How to cut china pottery

Written by nancy susanna breen | 13/05/2017
How to cut china pottery
Cut motifs, such as flowers, from china with ceramic tile nippers. (two plates isolated on the white background image by Elnur from

Crafting with broken china is popular, whether making jewellery, mosaics or assemblage art. The easiest way to break china is to put it in a paper bag, wrap it in a towel and pound it with a hammer or rubber mallet. However, this method is random. Cutting china with ceramic tile nippers, available at craft and building supply stores, is the best way to control the size and design content of the pieces you need.

How to cut china pottery
Nippers without a spring between the handles are still effective. (nippers image by Aleksandr Ugorenkov from

Wash the china thoroughly with soap and water. If you're making a mosaic, the china shard won't adhere if there's any grime or grease, and once they're cut, the china shards are difficult to wash. For your first attempt at cutting china, the easiest piece to work with is a plate.

Put on safety glasses or goggles and a dust mask. Flying flecks and chips of nipped china can cause eye injuries, and nipping can create ceramic dust particles that would be dangerous to inhale. To protect your work surface, cover it with something durable, such as plastic sheeting. Consider covering the floor with plastic sheeting as well; otherwise, sweep or vacuum away any stray chips or splinters when you're done cutting.

Examine the plate for details, such as repeating patterns, design motifs and sculptural elements such as fluted edges. Decide if you want to cut certain areas differently to preserve these details.

Cut the plate into smaller, more manageable sections. If there are no areas you want to preserve, simply cut the plate in half, then cut the halves into quarters and the quarters into eighths. To do this, place the blades of the nipper over the edge of the plate, with the blades perpendicular to the edge and the edge inserted about 6.35-mm / 1/4-inch between the blades. Holding the nipper far down on the handles with your free hand, squeeze with considerable force. This should crack the plate in half.

Use the same procedure to cut the halves and fourths until you have eight pieces resembling slices of pie. How you cut from here depends on whether you want to reproduce the entire plate in your mosaic or simply cut attractive pieces for general mosaic or jewellery work. To preserve the plate's overall design, cut the plates in "bites" starting at the tip of the slice. As you move up the slice, each cut will require more bites. Also cut the plate's base ridge from the bottom of the slice. This involves "nibbling" at the piece with the very edges of the nipper blades. Take small bites close to the outside edge of the ridge, then nip away the ridge itself. Cut away the slopes in the plate if you want the pieces to lie flat. Keep the pieces organised so you'll be able to reassemble them into a mosaic replica of the original plate.

Cut china pieces to use randomly in mosaic, jewellery or assemblage work by nipping at the individual "slices." Cut to desired sizes, or shape the colours and repeat patterns into pieces you want to work with. For specific shapes, such as hearts, draw the shape first on the back of the china with removable marker. Take tiny bites with just the tips of the nipper blades as you nibble toward and along the drawn outline.

Isolate motifs such as flowers and scenes by cutting away sections of china around the motif. Be careful when cutting the plate in sections that you don't split any motifs. If the motif is large, such as a centre design on a plate, cut away the surrounding plate, then cut the large motif into sections that you can reassemble in your artwork. Otherwise, continue to cut the motif sections into smaller pieces to use individually in projects.


Use the nippers in the same way to cut other china pieces, such as cups, bowls and vases. These pieces are more challenging because they have more slopes and curves than plates. Nippers allow you to cut china pieces to size, but don't expect complete accuracy. Be flexible. Only a wet saw can achieve total accuracy and clean lines, but that method requires more cost, hassle, caution and mess. Tile nippers don't cut all china equally well. American and English pieces from the 1920s through the 1940s are best for cutting. A modern piece marked as dishwasher or microwave safe or a porcelain item may resist nipping or shatter under the pressure of the nipper blades. Experiment with different angles when cutting with nippers, and examine the results to see what works best for you. Use the same angle for all cuts on pieces that will be near each other in projects that require consistency.


Use care when handling broken china and nippers. Both are sharp and can cause injury. Never leave china or nippers within reach of children.

Things you need

  • Soap
  • Goggles or safety glasses with side shields
  • Dust mask
  • Work surface protection, such as plastic sheeting
  • Ceramic tile nippers
  • Removable marker

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