If I had to marry a tool, it would be Tessa the Tile Saw

Tessa and I sharing a quiet moment

Tessa and I sharing a quiet moment

I’ll get right to the point, I love Tessa the Tile Saw because of the huge amount of money she has saved me installing almost 2,000 square feet of tile. If I had paid for all of this tile work, the labor would have run about $20,000 over the course of our last 5 remodels*.

I bought mighty little Tessa at Home Depot about 10 years ago for the price of about $100. At the time, I was deep in student debt, so I just grabbed the cheapest saw off the shelf. She wasn’t the fanciest, but I knew she’d do the job. Besides, some of the pricier models, while beautiful, looked like they’d be high maintenance.

Tessa has asked for almost nothing in our decade together. A couple years back, she needed a new diamond blade (even girl tile saws love diamonds) that set me back about $25. And that’s it! $125 for $20,000 in tile labor. Before I sing the praises of Tessa, I first need to convince you to learn how to tile.

The Joy of Tiling

A smart do-it-yourselfer evaluates every home improvement task to see if it’s worth doing. For some tasks like drywall or installing gutters, the labor cost is minimal. Also, the pros will do the job much faster and better. Find a good one and hire him/her.

However, setting tile is a great skill for the weekend warrior or amateur home flipper. Here is why:

  • You’ll save big money: Most of the cost of a tile job is the labor. My beautiful 18″ natural travertine tiles cost around $2/per square foot, not much more than the cheapest ceramic stuff. However, if I were to pay someone, it would have cost at least $10/square foot. Just. For. The. Labor. No thanks.

Our kitchen; before and after.

  • Big bang for the eyes: Learn to tile and you’ll be able to replace ugly vinyl or ceramic tile with something beautiful over the course of a weekend. After you’re done, you’ll sit back with a beer in your hand and a smile on your face as you gaze at your creation. Your friends and family will be in awe of your new skills. You’ll be the envy of your neighbors. You’ll be a better person; probably going on to create a sustaining fusion reaction and world peace. Well, maybe not those last two, but you get the idea.
  • You’ll do a better job: Because I’m such a nice guy, a couple months ago, I offered to help my neighbors tile their shower for free. FREE I tell you! The only condition I put on the offer was that they would have to wait 2 months while I finished up my own project. However, instant gratification won out. They paid someone $3000 to do the job. The “pro” did terrible work and now, most of it has to be redone. Unfortunately, there are a lot of really bad people out there. No one cares about your place like you. Do it yourself and save yourself a headache.
Manual tile cutter. Don't use this.

Manual tile cutter. Don’t use this.

The little tile saw that could

When I first learned how to tile, I used a manual tile cutter. You score the tile and snap it. This tool is fine for some jobs. However, there are 2 problems:

  • The manual tile cutter doesn’t work on any kind of natural stone.
  • It only works for straight lines. Most tiling jobs will require you to cut many other crazy shapes. Take a look at the hole I cut in travertine with Tessa:

No way you’re doing this with a manual saw!

A tile saw uses water and a diamond blade to cut through just about anything. I’ve never seen a tile that Tessa cannot handle. Besides travertine, Tessa has cut glass, slate, granite, and porcelain, never once complaining or asking to be taken out for a fancy dinner. Just this past weekend, Tessa and I worked on my shower in the master bath:


Tessa and I make beautiful music together

It’s not hard

If you’ve never set tile before, you’re probably going to tell me that you don’t think you have the skills. I command you to dispel that doubt or else I’m going to make you eat sauerkraut. Some quick tips:

  • Take your time: The first time I tiled, I was super nervous. I took my time though and the job turned out great. I built tons of confidence that day.
  • Consult the Internet: The Floor Elf, YouTube and John Bridge will teach you anything and everything you need to know about tile installation.
  • Home Depot: Home Depot wants you to buy tile, so they have free workshops where they teach you the skills. Why waste your own supplies learning when you can use theirs?
  • RTFB (Read The Friggin’ Bag): The bag of thinset and grout has instructions. Read them. Follow them.

Just do it

Somewhere in your home, perhaps you have some ugly floors or your kitchen could use a back-splash. Tessa has plenty of attractive friends for sale at the local big box. Mosey on down and pick one of them up. I’m positive that no other tool has provided anywhere near the return on investment that Tessa has.

I’ve blabbed on long enough and Tessa is dirty from our latest round of hot tile action. Time to go give her a bath and put her to bed, high on the garage shelf…

heart saw


*Here is a listing of every tile job I’ve ever done.

Remodel #1: Hoffman Estates; 70 square feet

  • Bathroom #1: floor (30)
  • Bathroom #2: shower (40)

Remodel #2: Geneva; 440 square feet

  • Bathroom #1: floor (30)
  • Bathroom #2: floor and shower (70)
  • Kitchen floor and backsplash (220)
  • Foyer (100)
  • Porch stoop (20)

Remodel #3: Oak Park; 420 square feet

  • Bathroom #1: floor (30)
  • Bathroom #2: floor and shower (70)
  • Kitchen floor and back-splash (220)
  • Foyer (100)

Remodel #4: Madison; 640 square feet

  • Bathroom #1: floor and shower (70)
  • Bathroom #2: floor and shower (70)
  • Bathroom #3: floor and shower (200)
  • Kitchen floor and backsplash (250)
  • Foyer (50)

Remodel #5 (current home): Colorado; 390 square feet and counting

  • Kitchen floor and backsplash (200)
  • Bathroom #1: floor and shower (80)
  • Bathroom #2: floor and shower (70)
  • Laundry area (40)
  • Future: girls’ bathroom, about 70 square feet

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25 Responses to If I had to marry a tool, it would be Tessa the Tile Saw

  1. Nice. We’ve got our own $100 tile saw from Home Depot, but Mr PoP’s not nuts about it even though it was fine through all the tile at the duplex (2 bathrooms + kitchen = ~300sqft?). So for the tile work in our kitchen and living room, he’s going to borrow a friend’s tile saw from his old contracting company. It’s apparently an amazing tile saw!
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted…Prepaying For A High ROIMy Profile

    • 1500 says:

      I fully admit one of the nice $300 jobs would make the whole thing easier. I considered picking one up off Craigslist, but I just can’t pull the trigger. Perhaps if we ever start flipping houses frequently, Tessa will get a friend. Not now though.

  2. I did a bit of tiling in our old flat and I agree I found it pretty easy. Much easier than I imagined! It took a while but the actual process was simple. I did it without even looking up any videos and a small amount of advice from the old man.

    I’ll check out the links you’ve provided above which I’m sure will make it even easier next time. Cheers!
    theFIREstarter recently posted…5 Ways to Destroy your Monthly BillsMy Profile

  3. Maverick says:

    Nice! John Bridge blog and reference material is the best! I do all my own tile work too!

  4. Tawcan says:

    Nice, some tools are just no brainer to own as they pay themselves back very quickly. I haven’t tiled myself and this is something I’d love to learn in the future.
    Tawcan recently posted…Recent BuyMy Profile

  5. Even Steven says:

    Always making me question my DIY vs hire someone cost/benefit analysis. I’m still working on sanding our doors down this spring, maybe I can talk the wife into some tile work.
    Even Steven recently posted…On Vacation Be Back SoonMy Profile

  6. strandedrocks says:

    How would you rate the level of difficulty of laying down wooden floors? I am curious because it’s something I want to do but don’t really know if it’s worth even trying.

    • 1500 says:

      Wood floors are really easy, much easier than tile. Mrs. 1500 just installed about 600 square feet of hickory a month or so ago. You just have to make sure subfloor is level and the humidity is consistent. If you’re doing a lot of it, pick up a nailer/air compressor. If just a little, rent the tools. Contact me if you have any questions.

  7. Dr. Sheba says:

    That’s a great resume! I wish I had the skills, but it’s ok because I love sauerkraut! Keep up the good work.
    Dr. Sheba recently posted…Keep Calm and Take Baby StepsMy Profile

  8. Tile is one of those DIY jobs that I haven’t yet tackled, but is staring me in the face every time I take a shower 🙂

    At the very least, the main bath in our house needs to have the tile re-grouted. I wouldn’t mind getting away with just that, but I imagine that if the thinset was applied nearly as sloppily as the grout and with as little attention to detail as the tile layout… it may be the sort of project that involves the classic “F#$@I@K it, we’ll just tear it all out!”

    A decent tile saw is on my craigslist enormo-search. I have standing searches for tools I know I’ll need in the future, and I check them regularly. Occasionally it means I get a screaming deal right down the street, but other times it just means I know the “going rate” for a particular tool when I need to actually buy it.
    Mr. Frugalwoods recently posted…The Frugal Homestead Series Part 1: Why The Woods?My Profile

  9. I really don’t mind laying down tile (it’s quite enjoyable actually) – what I hate is removing the previous flooring and prepping the subfloor for the tile!
    I have yet to tackle a floor that requires a tile saw though, I’ve been getting by with a manual cutter. I figured I’d buy it (or rent it) when I needed it….

    We will have a brand spanking new unfinished basement with the new place that just screams tile to me 🙂 We’re just waiting a year or so to let the moisture from the concrete blocks work itself out before we finish it.
    Mom @ Three is Plenty recently posted…Cash Back Shopping AppsMy Profile

  10. Great post and very informative!

    I haven’t yet taken on a tiling job as the one bathroom that I’d think about redoing is still pretty OK. I have rented a masonry saw for cutting bricks when I re-shaped my brick patio last year and it was a life saver. I actually thought I was going to be able to use a chisel to cut the bricks to shape. Ha! Not pretty. That lasted exactly one attempt and I headed back to home depot to rent the saw.
    Frugal Buckeye recently posted…Taking Advantage of Small Business SaturdayMy Profile

  11. Thomas says:

    (What is it with you the “things”-marriages? First the house plant, now Tessa…
    And aren’t the dinosaurs and Transformers getting jealous?)

    Thank you for another article that perfectly blends humour and knowledge!

    A nice holiday and new year for you and your family!

    Read you next year…

  12. Pingback: Weekend Reading - Holiday edition - Tawcan

  13. We love our cheap Home Depot saw too.

    I just layed some 12×24 porceline tiles in our powder room and have vowed never again. So much warpage!

    I find the part that takes the most time for tiling jobs is the subfloor prep. The actual tile laying and grouting is a breeze.
    Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom recently posted…This is NOT Another Comparison of Budgeting AppsMy Profile

  14. Martha @ Marty Thoughts on Life and Money says:

    I had to read this post mostly because I am a little sleep deprived and the subject title made me have wierd funky imagery and I had to know more. I am not the most handy person around the house but you seem to be having a lot of fun!
    Martha @ Marty Thoughts on Life and Money recently posted…We Wish You A Happy Holidays: Share Your Favorite Post of th Year!My Profile

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