How to Cut Ceiling Tiles

All types of ceiling tiles can be cut with basic hand tools. Acoustic tiles—the lightweight fiber panels—are cut with a carpet knife. Drywall-like drop ceiling (suspended ceiling) tiles are cut with a utility knife or a drywall saw. Tin ceiling tiles are cut with tin snips. These tend to be the most efficient cutting tools for DIYers and pros alike, but there are also a few power-tool methods for special situations. The power tools are optional, in any case. As for marking ceiling tiles for cuts, it helps to have a framing square or a drywaller's T-square. A square can also serve as a guide for scoring and cutting with a knife.

Suspended ceiling tiles.
credit: Lowe's
Drop ceilings use accoustic panels that fit into a grid framework.

Things You'll Need

  • Plywood scrap

  • Tape measure

  • Pencil

  • Gloves

  • T-square or framing square

  • Carpet knife

  • Pencil compass

  • Rotary tool with multipurpose bit and circle guide

  • Portable drill

  • Hole saw

  • Utility knife

  • Drywall saw

  • Marker

  • Tin snips

  • 3/8-inch drill bit

How to Cut Acoustic Tiles

Acoustic tiles for drop-ceiling and surface-mount applications are easy to cut with a carpet knife. You can use a standard utility knife, but a carpet knife cuts deeper and more cleanly. It's a good idea to wear thin gloves when working with acoustic tile to keep the tiles clean and to protect your hands from rough tile textures.

Carpet knife and blades.
credit: FLOR
A carpet knife and blade easily cuts acoustic ceiling tiles.

Step 1 Mark the Cutting Line

Lay a scrap of plywood or similar material on your work surface to protect it from the knife. Place the tile face-up on the plywood. Measure across the tile and make a light pencil mark at the top and bottom edges of the tile.

Step 2 Make the Cut

Place a T-square or framing square onto the tile so its edge is aligned with the marks. Hold the square firmly with one hand, then score the tile carefully with a carpet knife, running the knife blade along the edge of the square. Repeat the cut with one or two more passes until you've cut completely through the tile.

Framing square.
credit: Johnson Level
A framing square makes a perfect cutting guide for ceiling tiles.

Step 3 Make a Circular Cutout (as Needed)

You can make circular cutouts in ceiling tiles with a carpet knife, a rotary tool or a hole saw. Start by marking the center of the hole on the face of the tile.

To use a carpet knife:

  1. Draw a circle of the desired hole size, using a pencil compass, pivoting the compass around the marked center point.
  2. Cut along the circle with the knife, starting with a shallow scoring cut and making progressively deeper passes until the tile is cut through.

To use a rotary tool:

  1. Install a multipurpose cutting bit and attach a circle guide to the saw.
  2. Adjust the circle guide for the desired hole diameter.
  3. Tilt the tool back and align the point of the circle guide with the center mark.
  4. Turn on the tool, then carefully tilt it down so the blade cuts into the tile. Once the tool is upright, pivot the tool and guide around the center point to complete the cut.
Rotary tool with circle guide.
credit: Dremel
Rotary tool with circle guide offers an easy, precise method for making cutouts in ceiling tiles.

To use a hole saw:

  1. Attach the desired size of hole saw to a portable drill.
  2. Set the hole saw's center bit onto the marked center point, holding the drill upright.
  3. Turn on the drill and push the saw into the tile to complete the cut.

Tips

Cut a rabbet, or shadow line, on drop ceiling tiles with a shadowline cutter, a simple edging tool with a blade that cuts to a preset depth. Alternatively, use a carpet knife to make a partial-depth vertical cut on the face of the tile, then make a perpendicular horizontal cut along the edge that meets the vertical cut.

Shadowline cutter.
credit: ToolPro/Home Depot
Shadowline cutter.

How to Cut Drop-Ceiling (Drywall-Type) Tiles

Drop ceiling tiles that aren't acoustic tile are essentially nothing more than drywall with vinyl facing. Therefore, you cut them just like drywall, using a square and utility knife for straight cuts and a drywall saw (a keyhole saw) for holes and curves. You can also use a rotary tool for circular cutouts.

Step 1 Mark the Cutting Line

Place the tile face-up on your work surface. Measure across the tile and make a light pencil mark at the top and bottom edges of the tile.

Step 2 Score the Cut

Place a T-square or framing square onto the tile so its edge is aligned with the marks. Hold the square firmly with one hand, then make a single, deep score along the edge of the square, using a utility knife.

Step 3 Complete the Cut

The method for cutting drop-ceiling tiles will be familiar to anyone who has worked with drywall.

  1. Move the tile so the scored line is aligned with the edge of the work surface and the waste is overhanging the edge; the scored line should be facing up.
  2. Press down firmly on the waste to snap the tile along the scored line.
  3. Tilt up the tile on its edge, then cut through the back paper of the tile along the crease to complete the cut.
  4. Lay the tile flat and trim off any peaks of the tile's drywall core along the cut edge, if necessary, holding the knife parallel to the cut edge.

Step 4 Make a Circular Cutout (as Needed)

Make circular cutouts with a drywall saw or rotary tool. Start by marking the center of the hole on the face of the tile.

To use a drywall saw:

  1. Draw a circle of the desired hole size using a pencil compass, pivoting the compass around the marked center point.
  2. Set the point of the saw blade on the edge of the circle, and tap the butt of the saw to drive the point through the tile, cutting from the face side.
  3. Saw along the circle line to complete the cutout.

To use a rotary tool: Follow the rotary tool steps described above for acoustic tile.

Drywall saw.
credit: Stanley/Home Depot
A drywall saw easily cuts holes in drop-ceiling tiles.

How to Cut Tin Ceiling Tiles

Tin tiles cut easily with tin snips or aviation snips. "Long cut" snips make the fastest cuts, but standard snips work just fine. It's a good idea to wear leather gloves to protect your hands from sharp metal edges.

Step 1 Mark the Cutting Line

Place the tile face-down on your work surface. Measure across the tile and make a mark at the top and bottom edges of the tile, using a permanent marker. Place a framing square or T-square on the marks and draw a straight cutting line with the marker, using the square as a guide.

Step 2 Cut the Tile

Cut along the marked line with tin snips. Hold the good piece (the piece you are keeping) with your free hand, and bend it up gently as you cut so that the snips can stay straight along the cutting line.

Long-cut aviation snips.
credit: Stanley/Amazon
Long-cut aviation snips have extra long cutting jaws and are the best choice for cutting metal ceiling tiles.

Step 3 Make a Circular Cutout (as Needed)

Mark the center of the circle, then draw the circle to the desired size, using a pencil compass. Trace along the pencil line with a marker for better visibility, if desired. Drill a 3/8-inch starter hole inside the circle's outline, using a drill and 3/8-inch bit. Complete the cutout with the tin snips, beginning and ending at the starter hole.