Cutting Holes in Tiles

cutting holes in tiles for bathroomInstalling tiles can sometimes involve having to work around pipes, ducts and other floor or wall penetrations that necessitate cutting holes in tiles. At first this might seem simple, but there are a few different techniques for this, depending on the hole size and shape and type of tile.

It you just need a small hole going through ceramic or porcelain tile, it’s pretty straightforward. It is easy to drill holes up to about ½ inch diameter through glazed ceramic tile or porcelain, using a carbide-tipped or diamond-tip masonry drill-bit.

Drill from the back, un-glazed surface of the tile, supporting the tile firmly. You may need to apply water to the bit tip while it’s cutting, to keep it cool; use a spray bottle or squezze a wet sponge over the work area before you do your hole cut.

Bigger Holes

You might find you have to cut a 3-inch hole in tiles for laying around plumbing. A contractor would use a specialized, expensive tile-hole saw. There is another way to do it, though it’s a little slower.

Start by drawing, on the tile, the outline of the hole you need hole, using a grease pencil or magic marker. With a ¼” masonry bit, drill a hole series, closely spaced, around the perimeter of your circle. If you use a ball peen hammer and lightly tap the tile around the series of holes, the center should break free. This may take a few minutes, so be patient and gentle. The hole edge will be rough, but it will probably be hidden under the pipe.

Another method for cutting large holes in tiles is to use a carbide rod saw blade fitted on a hacksaw. This should make a nicer finish on your cutout. First, mark off the center and perimeter of the hole to be cut, with a grease pencil or magic-marker. You’ll need to drill a hole, with your ¼” masonry bit, in the tile big enough to insert the actual blade.

When the blade is in the hole, you can then fix the saw blade to the hacksaw frame. Supporting the tile in a clamp or manually is a must, to avoid cracking the tile. Saw evenly and slowly to the circle mark and then around the perimeter. Take extra care completing the cut, as the last few strokes are prone to cracking the tile.

Cutting Holes in Tiles – Another Method

Sometimes you can have piece of plumbing or duct which creates the need for a 5 or 6-inch diameter hole, involving more than one piece of tile to make a final hole. In this case you’ll be cutting away curved arcs and corners from the tiles.
Trace the curve of the needed hole outline onto each piece of tile. Use a tile saw to make straight cuts into the tile so the cut lines touch perpendicular to the curve. Make a series of cut lines spacing them about a quarter inch apart. Take a tile nipper and gnaw away at these strips of tile, from the outside of the cut, toward the curve.

Nip off smaller bits as you near the curve so you get a good smooth edge. Repeat this with all the tiles you marked. Be sure and remember which tiles go where, though. It helps to draw a sketch of the layout, numbering the pieces in order to their position.

photo by Ken Dyck / CreativeCommons