Wet Tile Saws: Buy or Rent?

Cutting tile with a wet saw

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For serious ceramic tile work, no tool is better than a wet saw. While there are other ways to cut tile that may serve just fine for very small jobs, if you are tiling a bathroom or large floor, your work will be much easier with a wet saw. But a wet tile saw is a serious piece of equipment. Cutting tile is unlike cutting other types of materials—breakage is common, and the risk of sharp, flying particles is very real. And this is not a tool that has other uses—it is used for cutting tile, and only cutting tile. So you might rightly wonder if it makes sense to buy this tool or if you should simply rent one.

How Wet Saws Work

A wet tile saw resembles a miniature table saw, but it is equipped with a special diamond-edged carbide blade that is quite different than the saw blades used to cut wood. Rather than truly cutting the hard ceramic material, it effectively grinds through it. The has a sliding table that feeds a tile through the overhead blade. The most unusual feature is the fact that the saw includes a reservoir of water that pumps a stream of water over the spot where the diamond blade is cutting through the tile. The function of the water stream is to keep the blade and ceramic material cool and to reduce the dust and flying particles.

The blade on a wet saw works somewhat like the thick carbide blade on an angle grinder. It is, however, a very fast way to make straight cuts on ceramic tile, and it can also be used to cut slate and other natural stone tiles.

Alternative Methods

Wet tile saws are noisy, somewhat frightening and messy machines, so some DIYers would rather opt for other means of cutting tile.

For example, you can cut tiles as large as 12 inches across by 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, leading to a lot of waste. And snap cutters work best on thinner wall tiles; they are difficult to use on thick flooring tiles, and don't work very well at all for harder porcelain tiles or very hard natural stone tiles. By contrast, the wet tile saw makes good, predictable cuts on almost any ceramic, porcelain, or stone tile. If mistakes occur, it's usually operator error.

In theory, you could also cut tile with an ordinary circular saw equipped with an abrasive diamond blade. Such blades are sold for exactly this purpose, but this is a dry-cutting process that is messy and potentially dangerous due to flying chips and fragments of glazing.

Unless your tile layout happens to be one that calls for very few cut tiles, the logical choice is a wet tile saw.

Types of Wet Saws

Wet tile saws come in two basic types.

  • Recirculating pump saws: This type of wet tile saw keeps recirculating and filtering the same water. This eliminates the need to be hooked up to a water faucet.
  • Fresh water source saws: This type of saw draws water straight from a water source. While these "pumpless" tile saws ensure a continual spray of clean water, they also mean you cannot stray too far from a water source.

Buy or Rent?

Wet saws are specialty machines, and like table saws, they come in a range of qualities and prices. Online retailers offer wet tile saws ranging from less than $100 to several hundred dollars. Unlike table saws, though, this is a one-use tool that you won't use except when you are tiling. But with rental rates running around $50 to $70 per day, it does not take too many days of tiling before the cost of buying a moderately good saw is a better bargain than renting. As a general rule of thumb, if you have only one room to tile and expect to complete the work in one or two days, then renting the tool probably makes more sense. But if you have two or more rooms to tile, or expect to tackle another major tiling job in the future, then investing $100 to $150 in a serviceable wet tile saw is likely a good investment.

Available storage space might also be a consideration. With their water reservoir trays, wet tile saws are bulky, large tools. If storage space around your home is at a premium, you may prefer to rent a saw when you need it.