The Best Way to Cut a Hole in a Ceramic Tile

No matter how you try to avoid looking at it, a ceramic tile that has been cut poorly to accommodate a pipe or some other obstacle stands out.

Cut Round Holes With a Hole Saw

You can cut holes in tile with a grinder.You can cut holes in tile with a grinder.
Tilers sometimes break tiles in half to grind out holes and leave visible break lines when they reassemble the tiles. But poor tile cuts and break lines don't have to mar your work: You can make clean cuts without breaking tiles at all.

Holes saws are convenient tools for cutting holes in wood, and you can also use them to cut holes in tiles. Instead of the saw teeth you find on wood-cutting holes saws, a hole saw that cuts through ceramic has a diamond cutting edge, like the edge on a grinder wheel. Put the hole saw in your drill and lay a small piece of masking tape on the tile to mark the center of the hole. The tape prevents the hole saw's pilot bit from wandering. Run the drill at a slow speed and spray water on the tile while sawing to prevent overheating.

Cutting Square and Rectangular Holes

One way to make straight cuts in ceramic tiles is to use a 4-inch angle grinder and a diamond grinding wheel. To use this method:

  • Mark the shape you want to cut on the surface of the tile with a felt-tip marker and a straightedge.
  • Drill through each of the four corners with a 1/4-inch masonry bit.
  • Cut a line between each of the four corners with the grinder. Don't over-cut the holes; instead, leave a small amount at each corner.
  • Tap out the cutout with a light hammer when you're finished grinding.
  • Smooth the edges with a file.

Cutting Irregular Holes

You can use a coping saw to cut holes in a ceramic tile in the same manner as you do the same operation with wood, as long as the tile hasn't been installed yet.

  • Trace the outline on the front or back of the tile with a felt-tip marker.
  • Drill a single 1/4-inch hole through the line you traced.
  • Feed a diamond-tipped coping blade through the hole and attach it to the frame of a coping saw.
  • Cut around the shape with the saw.

It helps to clamp the tile in a padded vise to make sawing easier.

All-Purpose Cutting Procedure

If you need to cut an irregular shape in a tile that has already been installed, or you don't have any of the tools you need to cut a round or rectangular hole, you can use a simple method that relies only on a drill and a 1/4-inch masonry bit.

  • Trace the outline of the hole on the face of the tile.
  • Drill a series of closely spaced holes through the tile around the outline.
  • Tap the cutout with a hammer to break it loose.
  • Smooth the edges of the hole with a file.

About the Author

Chris Deziel has a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. Besides having an abiding interest in popular science, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.