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There are a number of household projects that require a hole cut in tile. Installing a toilet requires a large hole that may cross multiple tiles. Smaller holes in a single tile may be necessary for allowing the passage of pipes.
Ceramic tiles are high in compressive strength, but low in tensile strength, which makes them susceptible to breakage during cutting or drilling.
Pick the Right Tool for Cutting Tile
Tile can be cut with a hole saw, grinder, or dremel, and enlarged with a shaping tool. Tile saws are best used for cutting straight lines and aren’t optimal for cutting circles.
- A hole saw will bore a clean, precise hole through tile that is the exact size and shape of the bit.
- A grinder will get the hole started and allow you to break through the tile. After the circle has been started, the second step is to shape and smooth it with a shaping tool. This process takes longer and is less precise than using a hole saw.
- A dremel is a convenient tool that is more precise than a grinder, and more people have a dremel on hand than a hole saw.
Read on to discover which method is best suited for your purpose.
Cutting Circles In Tile With a Hole Saw
Using a hole saw is relatively straightforward, but does require a bit of technique and physical strength.
- Choose a hole saw bit. A hole saw is a specialty bit that can be attached to a handheld drill. They are available in sets or sold individually. Visually, hole saws resemble a hollow cylinder or an empty cup. The rim of the cup is studded with abrasive material, and may also have teeth. The most expensive hole saw sets have ruby-studded rims, and if you’re going to be drilling a lot of holes in tile, it might be worth the investment. If not, a single diamond-tipped hole saw in the diameter of your hole is all you need. Hole saws can be purchased in almost any diameter.
- Decide how to control the heat. While friction is necessary to cut through tile, too much friction generates excess heat. Controlling the heat during drilling will extend the life of your hole saw. You can have a partner spray water onto the drill site as you work, or take frequent breaks and douse the workpiece yourself with a sponge. Note that water and electricity don’t mix, so use a battery operated drill. If you opt for a powerful corded drill instead, you’ll have to take frequent breaks.
- Prepare to drill. Mark the hole on your tile. Attach the hole saw bit to the drill. Firmly grasp the drill in your dominant hand. Make sure it is connected to power. Bend your elbow and tuck it into your ribcage to stabilize your arm. Use your nondominant hand to offer additional support by grasping the barrel of the drill, near your other hand. Squeeze the trigger to get the drill bit spinning at its maximum speed. Wet the tile surface.
- Drill the tile. Introduce the hole saw to the tile at a 45 degree angle. You want one edge of the hole saw to start cutting the tile first. When you’ve started the hole, slowly rotate the drill to a 90 degree angle. Gently rock and rotate the bit as you drill. Make sure the hole stays wet as new material is revealed. After the hole is completely cut, there will be a plug of tile held in the cup of the hole saw. Remove this before drilling additional holes. There should be a slot in the top or side of the bit that you can poke a nail or screwdriver through to push out the tile plug.
Using a Grinder to Cut a Circle in Tile
An angle grinder with a diamond cutting blade can be used to create a circle in tile. Rather than boring through the tile like a hole saw, an angle grinder removes a little bit of material at a time. The circle that results will have rougher edges than one made with a hole saw.
- Prepare for the cut. Mark the placement of the hole on both sides of the tile. Attach a diamond cutting blade to your grinder. Securely clamp the tile to your work surface. Adjust the guard of the grinder so that it is between the blade and your face. Don eye protection. Check the integrity of the disc by allowing it to spin freely for one minute.
- Cut an asterisk into both sides of the tile. Each cut should cross the middle of the hole you marked in step one. Gently lower the blade and introduce it to the tile, removing it when the blade touches the circle’s edge. Rotate the grinder for subsequent cuts. Flip the tile over, reclamp, and repeat the process from the other side.
- Grind away the excess tile. Using a gentle back and forth rocking motion, use the blade of the grinder to shave off the material inside the circle. When you have removed all the material that you can without cutting the tile outside the circle, flip the tile over again and grind from the other side. Breakthrough should happen in the very center of the circle.
- Clean the hole. Use a chisel to knock off any remaining chunks of tile. Smooth the edges using a shaping tool.
Using a Dremel to Make a Circle In Tile
A Dremel, also called a rotary tool, can be used to cut through tiles of any material. The best thing about dremels are their small size, which allows for more precise cuts than a grinder.
- Prepare to cut. Attach an appropriate bit. Rotary tools cannot use standard drill bits, as the chuck is shaped differently. Similar to cutting metal with a dremel, you’ll need to pick a strong tip. Insert a diamond tipped #562 tile cutting bit into the chuck and tighten the jaw. Use a permanent marker to trace the outline of the circle on the front and back of the tile. Put on eye protection and a dust mask. Using clamps with rubber protecting the edges. Metal clamps may shatter the tile.
- Start the cut. Hold the rotary tool in both hands and turn it on. When the bit is spinning at full speed, hold it at a 45 degree angle and introduce it to the tile. Start your cut on the line you made in step one. As the bit starts to work its way through the tile, gradually work the rotary tool upright. When the rotary tool is at 90 degrees, exert downward pressure until you break through the back of the tile.
- Make the circle. There are two methods you can use for this step. For smaller circles, push the rotary tool gently forward, tracing the permanent marker line. Work around the edge of the circle, following the line, until you reach the starting point and a plug of tile pops out. For larger circles, cut an X across the tile you want to remove, dividing the circle into four pieces that can be cut individually. While using the rotary tool to make the circle, don’t push too hard, as this may wear out or even break the bit.
- Clean up. When you’ve completed the required cuts, remove the rotary tool from the tile and turn it off. Switch to a diamond grinding bit. Turn the rotary tool back on and use it to gently smooth the edges of the hole. Use a vacuum to clean up dust, or rinse the tile in the sink.
Enlarge a Circle in Tile Using a Grinder and Shaping Tool
When you need a preexisting circle to change in shape or size, a shaping tool can help.
- Create a smaller circle with a hole saw. There’s no need to buy a hole saw in exactly the diameter of hole that you need. Instead, choose a hole saw bit that is slightly smaller than your intended circle. Use a permanent marker to mark the desired outline of your hole or circle. While hole saws only create perfect circles, the shaping tool can turn these into ovals or oblongs.
- Attach a shaping tool to your grinder. A shaping tool is a cylinder with abrasive material coating the outside. For tile, you will want a diamond shaping tool labeled ‘dry cut’. First, remove the disc or attachment currently installed on your grinder. Then, press the wheel lock button on the head of the grinder to stop the spindle from rotating. Screw the shaping tool directly onto the threaded spindle.
- Clamp the tile securely in place. Place the tile so that the hole is hanging off the edge of your work surface. Never hold a tile by hand while enlarging a hole with a shaping tool. Due to the high rotational speed of grinders, the risk that the tile will get caught on the shaping tool and spin out of control, potentially injuring you or damaging the tile.
- Start grinding. Turn the grinder on and allow it to reach full speed. Insert the shaping tool into the hole you made with the hole saw. Introduce it to the edge of the circle. Move the grinder up and down, exposing the tile to the abrasive material and wearing it away. Continue grinding until you have removed all the excess material, and your hole is the size and shape you desire.
If you’re going to be cutting a lot of tile in the future, consider picking up a low cost quality wet tile saw.
Cutting circles in tile is a precision task that can be accomplished with different tools. A wet hole saw is recommended to start the hole, but you can also use an angle grinder with a diamond blade attachment. A shaping tool and a grinder will help you enlarge or shape holes in tile, as well as giving you a smooth-edged finish.