There are many ways of cutting Plywood, even without a table saw. This article aims to give you some tips and share techniques to help you slice through Plywood using other alternatives.
Aside from a table saw, you can use a handsaw — the most ancient and traditional way of cutting Plywood. If you want something cheaper than a table saw, a jigsaw is your perfect option. On the other hand, a circular saw will perform great like a table saw when it comes to accuracy and efficiency.
A complete set of a table saw may be expensive, so get ready to know more alternatives in cutting Plywood. Besides, you’ll also know more about Plywood and a quick guide to choosing the best type for your project.
What is Plywood?
Plywood is the most common material for furniture making and carpentry. It consists of borders or sheets that are from three or more layers of real wood called “Plies.” Manufacturers will then glue them together to form a new hard material for woodworking. Plywood is a versatile material that you can use in vast applications from walls, floors, concrete structures, packaging, to designer furniture.
- How Durable is a Plywood? Plywood is stronger than other wood-based sheet products like medium-density fibreboard (MDF). In our article entitled “Can You Plane Wood Across the Grain?”, we’ve explained how to wood grain affects its toughness. The same method applies to read grain directions on Plywood.
- Plywood gets strength from the way the direction of the alternating grain with its adjacent layers. More often, the rotation of the course of each layer’s grain is 90 degrees or called cross-graining. There are times when the rotation is 30, 60, 120, 1500, and 180 degrees.
- Cross graining prevents splintering while reducing the chance of expansion and shrinkage of the Plywood caused by air’s humidity. Also, it gives a high level of consistency of strength in all parts of the board. (ADD At What Moisture Content Does Wood Rot? From Can wood be too dry (or too wet) for woodworking?)
- Characteristics of a Good Plywood
- Maximum Strength. Plywoods excel as a material in construction sites, so there’s no question about its sturdiness. They are resistant to impact damage, lightweight, and easy to cut with tools.
- Versatile for Most Projects. As mentioned, Plywood is not only for construction and other industrial use nowadays. The continuous development with technology paved the way to discovering new and versatile applications. It includes intricate work like model making, wooden puzzles, and small boxes.
- It Can Cover Big Exteriors. Plywood makes it ideal to use as an exterior cladding on large panels to cover significant areas quickly because of its size.
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Plywood
|It consists of different plies or layers glued together to offer excellent strength.||The spaces between the layers of plies can make the Plywood susceptible to water damage over time.|
|Plywoods are resistant to warping, twisting, and cracking.||It may become heavy when wet.|
|The wood glue used is water-resistant and can also withstand heat.||It requires maximum protection to cover if used or stored outside.|
|It is economical because it is less expensive compared to other full-wood boards.|
|Plywoods have various types designed for a specific purpose.|
How to Cut Plywood Using a Circular Saw?
If you don’t have a table saw, then a Circular saw is your next best option. To know more about the various types of circular saws, you can find the answers here. A Circular Saw is considerably cheaper than a table saw, but you can still get the best results. So, here’s how to cut Plywood using a Circular Saw.
- Choose the Appropriate Plywood. One factor in getting a smooth cut on a sheet of Plywood is to look for the right cutting edge. A high tooth count carbide-tipped blade accurately does the job for you. There are some blades specially designed for Plywood labeled as “Finished Cuts,” but tooth count makes a huge difference.
- Get the Right Blade Size. Get a cutting edge that would match your Circular Saw. Also, make sure that you have the right size appropriate for the size of your Plywood.
- Setting it Up. Set the blade according to the right depth before cutting your Plywood. Make sure that it is not too deep nor too shallow. The ideal extent is approximately .25 inches below the sheet. If the Plywood is .75 inches thick, set the blade to 1 inch deep.
- Support the Plywood. As you cut along, provide support on both sides of the cut to keep it steady as you cut. Additionally, it also prevents chip-outs or splintering as you cut through near the edge, causing both ends to collapse suddenly.
- Cut With the Good Face Down. Place your Plywood on the cutting surface with its better side faced down. So that the teeth of the Circular Saw enters the sheet from underneath and can exit at the top, it prevents chipping as the teeth exit, and ensure a smooth surface on the better face.
- Measure Twice, Cut Once. Use a straight ruler to mark your line, or you can score it using a utility knife. It will ensure a smoother cut and eliminates any risk of having failed attempts. Remember, if you cut it all wrong, you’d have to start all over with a new piece.
- Use a Guide. A guide doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be useful and serve its purpose right. You can do-it-yourself using Plywood and clamp it on whenever you’re cutting.
- Start Cutting. Align the saw with your guide, and put the blade over your cutting mark. Start the power, and run the shoe on the Circular Saw along with your guide. Most importantly, always clean your area clean and dust-free.
How to Cut Plywood Using a Jigsaw?
A Jigsaw is a cheaper and more portable than a Circular Saw. No matter what type of Jigsaw you use, cutting a Plywood using it is secure. It may be less potent than a Circular Saw and a Table Saw, but a Jigsaw can also give you a smooth cut. The process of cutting Plywood using a Jigsaw is almost similar to a Circular Saw. We have mentioned in our How to Cut Plywood with a Jigsaw: a Simple Guide article how to cut a Plywood using a Jigsaw successfully. Here’s a summary of it.
- Understand The Blade Functions. Blade teeth pattern matters most in using a Jigsaw – upward and downward teeth orientation. Also, look out for the teeth-per-inch (TPI) rating, wherein a higher TPI means smoother edges and vice versa.
- Draw Your Cutting Line. Start drawing your cutting line using straight tools and rulers. You can do using a pencil or a mechanical wood marker to score your Plywood. Your cut line is your guide in cutting the Plywood accurately.
- Adjust the Speed of Your Jigsaw. Most modern Jigsaw has an Orbital feature that allows you to adjust the cutting speed. Go for a slow pace when cutting Plywood to reduce tear-out and splintering.
- Make the First Cut. Place the blade over your cutting line and initiate your first cut firmly and swiftly. It abolishes the possibility of skidding the sharp edge or missing the cut.
How to Cut Plywood Using a Hand Saw?
Here’s the most economical and oldest method of cutting Plywood. This time you are not going to use any fancy powered tools, but a hand saw can still give you a clean and neat if done correctly. Exhaustion must be the most significant disadvantage, but using a handsaw is ideal even for the most intricate cuts required. If you’re interested in understanding more about Hand Saws, feel free to find answers here.
- Measure Your Cut. Get the exact measurement of the cut that you want to make and mark it.
- Stabilize the Plywood. Use a wood clamp to stabilize your material over a workbench. The wood may have an unequal cut, or it may splinter if it is unstable.
- Provide Proper Support. Provide proper support to your Plywood by clamping one side, while holding the other part as you cut along. It will help you avoid splinter and chip-outs.
- Start Cutting. Cut at the right angle to get a clean result since Plywoods have thin build up. Never use a handsaw vertically; instead, go low or almost horizontal and cut along gently.
- Put the Right Amount of Pressure. Don’t be too harsh in cutting nor be too soft. Gently put the blade back and forth at first until you made that first tiny cut into the wood. Then, slowly apply pressure as the cut gets more profound.
- Get the Right Finish. Once the Plywood is ready to break off, slow down to avoid cracking. Then, hold the piece that’s about to cut off to prevent the Plywood from splitting off in fragments.
How to Properly Measure Plywood Accurately?
The secret to correct and accurate measurement is about getting straight tools, clear markers, and laying the Plywood on a flat surface. First, measure the length on the long edge for each side then mark a small dot, and do the same for the width or height whenever required. Finally, connect the marks with a long metal square to make straight lines.
Tips in Cutting Plywood
- Always provide full support to the Plywood to avoid splinter and fall once you reach the end of the cut.
- Adjust the blade depth whatever tool you may be using. It is essential to get the right angle to prevent chipping out.
- Before making any cut, A/B Test your saw and the guide for higher accuracy.
- Cut smoothly and at a steady speed without halting the entire length because it can leave a blade mark on the edge.
- Keep your saw blade sharp and with more teeth.
- Use a zero-clearance insert that creates the smallest amount of open area around the blade. It supports the wood fibers surrounding the cut and prevents splintering.
How Manufacturers Create Plywood?
Manufacturing Plywood requires log or “Peelers” that have a smaller diameter and straighter than average lumber. From there, it involves a lot of processes and treatments to make sure the quality of Plywood. So, here’s a standard operation in creating 4 ft by 8 ft plywood sheets.
- STAGE 1: Choosing the Trees.
- Select trees. It involves choosing matured trees that are ready for cutting using a gasoline-powered chain saw or with large hydraulic shears. Then, manufacturers will remove the limbs from the fallen trees using a chainsaw.
- Transportation. The trimmed trees will have a trip to the Plywood mill for stacking in long piles called Log Decks. At this stage, chopped trees are now Logs.
- STAGE 2: Preparing the Logs
- Prepare the Logs. Manufacturers will pick them up from the log decks using rubber-tired loaders, and put it on a chain conveyor. It will transfer the logs to the debarking machine with sharp-toothed grinding wheels and high-pressure water for removing barks.
- Cutting. Debarked logs go into the mill on a chain conveyor, and a huge circular saw cuts them into sections. The sizes of these sections vary from 8 feet, and 4 inches to 8 feet and 6 inches long, which are ideal for making 8-feet long Plywood sheets. From this stage, re-sized logs turn into Peeler Blocks.
- STAGE 3: Making the Veneer
- Soften the Peeler Blocks. Heating and soaking of Peeler Blocks happen for 12 to 50 hours depending on the type of wood, its diameter, and other factors.
- Peel the Peeler Blocks. Soften peeler blocks will go to a rotating peeler lathe that reduces the diameter of the block to approximately 3 to 4 inches. Then, the machine ejects the reduced piece of wood and puts it in place.
- Cutting the Veneers. The next process involves cutting the veneers according to usable widths, which are about 4 feet and 6 inches for making the standard 4-feet Plywood sheets.
- Sort Out the Veneers. An optical scanner searches for veneer sections that have defects and stack according to grades. Some manufacturers do this process manually.
- Drying. Sorted veneers will go to a dryer to reduce moisture content, and allow them to shrink before manufacturers glue them together. Then, they will stack those dried veneers again according to their grades.
- STAGE 4: Forming Plywood Sheets
- Gluing Up. Laying up and gluing the veneers starts soon as they assemble the surfaces for a particular run of Plywood. It’s either for 3-ply, 5-ply, or multi-ply depending on the manufacturer’s inventory. Then, the glued sheets go through hot presses to dry and cure properly.
- Sand the Sheets. Rough sheets will pass through a set of saws to trim their final length and width. Then, high-grade sheets pass through a set of 4 feet wide belt sanders and intermediate-grade sheets use manual-set sanders.
- Stamp with Grades. Once the final inspection is over, manufacturers stamp the finished sheets with their grade-trademark to give buyers information about the exposure rating, grade, mill number, and other factors.
- STAGE 5: Shipping. After carrying all procedures, finished Plywood Sheets move to the warehouse to await shipment.
What Are the Different Grades of Plywood?
Different types of Plywood have various grades depending on their kind and their country of origin. It refers to the overall Plywood quality, states any defects, and if underwent some repairs during the manufacturing process.
There are Brazilian, Chilean, Finnish, Russian, Swedish, and several other categories. Regardless of their source, it is essential to know the classes before buying to ensure that the particular type of Plywood will fit the job.
- A-grade Plywood. It has the highest quality, therefore, most expensive. It has a smooth surface that you can paint easily and versatile for many uses.
- B-grade Plywood. It may have some repairs, but it has mostly a smooth surface with a solid foundation. B-grade Plywoods only have minor flaws.
- C-grade Plywood. It features some knots throughout the sheets of up to 1.5 inches in diameter.
- D-grade Plywood. The cheapest grade, wherein flaws are a little bit obvious and feature knots up to 2.5 inches.
These grades represent A, B, C, and D, wherein A is the highest grade and D is the lowest. Two classes represent each sheet of Plywood written as AB, AC, and so on. The first grade (letter) is the face veneer grade, and the second one is the back veneer. If the Plywood has an X at the end, it means “Exposure,” or you should expect a little bit of moisture.
What are the Types of Plywood?
|Softwood Plywood||The most common type that’s generally for constructing and industrial purposes.|
|Hardwood Plywood||It has more strength and stiffness for resisting damage and wear, which makes it suitable for heavy-duty applications like floors and walls.|
|Tropical Plywood||It is usually from Asia, Africa, and South America featuring extra strength and equal plies. It also has attractive grain and coloring, which makes it ideal for furniture making and other construction industry.|
|Aircraft Plywood||It is from mahogany, birch, or both materials that have high-strength. It has adhesives added to the glue that offers resistance to heat and humidity. It has been in the market and used in some aircraft in World War II. Today, it is still a top choice for the same and other relevant applications.|
|Decorative Plywood||It is usually from woods of ash, Red oak, and maple. It has an attractive hardwood ply for making furniture and other high-end products.|
|Flexible Plywood||It is sometimes referred to as the “hatter’s ply” because it is ideal for making curved shapes.|
|Marine Plywood||As the name suggests, it is suitable for making boats and other related applications where the end product will encounter humid and wet conditions. It’s resistant to fungal attack, but it’s costly.|
|Fire-retardant Plywood||It doesn’t mean that it can ultimately withstand fire, but it has treated chemicals only to improve its resistance to fire.|
Types of Ply
Ply refers to the layers that manufacturers create to form Plywood. These boards have various thickness intended for specific projects. Plies makes the board stronger and resistant to any damage. They call each layer as “Wood Veneer,” it is a thin piece of wood glued together to create different plies. Hence, it is how and where the name Plywood came. It means the finished product of gluing up veneers and create a ply. There are three main categories of Plywood when it comes to Ply.
- 3-Ply. It consists of three layers of sturdy and durable veneers, which makes it an ideal option for indoor use.
- 5-Ply. It features layers of veneers that are specifically for projects for exterior use.
- Multi-Ply. It is also ideal for exterior use and roofing that usually contains seven or more veneers. It is incredibly strong and perfect for making home frames because it can withstand extreme wind and damage.
What is the Size of Plywood?
There are different thicknesses, widths, and lengths of Plywood to match your project. Some are thin for flexibility, while others are thick to withstand hazards as intense as natural calamities. Some can be long for construction and other industrial application. It means that choosing the right size of Plywood depends on your needs and the kind of project that you’re currently working on.
Proper Way of Finishing Plywood
Plywoods that have grades A or B are the best types to use for finishing, especially if you want to use or expose both sides. If you’re going to paint on your Plywood, it’s better to use a primer first to give it a smoother surface, and the paint can adhere more. Also, it’s better if you will use a paintbrush instead of an airbrush so that the color can penetrate more.
On the other hand, choose a smooth surface Plywood if you want to stain it. Allow at least 24 hours to dry the stain before applying a clear varnish to protect the stain and seal your wood. As the last step, apply a sealant to prevent molding and rotting when exposed to moisture.
Are There Any Other Alternatives in Case Plywoods Are Unavailable?
Fortunately, there are other options that you can use as an Alternative to Plywood. However, bear in mind that they don’t belong as a specific type of Plywood. Instead, they are another kind that you can use in many similar applications. Some alternatives are inexpensive, while others may give you a different finishing look for your project.
- Composite Woods. They have similar sizes and layers with traditional Plywood, but composites consist of fiberboard covered with a layer of hardwood. As a result, it offers a smooth exterior and a durable interior. Composite woods are easy to use on furniture and cabinetry.
- Blockboard. It also has the same construction as Plywood with three layers that range from 3/8-inches to 1 3/16-inches thick. Blockboard is more about the core and decorative finish purposes. Its core consists of thick and square cuts of wood, while the outer layers have layers to enclose the wood.
- Foamboard. It has been becoming more popular because it’s significantly lighter in weight than Plywood. Foamboard offers a rot-resistant alternative against mildew and mold. It uses a reinforced polyurethane foam construction with fiberglass to create a sturdy board.
- Fiberboard. Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is the most common type of it. Fiberboards consist of engineered and glued wood fibers to create a dense composite. It can be either hardwood, softwood, or tough combination of the two. However, it has small grains that may not be visible, resulting in the inability to handle a lot of stress that may cause splits and cracks.
- Hardboard. It is a thin piece of fiberboard that has a rough side and a finished face. Hardboard consists of compressed wood pieces to make a panel that doesn’t bend or warp. It is highly durable and common to use for kitchen countertops, furniture frames, and subflooring.
- Particleboard. It is one of the cheapest alternatives, which consists of glued small slivers of wood scraps. Hence, Particleboard is less durable and may split easily. It is ideal for small and less complicated projects Particleboards are susceptible to swelling under high moisture.
- Moisture-resistant Particleboard. It has the same construction as a regular Particleboard, except that manufacturers added a particular moisture-resistant resin to prevent swelling and warping in wet areas. Particleboards have a green dye added to the adhesive to spot the difference quickly.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How Can I Cut Wood at Home Without a Saw?
There are several ways of cutting wood at home without a saw. First, you can use a knife, machete, an ax, and a quality drill machine. If you are a beginner in woodworking, you can use chisels with the help of a hammer or some decent wood planes.
What are the Uses of Plywood?
As mentioned, Plywoods have many purposes and used in various applications. They are an extremely versatile kind of material that can be for building structures, furniture, and other decorative products. It has impressive strength and affordability, which makes it a top choice for most woodworkers.
Depending on the quality of the Plywood, whether it will get rot or nothing would happen. More often, with proper care, there’s no harmful effect even if the Plywood gets wet. However, make sure that it should not be under too much moisture and prolonged exposure to water. Otherwise, it may start to wear and damage the wood eventually.
There are various ways of cutting Plywood, even without using a Table Saw. For example, you can use a Circular Saw, Hand Saw, Jigsaw. These are much cheaper options, plus they are straightforward and convenient to use. Make sure to pick the appropriate type of Plywood for your project to ensure effectivity and extended shelf life.