How to cut tile backer boards
Whether you want to renovate an existing kitchen or transform your bathroom, backer boards are the perfect DIY companion as each hard-wearing cement panel creates a strong, smooth surface for your tiling project.
Knowing how to cut and fit backer boards is important as it’ll help you to create the perfect backdrop for your tile design in a methodical and safe way. So, keep reading for a wide range of backer board tips and installation techniques. You can also read our blog for a detailed guide on how to use tile backer boards if you need more information.
What does a tile backer board do?
Tiling onto any old surface just isn’t possible. You need the correct substrate which is why plasterboard and plywood have been traditionally used.
These days, however, cement-based backer boards are much more popular as they’re fully waterproof, long-lasting and don’t need to be treated before the tiling process starts, reducing the overall workload.
Cement backer boards also don’t warp, sag or rot – a common issue with plywood. Instead, they create a reliably smooth and even foundation which makes tile installation a breeze.
Backer boards are compatible with a wide range of materials including marble, limestone, ceramic, porcelain and granite and can hold substantially more weight than other traditional wall surfaces. This means you’ll have access to a wide range of beautiful tiles that might have otherwise been too heavy to use on a surface where a backer board hasn’t been used.
Top Tip: Always make sure the surface you’re tiling can withstand the weight of your tiles. And if in doubt, turn to backer boards for reinforcement.
How to cut tile backer boards: step by step guide
If you opt for cement backer boards, you might be wondering how to cut these to size. Well, there are two main methods that’ll get the job done quickly. This includes the Score and Snap method or alternatively using power tools. We’ve detailed both methods below so you can choose what’s right for you.
Tools for cutting backer boards
You are going to need some tools for cutting boards. Here’s a list of those that we would recommend:
- Drywall utility knife for scoring (a better option is a carbide-tipped scoring tool as this features a tungsten-carbide tip that easily cuts into the surface of cement)
- Carpenter’s pencil to mark the cut lines – a regular pencil will be too dull to see clearly
- Ruler for straight lines or a long spirit level
- Power tools such as a circular saw fitted with a carbide-tipped wood-cutting blade
- File for smoothing rough edges
Scoring tile backer boards
So, let’s first run through the Score and Snap method. Here’s a step-by-step guide:
Lay the backerboard on a flat surface.
Mark the cut line with a carpenter’s pencil as this will leave a clear mark.
Place the straight edge of a spirit level on the cut line. Kneel on one end of the level and hold the other down with your hand.
Draw the scoring tool down the edge of the spirit level, scratching a perfectly straight groove into the cement surface. Repeat three or four times (more if needed) to deepen the groove.
Apply pressure to the spirit level with your foot and snap the board towards you firmly.
The backer board will snap along the scored line.
Use the scoring tool to slice through the fibreglass mesh on the back of the sheet to separate the two pieces.
Smooth out the rough edges of the snapped backer board with a file.
Using power tools to cut backer boards: step by step guide
You can also use power tools to cut backer boards, but make sure you know how to use each tool confidently before you start. Here’s a rundown of how to use a circular saw.
Use a carbide-tipped wood-cutting blade with the fewest number of teeth you can find to reduce the amount of dust created. While tools with teeth are good for cutting wood, cement requires less teeth to reduce debris.
Mark your cutting line with a carpenter’s pencil as above, being sure to use a spirit level for accuracy.
With the backer board on a cutting table, push the saw into the material with slow, even pressure for a smooth cut.
You can also use other power tools such as an angle grinder with a diamond-impregnated cutting wheel. This will produce a lot of dust so be careful.
A jigsaw fitted with a metal-cutting blade or carbide-grit blade is another option. Again, cut slowly and smoothly.
When cutting cement backer boards using power tools, it’s essential to wear goggles and a mask because each backer board contains crystalline silica dust which can irritate your lungs. Don’t skip this step or you could give yourself preventable health issues. It’s a good idea to cut the board outside rather than in a confined space so that the dust particles can escape easily.
How to use tile backer boards: step by step guide
Using tile backer boards is relatively simple and straightforward.
The first step is to make sure the surface area is clean, stable and that any necessary repairs have been made. You’ll need to remove old materials and backers. Floor joists should also be sturdy and squeak-free before laying backer boards.
The next step is to complete a dry lay of your boards so you know what goes where. This is your chance to cut any boards to size in advance.
Once all your preparation has been done and your boards are ready, apply thin-set mortar and lay your backer boards into the mixture. Using a drill, secure screws along the seam of each board. Then, insert the remaining screws every 8 to 12 inches apart over the surface of the cement board, until it is secure.
The final step is to tape over all the seams. When taping corner pieces, consider using a corner trowel to flatten all of the tape to the cement sheet successfully. You can now apply another thin layer of mortar over the tape and leave to dry.
With this step complete, you’re ready to begin tiling. This is the fun part, so don’t forget to think your design through carefully, checking out the wide range of tile colours and patterns available from Tile Warehouse.
Watch our video
Still need some help with cutting backer boards. Tile Warehouse and YouTuber Proper DIY have teamed up to create this easy-to-follow video all about using backer boards in the home.
Need more information?
If you have any questions regarding backer boards, then feel free to contact our Customer Services team using our web chat facility.
If you would like to know more about tiling in your home, then why not read one of the following guides