Fresh from seeing all the latest gadgets at Coverings ’08, it seems like a great time to write a tool article. I may have missed it, but nothing revolutionary jumped out at me during the show though there were certainly many exciting improvements in products currently on the market.
Another consideration is whether you seek a product to do daily production, moderate or occasional use. Manufacturers create products with a design life in mind, nothing lasts forever. Many newer wet saws also have features such as plunge cutting abilities, tilting heads for angle work, and effective water management. If you’re working on the 23rd floor of an occupied high-rise building, the type of saw you select for that application has a lot of considerations which could determine whether you will be riding the elevator a lot. There is a lot of realistic thought that has to go into purchasing any equipment. The nice lightweight, quiet, self-contained, and a little slow saw I use in a high-rise would probably not be my choice for the new Civic Center where work area with water and noise abound.
Various materials have different needs and all blades are not the same. A blade consists of core, metal powders and diamonds. The size of the diamond, the concentration of diamonds, the quality of the diamond as well as the type and mixture of bonding agent to adhere it to the rim all affect the way a blade will cut. Less expensive blades use lower quality diamonds, which will fracture more quickly. Since the diamond is fracturing more quickly, the powders that are used to hold the diamond in place have to wear more quickly too so that the used diamonds will fall out and new diamonds will be exposed. That is why inexpensive blades tend to wear more quickly. For tile applications, porcelain and granite are some of the harder materials that have to be cut, while glass requires a different composition.
All blades need to be sharpened occasionally. As long as there is rim left and the blade runs true, it can be sharpened. Sharpening exposes new, sharp diamonds by wearing away a layer of dull diamonds from the surface of the rim. The nice thing about diamond blades is that once sharpened, they work as well as new. You can sharpen by cutting cinder block, a piece of concrete or even soft bricks, as well as conditioning sticks sold for blade sharpening. Remember that you are wearing a layer of dull diamonds off the rim and that may require multiple passes to accomplish the task. Dull blades are one of several reasons tile can chip at the final edge of the cut.
What about specialty saws such as band and ring saws? These saws can be purchased inexpensively from around $500 or for as much as $5,000. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to use three different types. We purchased an inexpensive saw for one particular job and managed to keep it for several more small projects but when a larger scale project came up and sending the work out for water-jet fabrication was out of the question due to time constraints, we purchased a more professional version of a band saw, which served us for many years. When you have the luxury of time, a water-jet may be the way to go for extensive narrow joint fabrication. Water-jet cutting involves water pressurized to about 55,000 pounds per square inch (with an abrasive, usually garnet) entrained in the water-jet stream. The water is forced through a precision nozzle whose orifice is approximately 0.013” in diameter. A robotic arm, driven by computer programming, then directs it. You can take nearly any desired image to be scanned and digitized. The cutting is very precise allowing for very small perfectly spaced grout joints. With today’s programming, it can be scanned and cut.
The next problematic area in drilling following water seems to be speed and pressure. We all naturally seem to think that faster and more pressure means faster cutting. And we all break a fair amount of tile finding out it does not. With each system, recommendations vary and when followed, result in good performance with rare exception.
I can recall my early days of installation when all drain hole openings, in both floors and walls, were cut with a chipping hammer. We were one of the last shops to mechanize our equipment. Once we made the commitment and saw the labor savings, we became a strong proponent of power tools. It is not at all unusual to find that buying a tool creates a new profit center. We found this to be true in our company with specialized tile cleaning equipment. We were able to charge five to six times the going janitorial rate for tile cleaning and we guaranteed satisfactory results. If nothing else, good well-selected professional tools continuously make money; they never call in sick or ask for a raise. It doesn’t get any better than that!