How to Use a Wet Tile Saw

cutting tile with a wet saw
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Overview
  • Working Time: 60 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hrs
  • Yield: 16 square feet of tile
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $30 to $50 per day rental; $75 to $800 to purchase saw

A wet tile saw is a by far the best tool for safely and efficiently cutting ceramic and porcelain tile, as well as stone tile. A wet tile saw provides must smoother, more uniform cuts when compared to a snap tile cutter, which often produces an unpredictable, ragged edge.

But using a wet tile saw can be a fearsome proposition, and rightfully so. Water, electricity, and a rapidly spinning diamond-encrusted blade combine to make this an experience that requires all of your attention. 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.

How a Wet Tile Saw Works

A wet tile saw looks like a small electric table saw or miter saw, but it has special features that allow it to cut ceramic and stone tile. Rather than a traditional circular saw blade, a wet saw uses a diamond-encrusted blade that cuts with friction. 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. DIYers generally have better results with a saw that uses a water reservoir and recirculating pump.

Design Variations

Most of the consumer-level wet tile saws look and operate much like a small table saw, 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 a miter gauge that allows you to cut tiles at an angle. A DIYer who wishes to purchase a wet tile saw will normally buy one that uses this design, at costs ranging from $75 to $200 for a basic saw.

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. Still other designs operate like a radial arm saw, 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 and thus aren't practical for most DIYers to own. Contractor-level wet tile saws can be leased by the day or the week at tool rental outlets and home centers.

Preparation

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 makes 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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Wet tile saw
  • GFCI extension cord (if needed)
  • Plastic bucket
  • Eye protection
  • Hearing protectors
  • Grease pencil or fine indelible marker

Materials

  • Water
  • Plastic dropcloth

Instructions

  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.

    Note

    If you are using a fresh water feed, then 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.

    Plug in the saw to 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.

  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 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.

  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.