How to Use a Tile Cutter and Saw

how to use a tile cutter

If you are thinking about remodeling your bathroom, redoing your shower or tub surround, updating the backsplash in your kitchen, or installing a new floor in a bathroom, kitchen, or laundry room, you may be considering the benefits of tile.

Tile, as you likely already know, is a wonderful material for use in heavy traffic areas where there tends to be moisture. However, installing tile is intimidating process for those who have never tried it before.

Related: How to Tile a Bathtub

For that reason, we are bringing you this basic guide on how to use a wet tile saw, or tile cutter. A wet tile saw is a fairly simple and efficient tool for easily cutting tile. The process of using one is probably easier than you think.

1. ​Learn the Lock Plate

To start with, let’s take a look at the tile saw itself. A tile cutter, wet saw, or tile saw is usually a tabletop saw with several common components.

There is a lock plate which can be moved laterally. This allows you to cut your tile to any width, as long as it will on the saw table.

This piece uses a locking mechanism similar to one found on a bicycle seat. Pull the lever to unlock, adjust the position, and push the lever back in to lock.

2. Measure Twice, Cut Once

measure twice, cut once

As the old rule of thumb says, careful measurements can help get the best use from your tile saw. Once you measure the desired length of tile needed, use your saw table’s measuring guides to set the lock plate in position for the cut. Note that as your project continues, water and dust from the tiles will likely build up on your table and try to cover these numbers.

Make sure to wipe them clean regularly, so you can read them. Be precise with your measurements. You want your tile install to look as professional as possible.

Once you have your measurements made and the lock plate in place, snug the tile against the locked plate. The lock plate can go on either side of your blade, depending on your preferences and your needs.

The tile saw’s on/off switch is usually located on front of the device. Once your lock plate is secure and your tile is in place, lower the blade guard, and turn on the saw.

3. Two Hands, Please

When using your tile saw or cutter, use two hands whenever you can. Hold the tile firmly in place. Push toward the lock plate, down onto the table, and back through the saw blade. Try to hold equal pressure in all these directions. Pay attention to your fingers!

In certain cases, it is not safe to use two hands because of limited distance between your fingers and the blade. In the case of a narrow distance between your lock plate and blade, do not use your fingers. Ever!

Let us make this perfectly clear. In a fight between a spinning saw blade and your finger, the saw blade wins. You can use a piece of scrap wood or trim another tile into a push stick to guide that section through the blade. Tiles will want to rise when passing over the blade, so be sure to use your other hand even when one side is too narrow.

Continue pushing, using equal speed and equal pressure until the tile is cut. Once it’s done, congratulations! You’ve successfully cut your first tile. Now you’re on your way to finishing your tile transformation.

how to use a tile cutter

Photo credit: Diamond Moutain on Flickr / CC-BY

If the remnant of your tile is stuck between the lock plate and blade, leave it there while you turn off the saw. You can safely pull it free when the blade is no longer spinning.

Congratulations. You’ve just cut your first piece of tile for an amazing tile transformation project. If the tile remnant touching the lock plate doesn’t come out as easily for some reason, leave it there momentarily while you turn off your tile saw. This doesn’t happen often.

Once the blade stops spinning, it is safe to lift the blade guard. Be warned. Lifting the blade guard while the saw is in motion is dangerous, and will result in a spray of tile water all over your face. Nobody wants that.

4. L-shaped Tile Cuts

After your first cut has been completed, you can turn off the tile saw and remove the tile carefully. Remember, tile that has been cut, even a pristine cut, has been weakened. This means the tile can break or crack much more easily than a whole tile.

Let’s walk though making an L-shaped tile. This is one of the common steps required when tiling near corners, sinks, tubs, or other obstacles.

Once you have your first cut, you need to find the line for the second cut of your L-shape. Ideally, you’ve made both of these lines at the beginning. If you did not, make it now. Once again, measure carefully!

Once your second line is in place, set your lock plate and set the tile into place. Lower your blade guard, turn on the tile saw, and slowly make your second cut.

When you push through a tile which has already been cut, you should be very careful about where you put pressure. Try not to push too hard on narrow sections of tile. Don’t be dismayed if you snap a tile or two while getting the hang of it.

cutting tiles

The water in your tile saw will help to minimize this effect, but it will almost certainly happen. Use caution. Apply pressure to the widest and strongest part of your tile to minimize the chances of snapping.

As your cut nears the intersection of your L-shaped cut, you need to ensure you end up with a nice, sharp, 90-degree corner. At this point, you can step to the side of your tile saw and lift the blade guard just about an inch. Continue pushing your tile, slowly, until you see the blade make contact with the first line on your tile.

Since you’re watching from the side, you won’t be sprayed in the face with tile water. Your vision should be intact for a nice, clean cut. Often, you can end up with a nice, clean corner, but there may be a bump left over from your first cut that isn’t reaching far enough.

This can be easily fixed. Simply reset your tile on the saw, line the blade up on the other cut, and shave off the bump. It takes a little care and delicacy, but it is very easy to do.

Because of the arc of the blade on your wet tile saw, you may notice that your cuts extend further on the back of the tile than the front. This is one of the reasons why we always remind you to use the tile saw with the tile face up. That’s how to use a tile saw to make an L-shaped tile!

5. Circle Tile Cuts

Basic cuts and L-shaped tiles are common. Another tricky technique you may run across is a circle cut. This is especially true in a shower or tub.

Your tile saw isn’t going to cut a curved line like how a Jigsaw does. It’s a straight saw blade. However, you can use that same blade to make a circle.

First, you need to measure exactly. This means exactly how large or small your hole needs to be. Draw it onto the tile with a permanent marker or pencil. Then, begin making small, narrow, parallel cuts into the tile with the tile saw’s blade.

Go right up to the line. This will leave narrow strips of tile, making up the area of your circular cut. They may snap off as you’re cutting. That’s fine. Don’t worry if they don’t break, either.

Once you have finished cutting narrow strips into your circular section, use a pair of tile nippers to snip off those strips. Again, go right up to your circular line, leaving a lovely curved cut.

how to use tile nipper

In general, the thinner your cuts are, the easier it will be to accurately snap off those strips. However, doing smaller cuts is tedious and takes more time, so it’s a trade-off. We recommend leaving strips which are around 1/4” wide, if you can. These are thin enough to easily snap or nip off, while being wide enough to not get bogged down in the process.

When you’re done, you should have a perfectly round cut, all accomplished with a straight saw blade and a pair of nippers.

Conclusion

We hope you have enjoyed this beginner’s guide on how to use a tile saw or tile cutter. Remember to stay safe, and happy home improvements!

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