Cutting Penny Tile Can Be Tricky: What Worked For Us

Oh man, backsplash-ing is 50% scary and 50% suuuuuper excitiiiiiiiiinnnnnggg! Sorry, got carried away there. Maybe it’s 90% super exciting and 10% eeeks. Anyway, we began wrestling with it a few days ago and it’s taking a bit longer than expected (we spent nearly three hours just figuring out how to cut it, prepping our work space, and mixing up thinset before ever getting started). But by the end of the day (after Clara had gone to bed) we had accomplished this:

Isn’t it awesome? Well, at least the beginning of awesome. I keep doing awkward things like stroking it and saying “oh yeah” and then blushing and backing away slowly. There’s plenty about the process to share, but for now we’ll just give you a look at our preferred cutting method and how we got there and elaborate about what we learn as we go (since we have the rest of this wall and the entire oven wall – all the way to the ceiling – to do).

First we tried some tile nippers at Home Depot that worked great on our test tile sheet (we brought one with us to try things out in the store). But once we got home with it, it was giving us results like this when trying to cut each penny tile in half:

Ugh. See all the cracked and uneven tiles still on the sheet? Not good.

Since that didn’t seem to be working, we turned to the wet saw. John is usually a big fan of the wet saw, but the wet saw wasn’t a fan of the penny tile. Specifically the mesh that held the penny tile together in a big sheet.

The water from the wet saw (even without using much water at all) caused the mesh to break apart, so it wasn’t working for us (even though we’d heard others have success with this method – so maybe it depends on the type of mesh that the tile manufacturer uses).

So we decided to give the nippers another shot (at least the sheets were staying intact when using them). After some trial and error, we landed on this pretty reliable technique for our tiles (though it may not work for other types of penny tile since things like thickness probably vary):

For those who can’t watch the video, here are the highlights (although seeing it in action whenever you can will probably paint the best picture):

  • We used a piece of blue painter’s tape to mark our cut line, which seemed to also discourage the tile from cracking when snipped
  • We made sure the nippers were as centered as possible on the tile to be cut (if they’re too close to one edge of the tile it had a much stronger chance of shattering)

  • We squeezed gently with the nippers at first (sort of like flexing your hand a few times) and gradually squeezed harder and harder until it broke. This seemed to score things or somehow prep them for a cleaner cut.
  • It wasn’t a flawless method, but it had a MUCH higher success rate than anything else.

  • When one tile shatters, you can just pull it off the mesh and replace it with a non-shattered one, so we did a lot of this (we called it back-filling). Once you add thinset you can stick missing tiles back into those spots and it looks great (obviously you have to pay attention to spacing them to make sure they fit in without being too close or too far from the surrounding tiles but it’s not too hard and you can step back a few feet to check your work).
  • The thinset is “open” for about 30 minutes, which means you can tweak things for a fair amount of time if you notice anything that doesn’t line up, needs to be shifted, etc. Then it starts to harden and things are pretty much set for the long haul.

  • It took us about 2 hours to do this much of the wall (after spending around 3 hours refining our cutting method, pre-cutting all the squares to fit this section of the wall, prepping our workspace, etc).

So that’s what we’ve learned so far. We’ll be back with more thinset info like step by step pics of us spreading it and fitting the tiles together in a staggered pattern to avoid seams (just wanted to be sure we had our method down before pausing to take photos of that stuff). But now that we’re straight we’ll get that done during our next tile sesh. This is definitely going to be one of those we’ll-share-photos-and-more-details-as-we-go-and-it’ll-be-real-time-so-it-won’t-be-in-30-minutes-like-on-HGTV things, but we can’t wait to make our way around the room and share all the pics (and more videos) as we go! Here’s hoping that big wall o’ tile over the stove isn’t too much of a doozy…

Psst- Check out another adventure in tiling from our first house’s bathroom here.

Comments

  1. says

    Is it weird that I just want to sit on your counters and rub it (insert inappropriate joke here)? Gorgeous! Can’t wait to see it all!

    • says

      Haha, for some reason I’ve been saying things left and right that deserve that comeback. I’m not even aware until John snorts in the background. Apparently my “how to paint cabinets” video was full of them and I didn’t notice until John was editing it!

      xo,
      s

  2. LoquaciousLaura says

    I’m so curious — on the wall by the window, where the tile doesn’t go all the way up — what will you do for a border/transition between the painted paneling and the penny tile?

    Looking hot! So excited!

    Also, out of curiosity … do you know if tile nippers can be used with larger tiles (i.e., 4×4), or is that pretty much wet-saw territory?

    • says

      The full wall of tile is the oven wall (the window wall will have 18″ backsplash with a “cap” on the top edge of the tile to finish it off! More details as we go!

      xo,
      s

    • says

      Ah, I wondered about that window wall. This is so so exciting. And I’m amazed at how calm you were w/ the cutting dilemas. I’d be freaking out and wanting to call in the pros. Way to go!

    • says

      Haha, I think finally after four years of this we have learned that sometimes things go bad and you just have to give it some time to work on it and usually (not always, but usually) we can figure it out! Whew.

      xo,
      s

  3. Katy B says

    Did you try scoring them before snipping? I did this on some 4×4 tiles. Can’t say it would work on your tiles, but I have to wonder.

    • says

      Yup, we tried scoring them with limited success (maybe our blade wasn’t sharp enough?) so the flexing and squeezing snap tile approach from the video seemed to work the best!

      xo,
      s

  4. Alisa says

    Oh man, we can relate. We’ve spent the last week (with help from my dad) tiling our basement. It’s been a multi-step process. For us: 1) self leveling concrete 2) sealant 3) tile + thin set for the non cut tiles 4) all the tiles that needed to be cut with the wet saw 5) thin set all those new tiles in place…steps yet to be finished 7) grout 8) sealing the grout 9) painting the walls 10) floor molding …and I’m sure I’m missing some! I think once my hubby and dad got into a groove with the thin set process it went relatively smooth.

    • Lisa in Seattle says

      Oh Alisa, you have my sympathy. We’re about to recarpet our basement, with some areas being switched over to tile. (Also painting. Also baseboards.) But the only DIY steps involved will be 1) remove credit card from wallet and 2) breathe into a paper bag when the contractor’s total invoice is presented. As much as I love DIY blogs, I’m not cut out for the work at all.

  5. Brandan WH says

    Oh, it’s going to look so nice once you’re all done. I’m also a big fan of penny tile although my husband is not riding the same fan boat. Oh, well. I’ll have to live vicariously through you!

  6. KiTx says

    This is going to look soooo amazing! We’re in the midst of an unplanned kitchen update ourselves (a little pre-New Year’s flood courtesy the washing machine “inspired” us and our home insurance to get new flooring) and watching your kitchen get put back together might be the only thing keeping me sane while the drying fans blast in the background! Can’t wait to see the finished product!

  7. Katie says

    It looks awesome!! We are having our milk colored penny round installed this week on our bathroom floor, and we can’t wait!

    One question though – was there a how to lay the tiles/stagger them tutiroal you watched or read? I am trying to familiarize myself with the process before our handyman does the work, but didn’t find anything online for a “how to”…any help would be much appreciated! : )

    Thanks!

    • says

      Yes, we’re planning to take more photos and talk about the alignment/pattern soon hopefully! We’re going with a staggered pattern (sort of like a vertical brick-layer’s pattern) so all the seams/edges don’t line up and are staggered instead (so they’re hopefully less noticeable). More on that soon hopefully! It’s hard to take photos when our hands are both so messy but we’re hopefully going to be better about it as we go (and get more comfortable with everything)!

      xo,
      s

  8. KathyG says

    Gorgeous! Just wondering, when you picked the penny tile, did you have a conversation with yourself about how it was going to be a more difficult install? When I first saw it, I thought how gorgeous, but uhoh on the install.

    • says

      We actually think there are pros and cons to the install! It’s a lot easier to work with in some aspects since you can pop tiles off the mesh to size things a lot faster than a large tile. You just have to be careful with alignment but you always have to be worried about that (even with subway tile or big tiles). We think it’ll definitely be worth the trouble! In general we just like to dive into stuff that we love and try to learn and figure it out as we go!

      xo,
      s

    • says

      We’re using the same grout as the sample in our original tile post (called “lucky penny” I think if you want to search it on our sidebar). It’s a soft white color so with the soft gray of the tile the tones are very “carera marble” without costing an arm and a leg, haha.

      xo,
      s

  9. Petra says

    Looks wonderful! I’ve done some mosiac for fun, and have used the tile nippers. They take up a lot of practice/patience, but with the rate you’re going, looks great! Take your time.