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Ceramic Tile Tools 1 - Essential Hand Tools for Any Tiling Project

Updated on June 20, 2009

We all know that a bad workman blames his (or her!) tools, but this is partly because choosing the wrong tools is likely to be one of his or her habits. Part of becoming a good home tiler is choosing the right tools and avoiding short-cuts which can often be counter-productive.

For practically any tiling job, these are the hand tools that any self-respecting DIYer needs:

Face Mask, Safety Goggles and Gloves

These are absolutely essential with no exceptions. You should have two pairs of gloves; rubber gloves are needed for handling grout and adhesives, and a pair of heavy suede leather gloves should be worn when cutting or handling cut tiles.

A steel tape measure (5m is best)

Two or three meters might be fine for a small job, while five meters should see you through most tiling projects.

A Pencil

There is exists an urban myth that NASA spent millions of dollars developing a space pen that could write in zero gravity on practically any surface and in almost any temperature. The Russians, on the other hand, used a pencil to do the same job. The fact that this story isn't really true is not the fault of the humble pencil, which is, and shall remain, one of the most treasured tools of the tiler. Having one in one of your many cluttered draws somewhere else in your house doesn't count. It has to be with you as you work.

A Felt-tip pen

It does not need to be a space pen. Just any water-based felt-tip of reasonable quality will be fine. You may need it to draw on highly glazed tiles for which pencils are of no use. Check that you can wipe it off with water first.

A Plumb Line

A plumb line is a length of string (or something similar) from which a weight is hung in order to determine a straight vertical line. Oh so simple, and obviously very useful.

A Chalk Line

A chalk line is a chalky line of string which can be pulled taught to mark a straight line on the surface touching it. A chalk line can also play the part of the plumb line if you don't mind the extra mess.

A Spirit level

Don't scrimp on your spirit level. The premise of the spirit level is of course wonderfully simple, but do not be fooled into thinking that quality is therefore unimportant. Choose a good quality spirit level of no less than 900mm to get reliable results. Also, think about the angles at which you'll be using it; if the bubble is only visible from one side you may not be able to contort yourself sufficiently to see it from where you need to.

A Straight edge

A straight edge is just a straight length of wood. It should be between 100mm and 200mm wide and about 20mm thick. The length should be around or just over 2 meters. Oh yes, and it should be straight.

Tile Nippers

You can buy straight-jawed versions and those with small jaws set at an angle. These are useful for making small adjustments to your tiles. If you're planning to use them a lot, then nippers with cushioned handles will be more comfortable.

A Tile Scriber

This is used to "scribe" (score) a tile's surface to prepare it for cutting.

A Hand Tile Cutter

These have a scribing wheel built in, which may be able to do the job of a tile scriber (although the latter comes so cheaply it isn't worth scrimping on.) These are used for cutting light tiles, although they really work by breaking them. Absolutely essential.

A Tile File

You will need this for smoothing out the rough edges of cut tiles and for removing minor imperfections from the manufacturing process. It performs the same job as sandpaper on wood, which isn't to say that sandpaper will work on tile. It most definitely will not.

A Gauging Trowel

Really, you should have a gauging trowel AND a pointing trowel. Both are usually OK for spreading adhesives onto the tiles' backs but the gauging trowel is a larger, more versatile tool.

Sponges

You'll need a good few sponges to keep your tiles and work surfaces clean. They are more absorbent than cloths but don't last long no matter how much you pay for them. On this occasion, it scrimping it perfectly acceptable.

Spacer Pegs

Get these when you purchase the tiles. They are to maintain the correct size gap between the tiles while you wait for the adhesive to set. You can buy straight, wedge-shaped and cross-shaped varieties in a bewildering array of shapes and sizes. The uses of these varieties is beyond the scope of this post so - once again - be sure to check with your supplier!

This is a list of the absolute essential hand tools you'll need for practically any tiling project. Chances are you'll also need a squeegee for working grout into your tile joints and also a rubber-headed hammer if you're planning to lay floor tiles.

Be sure to shop around before you buy - the Internet is obviously a good place to compare prices without having to visit so many out-of-town stores that half your budget will be blown on fuel. Advanced equipment and power tools will be covered at a later date, but this is a healthy enough shopping list for anyone to be getting on with.

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