Plywood is a synthetic wood that is widely used to make furniture, ships, aircraft, flooring, and other construction materials. Though it is generally more versatile and flexible than regular wood, plywoods differ in thickness, density, stiffness, and quality of wood fibers. This makes handling plywood difficult and requires knowledge of the material you are working on to choose the best cutting method.
This article will help you with exactly that.
4 Best Ways to Cut Plywood
Let’s look at the four best methods for cutting plywoods mentioned below.
#1: Using a Circular Saw
A circular saw is an electrically powered hand-held device that contains a circular blade with serrated edges. The rotation of the blade is used to cut the wood to different depths across the piece. The blade cuts wood in either straight or curved lines and produces minimal tearing at the edges.
When using a circular saw to cut plywood, the first step is to firmly secure the plywood in position. Place your plywood on a set of sawhorses to ensure that the wood is leveled and does not move when pressure is applied. If sawhorses are unavailable, place the plywood on the floor on top of a 2-inch foam sheet.
Make sure that the foam provides enough resistance to stop the saw from cutting across the sheet. In addition to this, adjust the circular saw to the correct depth so it doesn’t come in contact with the floor. When using a flat surface to place the wood, make sure to use protective material underneath the plywood, so that the blade does not cut into the exterior.
If you want to cut straight lines on the plywood, you can use tape to guide the path of the saw. For greater accuracy, clamp a stiff board along the cutting path to reduce the chances of deviating from the line. The board will provide support and help avoid jagged cuts.
To reduce splintering and chipping from the wood, make sure that you use a thin blade and apply enough pressure into the wood so that the saw cuts all the way through.
#2: Using a Table Saw
A table saw consists of an electrically charged circular blade that is attached to a table. To cut plywood with a table saw, you have to slide the workpiece on top of the rotating saw while keeping it completely straight.
This method is ideal for long and straight cuts, especially in cases where the plywood is thick and hard to manage. It requires minimal effort from the woodworker. You only have to calibrate the height of the saw on the table according to the depth of the plywood and feed it into the table. The saw will cut across it and create a clean split.
For a smooth cut, make sure that the plywood is completely touching the table while passing it along. This requires the woodworker to maintain a tight grip on the sheet when feeding it in. Make sure that you keep your hands on the edge of the workpiece to avoid coming in contact with the spinning blade
When making thinner cuts, use push sticks to move the workpiece. The push sticks ensure that the wood is properly gripped and moved in the required direction, while maintaining distance between the blade and your hand, and reducing the chance of injury. It is recommended that you use push sticks if the cut required is thinner than 6 inches.
While using a table saw, you have to stay alert and observe the workpiece at all times. The chances of kickback are high and it can cause injury. Kickback is when the blade pushes back the wood that is fed to it. This is an almost instant reaction usually caused by the plywood getting stuck in the blade. It can propel the workpiece back or up towards your face. That’s why you should stand on the side of the plywood sheet rather than directly behind it when using a table saw.
For more on how to use a table saw safely, read this article.
#3: Using a Jigsaw
A jigsaw is a hand-held device with a thin serrated blade attached. The blade is typically up to an inch wide, while the length varies according to the type of cut needed. The jigsaw is ideal for cutting plywood into circular or curved shapes. Since it is handheld the motion of the jigsaw is controlled by the woodworker, making it difficult to carve straight lines. It is not preferable for making long straight cuts that are better served using a table saw.
As the blade is thin and bends while cutting it is not advisable to use the jigsaw on thick or dense types of plywood. The ideal workpiece should be 1-1/2 inch thick if it’s made of hardwood and up to 3/4 inch thick if it is made of softwood. This is because the fibers in hardwoods are stiffer and more likely to create splinters when pressure is applied over a small surface area.
To use the jigsaw, first, make the starter cut or “plunge cut” at the start of your pattern. To do this bring the blade parallel to the sheet, and tipping the blade onto the wood at a light angle to make the first cut. After this, you will be able to wedge the blade into the cut at a 90-degree angle and follow the design for the shape you want to cut.
To avoid wood chipping, make sure you use a downstroke cutting blade, where the jagged edges are facing downward instead of upward. Alternately, you can place masking tape on the cutting path before carving the pattern. These tips will ensure that the edges remain smooth and do not splinter.
#4: Using a Hand Saw
As in the case of other hand-held saws, it is not preferable for cutting long straight lines. When making such cuts, It is recommended that you use a stiff board to guide the cutting path. Alternately, you could place masking tape along the cutting line to guide the saw.
The movement of the hand saw depends on the pressure applied by the woodworker through a push and pull method. To begin cutting, angle the blade at the edge of the plywood to make the first incision. Make sure to use the stiffer part of the blade, closer to the handle to avoid bending the saw. Continue cutting the wood along the path marked by the stiff board or masking tape to complete the cut.
To ensure that the cut is straight focus on the push motion of the saw. Drive the saw into the wood with force, but do not cut while pulling it out. This would require keeping the saw at an almost 90-degree angle to the wood while cutting. This method is time-consuming but suited for making straight cuts.
What Is the Best Way to Cut Plywood?
While any of the methods listed above can be used for cutting plywood, the best one depends on the specific cut required, the expertise of the woodworker, and the type of plywood being used.
While the hand saw is the most versatile of all saws, it is the least preferred for making long cuts. This is mainly because it relies on the pressure applied by the woodworker and the difficulty faced when cutting thick woods. Even an adept worker will require a large amount of time to make a straight and clean cut using this method. Therefore, in the interest of time and effort, this is not the best method for cutting long pieces of plywood.
On the contrary, using a table saw is ideal for long straight cuts, due to its precision and speed. Thanks to its electrical mechanism, it is able to render the cut in a short amount of time, without the application of too much force. Additionally, table saws are capable of cutting thick and dense plywoods which would be difficult for the woodworker to handle otherwise.
In addition to a table saw, a circular saw can also be used for swift and quick cuts. However, as it requires manual guidance, it can be difficult to use when cutting long pieces of wood. In addition, the free-range movement allowed by the circular saw is more suited to curved shapes such as arches and semicircles.
In contrast, a jigsaw is only suited to cut smaller and more intricate patterns. The size and position of the blade are not favorable for cutting long lines or arches. Additionally, the thinness of the blade makes the jigsaw unsuitable for working on thick and dense woods.
All cutting methods have their strengths and limitations. It is important to consider the shape you need to cut before deciding on the method to use.
For longer and thicker pieces of plywood, the table saw is generally the best method. It can provide a smooth cut in just a few seconds! For smaller and thinner pieces of wood, you can use the circular saw or a hand saw if you are skilled. For more intricate patterns and shapes, the jigsaw is ideal.
Though a hand saw is the most easily found hand tool for cutting wood, you should avoid using it unless you are skilled enough to be able to cut perfect shapes without causing excessive chip out and tears in the wood.