Using Tile Nippers to Cut Stone Tesserae

Using Tile Nippers to Cut Stone
For safety reasons it is advisable to wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from any fragments of stone
This guide is concerned with using nippers to cut stone which is a maximum of 6 – 7mm thick.
Over this thickness it is recommended that a hammer and hardie is used
Which are the best tile nippers to get?
You don’t need any fancy, specialist ‘mosaic’ nippers to start off with. An ordinary drop forged, carbide tipped tile nippers from a DIY/hardware shop will do. Mostly the more expensive nippers are for use with glass.
Some have thicker, rubber handles which you may find better if you have bigger hands but see if you can try a few out. Whatever size your hand is you may find that you get more ‘feel’ with nippers with thinner grips.
 Blade Tilt
You may not realise it but a lot of nippers have a very slight ’tilt’ on the blade. I’ve exaggerated the angle on the line drawing but you should be able to see the angle on the blades. It’s very slight but if you’re cutting thin stone then you need to take this into account and angle the blades accordingly otherwise your cuts may follow the downward angle.
  Holding the nippers
Using a denser material such as stone as opposed to ceramic tiles means you need to find the most effective way to cut to lessen any possible strain on your wrist.
Hold the nippers with the ‘overhang’ part of the blades facing across your body.
  Correct Hand Position
The correct hand position is to hold the nippers toward the end of the handles. This allows you to exert the most pressure for the minimum effort. The closer your hand is to the blades the more force you need to use.
   Incorrect hand position.
The hand is too high up meaning you have to use more force to cut.
This may not make too much of a difference with occasional use but if you do a lot of cutting of hard materials over time you will be putting too much strain on your wrist.
Your hand may move up during your work without you realising it. Just check every so often and change your hand position if needed.Remember: You’re not cutting the stone rather you are sending a fracture across its surface
Cutting for different stone densities
Stone is a natural material and different types of stones will cut easier than others. Travertine is a very soft stone and cuts very easily the drawback being that it crumbles easily. Granite, a very hard stone (and not one I use or recommend in mosaic work for that reason). This cuts well but you need to use a lot of force to make a cut. Marble is somewhere in between these 2, good to cut but some types have fracture lines in them which means they will cut along these lines and not where you want the cut.
Below is a short guide to the best position of the nippers for cutting different densities of stone.
   Place the stone tile between the blades and hold in place, remove your hand away from the blades.
   Some people hold their hand under the nippers to catch the cut pieces, watch when you do this as it is quite easy if you’re not paying attention to catch your skin in between the blades!
Hard stone (granite, some marbles)
This shows a 5mm piece of polished granite being cut. The harder the stone the less you cover with the blades. N.B. I don’t use granite unless I really have too, it’s just too hard. And if I do then I will use a hammer and hardie to cut it.
Important!If you have the tesserae between the blades and you squeeze the handles and it doesn’t cut, don’t keep pressing.Stop, move the tesserae further out from between the blades and try again. If you just squeeze harder all you’re doing is putting more pressure on your wrist.
Medium density(marble)
You only need to place the blades half way across the stone. Again as with the hard stone you’re aiming to send a fracture across the tile.
Marble also tends to have veins running across it which may dictate the direction the cut goes. Avoid these pieces if you can or cut as for soft material, ie hold the blade across the whole piece to control the cut.
Soft stone (Limestone, Travertine)
You have to have the blades across the whole width so you are able to control the whole of the cut. If it will cut with the blades further back then treat as medium density.
Cutting Shapes
Assuming you are working with tesserae that are all an average of 10mm squares then during your work on the mosaic there are 3 other shapes you will need to cut, half cuts, triangles and keystones.
When you need to cut one of these make it easy on yourself by picking out a decent sized square piece. Trimming something of 1 -2mm is a lot harder than cutting a square in half.
The more stone you cut the more you get used to the different ways to cut. Try as many different ones as you can to get more experience.
I can’t emphasise it enough, it is important to realise when the stone isn’t cutting and then stopping and moving the stone further out from the blades. If you develop good practices now then you save yourself unnecessary strain in the future.
Lawrence Payne
www.romanmosaicworkshops.com
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