If you’ve got a piece of wood to cut, chances are pretty good that you have a saw sitting in your garage that’s more than equal to the task. But what about those pavers for the new patio? Or the bricks for the walkway, and the ceramic tile for that new bathroom floor?

For those tough jobs, you need the specialized power and accuracy of a masonry saw. Masonry saws come in a variety of sizes and styles, from small portables to bruisers capable of slicing through 10-inch concrete blocks in one pass, and can be purchased or rented depending on your needs.

Virtually all masonry saws have several things in common, whatever their size. Perhaps the most important common feature is their specialized blades, which utilize a coating of diamond dust around the outer perimeter of the blade instead of the teeth commonly seen on wood cutting blades. The diamond coating is able to slice through tough, highly abrasive materials, such as brick, concrete, stucco, roofing tiles, ceramic tiles and many other similar materials, without dulling.

To extend the life of the blade and minimize the dust associated with this type of cutting, most masonry saws are designed to provide a continuous flow of water over the blade while in use. These types of masonry saws, called wet saws, typically utilize a water tray and a recirculating, semisubmersible pump to keep a steady flow of water moving across both sides of the blade.

While sizes and designs vary, the most common style of masonry saw has a large plastic or steel tray with a set of guide bars on each side. Positioned on top of the guide bars is a rolling platform, and fixed to a frame above that is an electric motor and blade.

To use the saw, the blade is lowered to the proper height over the sliding table. For thinner materials such as tile, the blade is set low enough to cut all the way through the tile in a single pass; thicker materials may require that the blade be set higher, so that the cut is made in two or more subsequently lower passes. The material to be cut is placed on the sliding table, the blade and pump are activated, and the cut is made by sliding the table into the blade, which remains stationary.

Another style of masonry saw is the dry saw, which utilizes a diamond blade but without water. Some of the larger types of brick- and block-cutting dry saws utilize a pivoting head, much like a conventional wood-cutting miter saw. The brick or block is positioned against a fence on a fixed table, and then the blade is pivoted down into the material to make the cut. This type of heavy-duty brick- and block-cutting saw is available in both electric and gas-powered models.

Another type of dry saw is the portable circular masonry saw, which resembles a standard circular saw like those used for cutting wood. Dry-cut circular masonry saws are very useful for cutting holes in stucco and brick walls, cutting out grout lines in ceramic tile prior to removal or regrouting, cutting concrete and similar tasks where it’s necessary to bring the saw to the job instead of the other way around. Some types of dry-cut portable saws can also be fit with a water reservoir and hose, which allows for a slow, steady flow of water across the blade for those times when dust is a concern.

Another type of specialized masonry saw is the concrete-cutting saw, which is used to cut lines or holes in concrete slabs, asphalt, terrazzo and marble floors, and other areas. Concrete saws utilize large diamond blades that are powered by a gas motor. The motor and blade sit on a three- or four-wheel frame, and are rolled over the line to be cut. A garden-hose connection provides a continuous flow of water over the blade, creating a slurry as the cut proceeds, which both minimizes dust and assists with the cutting process.

Masonry and tile saws are available for purchase through home centers, tile stores and other outlets. Prices range from under $100 for smaller tile wet saws and portable dry saws to more than $1,000 for the larger brick and block saws. Just about any of these saws, as well as the larger concrete saws, are also available for rent from most local rental yards.

Remember that you are working close to a high-speed blade that, due to the design of these saws, has only minimal covering for protection. Follow all manufacturer safety precautions for setup and use, and don’t neglect the proper clothing and, especially, good eye protection.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@hughes.net.

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