The Ultimate Guide To Cutting Plywood

Plywood is a very common type of wood used in various ways for the production of furniture and carpentry in general. It is made by gluing together layers or sheets of wood. These sheets of wood are referred to as plies; hence the name plywood.

There are different ways of cutting plywood. Of all methods, the most efficient way of cutting plywood is by making use of a power tool. Power tools include Circular saws, Table saws, Track/Plunge saws, Jigsaws, etc. Although they differ from each other in physical appearance and mode of operation, they all get the job done efficiently. Of all the power tools, the Circular saw is the go-to tool for cutting plywood.

Cutting plywood could be a bit technical because of the unique nature of the wood. Plywood tends to splinter if proper measures are not taken before and during cutting. We will be diving in to further discuss how to overcome the challenges plywood pose and much more useful information that you may need when working and cutting plywood.

Top Three Ways Of Cutting Plywood

In this section of the article, we will discuss the 3 specific methods of cutting plywood we recommend you use, as well as explaining the details of the best practices involving cutting plywood.

1. Using Power Tools

Power tools are tools that are operated by using electricity. They function by using a power source other than manual effort. As earlier mentioned, examples of power tools that can be used to cut plywood are; Circular saws, Table saws, Jigsaws, etc.

Power tools are the best available option for cutting plywood because they give very clean cuts and save you the stress of using arm power to cut manually. As earlier mentioned, of all the power tools, the Circular saw is the most preferred tool to use for cutting plywood.

Circular Saws

Circular saws are most commonly used for cutting plywood. They are used to make long, straight, and continuous cuts on a sheet of wood. A circular saw is most preferred because it is readily available and easy to operate.

Circular saws come packaged with a blade that has only a few teeth. Because of this, the blade is more ideal for making fast cuts which lead to splintering on plywood. To avoid splintering and to achieve a smooth cut, it is advisable to replace the blade with one specifically designed for cutting plywood. This type of blade called the Carbide teeth blade typically has more teeth on them, check out the link we provided if you are looking to buy a very affordable blade specially for cutting plywood.

To achieve straight cuts consistently while using a Circular saw, support the piece of plywood to be cut with a guide. A guide is typically a straight edge of the wood (usually from the factory cut side of a wood) clamped to the piece of plywood. By running the Circular saw along with the straight edge, you are guaranteed to make straight cuts each time.

Aside from using Circular saws, the Table saws also do a fine job when it comes to making long cuts on plywood. However, a complete set of Table saw is quite pricey when compared to a Circular saw.

Using a Hand Saw

Although using a hand saw isn’t the most accurate or quickest technique to cut plywood, if you just have to make a few cuts, it works great! It is imperative to always use a sharp saw blade when cutting. For the best result, the right type of saw and technique must be applied.

To cut, first, mark out the area to be cut before placing the plywood to be cut on a sawhorse. Next, clamp down the plywood to hold it steady and use your other hand to provide extra support. providing the right support reduces splintering and chips out during cutting.

The next step is to place the saw on the plywood from a really low angle and begin to cut along slowly. At this point, it is important to make sure you apply the right amount of pressure. Don’t be too hard at first, slowly cut before gently applying more pressure as you proceed. The trick to this is to ensure that you don’t cut vertically.

For longer cuts that need to be straight, consider clamping a stiff board along the cut line as a jig to guide your saw blade. When cutting, the saw does not have to go all the way through the plywood.

3. Using a Utility Knife

If you find power tools quite intimidating, then a utility knife is your best bet. A utility knife is more appropriate for making a small number of cuts on plywood.

 To cut with a utility knife, you have to mark out the portion to be cut with a pencil and metallic ruler on both sides of the plywood. Placing the plywood to be cut on a cutting surface, begin to score the marked area deeply with a utility knife. Do this on the other side of the wood flipping back and forth until the line of cut meets in the middle and the wood separates.

After cutting, you can clean out the excesses by trimming off the edges with the utility knife. To finish it up, sand the cut surface with sandpaper to make it appear smoother.

How To Cut Plywood In a Straight Line

The type of tool available for cutting goes a long way to determine if a straight cut is attainable. For this to be achieved, two things are required; a good power tool, and a straight guide. Also, equally important is the sharpness of the blade.

There are two methods for supporting your plywood to get a straight cut;

  1. Using a straight edge: In woodshops where table saws are used to cut, a straight edge is used as a sort of fence to support the piece of plywood to be cut. In the absence of a straight edge, the factory side of a piece of plywood can be used instead because it normally comes straight.

For the best result, the fence is clamped on top of the plywood to be cut in order to support it to get a straight cut.

  • 2. Using a tool designed with a saw guide: Some modern models of power tools now come specially designed with a saw guide. This saw guide acts as a substitute for a straight edge that would normally act as a fence. These guides make straight cuts easy and possible. They also give a better result when compared to a traditional straight edge.

The guides are designed to clamp in place and they usually have a non-slip under surface. Errors can only occur when there is a slippage of the saw guide, or when the guide has been misaligned from the start before cutting. This is why it is important to measure accurately before cutting.

Cutting Plywood Without Splintering

The mark of a true pro lies in the ability to cut plywood without splintering. When cutting plywood, there is always a possibility that splintering will occur. Tear-outs tend to happens when a cut is made across the grain. Because the fibers are not well supported by those next to them, they rip apart when a cut is made. 

To avoid tear-out, two things should be checked: how well the fibers are supported, and how intense the impact to the fibers is. Let’s consider ways to prevent splintering.

  • ·       Choose the Right Blade: Go for a fine-tooth blade that is more suitable for cutting plywood, or one specifically made for the purpose. Blades like this have more teeth on them, and also a higher bevel angle.
  • ·       Choose the Right Face: Before proceeding to cut, it is important to determine whether the plywood would be cut from the good face or the backside. To avoid splintering when cutting with a Circular saw, the cut is made with the good side faced down. This is because the blade on a Circular saw rotates in an upward motion. The reverse is the case for table saws.
  • ·       Always Use a Zero-Clearance Insert: No matter what tool you’re using, another way to reduce tear-out is to surround the blade with a zero-clearance surface. A zero-clearance insert closes the gap around the blade in the throat plate or shoe thereby supporting the wood fibers surrounding the cut as much as possible. For a table saw, you can buy one already made, or if you are handy, you could make one for yourself. Likewise, for the circular saw, you can attach a compressed hardboard to the shoe of the saw, thereafter lowering the blade to cut a zero-clearance slot.
  • ·       Score the Cut Line First: Tear-out happens when the top and bottom veneer get snapped off in an irregular direction when there is an impact. One way to prevent this from happening is to intentionally cut the fibers where you have control over. Since they’re going to snap somewhere, you can as well determine where you want it to be.
  • Make your cut across the grain with a straight edge as a guide and sharp blade. Since you can only score one side of the kerf, make sure you set up your cut so that the “good” side sits at the intended side of the blade.
  • ·       Support The Wood Fibers Around the Cut with Tape: Since tear-out occurs when the fibers get pushed in all directions, you can help these stay in place by placing painter’s tape over the cut line. The cut should be made over the tape as it is intended to help hold the fiber of the plywood in place.
  • ·       Finally, Use a Sharp Blade: After If you begin to notice that your circular saw is causing a “tear-out” rather than cut through smoothly, then it may be time to change the blade. A blunt blade will tear the wood rather than cut it leading to a rough edge as opposed to what is intended.

Required Tools For Cutting Plywood

Apart from having the right type of power tool to cut with, some other necessary types of equipment are indispensable when working on plywood.

  1. Table Saw: Table saws are highly important in woodworking and carpentry generally. They are circular saws spun around at high speed in a stationary position. It cuts wood when the operator pushes the wood to the blade and feeds it until the cut is completed.

A table saw is mostly used when cutting large plies of plywood. They are very important and can cut virtually almost anything. The blades can be easily changed to accommodate the kind of project it will be used on next.

  • A Jigsaw: A Jigsaw is more portable and cheaper than a circular saw, and it can be used to make straight cuts likewise. However, the unique feature of a Jigsaw is that it allows you to make more intricate cuts and patterns on your plywood. By having one, you can get creative with your plywood projects rather than just sticking to the regular straight cut all the time.
  • Chisels: Chisels are versatile tools used to fit or join two pieces of wood together. They come in different sizes and shapes, with metal blades protruding from a plastic, metallic or wooden handle. The blade on the chisel is used to slice away excess chips of wood. Generally, chisels are used often in conjunction with a mallet.

A chisel can also be used to carve out grooves, shave off rough edges after cutting, and also create detailing.

  • A Sturdy Workbench: A good well-balanced workbench will go a long way in making the process of cutting plywood easy. As simple as it is, its importance cannot be overemphasized. Attempting to cut plywood on an uneven work surface will cause minor tremors that could lead to tear-outs. An old bench you have lying around may not do a perfect job. If you don’t have one, you can easily build from the scratch. This way you save yourself some money.
  • A Sander: After cutting wood, as part of the finishing process, sanding the wood with sandpaper is often done. The purpose of this is to give the plywood a smooth and clean finished appearance. Sanding small pieces of wood may not be laborious, but just imagine you are to do it for a long ply? Sound tedious.

A sander is a powered tool that automatically sands down the edges of your wood without you having to expend energy. The circular movement of the tool takes care of the grain direction you would worry about when doing it manually. Apart from the fact that it saves you energy, you also get to work on other important projects as it saves time as well.

Supporting Plywood When Cutting

When making cuts using a circular saw, holding down the plywood to be cut without cutting into the work surface can be quite challenging. Trying to avoid cutting sawhorses or workbenches can lead to all kinds of dangerous situations.

The best way to overcome this problem is to get a thick piece of foam, or a big sheet of rigid insulation to put on top of your work surface. The foam will support your material by providing someplace to lie flat, grip, and it makes cutting through sheets of plywood so much easier.

To get a better understanding of how to support foam, you can see the practical demonstration in the short video below:

Cutting Plywood Without a Saw

In the absence of a saw, either electric powered or manually operated, the following methods can be used to cut plywood.

A Utility Knife: Using a sharp utility knife to score and cut through wood is a great method alternate method for cutting plywood.

Chisels: Are tools that are also useful in the cutting of plywood are a satisfying way to cut wood.

Routers: They can be used to cut through wood, and also used to make very intricate work on wood.

Lathes: Can be used to cut through a wood in different ways. It is a versatile tool that other woodworking tools can be attached to. 

Best Saw For Cutting Plywood

As earlier established, circular saws are unmatched when it comes to cutting plywood. Circular saws come in different models and designs, and prices. However, based on market research and reviews by users, we have concluded that the Makita 5007 Magnesium Circular Saw gives the best experience when cutting plywood.

As it says in the name, this circular saw is built with magnesium that makes it durable and light to handle. It produces a fast speed of about 5,800 revolutions per minute (RPM) powered by a 15-amp motor. The cutting capacity is large with a bevel capacity of 0-56 degrees. This circular saw also comes with two built-in LED light that illuminates brightly on the line of cut to ensure precision and accuracy.

Before buying a circular saw, here are some factors to be considered;

Blade Size: Different models of circular saws come in different blade sizes. This is important because the size of the blade influences its cutting depth. The larger the blades, the better it cuts through thicker materials.

Cord: Some Circular saws come in cordless variants. With a cordless circular saw, there is freedom and flexibility to cut anything, anywhere. However, the cordless models also generally have limited power and their runtime is limited by the battery life.

Speed: The speed of a circular saw refers to how fast it can spin its blade and cut through the material. Most circular saws have speeds between 5,200 and 5,500 RPM although some may have more. The speed of a circular saw is not a good indication of how well it cuts through thick material.

Adjustment: Some circular saws can be adjusted to make cuts at various angles called beveled cuts. Most can tilt between 0 and 55 degrees. Some models may even come with marked lines (positive stops) that lock for easy adjustments.

8 Tips For Working With Plywood

  1. Before cutting plywood, ensure that the blade to be used for cutting is very sharp. Never use a dull blade on plywood as you will end up with tear-outs and unclean cuts.

Also, the regular blade that comes with a circular saw may not be the best for cutting plywood. Instead, use a Carbide teeth blade to cut. They have a higher teeth count and give a cleaner cut.

  • Do well to provide the plywood to be cut with a little bit of elevation rather than leave it lies completely flat. A sawhorse is best for this. In the absence of one, other pieces of wood will do.
  • When cutting plywood with a table saw, make sure the blade has a zero clearance insert around it. They close the gap around the blade in the throat plate and dramatically helps to reduce splinters.
  • Once you have begun to cut, ensure you see it all the way through without stopping in between. Stopping midway ruins the chance of getting a straight and even cut, and increases the possibility of running into splinters.
  • Depending on the saw you are using, determine which of the faces you would cut from. For instance, when cutting with a circular saw, ensure the good face of the plywood is turned downwards. This is to prevent splintering. 

Safety Tips

  • Always Wear Safety Equipment: Before cutting, be properly girded with necessary safety equipment like a pair of safety goggles, a nose covering to prevent inhalation of dust, and protective gloves where necessary.
  • Always Check for Nails and Screws: Check around your work table for loose nails and screws before proceeding to cut. Not only do they damage the cutting head, but they can also kick back resulting in serious injury.
  • Never Reach Over a Moving Blade: When cutting with a Table saw, never for any reason reach your hand over a moving blade to remove anything including cut-offs. To avoid casualties, wait until the blade has stopped moving completely before attempting anything of such.

Final Thoughts

Thank you for reading the article. We hope you learned something new and that you will face no difficulties cutting plywood. If you enjoy this kind of content, be sure to surf around the website a little more!

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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