December 30, 2022
In my long years of woodworking, I have learned that there are basically four things every aspiring woodworker needs to know when cutting plywood. First, you need accurate measurements to come up with precise cuts. You also need the right tool, like the circular saw, when cutting sheets. Moreover, you need to be cognizant of the tips and tricks on how to do it right. Besides, you should follow the safety tips and precautions when working with a circular saw.
It will be helpful, at the onset, to remember that your entire project’s accuracy hinges on precision in measurement and cutting, and having the right tool will facilitate the cutting process for you. Of course, the perfect tool for cutting plywood is the table saw. But the circular saw will also fare well in cutting sheets of plywood. You will know the useful technques on cutting plywood with precision and without splintering using a circular saw in this post.
10 Steps on Cutting Plywood in the Safest, Cleanest, and Most Accurate Way
You gain wisdom and skills through long years of experience. Similarly, you will learn how to cut plywood the safest, cleanest, and most accurate way using the circular saw through apprenticeship. Moreover, it requires a learning curve. You can speed up this learning process if you know the proven techniques and tips on cutting plywood using the circular saw. Below is a rundown of the ten succinct steps on how to do right:
Step 1: Set the Plywood on the Ground Using Supporting Mechanisms
When cutting plywood sheets, the ideal setup is to set them up flat on the floor with supporting mechanisms. Ensure that it is lying flat and straight on the floor, aligned with the supporting surface to facilitate the marking process. You should ensure that you position it so that its edge is set away from the supports. This setup will lessen the accidental cutting of the supporting surface as you cut across the plywood.
It is good to remember that you should ensure that the supporting mechanism is well in place, on both sides of the cut line. You can use several 2x4s strewn across two sawhorses to keep the sheet well supported while you cut. Reserve these 2x4s for this task because your circular saw, without a doubt, will cut into them as you cut.
You can also use rigid foam insulation as an alternative to the 2x4s. Spread the foam across the floor and set the plywood sheet on top. Ensure that the wood is firmly on the foam board’s top without the plywood sliding. Of course, the foam board lets you crawl on top of the board while you cut, without worrying whether the board will snap off due to your weight.
Moreover, it will be good to position the plywood’s best face facing down to prevent chipping. The reason is that the circular saw blade’s teeth will enter the plywood from the bottom and will have a top exit.
Step 2: Select the Correct Blade
When you buy a circular saw, you will see that it comes with the basic 24-tooth blade. Of course, you can do rough cutting using this blade, but you will not get chip-free cuts with this blade in veneer plywood. If you want a smoother cut with few or minimal tear-out, you can transition to a 40-tooth blade.
They cost more than the basic blades. At most, they will cost $15 more. But the extra cost is worth shelling out. You can also attach a zero-clearance base to the plate of the circular saw for lesser tear-out.
It’s recommended to use carbide-tipped blade for cutting plywood. This blade is best for delivering fine cuts. When selecting such a blade, you will find the tag “finished or plywood cuts on the blades” packaging.
Nevertheless, the secret to tear-out free cut is the teeth count. The rule is—the higher the teeth count, the finer the cut will be. Lastly, it will help if you choose the right diameter for your blade.
Step 3: Adjust the Depth of Your Saw Blade
Circular saws usually come with indicators that tell you how deep they will cut. The maximum depth is usually around 2.5 inches. The right-handed circular saws have blades that turn counterclockwise. So, you tighten its bolt clockwise and counterclockwise on the left-handed circular saws.
Remember that 6-inch blades can also cut through 2-inch dimensional lumber. So, you can manage to cut through plywood using a 6-inch blade.
To determine your blade’s depth, you should first unplug the saw and hold it alongside the board with a retracted guard. Afterward, you loosen the lever or knob (depth-adjusting). Then, pivot the base until its blade extends up to 1/4″ to 1/2″ below the plywood. Once properly adjusted, you can tighten the lever.
If you are cutting 1.5-inch plywood sheets, you need to adjust the cutting depth to 1.65 to 1.75 inches. If it is 2 inches, you should adjust the depth to 2.25 inches.
Step 4: Mark the Cut Line
When marking the cut line, make sure you have measured it with precision. You can use a straightedge for marking the line. Ensure that the cut line is square with the plywood’s edge. If you want a smoother cut, it will be useful to score the line using a utility knife. The rule of thumb, of course, is measure twice and cut once.
Step 5: Start Making the Second Marks
You can make the second mark by measuring the distance between the circular saw’s edge and the circular blade. In doing so, you will get an accurate estimation of the wood position to serve as the guide during the cutting process. You want to position this wood guide precisely on the spot on the plywood to get an accurate result.
To ensure the wood’s right position, mark the top and bottom points on the plywood sheet. Measure from the initial marks to ensure the blade stays exactly on top of the cutting line during the cutting process.
Step 6: Utilize a Guide
If you fail to get an accurate cut, you will need to redo the process with another plywood. So, it will be best to use a guide when cutting with a circular saw. It will be helpful to clamp a straight edge to the sheep plywood sheet. Position this guide in such a way that the circular saw’s foot follows this straight edge. Ensure that you got a truly straight edge as a guide. Nevertheless, if you are engaged in a lot of plywood ripping, you might as well invest in a saw guide.
Step 7: Clamp a Solid Straightedge Jig as a Guide
It will be helpful to invest in straightedges, and you can buy them at hardware stores. If you are going to engage in long cuts, it will be best to invest in a factory-cut edge of three-quarters-of-an-inch plywood strip. The factory edge, of course, is perfectly straight. Moreover, it will lie flat and stay rigid, and you can clamp its ends.
The real challenge is in clamping it correctly on the exact spot. To set it right, get the measurement from the saw base’s edge to the blade. You can add the measurement to the cut’s width. Mark the plywood on every end and then clamp at that spot the straightedge.
You should also factor in the blade’s measurement. It will be best to allow the base shoe’s wide side to rest on the cut’s guide side for a smoother cut and maximum stability. In this way, too, the smaller piece will slightly move aside as you get to finishing the cut without binding.
Step 8: Test for Accuracy by Making a Sample Cut
After setting up support mechanisms and following the succeeding steps in preparation for cutting plywood, you should also never forget to test your guide for accuracy. On a plywood test piece, draw a line about 2 inches long to mark that desired width for your workpiece.
Then, make a trial cut by pushing the base plate against your guide. Try to nick the plywood. Ensure that the blade is already spinning before it hits the plywood, for if not, it will splinter the plywood’s edge.
Afterward, check the nick’s edge if you are right on the target. You can do the fine-tuning of your cut at this point. Adjust the guide slightly to correct any inaccuracy. Test and retest until you get the precise position.
Always remember that using a circular saw can be dangerous. It will be helpful not to forget to wear all the safety gear you need to wear and follow the safety precautions when using a circular saw.
Step 9: Start the Final Cut
Several factors determine the results of your cuts. One such factor is the blade’s sharpness. Besides, the plywood’s type you’re cutting can also affect the results of your cuts. A sharp blade will have no hard time cutting through the sheet.
Nevertheless, if you encounter much resistance as you push against the wood, it may be because the blade is dull or you’re going too fast. If you apply too much force when pushing the saw, you will more likely end up ripping and tearing out the wood. You will also leave blade marks on the wood.
Going too slow may cause overheating of the blade or burn on wood. There will also be burn and blade marks if you let the blade spin in just one place.
So, it will help to strike a balance in your cutting speed. You will find spreading the wood on the floor a more convenient option for long cuts because it will allow you to crawl over the sheet while you cut on it.
Step 10: Power off Your Circular Saw after Cutting and Unplug It!
Once done cutting the right size, you can safely switch off your circular saw and don’t leave it plugged into the power source. It must be second nature on your part to power off and unplug your circular saw every after use.
Tips and Tricks to Achieve a Smooth Cut on Plywood
Besides knowing the ten steps on correctly cutting plywood sheets with a circular saw, it will also help to know the tips and tricks offered by experts in woodworking. Here are some of these useful tips and tricks:
Let the Best Side of the Plywood Face Down When You Cut
It will be helpful to be wary of how you set the wood on the floor or the supporting mechanisms. Since the blade’s teeth enter the plywood sheet from underneath and make an exit at the top, it will cause a bit of tear-out and chipping when the teeth exit the sheet. Since you want to preserve the best part from chipping and tearing out, you wouldn’t want to position the good side at the teeth’s exit.
Score the Cut Line Edge
Another way to prevent tear-out is by scoring the edge of the cut line. You can do this by making a shallow cut on your cut line to create a groove in the sheet. This shallow cut will not cause tear-out and will prevent the onset of tear-out on the workpiece.
You can likewise lower or raise the blade of the saw to avoid tear-out. You should adjust the plate’s height by releasing the tension lever on the saw’s back near the blade, then pulling down the plate. To create a scoring cut, you should let the plate expose about 1/16″ to 1/8″.
To Reduce Splintering, Engage in Tape Crosscuts
If you are cutting perpendicular to the grain (crosscuts), the top veneer may splinter even if you use a saw with a sharp blade. Such splintering may become a huge issue if the sheet’s two sides would be exposed. You can use a laminate blade to avoid splintering. Yet, such a blade is expensive.
Nevertheless, you can prevent splintering while using an inexpensive blade by putting a masking tape layer over the drawn cutting line. After the cut, you should remove the tape carefully by pulling the tape off perpendicularly to your direction of cut to prevent the peeling off of the veneer.
Engage in Gang Cutting
If you intend to cut many similar-sized plywood pieces, you can engage in gang cutting. You can do this cutting technique by stacking together up to five plywood sheets, one over the other. Ensure that the edges are precisely aligned. Then, secure the sheets together using a clamp.
Adjust to its maximum depth the blade. Then, cut through the stacked sheets at once. Ensure that you advance the saw using steady and slow pressure. Don’t over-push to avoid damaging the motor of the saw.
Use a Long Board as a Guide When Rip Cutting
The majority of circular saws have a metal rip guide attached to the baseplate of the saw. This guiding type can help you rip up to six inches wide. Yet, if you are ripping longer sheets, you need a better alternative.
You can use perfectly straight, long wood pieces of 1×8 or even a 1×10. You can use a 10″ to 12″ wide rip. Make sure that the edge of the guide is smooth and perfectly straight.
Important Safety Tips When Cutting Plywood Using a Circular Saw
Knowing the steps and the tricks and tips about cutting plywood with a circular saw puts you in a good position to make a perfectly straight cut on sheets of plywood. However, it will be helpful to be mindful of the following safety tips to ensure that you can lower the risk of injury:
One common risk that can pose a problem to you when cutting plywood using a circular saw is kickback. Kickback is dangerous. It happens due to several reasons, and one reason is binding. Binding occurs when the plywood sags or bends slightly, and in the kerf, the blade gets pinched.
The saw can kick back toward you in such a situation, with its blade at full speed of spinning. So, when working on plywood, make sure that you prevent binding.
Set Up the Support Mechanism Correctly
As mentioned above, kickback is one of the main safety concerns you should deal with when cutting plywood using a circular saw. So, to avoid kickback, you should use four long 2x4s and position them underneath the plywood sheet.
Position one 2×4 near the sheet’s outer edge. Then, position the two 2x4s, one on every side of your cut line. Ensure that each plywood sheet’s half is bolstered by two 2x4s when you begin to cut.
Refrain from Touching or Hitting the Blade Directly
It will be useful to handle any power tool with care. Remember that statistics show that the injuries due to circular saw are many and grisly. So, ensure that you don’t get in contact with the blade to avoid injury. Ensure that you have all the safety guards in place to prevent any injury due to the spinning blade.
Utilize the Right Blade
It is not right to assume that you can use some blades for all your projects. Some projects need specific blades. Thus, you must ensure you are using the appropriate blade for such tasks.
Do a Regular Maintenance of Your Circular Saw
One thing you should never forget is the regular maintenance of your circular saw. Have your circular saw checked regularly and only have it maintained with authorized dealers.
Turn off the Saws When Not in Use
One safety rule is to switch off your saw after use. Moreover, don’t forget to unplug the saw from the power source when you are not using it. In this way, you can avoid unintended powering of that tool.
Check the Manual When in Doubt
Before using the circular saw, ensure that you have clearly understood the manual to avoid any problem. Get your facts straight by often referring back to the user manual.
Maintain Your Focus When Ripping Plywood
Avoid starting to rip the plywood sheets when you are intoxicated. Such action will undoubtedly lead to injuries. Moreover, refrain from having divided attention when using your circular saw. Such inattention or divided attention often leads to injuries.
Wait for the Spinning Blade to Stop Before Handling It
You should not tinker with the blade if it is spinning. Please wait for it to stop. Moreover, make sure that the saw is turned off or unplugged before working on the blade.
Wear the Necessary Safety Gears
When working with the circular saw, you should never forget to wear your safety gear like your eyeglasses, gloves, and other safety gear. In this way, you can lessen the risks involved when working with such a tool.
Every aspiring woodworker’s primary goal is to achieve a clean cut on any wood, something that needs no sanding of the edges afterward. Such a fete is achievable if you know the straightforward steps on cutting plywood sheets using a circular saw. Of course, knowing the steps theoretically will not immediately translate to clean and safe cuts. But such knowledge will be invaluable for starters in achieving such a clean result.
Moreover, it will be helpful to remember that working on any power tool requires being mindful of the safety tips and precautions. By being cognizant of these safety tips, you can avoid gruesome injuries, making your woodworking experience a safe and fulfilling one.
Jason is a 40-year-old woodworker, carpenter and author who have been involved in the woodworking and woodcraft industry with 17 years of experience. He is expertise in technical aspects, woodcraft and furniture building projects.