My woodworing ideas and tips #4: Plywood thoughts

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Blog entry by Betsy posted 07-01-2008 02:57 AM 2564 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Sand paper and cheapskates Part 4 of My woodworing ideas and tips series Part 5: Measuring thoughts »

sitting here thinking of things that I was taught when I first started woodworking took me to plywood. We all seem to use a lot of it when we first start out. So here are some of my thoughts and tips for those who are new to using ply for their projects.

1) It’s important to recognize which face is the best face. Sometimes this is difficult to decide depending on the sheet you pick. In this instance you need to decide which is the one you want facing out and mark it clearly so you don’t spend time deciding over and over. Other times it’s very easy to decide.

2) Once you know the best face you can decide how you plan to cut it.

2A) If you are using a circular saw—- put the best face down.
2B) if you are going to use a table saw – put the best face up.

The difference is in the way the blade turns. On a table saw the blade exits the board going down therefore any chipping, in theory, will be on the bad face.
With a circular saw the blade exits on the up cut – therefore the chips will occur on the top of the board.

3) Mask the cut line with tape. Tape can keep the fibers of the veneer from chipping. I use the blue painters tape, but a cheaper alternative is the clear packing tape.

3A) make sure the tape is securely on the board. If not, there is a potential that the tape can get pulled off and into the blade making quite a mess.

4) Instead of tape, you can score the ply with either a knife or there are special scoring sets that you can buy. I find a good utility knife will do the job.

4a) you can also score the ply with the saw blade itself. Set the blade just barely over the top of the throat plate. Just barely. You want to take off just a smidge of the veneer. The issue I find with this is that you are having to run the board through the saw twice, which creates twice the room for error.

5) a full sheet of ply can be heavy—- get help or cut it down to more manageable sizes before doing your final sizing.

6) Thin 1/4” ply can become a missile very quickly. This is because it’s very flexible and if you are not careful to keep it flat on the table the saw blade can pick it up and toss it back at you. I generally set my blade a little higher on the thinner ply than I would normally. I am actually more inclined to cut 1/4” down to smaller sizes with a jig saw before final cutting on the table, I’m more likely to have better control.

Well that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. I’m sure others will have more tips, and they are welcome to post them here.

Thanks for reading.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

6 comments so far

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 3190 days

#1 posted 07-01-2008 04:09 AM

thanks for all that advice betsy! i agree with you greatly on deciding which face. on my printer cabinet i initially cut the dado in the good side (opps) so i had to cut two more pieces but luckily i was able to save those pieces and reuse them so i didn’t have to get more plywood!

View steveosshop's profile


230 posts in 3048 days

#2 posted 07-01-2008 04:35 AM

I use the blue painters tape as well to make sure the fibers stay together. I also try to make sure and use a straight edge and circular saw to cut all plywood down to managable sizes right outta the store. 4’X8’ sheets are just too big to handle safely on a table saw unless you have a huge amount of table surface and a really good outfeed table.

-- Steve-o

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5300 posts in 3134 days

#3 posted 07-01-2008 06:34 AM

Thanks for these topics Betsy. Thanks also for your blog on learning to use the hand plane. I was puttering about with mine the other day and realized I was using some of the stuff you blogged about… I’ll figure them out eventually.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View lew's profile


11265 posts in 3177 days

#4 posted 07-01-2008 05:26 PM

Thanks, Betsy.

Are you doing all this typing with just your left hand?


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Betsy's profile


3336 posts in 3318 days

#5 posted 07-01-2008 07:28 PM

Thanks guys.

Mark – I’m really glad my input has helped you on your woodworking journey.

Lew – yes – left-handed. But I type for a living so my hunt and peck is much faster than most folks.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View sIKE's profile


1271 posts in 3176 days

#6 posted 07-01-2008 09:09 PM

I have used a large amount of ply building my Miter Bench and Storage. It has required 3/4, 1/2, and 1,4 sizes. I have had one kickback accident while working on this project. I have a DW746 with 52” rails and table and an outfeed table that is a bit longer and wider than table saw.
Click for details
I have had a lot of success with breaking down the plywood using this and an in-feed table. The main problem is you have to go slow or else you will move off of the fence and either bind the blade (larger pieces) or blow your cut line with smaller pieces. Not saying a bit a danger is not involved, and I take the same precautions with the thinner stock. With that being said, the kickback I referenced earlier was a much smaller piece of ply that I was ripping for a drawer front. I tell you what, the SOB hurt like the dickens.

Always be safe when you are working with ply goods, take your time and think though the cut before you do it and what could go wrong and I found that you will more than like avoid that issue.

-- //FC - Round Rock, TX - "Experience is what you get just after you need it"

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