Can you cut plywood with a jigsaw? (plus 3 other methods)

Posted in Home Improvement on June 8, 2018

Unless you publish a woodworking magazine or own a DIY YouTube channel, it is impossible to own every tool possible. The jigsaw, however, is a staple that should be present in every woodworking shop. It is especially useful for making curved cuts. But can you cut plywood without splintering?

The short answer is YES. All you need to do is to turn off the pendulum action on your jigsaw and use quality blades. The Bosch T101AO jigsaw blade to cut plywood retails for less than $10 for a pack of 5, much cheaper than a new sheet of plywood, and certainly worth every cent. Go slowly on the cut speed and you will have a clean cut on both sides of the plywood.

About Hardwood Plywood

Hardwood plywood is a great choice for furniture such as bookcases, tabletops, cabinets. In other words, any project that calls for a wide, flat wood board. It’s cheaper and easier to work with and, most of all, it's more stable than solid wood. Most hardwood plywood comes with a finish-grade veneer on one side (the good side) and a lesser grade on the other. These three cutting methods will keep both sides splinter-free, with extra protection for the good side, if you follow a simple rule of thumb.

How to crosscut plywood without splintering? Another 3 Methods For You

The best way to cut plywood without splintering is to have the saw's teeth entering the show side (the side that will show on the finished product) and exiting the back side. That means placing the good face down when using a circular saw, and the good face up when using a table saw. Keep on reading for details on how to protect both sides of the cut.

The three methods I am about to describe will consistently produce straight, splinter-free edges with few setup hassles.

The circular saw works best for cutting pieces too wide to be cut on a table saw without a huge saw table. If you work on a small shop like me, you lack space to maneuver an entire sheet of plywood, plus your benchtop table saw won’t cut strips wider than 12" or so.

The table saw technique works much faster and is great for making multiple cuts of the same width. But when you’re wrestling with a full 4x8 sheet of plywood, even narrow cuts can be awkward and difficult, so you may want to handle these cuts with the circular saw — especially if you’re working alone.

If your project calls for only one good plywood side, this is the only tip you‘ll need, but if you need two good sides, you’ll also need to use the scoring and taping technique.

Method 1 – Circular Saw

For the simplest method, you’ll need a circular saw and either a new plywood-cutting blade with 140 to 150 teeth or a 40-tooth carbide-tipped crosscutting blade. You’ll also need a good, sharp utility knife and a 4-ft. level to use for a “fence,” that is, a saw guide. If you don’t have a 4-ft. level, you can cut a 5-in. wide piece from the end of a 4x8 sheet of plywood and use the “factory edge” as a guide.

Before starting, rest the plywood on a flat surface supported by scrap rigid foam strips or 2x4s running perpendicular to the direction of the cut. They support the plywood during and after the cut. If the plywood isn’t well supported, it will fall away near the end of the cut, binding the saw blade and/or tearing off the veneer. Mark both ends of the cut you plan to make and clamp the fence exactly on these two marks. Scoring with a utility knife keeps the veneer from being torn up by the exiting saw blade. Before cutting (good face down, remember), I determine the distance from the inside face of the blade to the edge of the saw base. Measure a practice cut to be sure this distance is correct.

Clamp your saw guide that exact distance away from and parallel to the scored line. Do a good job when clamping both edges of the straightedge during scoring and cutting. You don’t want the guide to slip in the middle of either process. Be sure to start your saw before touching the edge of the plywood with the blade or it may tear up the veneer at the start-up.

TIP: Sometimes the saw base will leave metal marks on your work. Test your saw by making a practice cut on a piece of wood similar to your project piece. If it marks the wood, apply masking tape to the bottom of your saw base. Wrap the ends of the tape over the edges of the table to prevent it from peeling during the cut.

Method 2 – Table Saw With Scoring Cut

Before crosscutting plywood on your table saw (good side up this time!), be sure your blade is sharp. If you’re buying a blade, a 10-in. carbide combination blade with 60 teeth is a good choice. It will work well for both crosscutting and ripping.

Professionals who cut a lot of plywood use a special saw equipped with a small-diameter scoring blade on a front arbor. The scoring blade cuts a shallow kerf first to prevent splintering, then a full-size blade completes the cut. Our method duplicates this technique but requires two separate cuts.

First, you’ll need to remove the table saw guard to make a cut that doesn’t go all the way through the wood. Crank the blade above the table about 1/16 in. so it’s just high enough to cut the thin veneer (Photo 5). Now make the scoring cut on the plywood’s surface. The tips of the teeth will cut even with the veneer‘s wood fibers so the grain won’t tear. Second, replace the guard and crank up the blade to make the finishing cut.

To ensure perfect results, be sure the table saw fence is parallel to the blade. If it’s not, take the time to adjust it. The owner’s manual for your saw will tell you how.

When you’re crosscutting a wide piece of plywood, push it slowly through the blade. There’s a big difference between ripping a 6-in. wide board into two 3-in. boards and crosscutting a 3-ft. wide piece of plywood into two 1-1/2 ft. pieces. The increased distance between the blade and the fence, along with the wide and heavy plywood, makes caution a must. The plywood can bind between the blade and fence, causing a nasty kickback, so don’t rush or force the cut. If possible, enlist an assistant to help you, or support the plywood during the cut with side tables and outfeed rollers.

Method 3 – Router With Fence Board

This is an excellent way to trim pieces of plywood to exact size after you’ve rough-cut them oversize with a circular saw. It will also give a very smooth edge for applying edge-banding (veneer trim). You can also use this method when you need to trim just a little off the length, say up to 3/8 in., or make slight adjustments in the angle of the cut.

You need a router, a sharp 1/2—in. dia. flush trim router bit (carbide is best) with a 1-in. cutting depth, and the 5-in. wide plywood fence described in the circular saw technique. A flush trim bit has a bearing on the bottom that follows the edge of the fence that you’ve clamped along the plywood.

CAUTION: Don’t use a 4-ft. level as a straightedge for a flush trim router bit.

First, using a straightedge, draw the cutting line 1/8 to 1/4 in. back from the edge of the plywood. Then clamp the fence board’s “factory edge” on that line. Flip the plywood over so the straightedge is on the underside of the plywood. Clamp the plywood to your workbench or sawhorse so the end hangs well over the edge.

Now make a short, 1-in. cut on the end by guiding the router backward against the fence. This keeps the veneer from tearing as you finish the next cut.

Finally, cut the rough edge from end to end, guiding the router slowly from left to right. Press the pilot bearing firmly against the fence board. Take care to keep the router base firmly on the plywood. If the router tips a little to the right as you cut, make another pass until the plywood edge is at 90 degrees to the plywood surface and completely smooth.

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