Ceramic tile is a material that is perfect for a number of areas in your home and for the patient do-it-yourselfer, it can also be a wonderful and very rewarding project. It’s rare, however, that you encounter a tile job that uses only full tiles, so you’re almost sure to run into the need to cut the tiles – and that’s where tile saws and tile cutters come in.
A tile cutter is a non-powered tool that is used for making straight, simple cuts on tile up to about 9/16-inch in thickness. They are the smallest, lightest, safest and least expensive of the tools designed for cutting tile, but are slow and somewhat limited in the types of cuts they can perform.
A tile cutter works on a principle similar to a glass cutter. The tile is placed in the cutter, which is typically a flat, padded metal frame with an overhead arm and a cutter head that contains a scoring wheel. The cutter head is pressed down so that the wheel is in contact with the top of the tile, then it is drawn repeatedly over the tile to make a score mark. By placing further pressure done on the cutter head, the tile will snap along the score mark. The resulting edge will be slightly rough and will need to be cleaned up with a hand-held stone. Depending on size and features, you’ll find tile cutters in the $80 to $160 price range.
If you have a lot of tile to cut, or if your installation requires more than simple, straight cuts, you’ll probably want to follow the lead of the pros and use a tile saw. Tile saws utilize a 120-volt motor to power a diamond-tipped circular saw blade that is cooled by a continuous stream of water. The typical tile saw has the motor and blade fixed in an overhead position – the opposite of a standard table saw, for example – and has a sliding table that is moved in and out by hand to move the tile under the blade. Below the sliding table is a metal or plastic reservoir that holds the cooling water and a re-circulating pump to direct the water up to the blade.
To use a tile saw, the tile is placed on the table and held in place by hand or with a clamp – since the blade is fixed in one position, to cut the tile at an angle you simply need to hold it on the table at an angle. Turn on the saw, and move the table forward so the tile moves under the rotating blade. Depending on the thickness and hardness of the tile, you may need to make repeated cuts, lowering the blade further into the tile with each pass.
Tile saws allow you to cut faster and with greater accuracy than tile cutters and the cut edge is much cleaner and smoother. Depending on the size, power and optional features, a tile saw will cost between $300 and $900.
PORTABLE TILE SAWS
Another option is to utilize a portable electric tile saw, which looks and operates just like a circular saw for wood. A diamond-tipped saw blade approximately four inches in diameter does the cutting, and the saw is moved across the tile in the same manner as you would move a standard circular saw over a piece of wood. Both dry- and wet-blade models are available.
Portable tile saws lack the accuracy and speed of a standard tile saw, but they’re inexpensive and have the additional advantage of being able to cut out grout lines for repair work. Portable tile saws average $125 to $175 in cost.
At the other end of the spectrum is the brick saw, a larger, heavier-duty version of the tile saw. Brick saws also utilize a water-cooled, diamond-tipped circular blade, but the blade and the motor are mounted overhead in a pivoting frame. The brick is placed on a sliding table and moved under the blade, and the operator pulls down on a handle to pivot the blade downward into the brick. Heavy springs return the blade to the starting position after completion of the cut.
Brick saws can be used to cut bricks, pavers, stones, large quarry tiles and other masonry. Smaller brick saws will also work fine for cutting standard ceramic tile, but you may find the larger ones too awkward for easy cutting of smaller tiles. The typical brick saw sells for about $800 to more than $1,000.
Standard precautions for working with tile cutters should include but not be limited to safety goggles and gloves, since dust and tiny particles are thrown off during the cutting process and the resulting cut tile edges are often very sharp. Some type of safety apron is also a very good idea.
When using a tile saw, pay attention. You are moving the tile into a moving blade and you need to work slowly, methodically and always be aware of the line of the cut and exactly where your hands are in relation to that cutting line. For smaller pieces, always use a clamp to hold the tile so that your hands remain safely away from the blade.
For power tools – especially those operated around water – follow the manufacturer’s specific recommendations for extension cords, grounding and other precautions.
WHERE TO FIND THEM