Despite the increasing number of smaller tile saws available, 10-inch-blade wet saws are still the preferred tool for professional tile installers. These saws have the power, size capacity, cutting speed, and blade life pros need – and with harder porcelain tile becoming the new standard over ceramic tile, a strong, capable saw is more important than ever. The growing popularity of larger tiles is also having an effect on saw designs. All the saws in our test can handle straight cuts across a 24-inch tile and the even longer diagonal cut across an 18-inch tile – about 25-1/2 inches point to point. Even a decade ago, this cutting capacity would have been hard to find on a tile saw.
For our test, we lined up seven wet saws representing six brands and tested them mostly on tough porcelain tiles, making cuts up to 7/8 inch thick. We used identical, high-quality porcelain blades to take blade performance out of the equation and focused on cut quality and accuracy, the precision of the moving parts, and the ease of using each saw. We also considered water delivery to the cut, overspray and dripping water messes, and portability issues.
I was a bit surprised at the premium our testers placed on that last item, but when I thought about how the tile guys I know actually work, it made more sense. Most higher-end residential tile installation crews are small, and if a company has a lot of employees, they are typically spread out on different jobs. There's no point – and no efficiency – in having three or more guys tripping over each other in a master bathroom; on many jobs, even two is a crowd. Add to that the current downsized workforce, the percentage of residential tile jobs that are remodels, and the fact that many guys like to set tile with an artisan's solitary focus, and the upshot is a lot of one-man crews. Even if you have a helper for tear-outs and grouting, he's not necessarily around to help you carry your saw up and down the stairs every day. So portability is important.
Besides being relatively easy for one person to carry, a wet saw should lend itself to quick and painless setup, draining, and tear-down. As one of the testers put it, "I don't get paid one cent for setting up my saw – or even cutting tile. I'm not making money until I'm setting tile."
We tested cutting speed – and therefore power – but as with many saws, a forced or reckless cut leads to sloppy results, which means that these saws need to be used with more care than speed. Tile is an expensive material and finished tolerances are very exacting, so most guys feed at a rate that avoids chipping out the edges of a cut. If fed too fast, the heads of the saws will flex upward while riding up on the tile; while this doesn't matter much on a straight cut, the blade can flex on a bevel cut, changing the cut angle and even breaking off the strip above the blade. During our test, every saw was able to cut thick porcelain fast enough to be productive, but some had to work harder than others. The stronger models hold more reserve power and might be expected to suffer less from strain-induced wear.
There's a trick you can employ to increase the cut capacity of any of these saws. In fact, one of the brands uses it to stretch its published capacity beyond that of its competition. Four or five inches can be added to the range of the saw by starting the cut as a plunge cut and then feeding the tile through normally. For all but one saw, this requires holding the saw head steady with one hand while you feed with the other – which is not recommended as a comfortable general practice.
DeWalt's saw was by far the most coveted model in the test, and it's touted as having revolutionized contemporary tile-saw design in the several years it's been out. DeWalt has taken power-tool solutions that worked well on other portable stationary tools and successfully applied them to a piece of equipment that went largely unchanged for years. Kudos.
Our second-place choice was the Pearl CX10, with its unique dual-action cutting mechanism. This lightweight saw boasts a reduced cutting area that keeps more splash in the pan, and its powerful motor and rock-solid cart and rail assembly earned our trust.
The third-place saw was the Pearl Pro. The testers really liked its heavy-duty traditional elements – like the belt-drive induction motor – but they also appreciated its high-tech cart rail system, which is super compact yet has full-size capability.
The Husqvarna saw took fourth place, with great performance tinged with a bit of old-design clumsiness. Some see this as a sign that the saw needs updating, but others say it stays the same because it has been so successful. Either way, it's on the fence.
The three remaining models all do some things very well, but none of them particularly impressed our test crew as a complete package. In alphabetical order: The Q.E.P. was a hardworking bare-bones saw with the lowest price. The Raimondi was a monstrous workhorse – less portable than the rest, and sold at a monstrous price. The Ridgid had every gadget and a unique water system, but it just didn't fit in with what pros need every day.
Boulder, Colo., tile contractors Justin Snow and Joe Brown contributed to this test.
Editor's Note: MK declined to participate in this test.