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An Expert’s Guide on How to Cut Porcelain Tile

An Expert’s Guide on How to Cut Porcelain Tile
November 15, 2021

You may have heard that porcelain tile is too much of a bear for the humble do-it-yourselfer to tackle. The tile is too hard, they say. Don’t bother, they say. Well, we’re here to tell you that while it’s true that cutting porcelain comes with challenges, it is by no means too much to handle, especially if you’re coming at it with the right knowledge and the right tools.

Lots of homeowners are often torn between ceramic and porcelain, though we should note that this is something of a false choice because porcelain is technically ceramic; the types of tile are just manufactured differently, giving them different attributes. And when they do a little cost-benefit analysis, they often end up in ceramic’s corner. Porcelain isn’t only a greater challenge to work with than ceramic, but it’s a touch more expensive to boot. But then cost-benefit analysis falls short if porcelain’s added durability isn’t factored in. Take that bumped-up duration into account, add the ability to lay it yourself, and porcelain starts to look like a pretty great option for any home.

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Of course, doing it yourself means you’re saving some money. And we want to do all we can to keep those bucks in your pocket. Let’s explore some options for working with porcelain because we don’t want you to simply cower and hand the porcelain projects off to a pro. After all, the goal here is to arm you with all it takes so that you’ll ultimately be cutting porcelain just like a pro yourself. A note before we get into it: Don’t forget that you should always be serious about safety when cutting tile. Wear protective eyeglasses, earplugs, gloves, and a mask to prevent inhalation of harmful silica dust.

Porcelain Tile Versus Wet Saw

Why not start with the most heavy-duty option for cutting porcelain tile: the wet saw. With their diamond-cutting blades, wet saws provide reliably clean cuts, and they are fairly easy to use. Wet saws come equipped with water troughs that serve a critical role by keeping their blades cool as they work; too much heat can spell disaster when working with porcelain, which is more apt to crack under extreme temps.

Dewalt D24000

Now, wet saws do have a reputation of being cumbersome, difficult to set up, a watery mess to use, and a pain to clean. That’s unfortunate. If you get the right saw, that’s not the case. It’s certainly not the way it is with our Dewalt D24000, a powerhouse of a saw that is easy to transport and equally smooth to set up and break down. The Dewalt D24000 also minimizes overspray and mist with dual water nozzles that can be adjusted for optimal water placement on the blade. Rear and side attachments also catch overspray.

While wet saws are a great ally when cutting porcelain, you may find that some of your tiles get chipped during the process. This happens to even the most experienced tile workers. It’s hard to eliminate the occasional chip, but there are some measures you can take to reduce the occurrences. Most importantly, be sure your blade is sharp—you can maintain proper sharpness by running your blade through a dressing stone after every 60 or so cuts through porcelain. Don’t wait to sharpen your blade, though; anytime you see chipping, go ahead and use the stone.

In addition to maintaining that sharp edge, be sure to take your time—rushed cuts produce more chips. Resist the urge to force the tile through the blade; just hold firm and let the saw do the work. Scoring your cut lines before running the tile through your wet saw can also reduce chipping. This isn’t a step everyone takes, but it can help.

Having at It with an Angle Grinder

After a wet saw, an angle grinder might be your best bet for cutting porcelain tile. This tool offers a wider array of cut-shape potentiality than your wet saw; you can work with curved cuts, as opposed to the straight lines you’re limited to with a wet saw. Once you develop some skill with this tool, it’s quite easy to cut more intricate shapes in your tile. If you’re working a cut-out on pre-laid tile—say, the piece is going to end up beneath the toilet, and you need to make way for drainage pipes—it’s best to mark the shape of the cut on both sides of the tile and work the cut from both sides, switching back and forth; this helps keep chips to a minimum.

Angle Grinder

And if you’re looking to add this tool to your arsenal, consider our Dewalt 4.5-Inch Angle Grinder with 4.5-Inch Carbon Fiber Mesh Blade. It’s a powerful machine with a low-profile gear case that allows you to access tighter spaces. Now, using an angle grinder to cut tile is especially loud and dusty, so absolutely do not forget to don your protective gear. And, considering the dust and ruckus, do this outside when you can.

A Nip Here, a Nip There

A wet saw is most certainly your best bet for a large job, but, if you just need to work your way through a fairly small number of tiles—especially if those tiles need precision cuts—you can get the job done with a trusty pair of tile nippers. Nippers allow for more intricate and arched cuts that saws simply aren’t suited to handle. Again, scoring your cut lines before you nip is a good move—not only does this make it a little easier to get through the hard tile, but it reduces the likelihood of those pesky chips. Keep in mind that your tile edges will be sharp after you make cuts with your nipper. To combat that, we recommend going over the freshly cut edges with 60-grit sandpaper or a rubbing stone.

tile nippers

Using a Tile Cutter

Lots of do-it-yourselfers out there assume that a tile cutter is no match for porcelain. That’s not the case, though it is true that using a tile cutter on a big job will take considerably longer than using a wet saw. A wet saw is also better for smaller cuts. But a tile cutter isn’t going to set you back quite as many bucks as a wet saw, and there’s certainly appeal in affordability.

Like your wet saw, a tile cutter works with straight cuts. These tools work by scoring along your cut line. It usually takes a few passes to get the job done. Limitations aside, tile cutters are a mainstay in the arsenal of most serious tilers. Professionals tend to reach for our Sigma Technica Pull Handle Tile Cutter, a premium machine that can score and snap everything from porcelain to granite; it also comes equipped with a swiveling measurement bar that allows for easy diagonal cuts.

Drilling Through Porcelain Tile

While we’re schooling you so you’ll be ready to saw through porcelain tile like butter, we figured we might as well pause a beat and explain how to drill through it, as well. Because, if you’re dabbling in tile work, chances are you’re going to have to drill through it sooner or later, whether you’re running plumbing lines through the floor or installing a rack on wall tile.

6501 Diamax Cyclone

The good news here is that drilling through porcelain tile doesn’t require an exceptional skill level. It just requires a diamond drill bit like our 6501 Diamax Cyclone. Before you drill, double check your mark—you can understand why drilling in the wrong spot isn’t such an easy fix when it comes to tile—and try your best to keep your holes as close as possible to the center of the tile; the closer you get to the edge, the likelier a crack becomes. A lot of pros also like to place masking tape over the tile before they drill—this provides a surface that’s less apt to send your bit sliding off its mark.

Anything you can do that reduces the likelihood of error is worth the effort. So we’ll harken back to advice we offered when operating the wet saw: Go slowly. Don’t rush your drill bit and don’t feel like you need to force it through the tile. You’ll drill through the tile soon enough and, once you do, keep up your efforts until you’re through the wall behind the tile or the subfloor beneath it.

Give these tips a whirl, and you’ll be cutting porcelain tile like a pro in no time. You’ll find that working with porcelain isn’t such a formidable challenge after all—that is, as long as you have the knowledge and the tools.

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