Photo 1: Quality score and snap cutters will easily cut most porcelain, and are available in many sizes.


Photo 2: A large-horsepower wet saw capable of cutting 24-inch tile straight or 18-inch diagonal is essential for the tile used today.
We have good news and we have bad news. The good news is ceramic tile continues to grow in popularity. "For 2002 we have seen a continued but moderate growth trend," said Bob Daniels, Executive Director of the Tile Council of America. Tile is becoming ever more popular in today's homes. We see very few areas of the country where quality installers are looking for work. So what is the bad news? If you're an installer, today's most popular tiles are bigger and harder to cut than those of years past.

Photo 3: With large unit tile today, a kit to cut large holes for bathroom fixtures is indispensable. This unit will cut a perfect circle up to 6 inches, easily including porcelain.
Many of the tools we have used for the past 20 years are no longer able to cut and drill either large or hard tile. Patterns often have become more intricate over substrates that are less than perfect.

Photo 4: This Diamond band saw allows dust free and intricate cuts in large tile, including porcelain.
For some reason, at the same time we are supposed be install faster, better, and cheaper. Can't be done, you say? Maybe you just don't have the right tools for the job! The tools available today can make short work of the most challenging tile and job conditions. Running a tile installation school has it benefits, especially for us tool junkies.

Manufacturers are not only willing to donate the latest tools available; they are anxious to do it! They realize tool buying can be a very difficult decision. Being able to put them in the hands of many installers where they can actually use them allows a sound judgment of their value.

Photo 5: This self-leveling laser level makes short work of the most challenging layouts.
So let's talk about just a few tools that can make your life easier.

As an employer or subcontractor, one of my pet peeves was always having everyone doing their cuts on the wet saw. Depending on where your saw is located, it may take five minutes or more for one cut. Add up the cost over the course of the week sometime. You will find we are talking about a substantial sum. If you really want to scare yourself, multiply it by workweeks in a year. Yikes! The higher quality cuttings boards or snap cutters available today will do straight cuts through most porcelains on the market, regardless of size. Using the cutter shown in Photo 1, we have encountered only a few instances where we could not get a decent straight cut even when using Porcelain tile. Such cutters may cost upwards of $300, but they are well worth the investment. They allow for angle cuts as well, using a fixed stop. If you are only going to buy one, buy a big one. It may be more cumbersome to carry around, but when you get that large unit tile job, you will be happy you don't have to buy another one.

For those who need a wet saw, your best value is in purchasing quality tools. With today's tile sizes, it would be unwise to consider anything less than something capable of an 18-inch straight cut. If you have the room and can carry it, 24-inch capability would be better. The saw shown in Photo 2 is capable of cutting either a 23-inch straight cut or a 16-inch diagonal cut. When it comes to motors, bigger is also better. My 1 1/2-hp 10-inch saw is 28 years old and still has the original motor. A 3/4-hp motor is acceptable but has to work much harder and cuts slower. Obviously, if your primary work does not consist of installing large tile, a smaller motor may be appropriate for you. Many manufacturers sell table extensions if you find you only occasionally need the extra capacity. Anything less than 3/4 hp should be considered disposable when using it for floor tile on a regular basis. Other considerations when purchasing a saw are available accessories and most importantly, availability of replacement parts. Switches wear out, and tables may need to be replaced or have new bearings installed.

Photo 6: If you do large areas of tile, this sponge and floor machine will easily allow you to do thousands of feet a day using regular cement or epoxy grout.
Pay close attention to the parts availability of the saw you are considering. If everything is one component and welded or forged together, the cost may be less now but you could end up with a useless piece of equipment if it breaks.

While we are on the subject of saws, let's talk about diamond blades. This quality thing is getting to be an old song at this point but we can give it a new perspective here. What is the number one cause of diamond blade failure? Segment loss! These become missiles, flying off the blade at anywhere from 2000 to 12000 rpm. Enough said. I have found it very difficult to get the cuts I want in all materials with one blade. We have always used several, a regular tile blade and a porcelain blade. Just last week we made numerous chip-free cuts on a glazed porcelain tile. The cost of that premium blade was well worth the extra expense. If you do a lot of quarry tile work, a fast and smooth cutting blade is also available for that purpose. You should also clean your blade occasionally with either a dressing stick or a piece of concrete block. Make several passes and you will be cutting like new. This is especially helpful when cutting soft stone.

Did you ever have a hole for a single handle shower faucet land right in the middle of your tile or stone? No problem. Diamond drill kits such as the one pictured in Photo 3 are available from many manufacturers. You can purchase the bits individually as well; however, the jigs offered in the kits provide more safety and longer bit life by providing a stable means of drilling small to medium size holes. Do you need to cut a smooth radius out of a porcelain tile to fit that tub radius? You can with a diamond band saw, as shown in Photo 4. This particular saw will cut tile, porcelain tile, and natural stones effortlessly. The throat is adjustable for materials of varying thickness. If you do any amount of specialty work, this saw is a must have. Even crusty old mud men who have had the opportunity to try it out put it on their must-have list.

For layout work you just can’t beat a laser. The one show in Photo 5 is self-leveling and gives you a plumb line, level line or combination of the two on either floor or wall. There are many types of these devices on the market today. These types of levels take some getting used to. When we purchased our first one, it sat around the shop quite a bit. Little by little it began to see use. Within six months, we bought two more. They are also very handy for estimators to show the customer the outlet locations on walls and out of square conditions, avoiding problems later when the installation begins. No more snapping and moving lines to get that layout just right. These are very valuable tools once you become acquainted with their use.

Finally got that big tile job set? Now they want you to grout and clean 2000 sq. ft. in eight hours! Why not do it and go home early? The power grout and sponge machine pictured in Photo 6 will get you home early and without sore knees or dried-out hands. This type of equipment is available from several manufacturers. They work on both cement and epoxy grouts, leaving the surface streak free; no residue clean up is normally required. It only takes a few decent size epoxy or cement grout jobs to pay for your investment in these work savers. If you have a fear of those epoxy jobs, you will conquer it. Everyone I have met willing to make the investment is now out looking for those profitable jobs and leaving the competition behind.

These are only a few of the great time saving devices that allow you to work faster, better, and in some cases, safer. One of the other considerable benefits is that once you make the investment in good or labor saving equipment, your expense is pretty much over. It will never ask you for wages, benefits, or vacation. It doesn't call in sick either. With the shortage of quality labor and competitive nature of the installation business, maybe it is time for you to sit down and see if there is some equipment out there that can make you faster, better, and more profitable.