A spring-loaded head is necessary for easily controlling plunge cuts into tile for electrical box or vent cutouts. All saws but the Pearl Pro have this feature; without it, freehand cutting is the only – and more dangerous – option. The Pearl CX10 is a great model for smooth plunge cutting, as its hand grip is also the head-height lock. A quick twist loosens the head, and the coordinated action of the cart and cutting head keeps the cart from jerking backward when the spinning blade enters the tile. And for plunges with less overcutting of your lines, some saws can use blades as small as 7 inches for squarer cuts. You will have to change the depth-of-cut settings, though, and on saws with wrench-adjusted stops like the Husqvarna, it's probably not worth the hassle for a few cuts.
All of the saws can make a square cut across 24-inch tiles and the longer 25-1/2-inch diagonal cut through 18-inch tiles, but their capacities can be stretched several inches further by starting with the tile under the blade and plunging to begin the cut. The Raimondi saw has the longest length capacity and a generous-sized cart to provide support for the largest tiles. Most of the saws come with some kind of angled guide fence for diagonal cuts, but our pros prefer to use foolproof Speed Squares as pictured or site-made guide blocks to ensure accuracy rather than fiddling with small metal fences for such cuts "on point." Included fences are good enough for square cuts, though, because only the bottom corner needs to register.
The Husqvarna saw also has a long cart for supporting large tiles, but it alone stretches its cutting capacity by allowing its pan and attached cart rails to move in relation to the cutting head. Sliding the pan forward of the head allows the maximum capacity when needed and keeps the cart from overhanging the pan and dripping on your toes; but keeping it closer requires less cart travel and the associated leaning-over during shorter cuts.
The Pearl CX10 has a cable linkage between the motor head and the cart that moves them simultaneously, but in opposite directions. This action takes up less space over the pan and helps contain the water spray and drips. Moving both components together effectively "gears down" the cart, so it is much harder to push than the others. A slow, controlled cut can be made with one hand pulling and one pushing, but the guys quickly got the feel for making typical push-only cuts with both hands on the tile. The perceived frailty of the cable system worried the test crew, but so far, so good.
Spraying-water messes are best controlled by flaps hanging from the blade guard, but the water made into mist by the spinning blade is hard to contain. Dripping-water messes happen when a tile being cut or the saw's cart itself overhangs the pan, and can be prevented with an adequate-size pan or with catch trays that drain into the pan. Narrow pans allow water to drip during cuts off the sides of tiles as small as 6 inches, but designs with full coverage, like the Pearl CX10, made a big difference in keeping that water off the floor – a real concern when working in a finished area.
Ridgid's Water Works
Ridgid's water-management system really differs from those of the other saws. Most notably, the water supply is held in a bucket instead of the pan, making it easier to fill, move, and empty, and the shallow catch pan has sediment traps to reduce the residue that drains back into the bucket.
A diverter valve runs the water through a short length of tubing with a cleaning nozzle at the end for rinsing off the cart or tiles, while a pump-only switch setting allows the water to flow with the saw motor off. Another valve and fitting allow the water supply to come from a garden hose instead of the pump, and the pan also can fit a garden hose for remote draining. A third control "valve" – located on the motor support arm – pinches the water tubing to adjust the water flow to the blade. The rinsing-tube feature was well-received for keeping the cart cleaner, but in use, the inflexible tubing was hard to manage and caused a brittle plastic fitting to break right away.
To be useful and durable, the exposed parts of the system should be replumbed with soft vinyl aquarium tubing and a brass fitting and secured with zip ties.
Rollers and Rails
The more numerous and better-made a cart's rollers and rails are, the straighter it rolls and the more accurately it cuts. From simple sleeve bushings around a tube, to flat rollers on an aluminum rail, to grooved ball-bearing wheels that glide along stainless steel tracks, the saws' cart mechanisms varied; but none impressed us as much as the sophisticated design of the Pearl Pro. Its 10 ball-bearing wheels track on four stainless steel rods to provide very smooth and precise motion. It also has a telescopic action that increases cart travel without changing the footprint of the saw. In position one, a pin locks the cart in place for transport. In position two, the pin holds only the lower arm as the upper arm travels for 12-inch and smaller tiles. With the pin removed, both arms can fully extend for maximum capacity cuts, and the cart action stays smooth and steady.
Most saws cannot be easily moved when full of water, but the caster designs of the QEP and the Raimondi allow the saws to be carefully walked around by one person after removing a minimum of water. The wheeled Husqvarna and Ridgid models cannot be easily maneuvered in their upright cutting positions because there is no convenient place to grab and lift either one from the front.
The 48-pound Husqvarna rolling stand is not only an expensive option at $260, but it also adds a lot of weight to the assembled saw and does not allow easy rolling of the upright unit. And like both Pearl stands, the straight bar at the bottom must rest on a flat surface to keep the saw stable. Rubber grip handles on the bar are subject to extra wear and sit in the muck below the saw. Since this saw is easily disassembled for transport, the $90 folding stand is our preferred option at a welcome 25 pounds.
Traditional-style induction motors with a geared-down, shielded belt drive are found on the heavy Husqvarna, Pearl Pro, and Raimondi saws, while the QEP has a smaller direct drive induction motor. Induction motors run quiet and smooth, and the belt-drive systems are viewed as a component of long-lasting, heavy-duty machinery by many users.
The portable power tool-type universal motors of the DeWalt, Pearl CX-10, and Ridgid have less moving mass than induction motors and rely on gearing down their super-fast internal speed for power. So though lighter in weight, these much noisier motors can add annoyance to users.