Tool List for Floor Tile
By Matt Weber
Tile is a versatile building material that can be used for floors, walls, countertops and more. However, tile’s hard, brittle nature and method of installation requires specialty tools that you’ll need for a successful project. Here’s a checklist of the basics along with a few how-to tips thrown in for good measure.
Chalk line. When planning for tile layout you should never assume a room is perfectly square, but make sure that your tile pattern is. Before laying your first tile, snap a couple of intersecting chalk lines in the center of the room to guide the installation. Working from the center of the room gives you plenty of space to work outward to the walls and ensure a symmetrical pattern. After marking the midpoint of all four walls, snap the chalk lines at the center point of the site, forming a square cross. Use the 3-4-5 rule to check that the lines form right angles. If that’s not the case, then readjust your chalk lines. Use the lines to guide installation of a dry run, which will help you determine your preferred tile pattern and check for potential problems.
Tile spacers. To ensure distinct, consistently sized grout joints, use plastic grout spacers between the edges of the tiles to keep them even. These are a must because the tiles tend to shift around during installation, and grout lines that vary in size will be extremely noticeable. The spacers come in different sizes (1/4, 3/8 and 1/2 inch), and the size of the grout lines depends largely on personal preference. Keep in mind, however, that floor tile will get lots of foot traffic, which will get the grout lines dirty. For this reason, many homeowners prefer small joints in floor tile and they often choose a grout color that will best disguise dirt and grime.
Tile cutter. Tile installation typically requires cutting the tiles to size where they meet a wall or obstruction, and the standard go-to tool is called a snap tile cutter. To make straight cuts, first mark the cut line on the tile. Place the tile on the cutter’s base plate, use the guide bars to align the cut line, and lower the carbide-tipped cutter onto the line. Draw the carbide wheel or blade across the tile surface to score it. Then press down on the handle to break the tile along the score line. One limitation of this tool is that it can only make straight cuts that extend across the entire tile, from one edge to the other.
Tile nippers. Although they look like a pair of pliers, tile nippers take patience and practice to master. They provide a simple way to make small partial cuts that can’t be made with a straight-cutting tool. In many cases you must cut a notch in tile for a pipe or other obstacle.
In other cases you may need to remove a corner to install around a set of cabinets. By taking small bites (1/8 in.), you can remove material in a controlled fashion as you progress from the outer edge of the tile toward your cut line. The smaller the nibbles you make with the nippers, the more control you have of the cut and the less likely the tile will crack or shatter beneath the pressure of the blades. Practice on a scrap piece of tile to get the feel of the tool before making critical cuts in your installation.
The nipper’s teeth usually leave a fairly ragged edge along the cut. This may not be an issue if the cut will be concealed with a plumbing escutcheon or some similar device. However, in areas where looks matter, it may help to smooth the rough edges of the cut with a file.
Wet saw. A wet saw might not be absolutely crucial for tile installation, but they sure are nice to have at your disposal. A wet saw uses a circular blade with an integrated water reservoir (often with an electric pump) to cool the cutting action. Wet saws are available in a variety of configurations, such as a table-saw type or a bridge-saw. Handheld versions are also available. Wet saws are generally equipped with diamond-tipped cutting wheels to remove ceramic and stone material with great precision and minimal heat buildup.
Although the circular blade of the wet saw enables only straight cutting, unlike a snap cutter it can be used to cut partially through a tile (instead of only edge to edge). This allows the ability to make two intersecting cuts from different angles. (Note: The overspray from wet saws can be very messy, so use them outdoors.)