If you ever needed to cut some tiles to fit them in corners, irregular places, household fixtures or whatever, you know how easy is to chip them. It’s even easier to chip them when you have only a few left, and the seller already told you that those were the last pieces he had. Also, if you are working with porcelain tiles, which are pretty expensive, you’d like to avoid chipping them and throwing away some money for free. So, you better learn how to cut a tile without chipping it!
Here’s a quick tip for you: if you are using a wet saw (or an angle grinder), the secret to cut porcelain or ceramic tile without chipping it is to work slowly and with a well-sharpened blade. Feed the tile to the saw in a straight line and steady way. If you are using a manual snap cutter, make sure to apply as little pressure as needed when opening the tile. Too much force will damage the tile.
In this article, I’m going to show you the difference between porcelain and ceramic, then we are going to get through the most common tools you can use to cut a tile and finally, we are going to answer in detail the question you came here for: how do I cut a tile without chipping it?
Porcelain or ceramic tile: is there really a difference?
The terms “porcelain” and “ceramic” are often used as synonyms by the average Joe, but there are some differences that make the porcelain tiles more expensive. The main difference is the water absorption: porcelain tiles are more impervious to water because the clay used to make porcelain is more refined and purified. As a result, porcelain is denser than ceramic and consequently harder. Therefore porcelain is better suited for high-moisture applications, such as pools, bathtubs, and showers, and in areas with a lot of abrasions, like utility rooms, hallways, or entrance ways. The hardness of the porcelain makes it more durable than ceramic.
On the other hand, ceramic tiles should not be installed outdoors, since they are susceptible to weathering. They are also prone to cracking in cold weather: the moisture gets inside them, freezes, and crack them open. Instead, porcelain is suitable for outdoor use. But since it’s very expensive, you should consider other options for flooring outdoors surfaces, such as natural stone or marble.
A quick way to identify what kind of tiles you should use for a certain portion of your house is to check the PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) rating. It goes from 0 to 5 according to the foot traffic the tile will get. Zero is no foot traffic (walls), 5 is heavy traffic (for example commercial areas with a lot of footfall). Ceramic tiles usually have a PEI rating of 3 or 4, while porcelain tiles have a higher PEI since they are harder: it goes from 3 to 5.
Ceramic is for sure a more affordable option than porcelain since the latter is more expensive to manufacture. They are made with superior quality materials, and they are fired at a higher temperature (this makes them harder and more resistant to wearing).
Another effect of the hardness of porcelain tiles is that they are easier to chip. They require more experience and attention to cut properly. In this case, a wet saw with a diamond blade is required. On the other hand, ceramic tiles are easier to cut, because they are less brittle than porcelain tiles: if you don’t have a wet saw, a tile cutter might be enough. This makes them more suitable for do-it-yourself projects.
What tool do I need to cut my tile?
This is the first thing you should ask yourself: different tiles require different tools. Also, if you only need to cut a couple of tiles, maybe a wet saw is an excessive investment. Now, I’m going to tell you what are the best tools to use to cut ceramic and porcelain tiles without chipping them.
1. Wet Saw
A wet saw comes with a diamond or carbon blade, specifically made to cut tiles. You could either get a tabletop wet saw or a handheld wet saw. The second one is the ideal tool to cut an installed tile, even just a portion of it. Both of them have a plastic tube that feeds the blade with a continuous stream of water, to keep the dust under control.
This type of saw, even if it is the best one to get a clean cut without chipping the tile, requires more skill and was generally quite expensive. These days, many manufactures are offering cheaper alternatives that are ideal for a hobbyist. For example, I really like the wet saw that SKIL sells. It’s inexpensive and gets the job done. Check its price on Amazon.
This is probably your best option if you only need to cut a couple of tiles and don’t want to spend a crap ton of money on an expensive tool. Also, you don’t need much experience to use this tool. They can only do straight cuts. Check the paragraph below on how to cut a tile without chipping it with this kind of cutter.
3. Glass Cutter
This is the most inexpensive tool you can get. I suggest you get this one if you have only a few tiles to cut. Also, it could be difficult to get straight cuts with this tool.
4. Angle Grinder
You could also use an angle grinder to cut your tiles. You just need to get a diamond blade to do the job. They are particularly useful to cut shapes like holes or squares inside a tile or to cut an already installed tile.
How to cut a tile without chipping with a wet saw
If you are using a wet saw, you are on the right track to do a good job. But if you are working with porcelain, which is easier to chip, then the procedure I’m going to show will minimize the chances of chipping your porcelain tile.
- Make sure you fill the wet saw tank with water. You don’t want to dry cut with a wet saw;
- Now, you are going to make a shallow cut: adjust your saw to cut the tile at 1/8 of an inch dept. This is just a rule of thumb: make sure that you don’t cut more than half of the thickness of the tile;
- Place your tile on the saw platform. You need to face the glazed face of the tile towards the blade: if your blade comes from the bottom, place the tile face down; if your blade comes from the top, place the tile face up;
- Turn on the saw, push the tile slowly through the blade, and get the shallow cut done.
After you’ve done this, you can either cut through the whole tile or cut a notch into one end and then cut the whole tile. This way, you will prevent chipping even more.
To notch the tile, follow these steps:
- Set your blade so that this time it will cut through the whole remaining thickness of the tile;
- Turn the saw on: make sure the tile doesn’t touch the blade before doing this;
- Now, you are going to make the notch: push the tile into the blade along the shallow cut you made before, for about 1 or 2 inches, then back the tile out and turn off the saw. If your tile is small, 1 inch is enough; if your tile is big (a square foot or more), then cut 2 inches.
- Flip the tile so that you are facing the blade with the other side of the shallow cut; turn on the saw and cut the rest of the tile to where you made the notch. Finally, turn off the saw.
There’s still a small chance of chipping your tile, but if you follow the procedure I showed you, you will maximize the chances of not chipping your tile.
How to cut a tile without chipping with a tile cutter
This type of cutter comes with a carbide wheel that is slowly pressed along the tile. Then you open the tile by pressing the handle. If you are using this tool on a porcelain tile, you need to be careful to avoid damaging it. Now, I’m gonna show you how to do the job.
- Mark a line along the tile, where you want to make the cut;
- Set up the tile firmly against the cutter’s guide, glazed side up;
- Guide the hand lever over the cutting mark you made before so that the cutter will slice through the tile;
- Now the tricky part: push down the lever to break the tile into 2 pieces: make sure to apply as little pressure as needed to avoid chipping the tile;
- Finally, you can get rid of any sharp edges by using sanding paper, sponge or stone.
Obviously, you won’t be as quick as if you would use a professional cutting tool. If you are not a professional and you are doing a project on the side, a manual tile cutter could be very well worth it. It will take some more time and attention, but you’ll get professional results.
To wrap it up, cutting tiles without chipping may seem a daunting task at first, but you do not worry. If you get the right tool (a wet saw is the best choice you can make) and work at a slow and steady pace, you are going to make it. Be careful with porcelain tiles: since they are harder, they are also easier to chip. You might need a wet saw for those. If you need to cut ceramic tiles, then a manual cutter should do the job for you.