Sunday, March 13, 2016

Skil's entry-level wet tile saw gets the job done for DIYers

Skil 3540-2 7-Inch Wet Tile Saw


I once laid ceramic tile in a bathroom using only the “score and snap” technique to cut my tiles… never again! It’s something you only have to experience once, if you ask me. So when I took on a project remodeling the powder room, a project that entailed ripping up the existing sheet vinyl (thank you, Rockwell Sonicrafter!) and laying 8” x 8” tiles, I sprung for a wet tile saw. Amazon had bunches, most of which were out of reach – so I went for the least expensive model they had with a name I recognized.  That mean I chose a SKIL 3540-02 7-Inch Wet Tile Saw. Being a recognizable name, though, doesn’t mean the saw didn’t come from China…


Skil’s saw has a 14” x 18” stainless steel top stamped with a ripping scale in inches. The seven-inch blade is included, as is a wrench for installation. Included guides are a rip  fence that slots into the front and back edges of the table (with dual locks) and a fence-mounted miter guide that adjusts for up to 45-degree cuts. The top tilts, too, allowing a bevel of up to a 45-degree angle. Skil says that the saw has a maximum capacity of 12” x 12 inch” tiles, which is a function of the maximum distance between the blade and the fence. In reality, you can cut larger tiles freehand, though the instructions say not to... 

The blade slot is about six inches from the open edge (the edge opposite of where the fence is installed). That’s the same side as the water reservoir and the cover on the blade housing. Users are supposed to keep the reservoir filled within a marked range (the markings quickly disappear under the muddy water) so the water will cool and lubricate the blade. For “ripping” a tile – or, I guess, cross-cutting it – the fence can be moved back and forth and roughly aligned with the scale on the tabletop. I wouldn’t depend on it for accuracy, 


    I cut lots of my 8-inch square tiles, which are 6mm (about ¼”) thick, during the course of my project. I cut them all freehand instead of using the fence. The saw worked just fine for what is admittedly pretty light duty. I didn’t need to make bevel cuts or use the miter gauge. Although there’s no way to use it like a jig saw – it’s a table saw – I found that I could make multiple cuts to carve out a curved face. When I was finished, I drained off the water and let the sediment in the bottom of the reservoir dry – that made it a lot easier to clean, though it’s still pretty mud-splattered.

Any wet tile saw is messy, and this is no exception.  I doubt that it’s particularly accurate, though tile-cutting is usually one of those jobs where minor slop can be disguised in the grouting step.  The overall construction seems a little flimsy though it didn’t have any problems in this job and I fully expect it to last through another.  The sale price was about what I’d have paid to rent a tile saw for a couple of days – it would have been a more professional tool, though all the rental places wanted me to buy my own diamond blades – ouch! If you figure you’ll be doing a couple of little tile jobs instead of trying to cover the floor of a cathedral, this guy ought to do the job. Just don’t expect precision.

Skil’s replaced the 3540-2 Wet Tile Saw with a later version, the 3550-2. That one has an aluminum top, an improved water reservoir and an extendable arm Skil says expands its capacity to 18” by 18” tiles. It also costs 50-100% more, depending on sales.


Summary:

Plus: cuts bevels, miters, and straight lines; includes a blade
Minus: low-precision and some flimsy workmanship
What They’re Saying: The Skil 3540-2 Wet Tile Saw gets the job done for intermediate DIY types on a budget. Pros will sneer at it, however – for good reason.

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