When it comes to cutting masonry units, you have several choices-a right angle grinder, a cut-off saw, a paver saw, a portable masonry table saw, or a full-size masonry table saw. The masonry table saw has three distinct advantages: greater operator safety, better cutting control, and higher production capacity.

Though it may require a couple of workers to load and unload, a masonry table saw provides a stable, safe work surface and can be wheeled around the jobsite. Some saws now have forklift brackets for placement. Table saws can cut either dry or wet, with a diamond blade or an abrasive blade, using a gas engine or an electric motor.

Although all saws are inherent safety risks, a table saw minimizes the dangers in comparison with hand-held saws. One benefit of a masonry table saw is the ability to easily switch from wet cutting to dry cutting.

Masonry table saws help minimize operator fatigue, which increases safety. The saw operator can use either the handle grip or foot pedals to lower the blade, or can lock the head into a stationary position and push the material toward the blade.

A saw with a pivoting head supports not only the blade but also the weight of the engine or motor. Some saws have a metal-to-metal contact at the pivot point, which can wear over time and require more effort. Other saws have bearings that are completely sealed, lubricated, and seated in a machined saddle, which allows smoother pivoting and requires less effort.

An electric- or battery-powered right angle grinder is great for cutting masonry units already in place. A cut-off saw can easily make a few quick cuts that don't need to be perfectly square, but where consistency and control are important, masonry table saws are the right choice.

"Table saws offer a perfect cut every time and are much safer than the hand-held saws," says Phil Franchino, purchasing and sales manager for Spartan Sales, Hillside, N.J. For cutting masonry units, Spartan's big sellers are electric-powered high-production masonry table saws with 20-inch blades.

In high-production situations, a 14-inch or 20-inch masonry saw provides the control and horsepower to cut quickly, and there are many masonry table saw choices to fit any size job. For larger jobs, higher-horsepower production masonry table saws have either engines or motors. A new development, removable power platforms, allows saw operators to quickly convert from a high-horsepower electric motor to a gasoline engine.

The top considerations in evaluating masonry table saws are the size of the motor and the material to be cut, according to Royce Brock, superintendent of bricklayers for Kansas City-based JE Dunn. Typically, more is better when it comes to horsepower, since more power allows faster cuts. But there are other factors, such as fuel consumption and emissions from gasoline-powered saws, to consider. The right horsepower for an electric saw is influenced by power fluctuations from a generator and by the distance between the power source and the saw as well as the available voltage at a jobsite.

Cheaper does not mean faster is especially true for jobs requiring a more production-oriented saw. Cut-off saws, for example, are much less expensive and more portable than table saws, but if you have to make more than a few cuts, it becomes difficult to bend over for each cut with a 30-pound hand-held saw.

In many cases, production must be a trade-off for versatility and portability. To determine whether a customer needs a cut-off saw or a table saw, Steve Boyce, a salesperson at Anchor Concrete Products in Brick, N.J., asks these questions:

  • What materials are you cutting?
  • Are you cutting wet or dry?
  • What are the field applications?
  • What is the water source?
  • How frequently will the saw be used?

For the emerging trend of bigger block, a 20-inch production saw that can make an 8-inch-maximum depth of cut reduces cutting time by half, when compared with a 14-inch blade saw that can make only a 5-inch-deep cut. However, for masonry units as large as 12x12x24 inches, you'll need two passes through the saw; some 20-inch saws have an extended frame that allows you to pass the material completely through the blade. This speeds production and can also help reduce operator fatigue. To help masons cut larger block, saw manufacturers have begun to offer larger carts or side-support extensions for conveyor carts to ensure the masonry material is fully supported as the blade cuts.

Masonry table saws have an advantage not only in production capacity, but also they're very durable by design.

In addition, this article lists information sources, saw safety guidelines, and a list of 18 masonry table saw manufacturers.