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Glass tiles create a beautiful, shimmering, light-filled effect in bathrooms and kitchens. They are durable, easy to install, and wipe clean with little effort. The most difficult part of installing a new glass tile backsplash or shower walls is likely to be cutting the tile without shattering or breaking it.
The best tool for the job is a wet tile saw. A wet saw runs a continuous stream of water over the cut site to help reduce friction. Since most cracking and shattering of glass is due to inadequate lubrication, this is a big advantage when cutting glass tiles.
However, these are specialty tools that not everyone has access to. If that’s your situation, fear not – read on to discover several different options for cutting glass tile without a wet saw.
Methods for Cutting Glass – No Wet Saw Required
A wet saw makes cutting glass tile easy, but they are expensive (up to $1,000) and not always easy to rent. If you’re cutting just a few tiles, you can do the whole project with hand tools.
For larger projects that involve more cutting, use the bar cutter method described below. For cutting very small pieces of glass tile, a specially designed mosaic tile nipper will get the job done.
How to Manually Score and Cut Glass Tiles
Scoring and cutting tile has long been the most common way to make cuts without any fancy tools or saws. It is also surprisingly accurate. Here is the process for cutting glass tile with the score and cut method.
- Assemble the appropriate tools. Glass tiles have been used in art and construction for hundreds of years — far longer than the tile saw has been around. Before electricity was commonplace, workers would use glass-specific tools to cut and snap glass tiles. To accomplish this job, you’ll need a glass cutting wheel and a pair of grozing pliers.
- Prepare for cutting. Your tile should be laid face up on a sturdy work surface. Mark your desired cut line on the surface of the tile using a washable marker. Place a straightedge along the line to guide your wheel. Grasp the cutting wheel in your dominant hand and place it at the edge of the tile furthest from you.
- Score the tile. While applying pressure, lightly drag the cutting wheel over the glass and toward your body. You should hear the glass cracking as the cutting wheel passes over it, but you should not see any cracks radiating away from the score line. You’re not trying to actually cut through the tile completely – just the very top layer.
- Inspect the score line. It should be straight and have a uniform depth. If there are areas of the cut line that are not properly scored, the tile is more likely to break when you try to snap it. Take the time to double check and go over any unscored areas a second time.
- Snap the tile. Hang the tile over the edge of your work surface and hold it securely in place with one hand. With the other, grasp the piece of tile you’re trying to break between the jaws of the grozing pliers. The flat nose should just barely touch the score line. While bracing the part of the tile on the workbench, rotate the grozing pliers sharply downward. The tile should snap along the score line.
- Finish the edge. A rubbing stone is useful when cutting glass. Rubbing stones are studded with abrasive material and use a slightly more coarse grit than knife-sharpening stones, which makes them better for glass. Rubbing one along the glass edge should take care of any shards or sharp edges.
Cutting Glass Tiles With a Mosaic Nipper
Cutting glass tile with a mosaic nipper will be a little bit more precise and accurate.
- Choose your tool. Mosaic nippers look like pliers. Instead of a flat head, this artist’s tool has two cutting wheels. The wheel should be made from a material that is harder than glass. Carbide is the most common material.
- Protect yourself and those around you. Nipping glass creates sharp projectiles. Never nip in the vicinity of others. Guard your eyes and face from penetrating injuries by using a full face shield.
- Practice using the nipper. You’ll need a scrap piece of tile for this step. Mosaic nippers have a bit of a learning curve, and the only way to get the cuts you want is to practice. If you have a special or rare tile that you want to cut, try to practice on a tile of similar thickness first. Hold the nipper in your hand and grasp the tile between the wheels. Squeeze the handles together to snip off a small amount of the tile.
- Make your final cuts. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the tool, mark your cut line on the glass tile using a washable marker. Line the wheels of the nipper up with the line, and squeeze with force. The edge should be fairly smooth, but if not, use a rubbing stone.
Bonus: See how to cut glass bottles in our step by step guide.
Using a Bar Cutter to Cut Glass Tiles
A bar cutter is often used for cutting rebar, but can be used to cut glass tile in bulk.
- Get to know your bar cutter. Some bar cutters only score the glass. Others include a foot that snaps the tile along the score line when pressure is applied. If you only need to make a few straight cuts, an inexpensive model is fine. If your pattern involves cutting tile into diamond shapes, beveling, or fitting together cut edges, you’ll want to invest in a model that has precision measurement tools.
- Score the tile. Measure and mark the cut line using a washable marker and a straightedge. Insert the tile into the cutter and align the cutting guide with your mark. Use the knob or handle on top of the bar cutter to move the knife across the glass. Always push the handle away from your body.
- Snap the cut. If your bar cutter came equipped with a pressure foot, stamp it to snap the tile along the scored line. If not, grab a pair of grozing pliers and attach them parallel to the cut, on the part of the material you’re cutting away. Rotate the pliers downward to snap the tile.
- Finish the edge. Use a rubbing stone to smooth any sharp edges or shards. A wet cloth should remove all traces of the washable marker.
We didn’t cover it here, but you can also use a tile cutter for this process if you have one.
Learn how to cut circles in tile with our guide.
There are three main alternatives to cutting glass tile with a wet saw. They are; scoring and cutting the glass by hand, using a bar cutter, and snipping the tile into small pieces with a mosaic nipper. While a wet saw may be an essential item for professional tile installers, DIYers can achieve comparable results with only slightly more labor.