Whether you are installing a back splash surround or a new tile floor in your kitchen one of the most important jobs is cutting tiles to fit within the area you are working on.
There are basically four grades of Tile Cutters. Hand Tools that can cut full tiles in half or on angles, Electric wet and dry diamond saws that can cut straight lines and in slightly intricate shapes, Gasoline or large tile saws that also can be used for stone and brick cutting and finally specialty tools like diamond drill bits that can cut holes in tile that has already been mounted.
For most small and moderate sized jobs you can get away with a manual tile cutter to cut tiles to width and a small dry or wet diamond saw to cut areas straight cuts can not match.
Lets look at some of the tools and what jobs they can perform.
Manual Tile Cutters
have been around for years. This method of cutting tile is very similar to cutting glass. You place the tile to be cut under the cutting bar and line up the start and end points of the straight cut you want to make.
Your straight cuts should be wide enough on each side of the cut to allow for easy breaking. This means you can not cut small strips from a larger tile. At least 2 inches is a good margin for a minimal cut width. In a pinch you can make a slimmer cut then use a tile nipper described below to make the final break.
Pressing down with the handle you rest the cutting wheel disk on the glazed surface of the tile and with moderate pressure you roll it along the surface creating a fine crack that will allow the tile to be broken along its length.
The key to understanding a manual cutter is that you are not using so much pressure as to actually cut the tile with the disk you are only scribing a fracture that will run through the thickness of the tile and when you bend the tile at that line it will break.
If you will be cutting a lot of straight lines as you will when you are installing the outside tile around a room perimeter then this type of cutter is fast and easy to use.
Another key feature is that it is clean to use. No dust in the air or water sludge on the floor.
Dry or Water Diamond Saws
Diamond saws are a great way to cut tile but smaller models should never be thought of as a way to cut all of your perimeter tiles.
They can cut straight lines and with some practice you can cut other shapes to match the shape of counter or wall bump-outs. They are also good for trimming that has been miss sized and can not be run back through a manual tile cutter.
If you need to cut intricate patterns in your tile then a wet saw will allow you to make many cuts to approximate a smooth line.
Remember that tile is unforgiving and when stressed it will crack.
The choice between a Wet or a Dry Diamond saw would be that a wetsaw can provide a sharper edge and a dry saw is more portable. To some extent a wet saw blade will also stay sharp longer but this really depends more on how you use your saws and the materials they are cutting.
As for keeping the job site clean Wet saws tend to spit a mortar like substance while operating that can be difficult to clean up. Dry saws kick up a lot of dust and will require a mask. If you are working inside a wet saw with a back splash is probably your best bet. However many tile installers will keep their saws outside and mark up a batch to be cut so no cutting goes on inside.
Gasoline or Heavy Duty Wet Saws
If you are installing a terracotta roof, an outdoor patio or large marble / thick tile floor that you expect to take days to complete then a heavy duty unit is what you need.
The difference between buying a contractor grade model and a standard home model would be that you plan on continued use of the tool over an extended period.
Another choice is that gasoline powered wet saws can be operated in areas without electric hookup. If you just can’t wait on an electrician then this is the tool you need or you need to run an electric model off of a generator.
If you will be installing a stone floor then a commercial grade wetsaw is a necessity.
Specialty & Hand Tools
There are many different specialty tools that tile installers use to cut holes and shapes in tile.
As we said above a Tile Nipper can help make small cuts or complete cuts from manual straight line cutters.
Nippers look like a large pair of wire strippers and this is probably where the idea for the too came from. A nipper has a very thin sharp edge that you place on the tile and by squeezing and bending the tile you can remove small chips of tile to make fine adjustments.
On the other hand nippers are very crude and the edge that they leave must be hidden by a kick molding, caulking or some other part that will cover the jagged edge.
Diamond drill bits and high speed specialty cutters are also very useful for removing tile that is in place. If you have a need to drill through tile to attach a hand rail anchor or soap dish then a diamond bit can cut through the tile.
High speed cutters can remove tile that is broken or shape small tile but expect to damage a number of tiles while using them.
If you are drilling a hole for an anchor you should oversize it to allow for movement and pressure on the tile from the fixture.
The YouRepair Store sells a full line of Tile Cutting Tools to help you complete your projects.