Do It Yourself Equipment: Tools For Working With Ceramic Tile

A variety of specialty tools will make your ceramic tile project proceed smoothly. Learn about the different tools and how to use them.

Aah, the look of ceramic tile--coveted, expensive, beautiful. As many homeowners have learned, self-installation makes it possible to enjoy the benefits of ceramic tile without its largest drawback, cost of installation. Installing ceramic tile is well within the abilities of many homeowners, as long as do-it-yourselfers prepare the substrata properly, plan their project carefully, and gather the proper tools. Although readily available at home improvement and rental stores, the tools used to properly install ceramic tile are not found in the average garage.

Planning your Project

Tools: carpenter's level, chalk line

Tools you'll need for planning and laying out a ceramic tile project are probably the only tiling tools you already own. Tile is strong to step on, but if it's bent it breaks easily. To keep weight-bearing tile from cracking, the substratum needs to be absolutely flat and level. Use a carpenter's level to make sure that it is, or you'll need to redo the entire project sooner than you wish. Measure your floor and tiles and decide where to lay the center row to make sure that the edge tiles on either side are no smaller than the width of half of one of your tiles, then snap a chalk line to determine where to lay the first row of tile.

Laying the Center Tiles

Tools: notched trowel, tile spacers, rubber mallet

A notched trowel and tile spacers are two specialty tools you will need to lay the tile in the center of your floor. The trowel has a flat edge for applying adhesive to the area you're tiling, and a notched edge to create grooves in the adhesive. Properly applied adhesive has peaks as tall as the tile is thick, and thin valleys between the peaks.



Tile spacers are X-shaped plastic pieces that help installers keep an even distance between their tiles. Some spacers need to be removed prior to grouting the tile, and some are designed to be left between tiles and grouted over. Do not attempt to lay ceramic tile without using spacers. The result will be uneven, crooked lines of tile that look sloppy.

After you place each tile in the adhesive and space it evenly, hit it once or twice with a rubber mallet to be sure that the tile adheres properly. You can also use a towel wrapped around a block of wood for this step.

Cutting Tiles

Tools: tile cutter, tile nipper, tile saw

If you've planned your project carefully, you will need to cut tile as you approach each edge of your floor. With proper planning, the edge tiles will be relatively uniform all the way around the space. For a small project with only straight cuts, you will use a tile cutter. Round cuts require a tile nipper, and large projects or angled cuts are best completed with an electric tile saw.

Tile cutters are expensive enough that you will probably want to rent one from a rental outlet or borrow one from the store where you bought your tile. Contrary to the name, they don't actually cut tile; they score tile, making it easy to break. Measure and mark the tile, then place it in the metal frame and clamp it down. Align the scoring wheel with the guide mark you drew, then firmly press down on the wheel and pull back on the handle. Use the breaking wings to break the tile along the scored line.

Use tile nippers, which look a little like pliers, to make round cuts. Measure and mark the tile to show where to make the cut, then use the tile nippers to cut the tile bit by bit. Remember not to cut out too much at once, or the tile may break. Nip even smaller bits as you near your mark, so that you don't cut too much out.

Tile saws are the granddaddy of tile cutting tools. You'll want to use a power tile saw if you will have a lot of straight or angled cuts to make. Unless your neighbor is a professional tile installer, you will need to rent a tile saw. Clamp the tile down on the saw table, and move it carefully into the blade. If the tile is especially hard or thick, you may need to cut each tile two or more times. Be careful when using a tile saw, and wear eye protection.

Properly installed ceramic tile adds beauty and value to a home. It's a good choice for flooring in almost any space because of its durability, and it comes in a huge variety of sizes and colors. With the right tools and a little patience, you will create a look in your home that your friends and family will all admire.

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