Ceramic tiles offer unlimited options for walls, floors and counters.
Easy to clean and extremely durable, they create an elegance matching any decor.
Home improvement shows frequently declare kitchens and bathrooms the best places to increase home value. Tiling might be the fastest way to add quality in these spaces.
Tile installation does require measuring and cutting, but it’s not out of reach for the average DIY enthusiast. The key is the right tool, either a tile cutter or a wet saw.
On this page
The Cutting Edge
The right tool in this case depends on:
- Tile hardness
- Tool budget
- Time and space limitations
- Electric power availability
- Size of project
Ceramic tile makers rate tile hardness on the Porcelain Enamel Institute’s PEI Hardness Scale from 0 to 5.
A rating of 0 through 2 indicates softer wall tile. Hardness rating 3 is general-purpose residential tile. Commercial is the hardest at 4 and 5.
Tile cutters have a rectangular base, a cutting head with a lever and a rail system to cut a perfectly straight line.
You set your tile on the base against a guide. The lever applies downforce on the cutting head and you draw it along the rail to score the tile. After scoring the tile, you snap it along the cut. They work best with large tiles and softer PEI ratings.
Tile cutters don’t take a lot of skill. They’re inexpensive, easy to use and need no electricity. Minimal mess and portability round out the advantages.
Disadvantages include the inability to cut hard tiles and being restricted to straight lines.
Wet saws are large electric power tools that resemble table saws, they’re called wet saws because they spray water onto the cut, reducing dust and cooling the diamond blade. Wet saws have water reservoirs and some provide an inlet to attach a supply hose.
Like table saws, wet saws have a guide fence and some have a head that moves along a rail. They cut very hard tiles, even glass with the proper blade. You can learn to make curved cuts with a wet saw.
Drawbacks include high cost, electric power and a significant degree of skill. They’re also noisy, spray mud and need space. Consequently, they’re usually outside. While they add a lot of speed, the remote location can mean a lot of walking.
Accessories and Alternatives
Knee pads, steel straight edges, a utility knife to cut stencils, chalk line and a level are tools that make tiling easier. Also handy is a diamond bore saw for a drill to cut holes.
Home-improvement stores often provide a service to cut tiles for you in small batches.
These are pliers with specially-shaped jaws to nip off small bits of tile at a time so you can take care of corners.
For thin tiles you can use a steel straightedge and a carbide pencil to quickly take care of one or two tiles. Simply score the surface several times and snap the tile.
Rotary Cutting Tool
Also known as an oscillating multi tool, this tool is like a small router or a Dremel tool, except it can plunge into a surface, then cut sideways to make odd-shaped holes and curves.
Think It Over
Choose your tile first, so you know if it’s too hard for a tile cutter. The next factors are the size of the job, the cost of the tool and whether you have time to practice with it. Buy extra tile to cover mistakes
Amateurs doing a small space with soft tile should use a tile cutter, especially when cost and a short timeline are important. If you’re tiling a large space, expect to do more tile later and have both space and money, the wet saw is the way to go.
Of course, there’s no reason you can’t have both.