That's where mixing paddles come in. If you're going to use the vastly cheaper dry thinset or grout, it's difficult to escape purchasing a mixing paddle for your drill.
Mixing heavy bags of dry mix by hand leaves voids and large dry chunks that are hard to mix out. But with a $15 to $25 mixing paddle that you add to the end of your drill, you'll be able to smoothly mix up heavy bags of thinset and grout with ease.
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A grout sponge is a big, dense sponge with rounded edges and corners. It is used for smoothing over grout joints (after applying grout with a grout float) and cleaning excess grout from the tile faces.
While it might seem acceptable to use an ordinary household sponge for this job, the sharp edges of standard sponges pull the grout from the joints, and their small size makes them largely ineffective. Always use a real grout sponge instead.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Notched trowels are used for spreading tile adhesive onto the floor or wall. Trowels with square notches are used for thinset mortar (for floor tile), and V-notched trowels are used for tile mastic (for wall tile). Trowels come with different sizes of notches; use the size recommended by the thinset or mastic manufacturer.
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Tile nippers, or nibblers, help you make irregular cuts—like semi-circles—that a wet saw or snap cutter cannot. They have pliers-like handles and biting jaws that nibble away the tile much like a fingernail trimmer.
While it is possible to finish a tiling job without needing tile nippers, it's a very handy tool to have at the ready for making all sorts of custom cuts.
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Tiling is about straight lines. And there is one old-school method of laying down a straight line that still works today: a chalk line.
Fill the tool with chalk powder, shake it up, and unreel the string to the desired length. Snap the string as you would with a bow and arrow, and you get a legible, though hazy, blue line on your floor or wall. A chalk line is used to define the basic tiling area before tiling begins.
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If you do any work around the house, you probably already have a bubble level, also called a spirit level or carpenter's level. You use it for marking vertical, horizontal, or diagonal layout lines on a wall, or for checking a line of tile to make sure it is vertical (plumb) or level. It also makes a handy straightedge for checking tile alignment on a wall or floor.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Use a rubber mallet for gently tapping tiles into place. Wrapping a hammer in something soft (fabric, foam, etc.) will not work. The striking surface area is too small and the head still isn't soft enough to avoid breaking the tile. Invest in an inexpensive mallet and save yourself countless cracked tiles.
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Buckets are essential for mixing mortar and grout and for rinsing out a grout sponge. You don't need a special type of bucket for tile work; just a good size that's easy to tote around but is large enough for reaching in with a grout float, trowel, and sponge.
Ideally, you'll actually have a couple of buckets close at hand, with at least a few of them filled with clean water. Having plenty of water available can help the grouting process go more quickly, as the water can get murky, and you want the grout sponge to stay as clean as possible.