Cutting (big) holes in tile

by Roger

I’ve just received another question in the comments section asking how to cut larger holes in tile. Holes for things like the controls in the shower, shower lights, toilet flanges, etc.

My normal smart ass answer is: Mark the circle and remove everything that is not a tile with a hole in it.

The short answer is with a grinder and a diamond wheel.

The slightly longer answer is to draw your circle, take the grinder and plunge it into the tile,, straight down, inside the markings of the circle. Continue this around the entire circle until the large piece is out. Then go back around the circle at about a 45 degree angle and take out the rest of the circle just around the markings.

See, difficult to visualize, isn’t it? (I understood it perfectly well…)

I’ve run out of answers and since it’s difficult to describe this process in words I decided to see what one of the other 400 buttons on my camera does.

Turns out it makes movies. Well, not movies, but I can make videos like all the cool kids. So I did that and made the horrible video below.

You can find diamond tile wheels for your grinder (and grinders, if you don’t have one) at any big box store.

This particular hole was cut for a light in the ceiling of a tiled shower, but it works with any hole 4 1/2″ (the size of the grinder wheel) or larger. If you’re good with it you can cut a three inch hole with a 4 1/2″ grinder, but that’s gonna require a longer video and a bit more instruction. :D

And I’m almost out of beer Pepsi.

Couple of quick tips:

Always, ALWAYS wear safety glasses and hearing protection. I’m wearing both – you’ll see it at the end of the video. Gloves help a lot.

Take your time. Although my video is in real time it will take you longer to do it. I’ve done it a few (hundred) times.

Once you begin cutting the tile do not move the tile, move around the tile. If you move the tile it may end up with a shard of tile from the cut under the tile. This prevents the tile from laying flat, causes excess vibration and may make the tile crack. Really.

Although it looks like I do (and I do a little bit), do not push down on the grinder as you make the initial cut, let the blade do the work. It may cause the tile to crack if you push on it.

Don’t be an idiot like me and have a towel (or any loose clothing) hanging over your shoulder as you do this. Although I whip the grinder around like it’s not a power tool spinning at 11,000 rpm and can rip your arm clean off – it actually is, and it actually can. BE SAFE! Remember, I’ve literally done this hundreds of times, I’m extremely familiar with my grinder and how it acts.

So here is how you cut a large hole out of a tile. Maybe now I can only answer that question fifteen times a day rather than thirty. Maybe…

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Mary

Hi Roger,
Love your blog. Thank you for your tips! I had my master bath shower stall tiled with 12×24 ceramic floor tiles. The new tiler put sanded grout into the 1/4 ” grout lines. I noticed that some of the edges of the tile were showing the red color of the unglazed tile in places. After reading your post, I think the tiler may not have spread the grout in all directions to make sure the joint was full or wiped down with a sponge that had too much water or wiped too many times. Anyway, I like how the tiles were set, just wondering if it made sense to use the saw tool to remove the grout and then just regrout again vs tearing out and starting all over. The grout that was used was from the tile shop pro grout excel std what 25lb. The grout was installed about 4weeks ago and shower has not been used.

Reply

Roger

Hi Mary,

I would be much easier to remove and replace the grout (correctly) than to redo the entire shower.

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Kim Lee

Roger, thank you for all your wonderful posts and e-books! We have used LOTS of your tips and are now on our 3rd bathroom! We do have a question, in this bathroom, we used your deck mud recipe for a 5-to-1 ratio. It’s a large shower stall, 5×6. We installed the deck mud on Saturday, ending at 8pm. As of last night (3 days later) it still seems to have some moisture to it. Is there a normal timeframe that is takes for this to cure? It’s also a rather deep mud bed (2.5-3″).

Thanks again!

Reply

Roger

Hi Kim,

All the moisture will not be completely used up for 28 full days, but you can do whatever you need to. The portland will deal with the moisture, after three days you won’t have any significant vapor issues.

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Sharon

Hi, we are building & in the master bathroom I wanted to do vanity countertop with the same 16 X 16 porcelain tile that we are using in the shower. I have 2 marble vessel sinks that I want semi-recessed (easier for cleaning). My contractor whose son is doing the tile work says he is unable to do this since the holes he needs to cut wouldn’t be smooth, possibly chipped & uneven & won’t look right. He wants me to install granite or marble & let the fabricator deal with it. Is this really such a difficult job to do or can I find a more experienced tile man & be able to use the tiles??

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Brbenn

Roger,
I saw in a earlier response that you recommended the Zipper Pro blade for cutting hard porcelain. Unfortunately, Amazon is out of stock of the 8 inch zipper pro. Is there any other brand of blade that you recommend for super hard porcelain? My other blades just can’t cut through my tile effectively. I need an 8″ blade for my saw and I don’t want to waste my money on junk :lol:
Thank you so much!
Bridget

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Roger

Hi Bridget,

This one’s not bad: Spider

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Sky-Guy

Great site! Thanks for your selfless giving!
BTW- I think the term you’re looking for for your “Flawed” section is “Fails”… ‘Fails’ seems to be the internet term for “Seriously? What were they thinking?!” Google ’tile fails’ and I think you’ll see what I mean… on second thought, maybe YOU shouldn’t do that, I’d hate for your head to explode. Some of the pics that come up will drive you to the bottle (of Pepsi).
;-)

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Roger

Hi Sky-guy,

Yeah, I made that mistake once. :D

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Sarah

Roger, you make a big job less intimidating! Thanks for mixing great info with laughs…. I haven’t seen anything on your site yet about whether to install a toilet flange on top of porcelain tile or on top of the hardibacker, flush with the top of the tile. I see arguments on both sides. My contractor brother swears that it needs to be on top of the tile to allow the wax ring to adequately fill the space, but others seem to think I’d be risking a cracked tile. Your thoughts? Thanks!!

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Roger

Hi Sarah,

The technically correct way to do it is to have the flange on top of the tile.

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Michael

Roger,

We are tiling the bathroom floor with porcelain “18 tiles. I’ve tried three times to cut a hole for the toilet flange and each time the tile breaks. I’m using an angle grinder with a smooth diamond blade. I tried dry first time and my wife misted the second and third try. I’m actually just doing a octaganal cut out and thought it would be straight forward. Last time, I took it really slow making multiple passes around the stop sign and as I was making the round where the wheel was actually cutting through in the center of each side and that is when it cracked. The hole is 3 1/8” from the edge of the tile at the closest. Any reccomendations would be much appreciated

Reply

Roger

Hi Michael,

Some tiles are not annealed correctly, which leads to built-up pressure in the tile. Cutting through them will blow them out. Is that 3 1/8″ covered by the toilet? If so, just cut one line from there to the circle, then cut it out. If not, is there any edge of that tile which will be under the toilet? You can do the same there.

If that isn’t an option about the only thing you can do is remove the toilet flange, mark your hole and install the tile. Once the thinset is cured cut the hole out of the installed tile and replace the flange. The thinset will hold it together.

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Dan

Hi Roger… finally getting to the tiling part… wheee!

1) but I’m finding we’re now chipping the edges of our porcelain tile on our wet saw… I’ve tried slowing down the cut like you suggested to Steve above… but it still chips the tile… I’ve noticed the cut is pretty smooth with very little chipping on the initial cut but as the blade moves through the cut the back end of the blade is chipping the tile on the way up… is it out of alignment? Can’t remember the name of the saw but its a full blooded 7″ wet saw (Chicago 7″ 1.5 HP Tile Saw, model 92386) that can do up to 25 3/8″ cuts…

2) I replaced the blade before our last bathroom reno but would it wear out that quickly?hat would be the best blade to get for our 10″ x 20″ porcelain tiles?

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Roger

Hi Dan,

1. It may be out of alignment. If it is only chipping out of the back then yes, that’s likely the cause.

2. It may wear out that quickly, it depends on what you were cutting with it. Any good porcelain blade will work fine, if you want to get the one I use it’s called the ‘zipper’ and you can get it on amazon.

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Dan

Thanks again Roger
needed a blade a little quicker than Amazon could get it to me so checked out our local spots… took a chance on a Home Depot Ridgid blade made specifically for Procelain and in about the same price point as the Zipper you recommended… took it home, tried it on a sample piece of tile… and it must of been ok cuz my wife couldn’t tell where the cut had been made! It was that good!… The blade was also out of alignment by a small degree but that was probably causing the chipping as well.
All is good in reno land again… onwards!

dan

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Sandra

Your video is great help!
Could a simple square cut that fits around the toilet flange be used?
The tile pattern layout I prefer calls for the toilet flange cut to be half a circle on one tile piece and the other half on a second piece, is that OK?

Reply

Roger

Hi Sandra,

Yes, provided the toilet will cover it. Yes, 1/2 and 1/2 is fine as well.

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gary

Roger,

need answers/advice on a travertine tile project. friend bought 12 x 12 x 1/2 travertine. i was asked to install it. never did travertine. after searching the web it appears i need to do the following:

1) install 5/8″ exterior grade plywood over existing 5/8″ plywood subfloor.
do you recommend screw only? glue & screw? in either case attach from center out.

2) after attaching the new plywood i will apply ditra membrane with an approved modified thin set per schulter. any recommendations for this product? trowel notch size? can you walk on the product for several days? maybe taking some vacation time.

3) preseal all tile. recommended product? dry fit pattern on ditra.

4) back butter each piece & lay using unmodified thin set per schulter. any recommendations on this product? trowel notch size?

5) i’ve seen several lippage prevention products. your recommendations?

thanks much
Gary

Reply

Roger

Hi Gary,

1. Screw only, from the center out only into the sublayer beneath it, not into the joists.

2. Any good modified thinset will work fine. I prefer laticrete 253 for that, but versabond or mapei work as well. A 1/4″ x 3/16″ is recommended, a 1/4″ x 1/4″ works just fine. You can walk on it as long as you need to (lightly, so you don’t crush the waffles).

3. Miracle sealants 511 impregnator or 511 porous plus (for unfilled travertine). Preseal before grout, either before or after installation.

4. I like Laticrete 317, but that normally comes down to what’s available to you. Unmodifieds are sometimes difficult to come by. 5/16″ x 5/16″ should work, or read this: Trowel size

5. I prefer the mlt, but the tls and the raimondi products work well. Forget the lash or any turning style leveler like the tornado.

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matt

Hi Roger,

This post has been very helpful for many of my cuts. I’m in the process of making a rectangular that is breaking the tile. This is for a shower surround.

I’m using 10 x 20, 3/8″ thick porcelain (monocibec) and need to make a rectangular cut-out for a register. Short side of cut-out is parallel to long side of tile and the cut-out is off-center. The cut-out leaves about 1 – 2 inches of tile against each long edge of the tile.

The tile survives plunge cutting on the wet saw, but cracks while I am cutting in the corners of the rectangle cut-out with a dry diamond blade on my dremel tool. The two tiles have cracked in line with the long edge of the rectangle cut-out (perpendicular to the long edge of the tile).

Eventually I will need to drill 1/4″ holes against the short sides of the cut-out so I am concerned that if I do manage to make this rectangular cut-out that the tile won’t survive drilling.

After reading your post again, I realized that I didn’t keep the tile stationary while using Dremel – that might be my problem. Could the Dremel wheel be causing excessive heat/vibration? Anything else I should think of?

Would I be better off drilling holes at the corners and then using a real grinder or plunge cut wet saw? Other than carefully, what would be the best approach to then drill 1/4″ screw holes into the tile (I can drill these screw holes before thinsetting the tile) to avoid breakage.

Sorry for the long post. Thank you in advance!!

— Matt

Reply

Roger

Hi Matt,

The dremel will definitely cause a lot of vibration, so that could be the problem.

A solution: I would cut the rectangle out on the saw (no dremel, just the rough) and install the tile ensuring complete coverage, and I do mean complete. Once it cures you can dremel, cut and drill to your heart’s content. The thinset will hold it firmly with zero vibration. It works very well.

A question: Why in the hell do you have a register in a shower surround??? :D

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matt

Thanks Roger.

I’m in a condo that has a passive venting system. If you are now thinking that this might not work very well, you would be correct.

Nonetheless, I need to tile around it. Thanks for the advice – I’ll give it a shot.

Reply

Pratap Bhatnagar

Namaskar !

A couple of questions please …
(1) can ( thin-set mortar ) Admix be mixed with portland cement for strength and bond ?

(2) about Exterior Glue Plywood ( EGP ) … does Home Depot have this ? …
(a) if not, which one that Home Depot has is closest to it
(b) which of plywoods that Home Depot has is valid for external use ?

Thank you and hv a nice day.

Pratap Bhatnagar

Reply

Roger

Hi Pratap,

1. I don’t know. It would be best to use a concrete specific admix rather than a thinset admix.
2. Some do, some don’t.
a. There is nothing close to it, it’s either exterior grade or it isn’t.
b. Exterior grade plywood.

Reply

Andre

Roger,

Great site. Between you and John Bridge I have just enough information to make me think I know what I’m doing. . .so when my dog bursts into flame, I am shocked. Shocked! Anyway, two questions:

1. When drilling big holes in tile, should you go from the front or the back? I always thought the back was better since it wouldn’t be as chippy, but in your video you’re coming at it from the front.

2. Do you have any advice when marking tile for cutting? i.e. how much wiggle room should there be for the hole? 1/4″? 1/8″?

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Roger

Hi Andre,

1. Always go from the front. If you go from the back it will blow out the face of the tile around the hole. That’s even more chippy. :D

2. It depends on the hole and what it’s for. I normally mark the hole with about 1/8″ extra around the entire perimeter (a six inch hole will be 6 1/4″).

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John

Roger,
love your site,thank you for answering tile noob questions for those of us that are porcelain challenged…

I am currently remodeling most of the first floor of my house,and at this time I am ready for laying the tile.We are turning the old dining room into a 12×12 bathroom,so of course there is no plumbing there.It will probably be a year or two before I actually put the bathroom in.The laundry room,kitchen,dining room and the bathroom(dining room) are all going to be tiled with the same porcelain tile,is it ok to tile the bathroom now and cut holes where needed when I do the bathrooms or should I just lay the entry and finish the tiling after I get all the plumbing put in…..

Thanks for all your time and effort to help people in need….

Reply

Roger

Hi John,

You can tile it all now and just drill holes where you need them when you build the bathrooom.

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John

Thank you for the speedy reply,must be on the pixy dust out there…..I feel much better being able to tile it all instead of leaving unfinished tiles in the entry.

I would say good bye but I have a feeling Ill be back tomorrow for something else so……see you tomorrow!!!

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Steve

Roger,

I searched but didn’t find any posts related to my question, so I figured this was as good a place as any:

1. Are all tile saws so damn loud? I bought the $300 7″ Ridgid “comes with a stand” from HD, and damn is it ever loud. Holy hell. (ear protection an absolute requirement) Is this normal?

This one: http://www.homedepot.com/p/RIDGID-7-in-Tile-Saw-with-Stand-R4030S/203757434#.UloMCCTKkh8

2. I can’t cut my ceramic glazed tiles without leaving a ridge of small chips along the edge. It’s not terribly visible, but it is rough to the touch — definitely not a clean smooth edge. I have tried slower, faster, upside down, blue tape on the face, shallow cut then full depth cut…I have tried two different brands of tile for comparison…everything gives about the same results. Is this normal? Am I doing it wrong? Do I need a better saw?

Thanks

Steve

Reply

Roger

Hi Steve,

1. All tile saws are loud once the tile hits the blade. The noise you are speaking of, though, is from the motors on some smaller saws. They use a grinder motor, so they’re always loud. If it has a grinder motor it’s gonna sound like a grinder. I no longer own any of those saws, my last was an MK which we in the tile trade refer to as the ‘red screamer’, you now know why. But no, not all of them are like that. Just the ones with grinder motors.

2. The problem is the one thing you didn’t change – the blade. Get a good quality blade, slow down your cut a little more, and get a rubbing stone to clean up the edge once you cut it. All blades will leave the tiniest bit of chipping, the amount of chipping (normally) is inversely proportional to what you pay for the blade.

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Blackbrained Johnny

So that’s what that handle and guard are for in the grinder box. I’ve never seen anyone use either on a all grinder.

Thanks for the tip.

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Roger

Hey Johnny,

Me neither! Mine came assembled, though, I’m just too damn lazy to remove them.

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Mitchell

Nice hole you cut there… why didn’t I think of that? My questions are; once the holes are in the backer board & plywood and there are valves & pipes stubbed out of them, how do I seal them…before or after the tile is set? I want to be sure if water gets behind the shiney faceplates I will caulk in, that it doesn’t get behind the backerboard of my tub/shower surround. Yes, I am ignorant, so no laughing! Also, I put silicone in the gaps of the corners of my shower surround so the thinset doesn’t get in, but should I tape the corners after?…seems like it would defeat the purpose of separating the 2 walls expansion & contraction with flexible silicone. As always, thanks for the tips, demos & humor…mitchell

Reply

Roger

Hey Mitchell,

You waterproof them like this: waterproofing tile cutouts in showers.

Yes, you should tape and mud them as well. The space and the silicone allow for movement when the board ‘swells’ and the tape and mud tie it together so each wall doesn’t move enough in opposite directions to damage your installation. I know that’s a sorry description, but it’s the best I can do with words at the moment. I need to write a post on that and how it works.

Reply

Ceiling Dwarf

Thank you for the video. That really helped.

Now you need to explain why you look nothing like a real floor elf. Where are the big ears and the pointy hat? I was expecting a skinny elf in a green on green skni-tight velour outfit. I was sure I’d see you wearing slippers with curled up toes and a tiny bell on the point. Also, eleves are supposed to be short, as in 2-3′ in height. Either you were working with the smallest tile, grinder and table I ever saw or you are one of those fabled giant floor elves.

I, and I think I speak for the community as a whole, would appreciate you wearing your real floor elf outfit when you post videos like this.

Thank you.

Reply

Roger

I try, but my wife hides that outfit. Something about being seen in public with a 6’3″ 200lb. jackass in full regalia…whatever. It didn’t work, I still act like a jackass. :D

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Michael

Nice work!

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Jason M

Roger, great video.

Off topic question, I’ve purchased your topical membrane with a pre-fab shower pan manual and my question is regarding flanges on shower pans.

My shower is the width of the room, stud to stud, it’s 61″. Most shower pans that are available are 60″ wide. Can i install the cement board so it sits on-top of the flange instead of overlapping it, providing I have silicone filling the gap? I would like to have the cement board flush with my existing dry wall, I’m afraid that adding shims or sistering the studs to accommodate the flange will push the hardibacker out.

thanks, -j

Reply

Roger

Hey Jason,

Yes, you can stop the backer above the flange it you want so long as you gave it properly sealed.

Reply

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