Cutting Ceramic Tile
Ceramic tile work is really not too hard. I would absolutely say that if you have a standard tub job or a shower to do, a journeyman DIY'r can accomplish it with minimal effort. You don't need expensive tools for the most part and the job can often be finished in one or two days. To get great results you must be able to measure accurately AND have decent hand-eye coordination. If you are sloppy, you better hire a pro.
Standard tile is usually manufactured to very tight specs. One piece is basically an identical match to the previous one. This is necessary so that the grout lines are uniform. This is also why you must be able to measure and cut tile accurately. Grout lines that are not consistent look very bad. They stick out like a sore thumb. When you cut tiles, you have to be within a 1/16th of an inch or you will have problems.
The typical width of a finished grout joint for wall tile is often no larger than 1/8th inch. In fact, it can be slightly smaller. This means that when you cut a tile to butt against another the gap must be no smaller than 1/16th inch - this allows just enough room for caulk or grout. The finished gap should be no larger than 1/8th inch or it will look like the Grand Canyon next to the uniform grout lines between standard tiles within the field.
There are several tools to use when cutting or shaping ceramic tile. Tile is much like glass. When you score the glazed surface cleanly and then apply pressure to each side of the tile, it will almost always break quite cleanly on the score mark.
Tile cutters have a carbide wheel just like standard glass cutters. The simple tile cutters have a fence that holds the tile square to the cutting blade. You slide the handle while applying pressure and you get a clean, straight line. Press down on the back of the handle and the tile pops.
Tile cutters will generally only cut down to 5/8 inch wide pieces. If you need a thinner piece you need to cut these with a carbide blade that fits in a hacksaw or use an abrasive saw blade or a diamond wet saw.
Diamond wet saws are the best. They are not really dangerous as they don't have teeth like a wood blade. The tiny pieces of diamond are actually on the sides and edge of the blade. You can cut quickly and accurately with one of these. Don't think of buying one. A decent one costs nearly $1,000.
Making L Cuts
How do you make an L cut that allows you to take a corner out of a tile? You can't score the tile, as if you do try to break just a part of the tile, the rest will break out unevenly.
The trick is to cut one side of the L cut with a saw of your choice. Once you do this, you can then use the regular cutter to make the short score cut and then snap it to complete the cutout.
Circles and Curves
How do you cut circles? You have two choices. You can buy nice - although pricey for onetime use - carbide circle hole saws. You can also buy an inexpensive carbide rod saw that will do the job. The rod saw blade fits into a regular hacksaw frame.
To make the rod saw work, you have to drill a large enough hole in the tile that will allow you to insert the actual blade. Once in the hole, you then attach the rod saw blade to the hacksaw frame.
You need to support the tile firmly as you saw. If you don't, as you near the end of your cut, you will crack the tile. Always slow down the cutting process and use less force as you near the end of your cuts.
There is a coarse tool that will actually bite off pieces of tile. It is called a nippers. The tool has carbide jaws and you simply bite the tile removing jagged chunks. It is a tool that can cut gentle curves in a tile. The final cut surface will not be smooth so this tool is used for cuts that might fit around a toilet flange or other object that will then be covered with a decorative trim. A shower faucet handle is a good example as well. Plumbing faucet handles often have a 1/2 inch trim overhang so you have plenty of room to disguise the jagged tile edge.
Your First Job
If you want your first tile job to be a success and you have $50 to spare, I want you to apply tile to a single 3' x 5' piece of cement board that you set up in your garage. Experiment with the different cutting tools and get a feel for how long the open time of the glue is. Let the tile dry and try to grout it the next day. You will be surprised at how easy it is!