How to Cut Ceramic Tile: Which Tool to Use for Every Project

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Image Credit: Trisha Sprouse

Looking to spruce up your space with ceramic tile? Whether you're installing it on the floor or wall — or perhaps a table or tray — it's highly likely you'll need to cut some of the tiles to fit the exact dimensions of your project. Most tiling projects are fairly straightforward, and the average DIY tiler can tackle them with relative ease. But a successful result will depend on the type of tool you use and the kind of cuts you need to make.

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Image Credit: Trisha Sprouse

In terms of choosing the right tool for the job, we've got you covered with a few different scenarios below. But let's start with the prep work, since that'll look the same no matter which tool you use. First things first, always wear protective goggles and gloves when cutting tile, as those little shards of ceramic are sharp. Second, to ensure your cut lines are straight, use a carpenter's square to measure and mark the lines on your tiles. Be sure to mark on the top glazed side of the tile with a marker (you can wipe off with rubbing alcohol, if needed). Lastly, if you can spare one of your tiles, it's a great idea to practice a few cuts first, so you can get a feel for the process.

Image Credit: Trisha Sprouse

Small-Scale Projects

Image Credit: Trisha Sprouse

The preferred tool: Handheld tile cutter or glass cutter

If you're working on a small job, say for like a craft project, and you only need to make straight cuts on a handful of tiles, then you can get away with using a handheld tile cutter or glass cutter. Sometimes referred to as score-and-snap pliers, these tools come with a carbide wheel for scoring tile and and a special head used to snap the tile along the cut line.

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The method: Lay the tile flat and place the cutting wheel on the line that needs to be cut. Place a carpenter's square right next to the wheel to keep it straight while you score. Pressing firmly, roll the wheel across the tile (it should make a scraping noise) to score the line. Then place the tile between the feet of the pliers and apply equal pressure to both sides of the scored line. The tile should break cleanly along the line.

Bigger Straight-Cut Projects

The preferred tool: Manual snap cutter

Also known as a rail cutter, this is a bigger, beefed up version of the handheld tile cutter, but essentially does the same thing — scores and snaps. If you have a lot of straight cuts to make, then a manual snap cutter will speed up the process, and is a more affordable option than a wet saw. But you can't make combination cuts or tiny cuts with it, so there are some limitations.

The method: Place the tile inside the cutter up against the fence (front guide). Line up your cut line with the cutting wheel, apply slight pressure on the handle and slide it forward to score the line. Then place the breaking feet on either side of the scored line and push firmly down on the handle until the tile snaps.

Large or Complex Jobs

Image Credit: Trisha Sprouse

The preferred tool: Wet table saw

If you need to make more complex cuts, such as cutting out corners for wall outlets, tiny or precise cuts, or a large volume of cuts, then a wet table saw is the best tool for the job. Wet saws are table saws fitted with a diamond blade that spray water onto the blade to keep it cool while cutting. Though it's an investment, it does produce extremely smooth, clean cuts — and quickly. If you're not ready to invest, you could always rent one instead of purchasing.

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The method: Place the wet saw on a level surface and fill the reservoir with water. Adjust the fence to align the blade with your cut line, and place your tile up against the fence. Turn the saw on and make sure water is flowing over the blade. Slowly feed the tile into the blade until it's completely cut. Turn the saw off and remove the tile.

Curved Cut Projects

The preferred tool: Tile nippers

Though it's a bit tedious, making circular or arched cuts, such as around a base of a toilet or sink, calls for using tile nippers. It's not the most precise or quickest way to cut tile, but it gets the job done. Essentially, you use the nippers to break off little pieces of the tile at a time until you get the desired shape.

The method: Draw the curved line on your tile, and score it with a utility knife. Hold the tile over a trash bin and place it right side up inside the tile nippers. Starting at the edge and working inwards towards your scored line, gently squeeze the nippers and break off small pieces at a time. Nip off smaller and smaller pieces as you get closer to the line. Sand the edge smooth with a tile stone.

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Trisha is a writer, video producer + maker with a knack for creating modern DIY content. When her hands aren't covered in paint, she's most likely holding a camera or power drill or both.