How to cut tiles – with or without a wet saw

How to cut tiles with or without a wet saw for a clean finish – whether you're cutting glass, porcelain or mosaic tiles in the kitchen or bathroom.

white neutral split mosaic tile backsplash in a white kitchen with wood countertops and natural wood cooking utensils
(Image credit: Tile Mountain)

When you're tiling a floor, a wall or even a kitchen backsplash, it's likely that you'll have some awkward gaps to fill along the way – mainly when you get to the edges. 

If you're a seasoned DIYer, this won't faze you and you'll have your wet saw out ready and waiting to cut tiles to the size you need. However, if you're new at this and have no idea where to start using tools, or if you actually want to avoid using wet saws and other electric tools at all when cutting tiles, rest assured, you can still complete this job successfully, yourself.

Philip Ash of Pro Paint Corner says, 'You can most definitely cut all types of tiles yourself, it's just about having the correct tools for the job, trusting yourself to be safe with sharp machinery, and being detail oriented to ensure you cut them correctly.'

What is the best tool to cut tile?

'There are many different types of tiles, and many different machines that will work on them. In my experience though, a wet table saw is an invaluable tool for cutting most, if not all types of tile, as these types of saws cut very straight and smooth. It can be used for ceramic, glass, porcelain, and natural stone tiles. You can rent a wet table saw for your specific project or choose to purchase one, but if you pick the latter option keep in mind that these saws come in multiple sizes, depending on the tile size you will be cutting.' Adds Ash.

You can use a manual cutter for straight cuts on porcelain and natural stone/slate tiles, then an electric cutter for more complex designs such as right angles and curves in mosaic tiles or a tile scribe for small, thin tiles.

Safety notice: With all tile cutting methods be sure to wear safety goggles and gloves. Do not touch the blade and keep fingers away from it. Ensure any hazards are not present, do not wear loose clothing and keep children away also. Finally, go at your own pace.

Can you cut tiles without a tile cutter?

If you want to cut tiles without a wet saw or even a tile cutter you can use a glass cutter/scribe or carbide-tipped pencil. Cutting tiles with a scribe can be done successfully on thinner glass tiles especially:

  • Measure where the tile needs to be cut using a pencil alongside a metal ruler, draw a straight line across.
  • Hold the metal ruler on the cut line to ensure a straight cut. Holding at a 45° angle, use the tile scribe against the side of the ruler, apply pressure and cut across into the glaze. 
  • Do not aim to cut through the tile entirely.
  • Use a long thin object underneath the scored tile, such as a pencil, and apply pressure either end of the tile and break into two.
  • Be careful of the sharp edges after cutting. If the cut isn’t clean and the edges are slightly rough, use a file to smooth the edges.

How to cut tiles with a manual tile cutter

A manual cutter is used for straight cuts, they take longer to use than power tools but they are a cheaper alternative and simpler to use if you're just starting out. They have a handle which runs on a rail, allowing you to make a smooth cut, much like with a paper guillotine. 

  • To measure where the tile needs to be cut, place a tile on top of the last full tile, and mark with a pencil where the overlap is, this is where you need to cut.
  • Make sure you leave enough room for the grout joint and movement joint. Movement joints must not be grouted, the use of a sealant would be recommended.
  • Place the tile in the tile cutter, square it up to the plate and get the cutter and pencil mark in line.
  • Press down firmly on the handle of the cutter, and push forward across the tile to score a line.
  • Press and apply pressure on each side of the tile and it will snap into two pieces. Some cutters will have an all in one breaker built in, just put the clamp part on the tile and push down on the handle to snap the tile.
  • If the cut isn’t clean and the edges are slightly rough, use a file or rubbing stone to smooth the edges.
  • For smaller or curved pieces, use tile nippers to cut small pieces off to achieve the correct size or shape required.

black, white and grey hexagonal backsplash tiles in a mosaic pattern in a dark kitchen

(Image credit: CTD Tiles)

How to cut mosaic tiles using a manual tile cutter

Mosaics seem like the scariest tiles of all to tackle as they are dainty and beautiful looking however, no matter whether your are plain or fancy, you should be able to get a good clean cut on smaller tiles using a manual cutter also. No wet saw in sight.

  • Place the tile in the cutter and score the row of tiles down the center. We like to start with the second row in. 
  • Start the cutting wheel at the bottom, applying pressure with the handle as you run up the row, bottom to the top. 
  • Once scored you want to use the handle to add even pressure to the tile to snap. 
  • If the handle is too thin you can use a small piece of wood underneath it to keep the pressure even.
  • Snap one tile at a time, taking your time for a clean finish.
  • Finish off the job by scoring the back to release the backing.

Wet saw cutting tiles

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to cut tiles with a wet saw

For experienced DIYers, a wet saw will make cutting tiles easy. Wet saws/electric cutters are used for right angles, curved edges and thicker tiles such as porcelain and natural stone. You can use it indoors but outside use is less messy.

  • Make sure the electric cutter has water in the tray as the blade will overheat; it also reduces the amount of dust produced when cutting.
  • For curved edges, mark with a pencil the area that needs to be cut, and mark several lines up to the curved mark. This is because a tile can’t be turned whilst being cut.
  • Using the electric cutter, cut the number of lines up to the curved mark so it looks like a comb.
  • Draw round the curved mark with a tile scribe to score and cut into the glaze.
  • Using a tile nipper, break away small bits at a time up to the curve, and file down until smooth.

Take care when cutting tiles.

Laura Crombie
Laura Crombie

Laura is Brand Development Editor for Real Homes, focusing on video and events. She has written about homes and interiors for the last 12 years and was Deputy Editor and Editor of Real Homes before taking on her current position. She's currently deciding whether to extend the kitchen of her family home in Worcestershire or relocate for a renovation project and bigger garden.