First of all ... GO AND GET YOUR SAFETY GOGGLES! I mean it! So few mosaic people wear eye protection. No matter how well you cut, it's always possible to get flicked in the eyeball by a glass shard, and eyeballs are not so easy to replace.
These are fixed-wheel tungsten-carbide mosaic glass cutters. They do not score the glass, they create pressure which causes the glass to fracture. They do a cleaner and easier job of cutting glass tiles than offset tile nippers. They're one of the best things to happen to mosaics. You'll find that most mosaic books do not show them, because they're still relatively new.
They can be used on vitreous glass tiles, stained glass, mirror, smalti, and glass gems. They can also be used on china and medium to soft ceramic tiles, but will dull much faster with these materials.
The pair in these photos are Leponnitts, which are slightly smaller than the red-handled Tiler's Mate brand. If you have small hands, they may suit you better. They are more expensive, and yes, they do feel a little better to use, but I'm quite happy using either brand.
The way you hold them will greatly influence how they cut, and also how long your hand can stand using them!
Hold the tool in your dominant hand. I'm right-handed, so the tool is in my right hand, with the wheels facing the left. Turn them around if you are using your left hand.
You will see an indentation near the end of the handles - that's where you need to hold them. It does feel low down, but it gives the tool greater leverage. Your wrist will get sore much quicker if you hold them higher up - let the tool do the work!
It also helps to make sure the handle sits against the heel of your thumb, not against your thumb joint.
Unlike the offset tile nippers, the wheels on these cutters need to go in the middle of where you want the cut to go. You can either hold the tile between your forefinger and thumb to steady it, or cup your hand around the tool to prevent the pieces flying. Squeeze hard. With practice, it does become easier!
If you are plagued with pieces going off into orbit, try cutting into an ice- cream container or a plastic bag.
The backs of vitreous tiles have ridges which are designed to hold more glue for better adhesion. Each manufacturer has different ridge patterns which behave in different ways. This can be a pain when you cut them. I usually cut with the bumpy side up, so I can see what I'm doing. If I'm cutting long skinny pieces, Spotlight's tiles are ideal, because I can cut in the grooves. If you want to cut triangular shapes, put the cutting wheels across ridges if you can, otherwise they tend to slip as you apply pressure.
Wheeled cutters are designed to cut small random pieces. If you want to cut longer straight lines, a leadlighting cutter may be better. There is also a technique used with the offset tile nippers which often works with wheeled cutters, depending on the glass you're cutting.
Instead of putting the wheels in the middle of the cut, put them just in from the edge. On the other edge of your tile/glass, use your thumb and forefinger and pinch hard to create a second pressure point. Most of the time, the glass will fracture in a reasonably straight line from pressure point to pressure point. I have managed to cut china bowls and cups in perfect halves using my wheeled cutters, but that's often a fluke!
You CAN get a curved cut by leaning the tool one way or the other, but it's an imprecise art!
I usually use my cutters working at a table, but if you are cutting a lot of tiles, or if you're getting stiff shoulders and arms, it's very relaxing to push your chair back, rest your arms on your thighs and cut into an apron or a towel draped over your knees. This also seems to help if the tiles you're cutting are very hard.
Try hard not to drop your wheeled cutters. The wheels can get knocked out of alignment, and can't be fixed. When you get your pair, put a little vivid marker line at the point where the wheels almost touch. Then, when you find the tool is shattering glass a little too much, get an Allen key and loosen the wheels, turn them a fraction, tighten up again, and mark the new cutting edge for reference. It is possible to buy replacement wheels, but you only save a couple of dollars. In most cases, it makes more sense to replace the whole tool. Mind you, I've been using mine for several years now, several times a week, and it's lasting great.
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Article and photos ©2005 Min White, Quirky Ltd.