A Guide to Cutting Plywood and Other Sheet Goods on a Table Saw
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A Guide to Cutting Plywood and Other Sheet Goods on a Table Saw

Cutting plywood and other sheet goods on the table saw isn’t difficult and it really doesn’t take a great deal f practice to learn. There are some relatively simple tricks that we can employ to make sure our cuts are straight and some tricks to eliminate or keep to a minimum unwanted tear out but it all begins with the selection of the right saw blade for the job.

Table saws come with a combination blades, a general purpose blade for making rip cuts and cross cuts in both hardwood, softwood and sheet goods. Combination blades usually have 24-teeth to the inch, so they are a very coarse cutting blade which is fine for ripping 2X6s but no serious woodworker would use one for anything else. The serious woodworker has a wide variety of specialty blades on hand blades that are designed for cutting specific materials. For plywood you need a blade with 80 HiATB teeth per inch, such as the Freud LU79R blade. The HiATB refers to the High Alternate Top Bevel of the teeth which increases the knife like action of thee teeth producing a super smooth cut. This blade is designed for cutting plywood on table saw of 3HP or less. These blades aren’t cheap but when you consider the cost of a single sheet of mahogany plywood they are worth the money you spend on them. For some a good article on how to select saw blades and the meaning of the nomenclature use go to the Rockler site and read Saw Blades 101. If you aren’t familiar with Rockler surf their site. They not only have some great instructional on their site, they are a great source for woodworking tools and supplies.

With the proper blade in place we are ready to begin but before we do we need to observe the rotation of the saw blade because it is the rotation of the blade that determines whether we make our cuts with the finished surface of the plywood facing up or down. Most of us started out with a circular saw, a saw that is commonly referred to as a Skill Saw, and we were taught to position the work piece with the finished side, or the good side, down because the blades on circular saws rotate in a clockwise direction with the teeth entering the underside of the material and exiting from the top side. Because of the blades clockwise rotation, tear out is likely to occur on the side of the material facing up so we want the finished side facing down. The opposite applies when cutting on a table saw. The table saw blade spins in a counterclockwise direction with the teeth entering the topside of the work piece and exiting the bottom side which causes any tear out to occur on the bottom side. On a table saw we want to make our cuts with the finished side or the good side facing up.

Full sheets of plywood can be very unwieldy and cutting them on a table saw requires a helper or at least table extension and out feed rollers. A second set of hands is always best especially if you are working on a table saw with a small table because you need help keeping the material flat on the table, tight against the rip fence while you make sure you’re feeding it into the blade in a straight line. If you have to work alone and it’s at all possible cut a full size sheet down into a more manageable size, say 4X4 sheets or 2X8 sheets using a skill saw. You can make perfect, straight cuts with a skill saw if you place a piece of 2” foam insulation on the shop floor and lay the plywood on top of that. I have two pieces of ¼” thick X 4” wide aluminum that I use as rip guides with my circular saw, 1 8FT long and 1 4FT long. Line them up and secure them with C-Clamps. Set the depth of cut for a ½” more the thickness of the plywood and cut away.

There is a trick to minimizing tear out that works with both a circular saw and a table saw, its 2” wide blue painters tape. Tape both sides of the plywood where you are going to make the cut and mark the cut on the tape instead of marking the cut directly on the plywood. The tape will keep the wood fibers from ripping out as the saw blade’s teeth exit the wood.

With a table saw as with a circular saw, it’s all in using the right blade. Make sure you use a blade designed to cut the material that you are working with.

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Comments (2)

This is a very good article on table saw. You give a great description on the different type of blades and rotation of the blade to give that finished touch. Great information. Thanks Calvin @ Tile Cutting Saw