There's no substitute for a diamond tile saw when you have to make fine cuts—corners, curves, slivers—or cut stone or other hard tiles. In this article, we'll show you how a tile pro makes the tricky cuts that result in a first-class job. Tile-cutting diamond wet saws are available at rental stores, some large home centers and tile stores that cater to DIYers.
Set the saw up outside or in your garage or workshop. If a finished room is more convenient, cover the floor and wall behind the saw with plastic dropcloths. Then fill the tub with water.
Even though the tile saw looks scary, the blade is abrasive rather than toothed and therefore safer than wood-cutting saws. You'll still want to take precautions, as you would with any other saw.
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Photo 1: Basic square cuts
Mark the tile with a lead or grease pencil. Set the tile against the fence on the sliding saw bed and line up the diamond blade with the cutting mark. Turn on the saw and wait for water to flow over the blade. Hold the tile on both sides of the cutting line and slowly feed it into the blade. As the cut nears completion, gently push the two halves of the tile together to prevent the tile from breaking before the cut is complete. When the cut is complete, carefully slide the bed and cut tile back toward you until the tile is clear of the blade.
Photo 1 shows the basic technique for making straight cuts. Wait for a stream of water to cover the blade before you start cutting. Watch the line as you cut and slightly adjust the position of the tile to keep the blade on the line. Move the tile slowly through the blade for the best-quality cut. If you hear the saw slow down, you're cutting too fast. Harder materials require slower feed rates. When you finish the cut, keep both hands on the tile and slide the table back and clear of the blade before you reach to switch off the saw.
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Photo 2: Diagonal cuts
Sight down the cutting mark and align it with the blade. Hold the tile in this position and guide it through the saw. Wear safety glasses.
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Photo 3: Notching for corners
Cut along both lines until the cuts intersect in the corner. Break out the waste piece.
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Photo 4: Finishing the notch
Invert the tile on the sliding bed, then saw from the back of the tile to remove the remaining bit of tile and create a clean corner. You can cut a little past the corner on the backside.
Photo 2 shows how to make a freehand diagonal cut. Use this technique to cut any angle marked on tile. The key is to sight down the cutting line and align the blade with the line. If your tile is too large to fit between the fence and blade, lay the tile on top of the fence.
Shiny tiles can be hard to mark. If you're having trouble seeing your line as you cut, place a strip of masking tape on the tile and mark that instead.
Cutting curves is no problem
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Photo 5: Cut an inside curve
Cut away excess material with two angle cuts. Then make a series of cuts to the curved line about every 1/2 in. For the cleanest breaks, try to cut at a right angle to the curve, as if you were cutting the spokes of a wheel.
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Photo 6: Break off the sections
Snap off the sawed sections with a tile nipper or by tapping each with the handle of a screwdriver or trowel.
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Photo 7: Clean the edge
Tilt up the front edge of the tile and clean up the cut by shaving away the excess. Remove no more than 1/16 in. at a time.
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Close up of curved cut
The completed curve, ready for installation.
You can even use your saw to cut inside curves (Photos 5 – 7). After breaking out the tile fingers (Photo 6), use the abrasive diamond blade to grind away excess tile and smooth the curve. Be careful, though; too much sideways pressure could damage the blade. Move the tile slowly across the blade, pressing lightly and nibbling off a fraction of an inch with each pass (Photo 7). Grip the tile firmly with both hands and tilt the edge closest to the blade up and off the bed to get a perpendicular cut.
There's a trick to slicing off slivers
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Photo 8: Slice a sliver
Butt a scrap of tile against the edge of the tile you want to trim. Push both pieces through the blade, using the basic cutting technique (Photo 1). Repeat this process until you've trimmed enough. Each pass will remove 1/8 in. or less.
Removing a tiny sliver of tile is tough because the blade tends to wander off the edge of the tile. The solution is to trap the blade between the tile you want to trim and a scrap (Photo 8). You may have to make several passes to shave away enough material.
Cut miters on stone as easily as wood
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Photo 9: Cut miters with a block
Hold the tile trim against a block of wood cut at a 45-degree angle. Guide the tile through the saw to cut the angle.
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Close up of a miter cut
A mitered border cut on the tile saw.
Fancy borders or stripes, called “listellos” in tile lingo, are a popular decorative feature that often requires miter cuts to fit around corners. A diamond wet saw makes these cuts effortlessly with the technique shown in Photo 9.
Tips for common problems
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Photo 10: Prevent chipping
Press both halves of the tile together until the cut is complete to prevent the tile from breaking and chipping at the end of the cut.
With a little practice, cutting tile on a wet saw is almost trouble free. But there are a few common problems that are easy to avoid or fix with the right techniques.
Some types of tile tend to break when the cut is almost complete. Photo 10 shows the solution. Straying from the line is another common problem, especially when you're cutting without a fence or guide. You can't force the blade back to the line by twisting the tile. Instead, back up and recut the tile, slicing off a small amount of tile until the blade is back on track.
- Plug the saw into a GFCI-protected outlet.
- Don't wear jewelry or loose-fitting clothes. Tie back long hair.
- Wear safety glasses and hearing protection.
- Use both hands to guide the tile through the blade.
- Keep your fingers away from the blade.