Guide written by:
Lucas, Antique wood-worker, Gloucester
Got a sudden urge to change the tiles in your home? There's no quick fix I'm afraid, you're gonna need some specific kit! Manual or electric, water or radial tile cutters - it all depends on tile type and thickness. Let us 'point' you in the right direction...
What tools can you get for tile cutting?
The right tool for the job will depend on the size and layout of your site, the type of tile you want to use and your laying method - straight or diagonal.
There are three types of tile cutter:
- Electric (bench-mounted);
A quick note about tiles: fine porcelain and rugged earthernware are not the same to cut, never mind solid sandstone! How easy your cutting job will be therefore depends on your taste in interior design, some types of tile requiring a more powerful machine. That's where our handy guide comes in!
Is a manual cutter sufficient for my needs?
The working principle? You move a wheel along a guide, scratching the surface of the tile and weakening the cutting line; in a second pass, you apply greater force and hey presto! A perfectly-sized piece of tile!
There are a number of things to consider before you decide...
The length determines the cutting capacity. This ranges from 30cm to over 120cm. Cutting width is smaller - this serves to stabilize the mechanism and hence improve the cut. Handy tip: since the diagonal is always greater than the length, make a careful note of the relevant tile dimensions if you're planning to lay at 45°!
The wheel, in tungsten carbide or titanium carbide (for increased durability), has a diameter ranging from 6-22mm - dictating maximum tile thickness. Some models let you easily change the diameter of the wheel according to the tile you're working with - pretty practical! After all, it's hard work getting through a tile 15mm thick with a cutting wheel that's only 6mm wide...
The rails are used to move the wheel. Two rails give better cutting precision and robustness.
The separator may be fixed or mobile. A fixed separator saves time because there's no need to reposition it after every pass of the wheel. However, 45° cuts are restricted due to lack of purchase and hence cutting force... It's up to you! Cutting force can exceed one ton, but 500 kg is more than enough for both ceramic and solid stone of limited thickness.
Some models come with accessories such as side stops and a gradated guide to facilitate adjustment or high-volume work. The guide can be adjusted to 45° on some models. Millimetre-accuracy stops are also very useful!
Pros & cons
The pros are that it doesn't produce much dust and it's lightweight enough to carry it around onsite.
The major disavantages are that you can't cut all types of tile and it's difficult to cut small widths of tile without making splinters. Moreover, you simply can't make bevelled cuts or start your cut in the middle of a tile!
Choosing an electric tile cutter
Here the cutting is carried out by a diamond disc, often water-cooled, by abrading the tile.
The power of the motor, from 400 to over 900W, influences possible tile thickness. A 600W machine is pretty versatile. Larger professional models can cut deeper than 40mm.
In terms of comfort, a removable side guide (adjustable through a range of angles) and additional stops are highly practical. A protective cover is essential for safety. The cutting surface can be tilted for bevel cuts; a bench extension is useful for cutting large widths. Their very manageable weight (15kg on average) makes these machines a practical choice.
Handy tip: you won't get a perfect cut without an appropriate choice of disc in good condition! Finally, a model equipped with a thermal protector is always preferable!
Since no tool is ever perfect, there are some downsides: despite the water-cooling, these machines make a lot of dust and are noisy to run. Cutting takes more time than with a manual cutter... And watch your fingers!
Radial saw for large jobs
With this machine, versatility is the order of the day! Moving against a guide, a water-cooled diamond disc cuts the tile, which stays clamped in position. Can go up to 1500mm cutting length - this and its power (high-end models get close to 2200W) make it the ideal tool for the professional tiler.
Radial saws can cut more than 100mm of material per pass - double in two passes - and even allow you to cut through solid stone with no complaints.
Because of its substantial cost and weight, a radial cutter is intended for heavy work - like tiling an entire house - and will get through high volumes of tile at lightning speed.
On the practical side, it can be equipped with a laser sight as well as the usual additional stops and guides. Why not get one mounted on a wheeled trolley for ease of movement!
Which cutter for which use?
Small-scale tiling work
If you want to put 2m² of ceramic tiles up in your kitchen, there's no need for a radial saw! A manual cutter will do perfectly for all your small-scale tiling work.
An electric cutter is a smart investment because of the variety of options it gives you. Weigh it up against the purse strings!
Construction site use
Finally, if you're aiming to tile huge areas, a bona fide professional working with tile 40mm thick, a radial saw is totally justified!
One last suggestion: artisans often have both a manual and an electric cutter, to cover almost all situations... Worth considering if you're not sure!
Guide written by:
Lucas, Antique wood-worker, Gloucester, 27 guides
After some time busting my hump at construction, specifically at renovation, painting, carpentry, laying kitchen and bathroom tile, I decided to get my degree as a Carpenter. And I did well because nothing is more pleasant than working on a timber frame or designing a wooden house. Everything about woodworking fascinates me, and building my own home in this material is one of my goals. I’m also a follower of construction tools: I love to learn about innovations, the way they’re used, the tips and tricks, or the performances of each new tool on the market, whether it’s for woodworking or not. I would be happy to advise you and help you with your choices. Happy Tinkering.