If you’re renovating your bathroom or kitchen, then you’ll surely have to cut some ceramic tiles to fit in corners, around pipes, or along household fixtures. While there’s a specialty tool designed to do that called “tile cutter”, you don’t necessarily need it, as you can replace it with other tools you probably already have around and in this post, we’ll show you how to cut ceramic tile in a very easy way.
Some alternatives include using a glass cutter for simple straight cuts, a wet saw for large projects, an angle grinder for straight or curved cuts on loose or fixed tiles, or a dremel tool for small circular cuts. To cut ceramic tile, no matter which tool you choose for the job, you typically have to outline the cut, score the surface, cut the tile, and smooth any rough edges.
While you might need to use a combination of equipment and techniques depending on your project, we’ll provide you with some general guidelines so you can get an idea of what would work best for you. So, let’s get started!
How to Cut Ceramic Tile Without a Tile Cutter
Standard ceramic tiles up to ⅜ of an inch in thickness can usually be cut easily with a snap tile cutter. However, ceramic floor tiles thicker than ⅜ of an inch, for example, or any tiles that are harder than standard ones, require other tools to be cut: a glass cutter, wet saw, or an angle grinder.
For small tile cutting jobs that don’t require any curvy or complex cuts, using a glass cutter is one of the best options. This small hand tool has a sharp blade that allows you to cut through glass tiles, thin glass objects, and other hard materials. It’s an affordable alternative that you can find one at your local home improvement store, and even online.
Besides the glass cutter, you’re going to need a wire hanger, and then, you have to do the following:
- Measure how much of the tile you need to cut off and mark a straight line in the place.
- Place the tile on a sturdy surface such as a workbench or a thick plywood sheet supported by a set of sawhorses.
- Use the glass cutter to score the ceramic tile all along the line. You should press down firmly, but lightly enough that you don’t cut through the tile.
- Once you reach the end of the marked line, place the wire clothes hanger underneath the tile. Make sure to line up the long wire part of the hanger with the line you’ve just scored.
- Press down on each side of the tile to break it in half along the score line. The tile should snap easily. If it doesn’t, score it again.
- Smooth any rough edges by rubbing them on a brick or concrete slab.
A wet saw is a powerful tool that uses a toothless diamond blade to cut fragile materials such as ceramic tile with ease. This saw is suitable for making the corner and straight cuts, and when you have a very large tile job that requires lots of cutting. The blade is cooled by a system that sprays a stream of water over it to keep it from overheating.
As usual, make sure you’re wearing safety goggles, and gloves when operating the saw. Avoid loose clothing or jewelry that could get caught in the blade.
Now, here’s what you have to do to cut ceramic tile with a wet saw:
- Use a T-square to determine how much of the tile you need to cut off, and make a strong mark that won’t be erased with water.
- Set up the wet saw according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Typically, you’ll need to fill the saw’s water reservoir and turn the tool on.
- Allow the saw a few seconds to reach full speed.
- Again, read the instructions to operate the water saw properly because the process might slightly vary depending on the model. Most of the time, you should hold the tile glazed side up with both hands and guide it towards the saw. To achieve a clean cut, avoid forcing the tile towards the saw and let the machine do the job for you.
- Push the widest part of the tile between the blade and fence until it completely clears the blade.
- Turn off the saw and let it power down before removing the tile.
- Smooth down any rough edges by rubbing them across a brick or a piece of concrete. Do it gently and avoid using a brick or piece of concrete with jagged edges that can damage the tile.
Cutting ceramic tile with a water saw is not hard, but it certainly requires that you be careful. Don’t start cutting unless there’s a small stream of water flowing over both the blade and tile. Otherwise, the quality of your cuts will suffer, as water is essential to keep the blade cool. Moreover, always check all water delivery systems to ensure they’re working properly before turning the saw on.
How to Cut Ceramic Tile with a Grinder
Angle grinders equipped with a diamond blade are ideal for cutting ceramic tiles that are already fixed to a wall, or for making circles, squares, or other special cutouts at the center of the pieces.
Bear in mind that dry-cut diamond blades create a lot of dust and noise, so you’ll need to work in a well-ventilated area and wear safety goggles, a dust mask, and hearing protection. Now, all you have to do to cut shapes on a loose tile is this:
- Measure the area you want to cut and mark it on the tile on both sides, front and back, with a permanent marker.
- If you’re cutting a single tile, set the piece on a flat surface and clamp it in place.
- Cover the outer edge of the tile with masking tape to prevent the glaze from chipping.
- Turn the angle grinder on and let the blade reach full speed.
- Press the tool down, and score the front of the tile very lightly. Hold the grinder vertically against the marked edges to make straight cuts, or angle it horizontally to get rounded cuts.
- Flip the tile over, and plunge the cut from the back. Stop and check often to avoid cutting too far, and finish when the cut lines up with the corners of the mark on the front.
This process can be a bit tricky because you need to be careful not to cut beyond the corners of the shape you’ve marked, where the cut might be visible from the front.
To cut tile that’s already glued to the wall or floor, you should follow a slightly different process:
- Mark the outline of your desired cut with a marker, and place masking tape around it to prevent chipping.
- Use a spray bottle to mist the tile with water to reduce dust.
- Cover the surrounding area with a plastic sheet to make cleanup easier.
- Run the angle grinder carefully along the marked line to score the tile.
- Repeat the cuts along the score until you cut through the tile.
- Pry the cut piece loose by wedging a small pry bar under it.
If you are renovating your bathroom, you’ll surely run into a few pipes or shower valves that you have to cut holes for. Luckily, you can use a dremel tool to easily drill holes in a fixed tile, as well as in one that has not been installed yet. You will need the correct diamond tile bit for your tool to avoid damaging the ceramic tile.
To cut a hole in a ceramic tile piece with a dremel, you should follow these instructions:
- Use a permanent marker to clearly mark the hole you want to cut on the tile.
- If you’re cutting a hole in a loose tile, secure it in place with industry-grade clamps.
- Cover the area around the tile with plastic and secure it in place with masking tape to make cleanup easier.
- Put safety goggles and a dust mask on because cutting tile will create a lot of dust.
- Hold the dremel with both hands and plunge the bit into the tile at a 45° angle, and push it in gradually until you reach a 90° angle.
- Push the tool along the marked line. Apply just enough pressure to move it forward gently, as too much pressure can wear out the bit prematurely or crack the tile.
- Stop cutting when you reach the end of the cut line and pull the tool out. Be careful not to cut past the line you drew.
Cutting a hole in ceramic tile with a dremel only takes a few minutes. You can either try to do the whole cut in one go, or you can cut an “X” shape in the center of your marked circle first and then cut out smaller sections at a time.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are two main factors that will help you determine which tool suits your cutting needs the best: how many tiles you plan on cutting, and what type of cut you need.
If you’re going to be cutting a lot of tiles, then a wet saw is your best option. While this machine is often expensive and takes up a lot of space, you can rent one from your local hardware store for the duration of your project.
For smaller jobs of cutting just a couple of tiles, you can choose between a glass cutter (for short, straight cuts), an angle grinder (for long, straight cuts and special shapes), or a dremel tool (for circular shapes).
We always recommend getting a few extra pieces of tile so that you can practice on them before getting started in earnest. Once you get the hang of working with your chosen tool, you’ll be able to tackle your project with confidence.
Cutting ceramic tile is actually quite easy, and you don’t need any expensive tools to achieve professional results. All you require is the ability to measure precisely, be patient, and work with care, and you’ll be able to finish the cuts in a couple of days.
Based on your requirements and the type of cut you want to make, you can select any of the four tools we’ve mentioned in this article to cut ceramic tiles confidently.