Simple Tips for Clean Plywood Cuts

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November 2012
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Quick Tips for Simple Plywood Cuts
Quick Tips for Accurate CrosscutsPlywood is a perfect material for many types of projects. It’s strong, affordable, and easy to work with. If there’s one drawback, it’s that the thin surface veneer can tear out as you cut, leaving a frayed edge. Here are a few easy ways to prevent that from happening to ensure that your plywood projects will look their best.


Decide Which Way Is Up
When you’re making a project from plywood, it’s important to decide which one of the surfaces looks the best before you ever start laying out or cutting. That way, when you’re cutting the parts, you can be sure to orient the sheet in the proper way.

The reason is simple. Tearout happens most often as the saw blade exits the plywood. So, you want to make sure that the blade is cutting into the wood on the best-looking surface, and exiting the cut on the other face. It’s easy to do if you just follow these simple rules:

  • The blade on a handheld circular saw cuts as it moves upward. So, when youíre cutting plywood with using a circular saw, make sure the best-looking surface faces down, so that the blade enters on that face.
  • On a table saw, the blade cuts as itís moving downward. If youíre cutting on a table saw, make sure that the best-looking surface faces up.

Choose the Best Blade
Whether you’re using a circular saw or a table saw, be sure that you choose the right blade for the job. This is especially important with a circular saw, since most come with a blade that’s meant for fast cuts in framing lumber, not finished cuts in plywood. Table saws, on the other hand, usually come with a better blade, but usually one that’s meant to do everything reasonably, rather than cutting one type of material especially well.

With either saw, a blade with a higher tooth count will equal a smoother cut. A blade with carbide-tipped teeth will perform better, as well. Invest in a decent-quality, carbide-tipped blade. Look for a blade that has words like “finish quality” or “fine cut” or “plywood” in the description.


Set the Blade Height Right
Set the Blade Height Right
Choosing the right blade makes a big difference, but setting the cutting depth of that blade correctly helps, too. Donít set the blade so a lot is exposed beyond the thickness of your plywood. Instead, set the cutting depth just slightly deeper than the thickness. That way, the teeth hit at more of a shearing angle than a chopping angle, placing less stress on the wood fibers in the veneer.
Tape up for Top Results
Tape up for Top Results
You can also minimize tearout along the cut line by supporting the wood fibers in the fragile veneer. The easiest way is to simply cover the area where youíll cut with masking tape. A layer of masking tape may not seem like much, but just this little bit of extra support can make a big difference. After making the cut, slowly remove the tape by pulling it toward the cut edge.

Upgrade for Great Results
Score the Cut Line If you’ve tried the other methods and are still having trouble with tearout, one final technique is to slice through the veneer before you ever touch it with a saw blade. You can do that by scoring your cut line with a utility knife or rotary cutter, guided by a straightedge. The trick with this technique, though, is that you have to set the straightedge just right, and then follow the scored line exactly with your saw.

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