How to Use a Wet Tile Saw: A Beginner’s Basic Guide
If you are looking to redo your bathroom shower or tub surround, your kitchen backsplash, or even a laundry room floor, you are likely considering tile. As you’re likely aware, tile is a fantastic material to use for heavy-traffic, heavy-use, and watery areas. It can be an intimidating process if you’ve never attempted it before, so here is a beginner’s basic guide to using a tile wet saw. A tile wet saw is simple, fast, and the most efficient tool for tiling, in general, that’s out there. (Also, for more info, check out our tutorials for tiling a kitchen subway tile backsplash and tiling a shower/tub surround.)
To begin, let’s look at the wet tile saw itself. The wet tile saw used in this guide is a small tabletop number. Familiarize yourself with the components; these are the names of parts we’ll use in this guide.
Things to consider when you look for a wet tile saw
When looking to purchase a new tile saw there’s a few things to keep in mind, starting with your actual needs and expectations from the product. So ask yourself a few simple questions, like what you’ll be using the tile for, how or where you plan to use it and so on. Let’s go over a few of the criteria that can help you make an informed decision.
There are particular types of saws designed to cut specific kinds of tiles or to make certain types of cuts like an L or a U cut for example. If you plan to use your tile saw for something very specific then definitely focus on that and try to prioritize accuracy. However, if you want a saw that can cut all sorts of different tiles which you can use for various types of projects, versatility should be a top priority.
It’s no use having a tile saw that promises all sorts of cool and convenient features if it can’t actually deliver those things. Look for a saw that has the appropriate motor power for what you intend to cut with it. A powerful enough saw will give you clean cuts, smooth lines and won’t damage the tiles.
Obviously, wet tile saws come in lots of different sizes. They can get quite big and heavy so make sure you don’t go overboard or that you don’t get a tile that’s too small and not powerful enough for your needs. If you’re doing all your cutting in a workshop, then you won’t need to move the saw around so portability shouldn’t be a priority. Also, you probably have plenty of space for a big saw. On the other hand, if you want to be able to easily carry the saw with you to various locations and job sites, something small and portable is best.
The blade is perhaps the most important element in a tile saw. A proper blade will deliver smooth and clean cuts making it easier to install the tiles. A diamond blade is a great choice. It gives you beautiful cuts that look professional and doesn’t leave sharp edges.
Dust and splashing
When using a wet tile saw a big concern is all the mess that goes with it. All the dust and the water splashing can really ruin a space, causing all sorts of problems and health hazards. It’s best to minimize these things by looking for a saw that prevents the dust from getting into the air. That’s what the water is for. Of course, you don’t want the water to cause a mess either so check out the spraying system as well.
Having a tile saw that you can outfit with all sorts of different accessories is definitely very convenient. That means you can use the same saw for multiple different tasks instead of having to buy and carry around different tools. A saw that doesn’t accept any accessories really limits your options in the future.
Choosing between a tile cutter and a wet saw
Both of these tools can be used for cutting tiles which can make choosing one over the other quite difficult. Generally, tile cutters are more convenient and easy to use but they’re not as fast as wet tile saws. The saws, on the other hand, are faster but less convenient, usually larger and size and more difficult to operate.
The way in which a tile cutter works is you place a tile inside and score it, then break the tile along the scored line. This can sometimes be difficult. Some types of types don’t score that well and some don’t score at all (glass for example).
Tile cutters are cheaper than wet tile saws, smaller and thus more portable and they’re easy to use. They\re useful for small projects or home renovations, in case you need to replace a few damaged tiles in a room or to redo a tiny bathroom for instance.
Wet tile saws
If you’re working on big projects, a wet tile saw is the way to go. They’re more precise compared to regular tile cutters and they give you perfectly straight lines every time. You can even use them to make intricate cuts and even curved tiles. They work with all sorts of different types of tiles and many materials and they’re definitely the way to go if you plan to cut glass tiles.
They’re also faster than tile cutters which adds up when working on large projects. Of course, wet saws are also bigger and more difficult to transport. They also require electricity so they’re of no use if you don’t have power.
Safety tips when using a tile saw
A tile saw can be a dangerous tool if not used properly. You should always take safety precautions when operating it, such as:
- wear safety goggles and gloves to protect yourself
- wear a face mask to prevent dust and debris in the air from being inhaled
- check the sharpness of the blade before using the saw to ensure it can operate properly
- don’t overload the saw and operate it only within its limits
4 Best Tile Saws for the Money
1. DEWALT Wet Tile Saw with Stand
If you’re planning to make a purchase and have a wet tile saw of yourself to use on future renovation projects, you might want to consider one of these options. The DEWALT Wet Tile Saw comes with a stand and weighs 69 pounds (a little over 30 kg). It features a cut line indicator and stainless steel rollers as well as a plunge feature for making quick cuts. It can cut 18’’ x 18’’ tiles on a diagonal and has a 45 or 22.5 degree miter feature for making angled cuts.
2. PORTER-CABLE PCE980 Wet Tile Saw
The PORTER-CABLE PCE980 Wet Tile Saw weighs only 32 pounds (14.5 kg) and measures 26.9’’ x 22.7’’ x 8.9’’ in total which allows it to be portable and easy to carry and to move around. It also includes a roll cage and a drain plug which allows you to quickly remove the water without making a mess when you’re done using the saw. The splash guard prevents the water from getting on your hands and miter square helps you line up miter cuts and repeatable rip cuts, making it easy and enjoyable to use the saw.
3. SKIL 3540-02 7-Inch Wet Tile Saw
If you want an even smaller and lighter wet tile saw, check out the SKIL 3540-02. It weighs only 17.69 pounds (8 kg) which makes it super portable and practical. Its overall dimensions are 18’’ x 14.5’’ x 7.8’’. You can easily pack it and carry it around or store it when you’re not using it. You can use it to cut 12’’ x 12’’ tiles which does have its limitations. The saw has a corrosive-resistant stainless steel top and a water reservoir. This minimizes dust and debris and also keeps the blade cool while cutting.
4. Wet Tile Saw with HydroLock Water Containment System
This is the SKIL 3550-02 7-Inch Wet Tile Saw which compared to the other model that we mentioned previously also includes a Hydro Lock Water Containment System designed to prevent the water from splashing and making a mess. This allows you to cut the tiles in the same room where they’re being installed without having to worry about cleaning up. The overall dimensions of this model are 22’’ x 18’’ x 8.5’’ and it weighs 24 pounds (almost 11 kg). It also has an adjustable rip fence with miter gauge which helps you make accurate cuts.
The lock plate can be moved from side to side to enable you to cut your tile to any distance (as long as it fits on your saw table). There is a locking mechanism that’s similar to what’s used in raising and lowering a bicycle seat – pull the lever (lock) out to unlock, adjust the lock plate, and push the lock back in.
After you measure the desired length of your tile, use the measuring guides on your saw table to lock the lock plate for your tile cut. These guides are located at the front and back edges of your saw table. Note: As you go along on your project, the measurement numbers will get covered with water and tile dust, so you’ll probably have to wipe them off regularly to be able to see them. Be precise with these measurements for a cleaner, more professional tile job’s outcome.
Position your tile snug against the measured and locked lock plate. Note: You can lock it in on either the right or left side of your blade, depending on the cut and what is comfortable for you. The on/off switch is typically located on the front of your wet tile saw.
Holding both ends securely while double-(triple-?)checking your measurements, push down the locking lever.
With your lock plate secured, your tile in place, your blade guard lowered, you’re ready to cut the tile. Switch on your tile saw.
Using two hands when possible (only one is shown in these photos because I needed one hand to take the photos), push the tile downward onto the saw table, inward toward the lock plate, and backward (away from you) through the saw blade. Do this simultaneously and with equal pressure in all directions.
Note: For some cuts, it’s not safe to use two hands because the distance between the spinning blade and lock plate is too narrow. DO NOT USE YOUR FINGERS HERE. Instead, use a long (2’-3’) piece of scrap wood or trim or another tile to serve as your fingers to push that section through the saw blade. This is so important. When this happens, use your other hand to be particularly careful to keep the tile pushed down snug and flat on the saw table; the tiles will have a tendency to want to rise.
Continue pushing with your hand(s) and/or your scrap wood, equal speeds and pressures, until the tile is completely cut.
Congratulations, you’ve just cut your first piece of tile for an amazing tile transformation project. If the tile remnant, touching the lock plate, doesn’t come out as easily for some reason (this doesn’t happen often, but in case it does), just leave it there momentarily while you turn off your tile saw.
When the blade stops spinning, lift your blade guard. Note: If you lift the blade guard while the saw is still on, this is not only dangerous, but it will also spray dirty tile-water all over your face and clothes.
With the tile saw turned off and blade completely stopped, it is now safe to reach in and pull out any tile remnants.
Now that you understand the basic method of using a tile wet saw to make your tile cuts, let’s look at some of the techniques you might need should your tiling job get fancy. For example, an L-shaped tile might be required when tiling around a window or a cabinet…or anything else that doesn’t follow your tile line.
Make your measurements, either writing them down somewhere or drawing directly onto the tile itself (whatever you’re more comfortable with given your space constraints). Choose one cut to make and set your lock plate accordingly. Cut only until the blade reaches the second (intersecting) measurement of your perpendicular line. Note: To do this, you may need to stand to the side of your tile saw, slightly lift the blade guard, and carefully push your tile through while watching from the side until the blade meets the line. Photos of this technique will be shown a little later.
With your first cut made precisely, turn off your tile saw. Remove your tile carefully, keeping in mind that any tile that has been cut has a compromised (weakened) strength and can crack or break much more readily than a full tile. Find your other line to make your L-shaped tile and lay your tile in place in front of the blade.
Measure then lock your lock plate into place accordingly.
Lower your blade guard.
Turn on the tile saw and cut slowly. As you push an already-cut tile through, pay attention to pressure points. In this case, if I were to push too hard on the narrow part of the cut tile while moving it through the blade, the tile would have a high likelihood of snapping. Instead, use caution and choose the strongest parts of your tile to move it through the blade; in this case, the back (thicker) half of the cut part. (And also a scrap wood on the narrow strip on the left.)
As you approach the intersecting line, you’ll want to get a precise, 90-degree corner. Step slightly to the side of your tile saw and raise the glade guard about an inch. (The tile broke off here before the cut was complete, so I still needed to complete the cut to create a sharp 90-degree corner.)
Continue pushing the tile through, slowly, until the blade meets your first line on the top surface of your tile. Note: To take this photo, the saw was turned off and the blade was not spinning. This would be a terrible place for one’s thumb if the saw were actually moving. SAFETY FIRST.
You’ll be watching from the side so you don’t get sprayed in the face with water, impeding your vision for a clean cut.
The corner is now square, but there’s now a bump created by the first cut’s not coming down far enough. If this happens to you, it’s completely fixable.
Simply pull out your tile, line the blade up on the other cut, and shave it off.
You might notice the back of the tile at this point. Because of the blade’s arc, the cuts will extend further on the tile’s back than on the front. This is one reason why it’s important to always use a tile wet saw with your tile facing upward.
The front of the tile looks great. Well, good enough. J
Take your now-L-shaped tile into your space and marvel at its flawless fit. Nicely done!
So, we’ve covered basic cuts and L-shaped (or multiple-cut) cuts. Another tricky cut you might run into, particularly in a shower/tub surround, is the circle cut. Obviously, it isn’t possible to cut a circle with a straight saw blade. But you can use that same straight saw blade to create a circle cut. Here’s how. First, measure exactly (and I mean exactly) how big/small you need your circle to be. Draw it with a pencil or permanent marker onto your tile. This particular circle will be cut for the tub mixer valve.
Start making narrow, parallel cuts with your saw blade up to your drawn line. The narrow strips of tile might break off as you’re sawing, and that’s fine, but don’t worry about it if they don’t break.
When you’ve finished the complete arc, use tile nippers to snip off the narrow bits up to your drawn line.
You have the advantage here of being able to angle your nippers to follow, pretty closely, your drawn line exactly.
You’ll notice that the thinner your saw cuts are, the easier it is to break off the strips accurately. But there’s a tradeoff, because doing so many saw cuts takes more time as well. I’d recommend keeping your strips to about ¼” wide, if possible.
When all is said and done, you should have a beautifully rounded cut. And to think you accomplished this with just a straight saw blade and some nippers!
Here’s the fit. Perfect!
We hope you’ve found this basic beginner’s guide to using a tile wet saw helpful. Good luck on your projects!
Note: The author is an experienced, although not professional, DIYer. Neither the author nor Homedit is responsible for any injury or damage that may be a result of following this tutorial.