Buying vs. Renting a Wet Tile Saw

cutting tile with a wet saw
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A homeowner considering renovating his kitchen and bathroom asks if he/she should buy a wet tile saw, and if it is even worth using one (versus other methods of tile-cutting).

A wet tile saw is a serious piece of equipment. Cutting tile is unlike cutting other types of materials--breakage is imminent, and the risk of sharp, flying particles is very real.

How It Works

The wet tile saw is equipped with a diamond-edged carbide blade.

This is not like the blade with teeth that you use to cut wood.

I like to use a more common tool--an angle grinder--as a comparison. Angle grinders can be fitted with thick carbide circular blades which cut materials more by relentlessly grinding them down, rather than by cutting with a sharp blade.

A tile saw employs a similar way of cutting tile. Sharp, "toothed" metal blades would wear down quickly and have little impact on tile. But the grinding action of the wet tile saw makes quick work of tile.

Add in the wet tile saw's continually recirculating "fountain" of water to keep the blade and materials cool and to reduce the dust and flying particles.

Is a Snap Tile Cutter An Alternative?

You can cut tiles as large as 12" using a small, cheap tool called a snap tile cutter or rail cutter.

But the breaks with snap cutters can be uneven and wildly unpredictable (meaning: a lot of broken tile sent to the land fill).

  By contrast, the wet tile saw rarely makes unpredictable cuts.  If so, it's usually operator error.

Reasons for the "Wet" Part of the Saw

  1. The Cooling Effect - Without water spraying on the tile, it would get too hot and break. The water is a coolant and a lubricant.
  2. Keeping Particles at Bay - Wet tile saws kick up a lot of debris. Water helps minimize the mess.

    Two Types

    • Recirculating Pump - These wet tile saws keep recirculating and filtering the same water. This eliminates the need to be hooked up to a water faucet.
    • Fresh Water Source - These saws draw straight from a water source. They are often touted as "Pumpless," as if pumps are a bad thing. While these "pumpless" tile saws ensure a continual spray of clean water, they also mean you cannot stray too far from a water source.

    Summary

    A wet saw will cost more than a table saw and a circular saw. If you have just one room to tile, I would recommend against buying a wet saw. These can be rented relatively cheaply from a local rental yard.

    For two or more rooms, it will probably be more cost-effective to purchase an inexpensive wet tile saw.

    One pivot point in your decision may be the realization that these cannot be used for other purposes.  For example, a reciprocating saw has multiple uses and can even cut different types of materials--PVC, wood, metal, etc.  A wet tile saw is used only for cutting tile.

    Also, if your storage space is limited, you may not want to purchase one.  With their water collection trays and stands, these are big, unwieldy items.