Plywood is an engineered wood product made from multiple layers of thinly cut wood glued together in cross-sections. This veneering of the layers creates a strong and stable product that does not expand or constrict with humidity or temperature changes. Unfortunately, full sheets of plywood are awkward to handle, and the top veneer layer frequently splinters when cutting regardless of the quality. Follow these tips to get the best results when cutting plywood.
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The standard sheet of plywood is manufactured in dimensions of four feet by eight feet. This size is difficult for a single person to manage when making initial cuts or ripping into smaller sections. Resting the plywood sheet on stationary stands or saw horses bears the weight, allowing you to freely operate a manual or power saw. Securing the plywood to the stands with clamps prevents the plywood from shifting, allowing for smoother cuts. When using a table saw, a set of roller stands glide the plywood along when cutting or ripping a straight line. One set of roller stands are needed to hold the plywood prior to being cut, while another set catches the sections after the cut. Failing to provide roller stands at either end, jams the saw blade with the plywood as it moves at an awkward angle or creates an uneven cut from stop-and-start motions.
Every sheet of plywood must be checked to determine if it is perfectly square prior to cutting. It is not uncommon to find inaccuracies in the measurements. Measure both diagonals of the sheet from one corner to the opposite corner. If both diagonal measurements are the same, the sheet is square. If the measurements do not matchup, use a T-square or carpenter's square to draw lines at each corner to reveal the actual square. Make all future measurements from these newly drawn lines. Mark off cutting lines on plywood with a pencil and a straight edge or a chalk line to ensure a straight line. Always measure everything at least twice, prior to making any cuts.
The nature of plywood's layered construction can cause splintering and chipping during the cutting process. Even the high-quality cabinet grade of plywood splinters if precautions are not exercised. Always choose a new, clean blade suitable for cutting plywood. Never attempt to make a cut with a dull or dirty blade. Placement of the plywood's "best face" during cutting affects the smoothness of the cut. When using a circular saw the "best face" should be turned down; however, it should face up when using a table saw. Try to plan for the longer cuts to go along the grain line, as cutting across the grain increases chipping. To prevent splintering, place a strip of masking tape over the cutting line. Scoring the cutting line with a sharp utility knife along a straight edge takes more time, but ensures a smooth cut that does not fray the exterior veneer layer.
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