How to Use a Wet Tile Saw

cutting tile with a wet saw
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A wet tile saw resembles a small stationary table saw, miter saw, or radial arm saw, but it makes use of water to help keep a special diamond-encrusted blade cool during the cutting action. It is an excellent tool for safely and efficiently cutting ceramic and porcelain tile, as well as stone tile. A wet tile saw creates smooth, uniform cuts, especially when compared to a snap tile cutter's often unpredictable edges.

When used safely, wet tile saws can help you produce many cleanly cut tiles to your exact specifications in very little time. In addition to straight cuts, a wet saw makes it possible to easily cut bevels, small shapes, and odd angles.

What Is a Wet Tile Saw?

A wet tile saw is a small stationary power saw used to cut ceramic, porcelain, and stone tile. Similar in function to a small table saw or radial arm saw, wet tile saws use a stream of water to keep a diamond-encrusted cutting blade cool as it cuts through hard materials. This tool greatly speeds and simplifies a tile installation project.

Wet Tile Saw Variations

Most of the consumer-level wet tile saws look and operate much like small table saws, with a blade the extends up through a slot in the table. The tile slides over the table and across the blade during cutting. Most saws have an adjustable guide fence, as well as a miter gauge that allows you to cut tiles at an angle. Most DIYers purchased this kind of saw, usually at a cost ranging from $75 to $200.

More expensive contractor-level wet saws look more like power miter saws. They have an overhead-mounted motor and blade. With this design, the tile lays on a table that slides forward on rails as you feed the tile across the blade. With this style, the entire blade and motor can be pivoted to create bevel cuts, and the table can be rotated to cut tiles at angles. Other more expensive designs operate like radial arm saws, with the tile remaining stationary while the motor and blade slide on rails overhead to cut the tile from the top.

While an upper-end wet saw can be useful if you are cutting very large tiles, they cost many hundreds of dollars, making them impractical for most do-it-yourselfers to own.

Wet Tile Saw vs. Snap Tile Cutter

A great many novice DIYers perform their first tile installation job using a manual snap cutter. A snap cutter operates like a glass cutter. It has a carbide cutting wheel attached to a lever. The wheel is drawn across the tile to score the face, then a built-in snapper is used to press down across the scored line to snap the tile on the score.

There is nothing at all wrong with a snap cutter, especially for small jobs. But it is not very effective for making angled cuts or for cutting small tiles. The cuts are typically a bit rough, which may require some hand sanding to smooth them. And for big jobs that require cutting many tiles, it can become very wearisome to use a snap cutter.

Once a DIYer learns how to use a wet tile saw, they rarely go back to the snap cutter.

Wet Tile Saw
  • Works for all types of stone, ceramic, and porcelain tiles

  • More expensive—but also more versatile tool

  • Messy to use

  • Requires electrical connection

  • Cuts tiles very easily

  • Useful for making angled cuts

  • Cuts large and small tiles equally well

Snap Tile Cutter
  • Not suitable for cutting stone or most porcelain tiles

  • Not suitable for cutting thick floor tiles

  • Inexpensive tool

  • Requires more manual effort

  • Angled cuts are difficult

  • Doesn't work well for small tiles

Parts of a Wet Tile Saw

The parts of a wet tile saw can differ a bit, depending on the manufacturer's design, but most of the basic DIY-level wet saws resemble small table saws. A motor drives a spindle or belt that spins a diamond-encrusted saw blade that protrudes up through a slotted table. Tiles are pushed across the blade to cut them.

All wet saws have a jet that sprays water over the blade during cutting to cool and lubricate the blade, and also to remove dust. Most saws draw their water from a reservoir built into the saw table, but others are designed to attach to a hose that provides a constant stream of water as old water drains away.

What Blade to Use

All wet tile saws use diamond-encrusted circular blades to do the cutting, but there are various sizes and styles available. Sizes range from 4- to 10-inches in diameter. Some styles have slots or holes cut into the body of the blade to help with heat dissipation. Extra-thin blades are designed to make easy work of cutting thick stone or porcelain tiles, and there are others with extra-fine diamond grit for cutting glass. But for general use on standard ceramic wall or floor tiles, any standard continuous rim diamond blade will do the job. Choose a blade size appropriate for your saw's design. Most consumer-level saws use 7-inch blades.

Safety Considerations

Use a wet tile saw with caution. Water, electricity, and a rapidly spinning diamond-encrusted blade combine to make this an experience that requires all of your attention. Even in the best of circumstances, cutting with a wet saw is a messy operation that will spray water over the work area. If possible, work outside or in a garage where water spray won't be a problem. If you must work indoors, cover the floor and nearby surfaces with plastic to protect from overspray.

Choose a work area that has access to a GFCI outlet, and make sure there is a sturdy, stable work surface to support the saw. A good portable workbench or picnic table can serve this purpose; many people prefer to simply rest the wet saw on the ground or on a concrete slab. If you are using a saw that requires a constant water feed, you will also need access to a hose spigot.

Read the manufacturer's safety instructions prior to using the tool. Power tools that operate around water should always be plugged into GFCI-protected outlets, and make sure to wear eye protectors and hearing protectors while operating the saw.

How to Use a Wet Tile Saw

  1. Prepare the Work Area

    Choose an area that is well lit and free of obstructions as your work area for cutting. Make sure there is access to an outlet. If necessary, cover the floor and other surfaces in the work area with sheets of plastic to protect against water. Establish a firm, steady work surface to support the wet tile saw, then set the saw in place.

  2. Prepare the Saw

    Fill the saw's water reservoir with water, making sure it is at a level that covers the recirculating pump. Plug the saw into a GFCI-protected outlet. If you don't have close access to a protected outlet, you can use a GFCI extension cord. Anytime you are mixing water and electricity, GFCI protection is essential.

    Make sure there is a drip loop in the electrical cord leading from the saw to the outlet. The drip loop should be lower than both the saw and the outlet, so that water cannot drip down the cord and into the outlet.

    Tip

    If you are using a freshwater feed, you will need to establish a hose connection from a spigot to the saw. Place a bucket under the drain outlet, or run another hose to a convenient drain point.

  3. Prepare to Cut

    Use a grease pencil or fine indelible marker to draw a cutting line on the tile. Adjust the guide fence on the saw to the width of the cut you want to make. If cutting at an angle, adjust the saw's miter gauge to the desired angle. Place the tile on the bed of the saw, flush against the fence or miter gauge, and check the position of the blade against the marked line on the tile. Pull the tile back to a point well in front of the blade.

  4. Cut the Tile

    Put on eye protection and hearing protectors, then turn on the saw and wait for the blade to come up to full speed. Watch to make sure that water is hitting the blade, but not splashing about too wildly. If necessary, make an adjustment to the water stream as indicated by the saw manufacturer's instructions.

    Slowly and steadily push the tile through the spinning blade, holding it on both sides with your hands well away from the blade. Rather than forcing the tile through the blade, allow it to feed gradually; you should not hear the saw motor labor and slow down too much as you cut. A slower feed speed will be needed if you are cutting particularly hard tiles, such a porcelain or stone floor tiles.

    As the blade approaches the back end of the tile, slow down your feed speed; this is where most breakage occurs. As the tile clears the blade, turn off the saw and wait for the blade to fully stop before removing the tile from the bed of the saw. Many saws have an automatic brake that stops the blade quickly.

    Warning

    When trimming small amounts of material near a tile's edge, use a small block of scrap wood or a push block to push the tile through the saw. This will keep your fingers at a safe distance from the saw blade.

  5. Refresh the Water as Needed

    The water reservoir will become laden with sediments after you have made repeated cuts. If the water becomes too muddy or is obviously clogged with particles, stop work to remove and rinse out the reservoir, then refill it with fresh water and continue cutting.

Buying vs. Renting

Most consumer-level wet tile saws are relatively affordable tools that pay for themselves after just two or three moderate-sized projects. It's well worth owning such a saw, which can be purchased for around $100. Diamond blades generally cost $10 to $40, depending on size and design.

More expensive contractor-level wet tile saws can be rented by the day or the week at tool rental outlets and home centers. Rental costs are typically about $50 per day or $200 per week for a medium-sized saw with a 7-inch blade. Expect to pay upwards of $300 per week for larger 10-inch saws.

At some rental outlets, you may pay an additional surcharge for wear on the diamond blade of the saw.

Keeping a Wet Tile Saw in Good Condition

Wet tile saws require diligent cleaning in order to stay in good operating condition. The fine clay and stone particles produced by the saw can easily solidify around moving parts and cause the saw to malfunction. Most commonly, the sliding table stops moving smoothly.

The tool's instruction manual will give details on how to clean, but you should expect to spend at least 30 minutes cleaning your tool after each use. This process usually involves a thorough spraying or sponge cleaning of all parts, followed by careful towel drying. Many experienced users like to spray the slides and other moving parts with a lithium spray lubricant after cleaning. This will displace any remaining moisture and prevent corrosion.

When to Replace a Wet Tile Saw

A wet tile saw should last for decades if you use it and clean it according to the manufacturer's instructions. The most common mistake is to push tiles through the saw with too much speed and force, which will quickly wear out blades as well as put stress on the tool's motor. It will become clear when your saw has seen the end of its life—the motor will simply burn out and stop working. Until then, replacing the blade whenever it becomes dull should keep your wet saw performing like new.