Tools & Tips

Ceramic Tile:  ESSENTIAL Tools & Tips

by Raymond Alexander Kukkee

For installation of ceramic tile, you will need a few basic tools you may already have in your collection, and some specialized tools, too. Most experienced do-it-yourself types already know that tools don’t have to be expensive to be good, workable equipment. We have one simple rule, and that is to always buy the best quality tool you can afford.

Some of the tools required for the installation of Ceramic Tile


Any professional in the building trades will quickly agree it less troublesome to complete projects with quality, durable equipment . Tools required for floor renovation projects and the laying of ceramic tile are no different; they should be good quality and up to the job at hand.

Tackling any home renovation project is always easier with the right tools, too, so let’s make a list of the necessities. For a bathroom flooring job, let’s start with those generic do-it-yourself tools you already have. Satisfactory extras may be found at your local hardware or building center.

Some of the most common items you’ll need are:

• Sketch pad and pencils for drawing a plan if necessary .
• A steel tape measure: preferably 25′ with a 3/4″ or 1″ blade
Square: A 2′ carpenter square is preferable if you’re working with large-format tiles, but a “ tee-square” or a smaller square 12″ or 18″ can suffice.
• Hand saw or powered saw: For cutting and fitting plywood substrate and or even floor joists if necessary
• Carpenter’s bubble level 36″ or even 48″. A short “torpedo” level can also be handy under some circumstances. Used correctly, it shows ‘level’ in three directions all at once.
• Chalk line: For accurate tile layout on the substrate.
Pliers : the curved pincer type –for removing broken substrate nails if removing bad substrate is necessary.
• Thin-edged pry bar 10″ –Recommended as one of the handiest tools you will ever own, for scraping, prying, cleaning old adhesive out of corners, trimming off hardened lumps of thin set, removing baseboard trim without damaging it, and prying up old tiles for removal.
• Goose-neck pry bar or equivalent 24″ minimum for removing nails, old substrate and lifting retro-bathroom concrete floor in chunks.
• Sledge hammer, 5 or 6 lb: Handy if your project requires removal of old concrete
• Hammer: The common carpenter claw-hammer. Great tool, useful for everything .
• Rubber Mallet : Used to gently tap tiles level and into position in the thin set cement.
• Wrenches: To remove toilet flange nuts and bolts as required..
• Hack saw: To saw off flange bolts that are rusted and impossible to remove.
• Electric hand drill: Go modern and try the cordless battery type if possible. They are much handier and safer than having to work around extension cords.
• Carbide drill bits: Correctly sized to drill flange bolt holes in ceramic tile.
• Hand-held heat gun: Optional. Can be handy for softening old adhesive from self-stick tiles if the old substrate is to be cleaned and used.
• Hole saw: Mandrel type for electric drill. May be required if you have to relocate piping, for cutting holes in plywood or ceramic tile

A couple of specialized tools are also required for ceramic tile projects. These unique tools may be rented from most building centers or rental outlets. You can use either a manual tile-cutter or a powered wet saw.


Manual Tile Cutter

Manual Tile cutter:
The simplest tile cutter is the hand type, a specialized sliding frame assembly with a cutting wheel that smartly scores the surface of a tile like a glass cutter. The surface of the tile is scored, and the tile, when supported directly under the score line, snaps cleanly along the score line.

Tile Wet Saw

Powered Wet Saw:
A powered set saw is similar to a small table bench saw, but has a specialized carbide or diamond blade. Water cools and lubricates the blade as it cuts. . The wet saw may have a pump and water cooling jet system or have a built-in water reservoir the ceramic cutting blade runs in constantly. Remember to add water as required.


Grinder: Hand held
A small hand-held grinder can do double duty as a specialized tile cutter if equipped with a 4″ diamond cutting blade which can be used to cut curved lines, straight lines if used with a straight edge, or various complicated cuts required around door jambs, tubs and fixtures. Cut those straights into the corners, snap out the piece and nibble out any remaining material perfectly using a nibbler or the grinder itself.

Tile Nibbler or ‘Nipper
A hand tool with a specialized curved “bite” that can “nibble” tile off little by little. Used where a narrow piece must be trimmed away. An amazingly effective and easy-to-operate tool. If a straight-edge is set correctly along a line on the top surface of the tile, using a little patience, an amazingly straight line can be cut with this clever and essential hand tool. It can be used to trim tiles, enlarge holes, and also nibble off edges where that fit is just a little too tight.

Tile Nibbler or "Nipper"



Notched Trowels
If you have more than one project in the future, you might even want to purchase a set of notched trowels, reminiscent of common concrete-working trowels. Notched cement trowels come in several sizes with various sized notches, usually square-cut. Typically they have one straight side and end, and a notched side and end.

A notched trowel is not a tradesman’s gimmick, but an essential tool that serves a specific purpose when laying ceramic tile. It is a necessity.

The thin set cement is applied and spread out with the flat side, but before the tile is set in place, the cement is carefully raked with the notched side to establish a uniform application of cement on the substrate. Notched trowels come in several sizes and notch widths, typically with ⅜”,  ¼” and ½” notches. Make sure you get the trowel notch size recommended for your application.

Grouting Tools
Grout is specialized cement that is forced into the joints between the tiles. It may be applied with a variety of simple, flat kitchen-type spatulas or even sponges, but specialized grouting tools can be handy in tight places like corners to pack and plane grout evenly and correctly to avoid gaps and holes.. See the picture for grouting tool designs adapted for effective grout applications.

Tile Nibbler and customized grouting tools

Now that you’re equipped with the necessary tools, also make sure you have these supplies on hand before you start, including:

• Tile spacers: Appropriately sized to ensure uniform spacing of tiles as you lay them.
• Spare tiles to allow for breakage and mistakes.      (Yes, we all break them and make mistakes )
• Adequate supplies of thin set cement, grout, and grout sealer
Buckets for water & thin set mixing. Inexpensive plastic buckets will suffice.
• Sponges and cloths for cleanup of tiles after application of grout..
• Water: You will need clean water for thin set and grout mixing as well as clean up. Careful cleanup with clean water is essential to avoid “grout haze”.

You may run into other specific tool requirements, particularly if you are relocating pipes or electrical wiring, but with the tools we’ve listed, you should be ready to go!