How To Cut Ceiling Tile

Ceiling tiles are made of fiber board, which are fibers made from cane, wood, and other materials. These are bound by chemicals, and pressed into hard, flat or semi-flat panels. Most ceiling tiles are fire-proofed by the use of chemicals for added protection. Ceiling tiles also have grooves and tongues at the edges for easy installation. Installing ceiling tiles would often require cutting, though, because these come in 12” x 12” measurement, which may not necessarily fit every ceiling perfectly, especially at the edges.

You will need:

  • Straight edge
  • Utility knife
  • Pencil

Since ceiling tiles are mostly made of fiberboard, one can easily cut them using a utility knife. However, the tricky part is with measuring the ceiling tile and making sure you have a clean cut.

Measure your ceiling. Before you even cut or measure tiles for cutting, you would first need to determine the portion of your ceiling tiles that would fit without cutting. Measure your ceiling first. If it measures in exact feet, then you will not need to cut any tiles (since a tile has a measure of 1 x 1 foot. If the measurement is not in exact feet, then take note of the number of remaining inches, add 12, and divide by two. This would be the width of your border or edge tiles. Keep this measurement in mind, or note it down for future reference.

For example, if your ceiling measures 10’, then you are sure that you can fit 10 tiles across, without the need for cutting. However, if your ceiling measures 11’ 8’’ long, then you will need to add 12 to the 8 inch excess, which will give you 20. Divide this by two. You get 10”. This means your edge tiles should measure 10” in width. Adding 12 to the measurement will ensure that your border tiles will be measure greater than half a width.

Install the center tiles. When installing, start at the center of your ceiling, as your cut-out tiles should be situated at the edges. Make sure that you situate your ceiling tiles such that the tiles at opposite edges of the ceiling have an equal cut. Also, as a rule of thumb, tiles should never be cut less than half their width, because if this is the case, then this means they probably fit the ceiling without cutting, with some adjustment.

Measure your border tiles.
With the width measurement you determined in the first step, measure each tile for cutting, using either an engineer’s square or a ruler. Subtract 1/8th of an inch so that the tile won’t be tight when installed (and to make it easier to install paneling or other linings on the ceiling). Mark the line with a pencil.

Score a line on the tile. Lay the tile on a flat surface fit for cutting. Using a straightedge, score a line on the tile right on the pencil mark. Use a sawing motion, and try not to make the tile crumble.

Cut through with a utility knife. Using a utility knife with a sharp blade (knife blades dull over time, so use a new blade), cut through the scored line, using the straightedge as a guide. You can turn the tile over so you can cut a line on the other end.

Break off the tile.
With a cut deep enough, you can break the tile apart in two. Clean off the edges with the utility knife, and try to place the tile on its supposed spot on the ceiling to see if it will fit.

You can use previously cut tiles as a guide for scoring and cutting the other tiles.

Some safety precautions:

Wear protective goggles and gloves when handling ceiling tiles, because these might crumble and dust might irritate your eyes and lungs. Also, if you are repairing ceiling tiles that were installed prior to the 1970’s, you will need to watch out for asbestos. You might have to consult with your local EPA office on how to test for asbestos, and how to handle this if you find your ceiling to contain the chemical. Asbestos is cancerous and caution should be taken when working with it.


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