Cutting Backsplash Tools
When cutting tiles for your backsplash, there are only two tools that can complete the job precisely and with few headaches — the tile saw and manual cutter.
For a detailed comparison of these two tile cutting options, check out my Tile Saw vs Manual Cutter Face Off — but in brief, here are the relative pros and cons of each.
|Tile Saw||Manual Cutter|
Low — trapped by water
|Large Tile Compatible||✔|
|Dense Tile Cutting||✔|
Admittedly, you could, under desperate circumstances, consider using a miter. However, you need a specialized tile blade, and the lack of wet cutting can cause your tiles to burn, crack, and char.
What You’ll Need for This Tutorial
- Manual tile cutter or tile saw.
- Tile spacers.
- Water access — if using a tile saw.
- Tile adhesive and grout.
- Grout float.
- Adhesive trowel.
- Washing detergent.
- Spackle and spackle knife.
- Bubble level.
- Dust sheet.
- Carpenter’s pencil.
- Safety equipment — gloves, ventilation mask, and eye protection.
- Sand or glasspaper.
- Measuring tape.
How To Cut a Tile Backsplash — Step-by-Step Instructions
My step-by-step guide below applies to either using a tile saw or a manual tile cutter — it assumes that you already have the knowledge or experience on correctly cutting tile material.
However, if you’re a tile trimming newbie, or are a little rusty on the techniques, check out my ultimate guide on How To Cut Tiles — which covers both slicing tools.
Step 1 — Prepare Your Surface
- If your backsplash target area incorporates electrical sockets — turn off the power to your kitchen or bathroom. Bear in mind that if using a tile saw, you may need to run an extension cable from another room to power the tool.
- With the power disconnected, remove any socket fascias — taking care to store the covers and concomitant screws safely.
- Clear your sink, countertop, or stove of any objects (handsoap, toothbrush holders, coffee machines, etc.) — then protect with a dust sheet.
- Clean your intended backsplash area with washing detergent and a soft sponge to remove any oil or grease — allow it to dry.
- You should now be able to see any deep scuffs, inconsistencies, or holes in the wall — apply spackle with a wet knife to fill these indentations. Once set, sand it smooth.
- Using your measuring tape, determine how wide and high you wish your backsplash to be, and write down the dimensions.
- Draw a horizontal line equal to the intended width of your backsplash, around 1/16th of an inch above your countertop, stove, or sink. This will be your guide line for the first row of tiles.
- UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES use the stove or countertop as the tile baseline — it’s unlikely to be perfectly level.
Step 2 — Dry Fitting
- Utilizing the intended backsplash dimensions from Step 6 above, lay out the tiles on the ground as a mock-up. This indicates which tiles will need to be trimmed to accommodate sockets and switches — mark these tiles on the back with your carpenter’s pencil. Furthermore, you can try out different tile patterns.
- If your backsplash is to be in the center of a wall, I suggest avoiding trimming any tiles to exactly meet your desired dimensions — instead, accept that it can be slightly larger or smaller than you intended, depending on your tile size. Otherwise, every row will feature a cut tile, ruining the aesthetic.
- Should your backsplash be located in a corner, plan on trimming the tiles that sit in the 90-degree wall join.
Step 3 — Hanging the Backsplash Tiles
- Apply an 1/8-inch layer of tile adhesive to your wall with the trowel. Begin at the bottom and work your way up the wall — taking care not to obscure your guideline from Step 7.
- Put on sufficient adhesive to hang around 5-6 tiles before applying more. You may need to make several passes to ensure the adhesive is smooth and at the ideal thickness.
- Once you’re content with your adhesive layer, hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle to the wall and use the notched edge to create grooves — this increases air circulation, promotes drying, and creates a strong bond.
- Line up your first tile, ensuring that that bottom edge approximately abuts your guideline. With both hands on either side of the tile, push it into the grout with firm pressure and wiggle a little to create bonding suction — then, adjust to sit perfectly on the guideline.
- Repeat the application process for the rest of the row, applying additional adhesive when required and ensuring you follow the guideline. Place a tile spacer between the tile edges to allow for grout application and even spacing — this isn’t necessary if your tiles have pre-molded spacers.
- Once your first row is complete, follow the above steps for the second row — again ensuring that a tile spacer (if required) is placed between the top of one tile and the bottom of another.
Step 4 — Cutting Tiles
- Put on your face mask, safety gloves, and eye protectors to prepare for tile cutting.
- Using your tile saw or manual cutter, trim the marked tiles to fit around obstacles, switches, sockets, and fit into corners — as described in my How To Cut Tiles article.
- Once cut, gently address the edges with sandpaper to create a smooth surface, and wipe with a damp cloth to remove dust and detritus.
- Push the tile onto the adhesive as described earlier — but take care. Trimming tiles can reduce their strength integrity, exerting too much pressure can result in broken or cracked faces.
- Also, ensure that when placing tiles around electrical outlets, you leave sufficient space for the fascia screws to pass through without touching cut tile edges.
- Complete the entire backsplash, cutting where necessary. If the tile spacers are designed to be left in-situ and over-grouted — you don’t need to remove them. However, if they’re temporary aids, take them out after two hours — if you allow the adhesive to fully dry, they will be challenging to extract.
- After six hours, the tiles should be firmly affixed to the wall.
Step 5 — Applying the Tile Grout
- Scoop up a generous amount of grout onto your float, and spread it across the entire backsplash — ensuring that you penetrate into the spaces between tiles. Don’t worry about getting the material onto the tile faces.
- Once you’ve grouted all the tiles, allow them to dry for 30 minutes.
- Make your sponge wet, and wipe over the tile faces to remove excessive grout. Rinse the sponge, and repeat until you’ve cleaned the whole backsplash.
- After about 2-3 hours, the grout should be completely set. Grab a dry cloth, and rub each tile face to remove any residual grout haze.
- For a final finishing touch, use a little silicone spray to enhance the glaze on your backsplash.
Step 6 — Finishing Off
- Thoroughly clean your trowel and float with warm water and detergent — aged grout becomes like concrete, making your tools useless for future projects.
- Replace any previously removed socket faces, taking care when screwing back in place. Don’t overtighten — this can place excessive stress on the surrounding tiles, causing them to crack.
- Remove the dust sheet, and clean up any wayward grout or dust.
- Stand back and admire your phenomenal new tile backsplash!