Selecting and Maintaining a Ceramic Tile Saw
Floor Covering Installer: How can an installer determine which ceramic tile saw is right for him?
Andy Lundberg: The most important factor to consider when choosing a tile saw is the size of tile that will be typically cut. If 12-inch tiles are going to be cut frequently, then a saw that will diagonally cut a 12-inch tile should be bought. Other factors which should be considered are the method of cutting tile, which could be a stationary blade with the tile pushed through on a conveyor cart, a rail saw where the material is stationary and the blade moves through it, or a table type saw with a stationary blade and material pushed through the blade by sliding it over the top. Most of the inexpensive box type saws fall into this category. The type of accessories included and available, size of blades used, and true horsepower are also factors to take into consideration.
John Serraino: It depends on the type of job, type of materials being cut (soft, hard, very hard), depth of cut needed, square and diagonal cutting capacity (size of tile being cut), and size of blade. All these issues are to be considered when selecting the right saw. Rita Levine: To decide which saw is right for you, determine your cutting needs. The band saw is designed for the shop setting; it is a wet band saw that makes precision cuts through marble, granite and tile with ease. It is also an excellent time saver for fabricators working in marble and granite, cutting intricate pattern designs or cuts around fixtures without the cost of a water jet. The other option is a portable saw that is engineered to execute tight complex radius cuts.
Jon Miller: Knowing what types of jobs he primarily does helps tremendously. If an installer specializes in large format tile, then the cutting capacity is most important. Other issues may include ease of set up, material being cut and size of job.
FCI: What is the most common problem experienced with ceramic tile saws?
AL: There really is not one most common problem with tile saws. All seem to have their own quirks depending on the user and manufacturer. Often tile cuttings seem to create problems with water pumps and with the smooth movement of some types of carts over the rail systems.
JS: Maintenance; all tile saws and certain components need to be cleaned on a regular basis. Water trays, cutting table rollers, and pumps should be cleaned after each use.
RL: The most common problem is blade breakage. However, this problem can be quickly remedied with a few user tips. With the saw now running, place material flat on the work table in front of the blade. Using light pressure, guide the material into the blade. It is important not to force or push material into the diamond blade. Once you have the right "feel," the blade will seem like it is pulling material into it. Pushing into the blade will not increase cutting speed and is more likely to bog it down. Use the speed control to adjust the sawing speed to the material being cut and intricacy involved. The tighter the cut, the slower the speed needed to maintain control and not twist the blade. Always use a forward movement of the materials being cut against the blade. Movement should be gradual as you turn and push the materials into the blade.
JH: Water flow and splash protection are the most common problems.
FCI: Is horsepower really a concern for ceramic tile saws?
AL: Real horsepower does matter in that more horsepower can allow faster cutting of all materials, especially harder materials like porcelain.
JS: It depends on the type of tile you are cutting and depth of cut needed. Harder, larger and thicker tiles require more power to cut.
RL: If the contractor is strictly using 3/8-inch ceramic tile most tile cutting saws can handle this without a problem. However, today's contractor often works in a variety of natural and man-made materials. If this is the case, horsepower becomes a factor. The stronger the horsepower, the ease in cutting such materials as stone and porcelain base tile.
JM: Not necessarily. The type and size of material may determine your horsepower needs. In the case of small wall tile an installer may opt for a portable tabletop saw that requires less space and is easier to set up. This is why we developed our 4 1/2-inch tabletop saw. We recognized that not all tile being cut requires a 1 1/2 - 2 hp motor.
JH: Not really for ceramic, but it is for stone such as porcelain.
AL: There is no need to have a special saw for backsplashes and wall tile unless your primary tile is so small that it cannot get the depth of cut needed or is so small that it will not accommodate the size of wall tile being cut.
JS: No, but for backsplashes and wall tile, you might want to consider a smaller saw with a 4-inch or 7-inch blade, since anything larger than that is not required. JM: A separate saw is not necessary. It all depends on the tile being used. However, installers can benefit from keeping a variety of saws and blades with them. Most contractors need a 10-inch wet saw, but many are finding great uses for our portable 4 1/2-inch tabletop saw, backsplashes not excluded.
JH: It depends on the material, not the application/location.
FCI: Why do prices vary so much on diamond saw blades?
AL: Prices vary primarily due to size, quality and quantity of diamond used in the blade. Most cores are about the same and the labor to make a blade is about the same. The diamond is the big variable.
JS: This is determined based on the quality level of the blade, diamond content, type of blade (continuous, laser welded segmented, turbo), blade size, and the type of material it can cut.
RL: Prices vary due to quality of the steel and the depth of the diamond.
JM: There are many factors in the cost of a diamond blade. First there is the quality of diamonds used. Next, there is the bonding matrix used to adhere the diamonds to the blade. The powder mix consists of the minerals Nickel, Manganese, Iron, Tungsten and other trace minerals. And then there is the rim height. The diamond bearing edge of a blade may vary from 5mm to 10mm in height.
JH: Prices vary due to the amount of diamond height.
AL: Depending on the type of blade in use normally, it may be necessary to have a special blade to cut porcelain tile. Not all blades will cut porcelain because it is so hard. Even a good quality blade may have trouble with porcelain on a small, low horsepower saw. Generally low cost blades do not fare well on porcelain, so, if that is the type of blade used, normally it will probably be necessary to spring for a blade to use for porcelain and other harder materials. On the other hand, many of the better quality diamond blades will cut porcelain, so if a good blade is being used to start with porcelain may be no problem at all. It is certainly possible to use a porcelain blade for all material you are cutting. This is one of those "your mileage may vary" issues depending on what blade the contractor is using to begin with. Quarry tile is not generally a problem to cut with general purpose blades, and special blades are not usually needed.
JS: Yes, for porcelain you should use a premium blade that specifically states that it can be used on harder materials like porcelain. For quarry tile, a standard continuous rim blade will do. RL: When using our saws, we do not recommend different blades. Our blades cut through many varying materials.
JM: Different materials require different combinations of diamonds and bonding matrix. A blade used to cut soft, abrasive material must have a hard metal matrix to resist erosion long enough for the exposed diamonds to be properly utilized. Conversely, a blade used for cutting hard, non-abrasive material must have a soft bond to ensure the segment or rim will erode and expose the fresh diamonds embedded in the matrix. This is what is referred to as controlled erosion.
JH: Yes, different stones require different blades.
FCI: How can installers keep diamond blades sharp? AL: To keep blades sharp can be as easy as using the correct blade for the material. When that is done a blade will stay sharp on its own. If a blade does get dull, cutting conditioning sticks made for that purpose, day old mortar, or cinder blocks, using a minimum of water will sharpen the blade. Sharpening a blade simply means removing the dull layer of diamonds on the surface to reveal new, sharp diamonds.
JS: They can be kept sharp by cutting a fireplace brick. RL: Diamond blades cannot be kept sharp. To keep the diamond coating on the blade for as long as possible we suggest not cutting through glue or tapes that can get into the grit of the diamond. To remove adhesive build up caused by cutting through tapes and glues, we suggest cutting through a clean piece of glass or stone.
JM: Sometimes a blade appears to be dull or less effective in cutting. Quite often it is the result of the bonding matrix being too hard for the material being cut. The matrix material can cover the diamonds and actually prevent fresh diamonds from being exposed. To fix this problem, we recommend dressing the blade. This is done simply with a few cuts into a soft abrasive rubbing stone or cinder block.
JH: Clean up after use can be a very important factor for blade life.
AL: Clean water is important for keeping your water pump in good working order. If there is a huge amount of slurry in the water, the blade may wear a bit faster due to higher abrasiveness of the water. Does clean water help make better cuts? Not really.
JS: Yes, because dirty water can clog the water pump resulting in a reduced water spray to the blade.
RL: Yes, clean water is necessary when making wet cuts. When using a wet band saw the water that is used to cool the blades as it cuts will begin to build up particles of stone and water. This slurry contains grit that will wear and tear on the diamond blade.
JM: Clean water has less to do with cutting than one might think. However, clean water is very important in ensuring that proper water distribution takes place at the blade and the cut. Dirty water will do damage to pumps, clog hoses and create poor water distribution often times resulting in dry cutting.
JH: Yes, it is important to keep water clean; otherwise, it will load up the blade with residue and cause it to wear.
FCI: How do you keep the water from freezing in the winter?
AL: To keep water from freezing, cut indoors. There are small heaters that are often used for keeping pet water from freezing and there are companies that sell heaters just for warming water in tile saws. JS: Freezing temperatures are unforgiving, and can cause severe damage to the saw. You will need to find a way to cut indoors. If you are worried about getting the indoors dirty then set the stand in a large box and frame plastic sheeting around the saw to catch the spray and direct it to the mud box. Another option is to use a water heater designed for this purpose.
RL: To keep the water from freezing, use antifreeze.
JM: There are water heaters that are used in conjunction with buckets. These heaters are capable of keeping the water at a comfortable and workable temperature.
FCI: What kind of saw is needed to use a profile blade to bullnose marble?
AL: Bullnosing marble with a profile wheel can be accomplished with many different kinds of saws. The most important thing is that the profile wheel which is rather wide compared to normal tile blades, must fit on the saw. If it fits the marble can probably be bullnosed. Saws where a conveyor cart is used to move the material under the blade or rail saws work best. Table type saws would make it more difficult to profile successfully.
JS: Many saws can be fitted with a profile wheel to make bullnosed cuts for custom trims. f this is needed make sure your saw can be fitted with these accessories.
JM: Most 10-inch wet saws are capable of powering a profile blade. Since these blades are significantly heavier than blades used for cutting, horsepower may become a factor. We recommend using a minimum of 1 1/2 hp saw when bullnosing marble or granite.
FCI: Is it necessary to have a GFI outlet for a wet saw? If so, how many amps do they require on start-up? Many saws say 17 amps, but often 15 amp GFIs are all that are available.
AL: It depends on what you mean by necessary. The saw will operate without a GFCI. However, if the user intends to comply with the National Electrical Code, it would be necessary to use a GFI outlet. Refer to NEC 210.8 Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupter Protection for Personnel. If the saw is used with temporary wiring the saw may fall under OSHA and NEC requirements. Refer to NEC 527.6 Ground-Fault Protection for Personnel. Consult the saw manufacturer for start-up amps. However the GFCI need only be rated for the full load amp rating of the saw, not the start-up. The problem here is not with the GFCI but the circuit rating. A 17 amp rated saw should not be used on a 15 amp rated circuit. 20 amp GFCIs are available, but installing a 20 amp GFCI on a 15 amp circuit will still not make it into a 20 amp circuit. Circuit rating and GFCI rating are not necessarily the same. JS: It is possible to purchase a power cord with a GFI in it to protect against short circuit. You need a cord that will handle the load your saws requires or it may damage the motor.
RL: GFIs are all that are available. It is not necessary to have a GFI outlet.
JM: No, it's not necessary. Most wet saw motors are UL approved. They are sealed to keep moisture out, creating a safer environment for cutting, and eliminating the need for GFI outlets.
FCI: What method is used to secure the diamonds to the saw blade? Have you found that the primary cause of blade failure is segment loss? AL: The rim is secured to the core by a sintering process, where the powder is pressed around the core and then "cooked" in an oven. The seminar you attended certainly was not specific to tile blades. Blades for cutting tile do not have segments and cannot lose them. I cannot remember the last time a rim came loose from a core. Many years ago it would happen only occasionally. With the new technology I just don't hear of it anymore. As to segment loss being the number one problem on segmented blades, that is not true, either, at least in our case. Laser welding takes care of that problem pretty well. The number one problem is using a blade improperly, twisting it in the cut, overheating it, using it in the wrong material or on the wrong saw. This by far is the biggest problem we see.
JS: Diamonds are embedded into the rim. As the rim wears, some are lost, and new diamonds are exposed. A continuous rim blade for tile works for most cutting. The continuous rim has no segments, therefore will lose none. If a piece of the rim comes off, remove the blade immediately since this can be extremely dangerous if used.
RL: Diamond blades are electroplated. Each blade is made of strong stainless steel, selected for its resistance to corrosion and rust. The blades are then coated with the finest diamond abrasive. The diamond coating allows the blades to glide through materials cleanly and easily.
JM: Diamond blades can have one of three configurations: continuous rim, turbo rim or segmented rim. Most ceramic tile blades have a continuous rim. This is a smooth sintered rim with no water gullets. Continuous rim blades are used to produce the smoothest of cuts. Turbo rims are also continuous, but have a serrated rim. These blades typically last longer and are somewhat more versatile, but have a tendency to chip and leave a more raw edge to the cut. Segmented blades are the only blades where the diamonds and bonding matrix are adhered to the blade core after the segments have been produced. These are used when longer life of a blade is required and speed of cut is desired. They are used for cutting a variety of hard and soft material. Years ago segment loss might have been a bigger problem, but now segments are laser welded to the core and are much more stable.