Photo 1

Photo 2: Dust collected in catch basin after coolant water has evaporated.
A quality wet saw is an expensive yet necessary tool for a professional installer, but with care and regular maintenance, many saws are capable of years of service. I rescued the guts of the simple, lightweight saw I love using (the one my students seem to enjoy using, too) from a dumpster many years ago, and it may be 50 years or older. I reworked the motor mount, added a grounded motor, and added a valve and hose connection that allows blade cooling with fresh, clean water (Photo 1). In operation, this saw is placed on a portable table, and its twin V-ways assure smooth, vibration-free cutting. Unfortunately, the saw was made at a time when 6 inches was a large tile, and its frame will accommodate tiles no larger than 8 inches, but it is very useful for doing hand-held cutting.

Photo 3: Changing a wet saw blade.
This saw’s frame and V-way runners are so strong that with reasonable care, the saw will go on cutting for another 50 years. Meanwhile, I have 12-inch tiles and larger to cut, and for that, I have saws that will cut up to a 16-inch tile diagonally. For cut tiles whose sharp edges will be covered by other tiles or trim, I use a snap cutter for speed and economy. For show cuts, however, nothing works better than a wet saw paired with the right blade, but unless the saw is treated with respect, the accuracy of the saw, and its value as an investment in the business will be ruined.

Photo 4: Rinsing a pump in fresh water.
Abrasive Dust The dust created by the wet saw is abrasive, and leaving the saw’s water pump overnight at the bottom of a dirty catch basin is a sure way to shorten the life or ruin the pump A wet saw should be thoroughly cleaned with fresh water after each day’s work. The catch basin or reservoir should be emptied and rinsed, and the water pump should be rinsed, immersed and run in clean water to purge any cutting effluent within the pump housing, and then allowed to drain and dry. After a day’s work, the coolant water can become thick with suspended particles which, once the pump has been turned off for the day, can settle around, restrict, and greatly reduce the life span of the pump mechanism. In worst cases, a clogged impeller can shear off when the pump motor is turned on.

The entire saw mechanism should be rinsed with clean water (with power off to the saw, of course), and all bearing surfaces wiped down with an oily rag. Water-cooled, diamond wet saws operate in a very harsh environment, and they need to be cleaned between uses if smooth, accurate operation are important for the kind of cutting tasks you need to complete. It will contribute to the longevity of both the blade and the coolant pump if you exchange fresh water for dirty coolant every 100 cuts or so. Drain the water into 5-gallon buckets, remove off-cuts, broken bits and chips from the catch basin, and rinse the basin into another 5-gallon bucket before filling it with fresh water.

Many commercial shops are required to install settling tanks or lined ponds to keep cutting and fabrication effluent from entering municipal wastewater treatment systems. If controlling wet-saw wastewater is an issue, smaller amounts can settle in 5-gallon buckets, single 30- or 50-gallon drums, or a sequential series of drums built specifically by a plumber for the purpose.

Photo 5: Porcelain blade (by MK Diamond).
Maintaining the Accuracy of a Wet Saw Prior to purchasing a wet saw, make sure it will cut squarely. Saws with no adjustability for square, or with an accuracy of 1/64th-inch in 1 foot, or greater, are not going to be very useful for show cuts that must be consistent, so it is important to buy the saw that fits your needs and is accurate from the start. But once put into use, the accuracy of many wet saws has been permanently ruined because of neglect or mishandling by the installer trucking it from one installation site to another.

There are many workable saws that weigh less than 40 pounds and that can be carried easily by one person, and there are many professional saws that require two people to setup and store for transport. Either way, every wet saw should have a solid, level, and supported place in the truck, van or trailer to ensure that it does not tip, slide, or collide while in transit. If it is going to be shop-stored between uses, make sure the storage area is cool, dry, and shaded from the elements and direct rays of the sun.

Blade Selection Wet-cutting diamond blades are available for soft and hard tiles, and using the wrong blade usually results in slow cutting and a shorter life. So-called “all-purpose” blades often give less than desirable performance regardless of the material being cut. Packed in my blade box are two for soft and hard material, a specialty blade for cutting tough porcelain tiles, a worn blade that I use exclusively for free-hand cutting, and an even worse blade (not cracked or broken, however!) that I use to put a sharp edge on carbide-tipped masonry drill bits. All my wet-saw blades have continuous rims, which produce the smoothest cut edge, unlike segmented rims, which are the feature of most dry-cutting blades and are used primarily for rough work.

Since one side of the diamond-impregnated cutting rim blade is favored (and wears down more) during hand-held work, I do not use this particular blade for any other cutting task since, on straight cuts, the uneven blade tends to cut into the tile on a curve—a dangerous situation that can cause bits of the rim to fly off.

Since so much of my work involves mosaics, inlays, and irregular shapes, I need an array of tools that goes beyond one rather small wet saw for hand-held work, and another for straight cutting. To meet any cutting challenge, I also use traditional snap cutters and biters, dry-cutting diamond blades mounted in a circular saw or angle grinder, diamond core bits for drilling holes, motorized ring saws for intricate cutting, plus a variety of hand and power sanding and grinding tools.