Our remodeling projects often involve high-end tile and stonework, intricately designed layouts, and materials of all sizes, from tiny tile to 24-inch-square slabs. The only way to cut this wide range of materials is with a 10-inch wet tile saw.
I tested the Felker Tile Master TM-1HT, MK Diamond MK-101, Q.E.P. 60060, and Target Super Tile Master. I evaluated the saws for accuracy, power, cutting bed quality, cut capacity, ease of clean-up, and tool accessories. I put the tools through their paces by cutting ceramic, marble, and granite tiles and some 1"x2" fabric-backed sheet tile.
Accuracy. Cutting accuracy is critical for complex installations, especially those with little or no grout lines. The Q.E.P. and Target saws are precise; they provide square rips and accurate miters from beginning to end. They also cut thin strips of tile and shaved off slices well; which is often necessary when recutting a piece for a perfect fit. The MK saw produced the least accurate cuts, perhaps because of its bed design.
It's important to note that pushing material through a tile saw too quickly reduces cut accuracy. The second you hear the rpms drop off, you're pushing too hard. This might be okay if the cut edge lands under a baseboard. But, if precision counts, you should slow down.
The four models I tested (as well as most other tile-cutting saws) come with clutches that stop their blades if the feed rate is too fast.
Power. The motor is a critical part of any tile saw. Both the Felker and Target tools use 1-1/2-hp Baldor motors. The MK saw has a 1-3/4-hp motor and the Q.E.P. model has a 2-hp motor. Overall, each saw is powerful enough for professional-quality and heavy-capacity work. However, over time, I bet larger motors would cut better and longer.
Cutting bed. Q.E.P.'s saw bed comes with front and side bed extensions. Bolted together, they create a large, solid surface that accommodates all tile sizes. The extensions reduce the likelihood of tile overhanging the bed, which makes for more comfortable cutting and a noticeably solid feel.
Target's bed is also large and nicely designed. Its simple, functional design gives the impression it'll hold up well with heavy use. Unfortunately, the front and back bed sections aren't mechanically fastened, resulting in a bit of play.
MK's cutting bed design is the most awkward and stiff. It's guided largely from one side rather than fully on two rails like the other saws. It periodically required spray lubricant to help it slide more smoothly.
Pump. A tile saw's cutting surface needs a reliable, steady water flow to maximize blade life and cutting accuracy. If the blade gets hot, it's more likely to warp. Also, excessive heat can cause the tile to chip at the cut edges.
Out of the box, each saw's pump required adjusting and coaxing to get water flowing. They required further fiddling to get the water to squirt on the blade and cutting surface. But once they were up and running, they needed few additional adjustments.
Safety. Switches on the Q.E.P. and MK saws are rubber-coated to help protect them from water and presumably insulate you from shocks. The Q.E.P. saw also comes with a small bolt that acts as a switch lock and it's a good reminder that you can lock the saw.
I'm not worried about my guys accidentally switching tools on. However, we often remodel occupied homes, so I worry about a customer's kids getting at the saws after hours. If you lose the pin (which you will), a piece of wire works, too. The other saws also have holes in their switch mechanisms so you can pass a piece of wire through.
Cork. When it comes to getting the little things right, Q.E.P. did its homework. The cork is in front of the pan and attached by a nylon string. Now there's no excuse for losing another one. I've lost hundreds of dollars worth of labor improvising a new cork because somebody lost the original one. Felker's drain cork is in the back of the pan, which makes it a bit awkward to drain in tight quarters.
Stand. The Q.E.P. stand is the only one of the four included in the purchase price. It even comes in the same box. The other companies shipped stands for this test, but they're sold separately. After being cheap with my first two saws, I advise you to buy the stand, no matter which saw you end up choosing.
Q.E.P.'s stand is also the only one of the four with wheels: Two locking casters on the back enable one person to move the tool easily, even when it's full of water.
Tools. I also appreciate that Q.E.P. provides a miter block and rip guide that works for 90- and 45-degree cuts. The Felker saw ships with a rip guide, too, but it only works for 90-degree rips.
The Q.E.P. saw also comes with a wrench for blade changing and other adjustments; the other saws don't come with wrenches. The Q.E.P. frame even has a slot to store the tool. However, there's no place to keep the miter and ripping guides, which are easy to misplace. A nylon mesh bag with a hook to secure these tools on the stand would be an excellent improvement.
Clean-Up. Cutting tile and stone is messy. Between the scraps, sediment, and overspray, there's always lots to clean up. The Target saw has the largest, most time-consuming pan to clean. It's made of rugged stainless steel, but it has lots of square corners that resist easy wiping with a sponge. The Felker and Q.E.P. saw require similar amounts of effort to clean. The MK's pan is harder to remove and the saw and frame have surfaces that are awkward to clean well.
The Q.E.P. is the overall best tool for my needs. It's noticeably less expensive, has ample cut capacity, comes with a stand, a rip guide that also works for diagonal rips, a wrench for adjustments and blade changing, and a mitering wedge.
The more expensive Target saw comes in second, but it's better for a dedicated tile contractor who works with larger tiles more often than I do. Next comes the Felker saw, with the MK tool close behind.
Ethan Landis is co-owner of Landis Construction Corp., a design/build remodeling company located in Washington, D.C.