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Review - Cheap HF Tile saw

Post in 'The Gear' started by Gooserider, Oct 30, 2007.

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  1. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    While tiles don't generally go IN the wood stove, lots of us have been, or will be in the position of needing to build hearths or extend existing hearths to accommodate our stoves and inserts. These projects are generally covered with tile that often needs cutting.

    Cutting tiles is easiest if one uses a "wet saw" with a diamond blade to do the job. The water cools the diamond blade to extend it's life and also keeps the dust to a minimum. However it is a specialized tool, not found in the average home workshop, and not useful for cutting much other than tile, stone, and other such materials.

    Many people suggest renting a saw, but this can get expensive quite quickly, and makes it necessary to rush through the job in order to get the saw back before the rental charges pile up. Murphy's Law also says that you will find one more piece that needs trimming AFTER you take the renta-saw back... :red:

    As an alternative, you can consider purchasing a low cost (aka CHEAP) tile saw from an outfit like Harbor Freight Tools for about what a day's saw rental might cost, use it for a project or two, then stick it up in the attic for future projects or sell it off and get some of your costs back. The advantage is no rush to get the saw back to the rental place, so you can take your time. If you sell the saw at the end of the project, you get most of your money back. The possible downside is the risk of cheap Chinese equipment. I purchased this 7" Portable Wet Tile Saw for $60 from Harbor Freight Tools in order to do my recently finished hearth extension project. Overall I feel like the saw is a reasonable value, it did a good job, and performed quite well for me.

    The saw is basically a plastic box with the blade sticking up in the middle of it. The right half of the box is mostly sealed and contains the motor, the left half is the water reservoir, which holds a couple cups of water. The top of the table is two fairly thin metal plates, each hinged on the right side. The left plate lifts to allow access to the water reservoir, change blades and the mounting point for the blade guard. The right side hinges up to allow you to do angled cuts, and has a little space under it to hold the blade wrench. The cord can be stuffed into a recess in the motor side, and there is a suitcase style handle on one side so the saw is easily transported once you dump the water out of it.

    The blade height is not adjustable, and is equipped with a plastic blade guard that slides up and down on a rather flimsy metal bracket behind the blade. The bracket is easily bent, which causes slates longer than the blade width to catch on it, however this is not a big problem, just a thing to watch for. Even though the guard makes it hard to see just where the blade is, you learn to use it as leaving it hinged up turns the blade into a very effective shower. The motor is reasonably powerful, it does not noticeably bog when making cuts in 1/4" thick slate, as long as the peice was not forced. It doesn't like starting with the blade in a cut, but this is not proper use.

    The miter guage is made from plastic with graduations about every 5* It has an aluminum "T-slot" shaped base that rides in a matching slot on the far left edge of the saw table. It is useable, but tends to bind unless you hold the tile with one hand and pushed directly in line with the slot using the other. I would not consider it hugely accurate, but it seems adequate to the task and is made from materials that are not sensitive to water.

    The fence is also plastic, and while it works nicely once set up, it is a bit of a pain to use. The front and back edges of the saw each have a molded in scale and a row of fairly fine "teeth" (approx 20 to the inch?) The fence bar has a set of matching teeth, and a plastic clip that snaps over the saw edge on each end. In use it is necessary to position the fence over the teeth, and snap the clips over the edge of the saw to anchor it. It is very easy not to get the fence perfectly aligned with the blade, and the clips requirei more force to latch than I feel comfortable with. While they worked fine for me, I would suspect that they would be the part most likely to fail first on this saw.

    As mentioned, the right side of the table is hinged to allow for angled cuts, on the underside of the table are a pair of hinged support plates that fold down to lock into a series of notches in the top of the box, giving a set of specific angles. Because only 1/2 the table tilts, it is only possible to make an angled cut along the edge of a tile, not in the center. This function works but is a bit tricky. The tile guides along the joint with the left half of the table, and the side of the saw blade, making it a bit difficult to get a consistent cut across the entire edge of a tile. (to be continued)

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  2. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    While I was able to make the three angled cuts that I needed to help with the transition from the old slate floor to the extension, I would not reccomend this saw for use on a job requiring a lot of angled cuts.

    The saw was reasonably smooth and vibration free when running, it made very little noise when running other than when actually cutting a slate, when it was borderline as to whether you really needed to use muffs or not. As long as the blade guard was used, it did a pretty good job of keeping the water where it belonged. Water would get carried up by the blade and deposited on the table and slate being cut, but it stayed on the saw and rapidly drained back into the reservoir. It did leave a lot of stone powder on the slate being cut, but I don't see this as a problem, it just means rinsing the cut peices off before putting them in place.

    The diamond blade had a fairly wide band of diamonds on it, and did not show noticeable wear after doing all the cutting for my project - I had about 20 square feet of slate, and had to cut about 1/4 of it to get my pattern.

    I found the saw cut cleanly, reasonably fast, and straight, and trouble free.

    The saw is not intended as immerseable, but when I finished the project, I got rid of most of the cutting debris that had built up on it by simply hosing it down with the garden hose, I tried to avoid the ventilation slots for the motor and it still runs find after the cleaning.

    Bottom line, I feel this saw is a good value - I wouldn't want to earn a living with it, but for a home owner doing one or two projects, it is well worth the price.

    Gooserider
  3. precaud

    precaud Minister of Fire

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    Thanks for the great review, Goose. I have a shower stall project waiting patiently for me and the tile cutter issue has been one of the things holding it back. This helps alot.
  4. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    Glad it helped, I also have a couple of other bathroom projects that will need the saw, and I'm sure it will be useful there.

    Gooserider
  5. Bill

    Bill Minister of Fire

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    I bought an Elcheapo tile saw, worked great, but is not built to last. I did three tile projects with it and it still works. Even though the plastic fence broke right off the bat. If I had to do it all over again I probably should of bought a metal one. But who knows I may never use it again. Mine also sprays water down the center of my head at times. But it was well worth the money and I couldn't have done the tile job without it, it sure made those notches easy to do.
  6. mayhem

    mayhem Minister of Fire

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    I bought a cheap wet saw when our house got to the point where we were ready to start doing some tiling. With an $80 saw from Home Cheapo and a few replacement blades I've done our kitchen, dining room, both bathroom floors, first floor hallway, front hall and entryway (this in granite), the entire upstairs shower stall and about 2/3 of the bathroom wall to a height of about 4 feet, my mother in law's hearth pad got resurfaced and I built my new hearth from scratch. Plus a few little projets like granite clocks, coaster sets, etc. I figure probably about 2000 square feet of area total (obviously not ever tile was cut though) and the thing is still going strong...and I have yet to break a tile.

    I highly recommend just buying your own if you have a medium sized project. When mine does eventually die I'll likely replace it with a step or so up in features, but I'm amazed with what you can do with this thing.

    PS, make sure you setup in a place where you can tolerate a wet mess.
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