How to Cut a Backsplash


Installing a backsplash in your kitchen can add visual interest, protect walls from splatters and spills, and even serve as a focal point. While many homeowners opt to have backsplashes professionally installed, cutting and installing a backsplash yourself can be an easy DIY project that allows for customization. Learning how to properly measure, cut, and install a backsplash tile allows you to create the look you want at a fraction of the cost. This guide will walk through the complete process for how to cut tile pieces to fit your backsplash design. With the right tools and techniques, you can achieve a polished, professional-looking backsplash installation.

How to Choose Your Backsplash Tile

Before starting to cut and install tile, take the time to select the perfect backsplash tile for your design vision and kitchen aesthetic. Here are some tips for choosing tile:

  • Consider the size of your tile. Smaller backsplash tiles like mosaics create a busier look. Larger tiles create a more seamless appearance.
  • Look at the texture and finish. Tile comes in glossy, matte, textured, crackled, and hand-painted finishes. Match the aesthetic you want.
  • Choose a durable material. Porcelain and ceramic tile stand up well to heat and stains. Natural stone can be prone to damage.
  • Pick a color that complements your cabinetry and countertops. Contrasting or matching tones both work.
  • Decide if you want an accent tile like a mosaic border or decorative focal shape.
  • Plan your tile layout. Standard subway tile in a brick pattern is classic. Get creative with patterns.

Once you’ve selected the perfect tile for your design, it’s time to learn how to cut it. Carefully cutting your tile ensures straight edges, clean intersections between tiles, and a seamless overall look.

Tools and Materials Needed

Cutting tile for a backsplash is a relatively easy DIY project. However, having the right tools is essential for making clean, accurate cuts:

  • Tile cutter – A manual snap tile cutter is inexpensive and suitable for straight cuts.
  • Wet saw – For angled, circular, or specialty cuts, a wet saw with a diamond tile blade is needed.
  • Tile nippers – These nip tile edges for a custom fit.
  • Sharpie – To mark cuts.
  • Safety gear – Work gloves, eye protection, knee pads.
  • Workspace – A large table or countertop well-protected from damage.

In addition to the cutting tools, ensure you have your selected backsplash tile, thinset mortar adhesive, grout, grout sealer, and any accent tiles or mosaic pieces needed for your design.

How to Measure and Mark Tile

Carefully measuring and marking your backsplash tile ensures each piece is cut to the precise size needed. Follow these steps:

  1. Gather your tile and tools onto your workspace.
  2. Measure the backsplash area from end to end where your tile will be installed.
  3. For a standard brick pattern, measure the center point of the backsplash. Mark a vertical line with your Sharpie at the halfway point.
  4. Dry lay your tile across the backsplash area, using the center line as your guide.
  5. Use a square or level to ensure your tile pieces are arranged in straight horizontal rows.
  6. Mark any tile edges where you will need to make cuts to fit around outlets, next to cabinets, or at inside and outside corners.
  7. Number each tile and mark where you will make cuts. This allows you to reassemble the tiles in the proper order later.

Careful planning and marking ensures you know exactly where to make cuts and allows you to double check placements.

How to Make Straight Cuts with a Tile Cutter

For simple straight cuts on smaller tile like subway tile or mosaics, a manual snap tile cutter is the perfect tool. Follow these steps for making straight tile cuts:

  1. Position your marked tile on the tile cutter’s bed, lining up the mark at the blade.
  2. Score the tile by running the cutter handle across the tile surface. Apply even pressure.
  3. Rotate the scored tile 180 degrees so the score line is facing up and positioned against the cutter bar.
  4. Place your hands over the tile on both sides of the score line.
  5. Press down firmly and evenly over the score line until the tile snaps cleanly along the cut.
  6. Use a rubbing stone to smooth any rough edges on cut tile.

Straight cuts with a snap tile cutter take practice. Scoring the tile completely and realigning the scored edge precisely over the cutter bar will help achieve clean breaks.

Cutting Tile with a Wet Saw

A wet saw is necessary for making specialty cuts like L-shaped cuts, U-shaped cuts, curves, or notches that are required to fit tile around outlets, pipes, or other obstacles. Here is how to safely and accurately cut tile with a wet saw:

  1. Fill the wet saw reservoir with water as directed by manufacturer instructions.
  2. Install the correct diamond tile blade, tightening it securely.
  3. Adjust the tile guide fence according to your measurement marks. Lock it into position.
  4. Put on your goggles and gloves. Position your marked tile on the saw bed up against the guide fence.
  5. Turn on the wet saw water to lubricate and cool the diamond blade.
  6. Turn on the saw motor, letting the blade reach full speed.
  7. Keeping hands safely away from the blade, gently feed the tile across the rotating blade, cutting along your marks.
  8. Cut slowly and steadily for best results.
  9. Turn off the saw and allow the blade to come to a complete stop before removing your tile piece.

Mastering the wet saw takes practice and working carefully to achieve precision cuts. Always follow manufacturer safety protocols.

Using Tile Nippers to Shape and Finish Cuts

After cutting tile with tools like a snap cutter or wet saw, tile nippers are used to cleanly finish edges and allow for detailed shaping. Here is how to nip your tiles:

  1. Position the nippers along the edge of the tile. Align the cutting wheel near the area needing shaping.
  2. Apply gentle, even pressure on the handles to roll the cutting wheel along the tile edge, chipping off small pieces.
  3. Work slowly and carefully. Remove only small fragments of tile at a time to prevent breaking off large pieces.
  4. Shape and smooth the tile edge as needed to create notches, curves, or custom angles that achieve the perfect fit.
  5. Take extra care when nipping tile with a decorative edge or pattern.
  6. Use a rubbing stone to smooth any rough spots left by the nippers.

Practice nipper technique on tile scraps until you are comfortable with the learning curve. Nippers provide detailed control for intricate tile shaping.

How to Drill Holes in Tile

It is often necessary to drill holes in backsplash tile to accommodate outlets, switches, receptacles, soap dispensers, taps, and other installations behind or through your tile. Follow these best practices:

  • Use a carbide-tipped masonry drill bit the same diameter as your fixture openings.
  • Mark the hole location with painters tape to prevent tile glazing damage from the drill.
  • Drill slowly at first, letting the drill do the work. Increase speed once the initial hole is made.
  • Place a piece of scrap wood behind the tile so the drill breaks through cleanly.
  • Dip the drill bit in water periodically to keep it cool and lubricated.
  • To prevent cracking, stop when the drill is about 3/4 of the way through and finish from the other side.
  • Fireclay tile requires diamond-grit or hollow diamond drill bits.

With the right drill bit and careful technique, drilling clean holes in tile is achievable. Take your time and use masking tape guides.

How to Cut Tile Around Outlets and Switches

Cutting tile to fit around outlets, switches, and receptacles while keeping them accessible requires careful measurement, precision cuts, and nipper finishing. Here are some tips:

  • Mark the outlet placement on your dry laid tiles before cutting any pieces.
  • Use a rectangle cutout template sized to your outlet covers to mark cutout areas.
  • Cut tile along the inside edges of the cutout area on a wet saw. Make relief cuts at corners.
  • Use nippers to shape and taper the tile cuts around the corners and edges.
  • Test fit tile cutouts over outlets to ensure the cover plates can be accessed and removed.
  • Take your time, dry fit pieces, and double check measurements as you go.
  • Finish raw tile edges with a rubbing stone for a smooth professional appearance.

Planning the outlet openings carefully from the start and using specialty cutting tools will result in a clean finish.

Cutting Tile Around Plumbing Fixtures and Pipes

Cutting tile to accommodate plumbing fixtures like faucets, soap dispensers, drains and pipes takes precision. Here are some dos and don’ts:


  • Mark all plumbing fixtures and pipe locations on your dry laid tiles.
  • Plan tile seams and cuts so that fixtures fall directly over grout lines when possible.
  • Use a compass to trace rounded openings for bullnose edging around circular designs.
  • Cut rounded openings slightly smaller than fixture measurements to allow wiggle room.
  • Dry fit tiles around fixtures as you cut to ensure proper fit.


  • Cut openings too small – this can lead to cracked tile when forcing fixtures into place.
  • Make cuts too large – gaps will need to be filled with caulk rather than grout.
  • Assume pipes are perfectly straight – double check measurements.

With careful planning and methodical execution, cutting tile to fit plumbing fixtures can result in a flawless finish. Measure twice and cut once.

Cutting Uneven Backsplashes and Out-of-Square Corners

Backsplash areas are often imperfect, with uneven planes, out-of-plumb corners, and slight angles. Adjusting your technique is critical for cleanly installing tile on an irregular backsplash:

  • Use a level and tape measure to determine any unevenness. Account for this in tile planning.
  • For minor unevenness under 1/8 inch, adjust by varying your grout lines slightly during installation.
  • For significant uneven areas, cut a wooden shim sub-base to level the area before installing tile.
  • For out-of-square inside corners, overlap tiles from one wall slightly more than the other.
  • For outside corners that don’t meet at 90 degree angles, miter cut border tiles at matching angles.
  • Make relief cuts on tile edges needed to bend and conform to uneven spots.

While working on irregular areas takes more tile shaping finesse, the end result can still be flawless. Carefully measure and map out problem areas before cutting.

How to Finish Tile Edges

Exposed tile edges need to be finished carefully to complete the polished look. Here are some tips:

  • Use a high grit rubbing stone on cut edges to remove any sharpness or irregularities. Rub gently until smooth.
  • Bullnose edged tile can be used to create a finished appearance on countertop edges and niches.
  • Pencil trim can cover exposed tile edges along open ends or where tile meets counter backsplashes.
  • Matching caulk that coordinates with your grout is great for filling any unavoidable gaps along edges.
  • Take time smoothing cut edges with a stone for a seamless look.

The finishing touches on your tile edges will take your backsplash from DIY to designer-quality installation.

Preparing to Install Your Cut Tile

Once all your tile cutting and shaping is complete, prepare the backsplash for installation:

  • Wipe the backsplash area with a clean damp sponge to remove dust and debris.
  • Apply painter’s tape to the walls around the edges of the backsplash area. This helps keep the walls tidy.
  • Stir your thinset mortar adhesive to eliminate any separation. Prepare according to package directions.
  • Lay down drop cloths in your workspace to protect floors from thinset drips and grout mess.
  • Dry lay all your pre-cut tile pieces into position as a guide and test fit before installing.

With proper prep, your installation process will be smooth and efficient. Take time to protect surrounding surfaces from messes.

Installing Your Cut Tile

The fun part of seeing your tile come together arrives after careful measuring, patterning, and cutting. Follow these instructions for properly installing your backsplash tile:

  1. Apply a layer of thinset mortar adhesive to the backsplash area using a notched trowel. Spread evenly.
  2. Press tiles firmly into the thinset beginning at the center line, using temporary spacing spacers between pieces.
  3. Use a level often to ensure your tile rows are straight. Adjust as needed.
  4. Use painter’s tape triangles along the wall edges to maintain even grout line spacing.
  5. Allow thinset to cure completely per manufacturer directions before grouting, usually 24 hours.

Take your time during installation to keep tile rows level and grout lines consistent. Let the thinset fully cure or tiles may shift.

Grouting and Caulking the Finished Backsplash

Grout fills the spaces between your tiles, sealing the installation and giving your backsplash a polished look. Follow these grouting guidelines:

  • Choose grout that coordinates well with your tile color. Contrasting or matching shades work.
  • For narrow grout lines under 1/8 inch, unsanded grout is easier to work with. Use sanded grout for wider lines.
  • Apply grout using a grout float or squeegee. Pack it deeply into grout lines at a 45 degree angle.
  • Wipe away excess grout held on the tile surface with a damp sponge, rinsing often.
  • Once grout is dry, apply grout sealer to protect from moisture and staining.

Don’t forget to caulk perimeter edges, gaps, or corners with flexible silicone caulk. Take care of grout properly and your backsplash will withstand the test of time.

Achieving a Professional Looking Backsplash

With the right tools and some practice, cutting and installing a tile backsplash yields amazing results. Follow these pro tips for a flawless finish:

  • Measuremethodically and mark all cut lines.
  • Work slowly with wet saws for specialty tile cuts.
  • Nip tile edges diligently to finish cuts smoothly.
  • Keep edge lines perfectly straight.
  • Consistent grout line spacing creates a seamless look.
  • Take your time applying grout carefully into all joints.
  • Polish rough edges and dry fit pieces until perfect.
  • Level, plumb, and square everything as you go.

If you invest time into careful measuring, shaping, cutting, and installing techniques, your DIY backsplash can rival a professional’s. Show off your craftsmanship with a stunning, hand-cut tile backsplash.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cutting Tile for Backsplashes

What tools do I need to cut tile?

Cutting tile requires specialty tools like a tile cutter, wet saw, tile nippers, carbide drill bits, ruler, safety goggles, and marker. Using the proper equipment is key to achieving clean, accurate tile cuts.

How do I cut curves and holes in tile?

Use a wet saw with a diamond tile blade to gently cut specialty shapes like curves, L-cuts, and U-cuts. Switch to tile nippers after wet saw cutting to refine the shape as needed. For holes, start with a center pilot hole then work outwards using a carbide-tipped masonry drill bit.

Should I use sanded or unsanded grout?

For narrow grout lines under 1/8 inch, unsanded grout is optimal since sand can get lodged and cause cracking issues in small spaces. Wider grout lines over 1/8 inch will benefit from sanded grout which is sturdier when filling larger gaps.

What can I use if a tile edge looks rough?

If tile nipping or cuts leave any unevenness, use a rubbing stone to gently smooth and polish the tile edge for a flawless finished appearance. Rubbing stones are abrasive blocks designed specifically for finishing and dressing tile.

How long should I wait to grout after installing tile?

It’s critical to allow thinset mortar adhesive to fully cure before applying grout. This takes 24-48 hours. If grouted too soon, tiles may shift alignment or even pop off. Don’t rush the setting of thinset. Let tiles firmly adhere before grouting.


With some careful planning and the right set of tools, even DIYers can achieve professional-looking tiled backsplash installations. Learning proper tile cutting techniques like scoring with a tile cutter, making specialty cuts with a wet saw, and finishing edges with nippers will enable you to create beautiful designs. Take advantage of the myriad of tile shapes, sizes, textures, and colors available to design your ideal kitchen backsplash. With a bit of practice, cutting and installing tile backsplashes allows homeowners to affordably customize their spaces and add interest to kitchens. Show off your skills by flawlessly designing and installing a unique backsplash tailored exactly for your home.