All Replies on Options for handling sheet goods in a tiny shop

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View William Shelley's profile

Options for handling sheet goods in a tiny shop

by William Shelley
posted 05-31-2016 03:57 AM

25 replies so far

View clin's profile


956 posts in 1198 days

#1 posted 05-31-2016 04:43 AM

If possible, I suggest breaking down the sheet in your driveway or garage. I do this all the time. Full sheets are heavy and awkward. To do this I lay some 2” thick construction foam on the driveway and slide sheets right out of my pickup onto the foam.

I set my circular saw to just cut through the sheet and not too deep into the foam. Doing it this way works very well, since the foam supports the sheet everywhere. Not like using saw horses or other where you have to support the cutoff.

Now, to getting a straight cut. I use an 8+ ft long clamp on aluminum straight edge. Sort of like the things track saw use. My is 20+ years old and cost a small fortune then (or maybe I just had less money). But I think they are relatively much less expensive today.

Another way to go is make your own guide. This is nothing more than a piece of particle board or similar stable stock with another piece attached to it.

Here’s the 1st video I could find showing what I’m talking about. The trick to this is you need a straight piece of wood to start with.

I do this to make the piece manageable for making finished cuts on my table saw. But if you use a good plywood blade, you can get excellent cuts this way.

What you can’t do easily is make square cuts. That’s why I have a large sled that has about a 34” space between fences. It’s been large enough for me to make a set of shop cabinets (very similar to kitchen cabinets). But there is of course always going to be some project that is too big.

But you could use the old 3 4 5 right triangle thing to mark a right angle cut. In that case the bigger the piece the more accurate you can get the 90 deg angle.

-- Clin

View Planeman40's profile


1307 posts in 2963 days

#2 posted 05-31-2016 12:57 PM

I have a fairly large shop and I prefer to have my plywood sheets cut down before I bring them in. What I do is figure out a “rough cut” plan to take with me to Lowe’s or Home Depot. They will cut the plywood sheet down for free when you buy there using a large panel saw. Makes carrying the wood into the shop easier too.


-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View Waldo88's profile


207 posts in 1499 days

#3 posted 05-31-2016 01:17 PM

I have a shop about that size. I decided to ditch the table saw in favor of a band saw in order to save space. It works better for the kind of stuff I typically make anyway.

I break down sheet goods outside in the driveway with my circular saw, a straightedge, and some 2×4’s. I lay the 2×4’s down to support the sheet, keeping one relatively close to the cut on either side of it. My straightedge is a piece of oak that I planed perfectly straight and waxed. As long as I clamp the straightedge precisely, making accurate square cuts is not an issue.

View Kirk650's profile


576 posts in 951 days

#4 posted 05-31-2016 01:33 PM

I have a barn, half of which has been enclosed as a workshop/bedroom/bathroom. I take the sheet goods into the barn side and cut them into sizes easier to handle in the workshop. I use a purchased metal guide, that’s a bit longer than 8’, and clamps to keep the cuts straight.

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2572 days

#5 posted 05-31-2016 02:02 PM

Another vote for breaking them down outside. I have a smaller shop (20×20 garage), which with all the tools, makes handling sheet goods a pain. If I just have one or two sheets to break down, I’ll screws a couple 2×4’s lengthwise to some sawhorses to make a temporary table. If I have a lot to do, I’ll get a panel of insulation to use for support on top of the 2×4’s. I use a simple crosscut guide made from scrap plywood, it is long enough to crosscut a sheet, and has a cleat screwed to the underside that is square to the guide, so I don’t have to worry about the cut being square. It is worth taking a lot of time to get that cleat square. I will use the guide to check the plywood for square, and trim up the end if need be. I don’t find that I have to clean up any cuts on the table saw. If I have smaller pieces to cut, I’ll leave them as one larger piece, and then rip that apart on the table saw afterwards.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View Holbs's profile


2008 posts in 2232 days

#6 posted 05-31-2016 02:25 PM

I had the same problem for my 2 car garage area: breaking down sheet goods was a chore. Sure, I could do it outside on the ground & 2×4’s if needed. Opted for a multi-function table. Wonder if something like this would be useful:

Breaking down sheet goods with accuracy is a challenge. I did end up buying the Grizzly track saw for $200. Or the mini Grizzly track saw for $89.

-- The Carpenter Bee is derived from the Ancient Greek word wood-cutter "xylokopos/ξυλοκὀπος"

View CharlesA's profile


3351 posts in 2000 days

#7 posted 05-31-2016 02:38 PM

I, too, ask for HD to cut boards in half or so if that works for the project. Unfortunately, Menards, who has a better selection of plywood, carries some of it only in 4×8 and doesn’t have a panel saw.

I used a clamp-on aluminum straight edge with a nice Freud blade on my circular saw, and I get pretty good results. I would guess close to what one gets with a tracksaw, something like this

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View jeffswildwood's profile


3604 posts in 2180 days

#8 posted 05-31-2016 02:38 PM

I too use an unfinished basement which is small. I always break down sheets by taking them outside. Circular saw. I clamp a stright edge to the sheet. Works for me except if the rain starts!

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

View mramseyISU's profile


555 posts in 1748 days

#9 posted 05-31-2016 02:42 PM

I made a couple of the woodsmith circular saw guides. One 8’ long and one 4’ long so I can rip or crosscut full sheets and I keep a couple sawhorses and 2×4’s in the garage to help support the length.

The other thing I do is get a nesting plan to rough cut everything and buy my plywood at home depot. They’ll make a couple cuts per sheet of plywood free of charge for you. I always have them cut things about a 1/2” oversized so I make the finish cuts on my table saw.

-- Trust me I'm an engineer.

View CharleyL's profile


223 posts in 3567 days

#10 posted 05-31-2016 03:20 PM

I have a small shop too, and my shops have never been large enough to handle full sheets of any sheet goods material. Many years ago I used saw horses, a straight edge, and a circular saw in the driveway to break down my materials but saw horses just don’t work very well for this. Pieces are always falling just before the end of the cut, breaking the corners or smashing the corners when they hit the driveway.

Then I built a cutting table. It’s just a pair of banquet table legs bought from either Harbor Freight or Northern, a 1X4 frame 30” wide and 6-7’ long with short 2X4 pieces across the short dimension, laid flat and flush with the top. There are 5 of these, one across the center, and two where needed near each end to mount the leg assemblies. These pieces are also laid flat and flush with the top edge of the frame. I used biscuits and glue (no metal) to join the frame and cross pieces. The only metal is the leg assemblies and the short screws that hold the legs to the bottom of the 2X4 cross pieces. When the legs are folded they recess up into the recess of the bottom side of the frame, so the whole assembly sits against the sheet goods pile, requiring very little shop space when not in use. These photos are of a friends table. Mine is lighter than this one, because I used 1X4 for the frame and 2X4 cross pieces. The rest is the same as his, but lighter.

When I need it, I set it up on my driveway and lay a full sheet of plywood or other material on it, set my circular saw to cut about 1/4 deeper than the sheet is thick, position my straight edge, and make the cut. I always position the cut line over about the middle of the table, so more than enough of the material is on the table to keep the pieces from tipping off when they are cut. Nothing ever falls to the driveway, so all of the corners of the pieces remain in good condition. As the larger pieces get smaller I just slide them around to be sure that the table holds both pieces well so they won’t fall when cut. With a good straight edge of any kind, a couple of clamps, and careful measuring, I can pre-cut all of the pieces that I need. I now use a 54” and 102” aluminum straight edge clamps from , but a straight factory edge off a sheet of plywood will work well too. I break down my sheets to within 1/4” and then finish cut them to exact size on my table saw. Eventually the 1/4 excess depth of my circular saw will cut up the top surface of my table enough to cause problems. I’ll just make another top and transfer the legs if this ever happens, but I don’t think I’ll ever live long enough for this.

The third photo shows a Lexan shoe cover on my circular saw. Notice the cutout for the blade guard (important for safety), but also notice the narrow blade slot where the front cutting edge of the saw blade rises up through the Lexan. This provides a zero clearance function and reduces chipping and splintering of the material as it’s being cut. Don’t use Plexiglas for this. It shatters too easily. Use Lexan (they make bullet proof windows from Lexan) or use thin plywood if you can’t find Lexan. Thicker wood or Lexan will just reduce your saw’s cutting depth, but it will still work for cutting sheet goods. 1/8” thick should be the minimum thickness to use.


View Redoak49's profile


3665 posts in 2191 days

#11 posted 05-31-2016 03:24 PM

Not only shop size is an issue for many but age is an issue. I can not handle a 3/4” sheet of plywood easily and get it up on the saw. I break it down with a guide and circular saw.

My Menards has the best plywood of all the big box stores. TheY have the Aruaco Plywood and store it flat and not on arms like HD.

View Rentvent's profile


151 posts in 1051 days

#12 posted 05-31-2016 03:33 PM

I put this $14 Upgrade blade on my el-cheapo Ryobi 18v circular saw a couple years ago and haven’t used the corded circular saw since. It cuts through 3/4 plywood effortlessly. I think cordless is the way to go – especially if breaking things down outside.

View JBrow's profile


1366 posts in 1122 days

#13 posted 05-31-2016 03:42 PM

William Shelley,

A tall vertical panel saw would be nice, but building and using one is not without its problems. I am just under 6’tall. Reaching up at over 8’ to cut a 4×8 sheet is something I could not do with a ladder or a stool. The bigger challenge seems to me is building the panel saw so that it is rigid and operates smoothly. I suspect one reason commercial panel saws cost so much is all the engineering and fabrication required to achieve the rigid frame and smooth operation. My guess is that to build a panel saw that meets these requirements may exceed your $150 – $250 material cost estimate and take quite a bit of time. The last issue with the panel saw option is it is setting outside, where weather may take its toll, even when protected by a cover porch.

Shop made solutions for breaking down sheet goods have already been pretty well covered. But there are a few other commercially available options which have not been mentioned and may be well within your budget. For example Kreg offers a guide that attaches to your circular saw for making long rip cuts on sheet goods. I not have this gadget, so I have no opinion on how well it works. Several years ago, I opted for the EurekaZone EZSMART track saw system. This system retrofits to your circular saw and works quite well. I see Woodcraft offers the complete kit for breaking down plywood for about $280.

I also noticed on the EurekaZone site that they offer other accessories, some of which may interest you.

If you opt for breaking down sheet goods on the flat, making a breakdown or fixed table or frame on which the sheet good rests when making the cuts would be easier to use, putting the work at a comfortable height.

View William Shelley's profile

William Shelley

595 posts in 1672 days

#14 posted 05-31-2016 10:03 PM

Wow, thanks for all the replies. It appears that the “circular saw plus guide / jig” method is the most common. I did not know about the track saws less than $500 (for example the Grizzly unit).

I do often have home depot break down sheets for me to rough dimensions however my luck is pretty bad. I recently bought a sheet of 1/4” ply to use for drawer bottoms and asked the employee to cut it into four 2×4 pieces, then I said “wait, can you cut to within 1/8th of an inch?” and she said yes not a problem, so I said “ok, 23 7/8 each” ... I measured them afterwards and she had cut three at between 24 1/8” and 24 1/2” somehow. So I don’t necessarily want to rely on unskilled operators.

I still feel like I could assemble some panel-saw-esque device for even less than the cost of the Grizzly track saw though…. I’ll keep you guys posted.

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective

View MadMark's profile


979 posts in 1655 days

#15 posted 05-31-2016 10:25 PM

Here’s how we did it in the field for sheet goods. A pair of sawhorses (the cheap metal kind) with two 2×4’s lain flat on top of the sawhorses and the sheet goods on all.

Plywood / panelling:
Good face down and a 4’ level as a saw guide – normally true to +-1/8” with any reasonable circ saw.

Use your finger as a guide on your wooden rule with your utility knife, good side up. Slide to edge and snap, reach under & slit crease to separate pieces. Typ +-1/2” which is good enough for most rock jobs.

No fancy rigs, no dedicated stations, just the same field panel cutter as ever.


-- Madmark -

View William Shelley's profile

William Shelley

595 posts in 1672 days

#16 posted 05-31-2016 10:35 PM

I probably should have specified that ideally I’d be able to get dead square cuts, for example less than 0.001” error over 12 inches. None of the methods (including track saws, as far as I can tell) will give me the type of accuracy that a really really well tuned crosscut sled or panel saw could provide.

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective

View MadMark's profile


979 posts in 1655 days

#17 posted 05-31-2016 10:40 PM

The question was how to break down a large panel. Final trim I can get 1/32” +-.005 for you. The breakdown cut is not generally a super accurate finish cut.


-- Madmark -

View William Shelley's profile

William Shelley

595 posts in 1672 days

#18 posted 05-31-2016 10:41 PM

True, my original question was a little non-specific. That being said, if I do need to square up a larger sheet than I can handle on my table saw, I’m kind of out of options except for spending a lot of time fudging with my circular saw (or a track saw)

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective

View CharlesA's profile


3351 posts in 2000 days

#19 posted 06-01-2016 12:47 AM

You learned the hard way never to ask HD to cut near final dimensions. It’s not just the problem with dimensions, but they sometimes have dull blades that tear up the plywood.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View Holbs's profile


2008 posts in 2232 days

#20 posted 06-01-2016 04:37 AM

Redoak… definitely look into a Gorilla Gripper to easily move even 4’x8’ 3/4” plywood. Makes a WORLD of difference when it comes to moving sheets:

To lift a full sized sheet upto a table saw or cutting table, I use …. um…. not sure if it has a name but easily lays a panel on top of a surface.

View on YouTube

-- The Carpenter Bee is derived from the Ancient Greek word wood-cutter "xylokopos/ξυλοκὀπος"

View Lazyman's profile


2636 posts in 1590 days

#21 posted 06-01-2016 04:53 AM

I probably should have specified that ideally I d be able to get dead square cuts, for example less than 0.001” error over 12 inches. None of the methods (including track saws, as far as I can tell) will give me the type of accuracy that a really really well tuned crosscut sled or panel saw could provide.

- William Shelley

I don’t think that there are any methods for cutting wood that will guarantee .001 precision every time. That level of precision is tough even with a well made cross cut sled on a table saw will, much less a panel saw or circular saw. If you really need that level of precision, wood may not be the right material.

There are plenty of examples of simple jigs and guides that would allow you to get very accurate cuts without taking up much space. Shopnotes magazine has several ranging from full panel saws to track saws to straight edge jigs. I find a simple edge guide very accurate and very fast. You simply mark the ends of the cut on the plywood, clamp the guide in place and run the circular saw along the guide. As long as you accurately mark it and clamp the guide in place, you can cut to finish dimensions (assuming you have a blade that can make finish quality cuts). I’ve used the same technique on saw horses, clamped to my outfeed table and even sitting on my sheet goods cart.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View MustacheMike's profile


263 posts in 2291 days

#22 posted 06-01-2016 09:51 AM

We use several full sheets of birch a month for projects for the show. WQe get them at home depot where they have a panel saw and will rip them in half for free. Helps a lot to just handle either 2 – 2’x4’ or 2 – 4’x4’ pieces here in shop.

-- You can trust Mike -" because I will never pull your stash!" See my show weekly at

View Viking's profile


880 posts in 3397 days

#23 posted 06-01-2016 11:19 PM

I built a table, from pressure treated 2×4’s, a few years ago to use to cut down sheet goods. The table sits outside under roof.

I can pull full sheets from bed of my truck right onto the table. I use a circular saw with a good plywood blade and have several clamping straight edge guides in 8’, 4’, 3’, and 2’ lengths to guide the saw. Accuracy of the cuts have been very good. I do final cuts on my table saw inside the shop.

-- Rick Gustafson - Lost Creek Ranch - Colorado County, Texas

View rwe2156's profile


3171 posts in 1683 days

#24 posted 06-02-2016 12:10 PM

The cutting table CharleyL described works well, but obviously not inside your shop. Another alternative is a piece of foam.

Using a circ saw and cutting guide I can get TS quality cuts using a 40 tooth blade (thin kerf Diablo).
The guides are a snap to make and even easier to use. There are several examples out there just do a search.

I’ll know I’ll get disagreements, but IMO I couldn’t justify a track saws or vertical panel saw unless I had a commercial shop. That being said, there are tons of guys who drop $800+ (or even more) & love them (they kind of have to, don’t they).

”.001 error over 12 inches”?? All I can say is lighten up or your ww’ing experience will be quite frustrating ;-)

For xcuts I simply measure from the ends (checking for square first). I use a drywall square. They can be WAY off so you have to check them. If necessary, drill out 3 of the rivets, adjust square and re secure.

If needed, I will use my panel sled to cut to final dims.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View ellen35's profile


2739 posts in 3635 days

#25 posted 06-02-2016 12:28 PM

I too usually ask one of the Borg to cut down my large sheets. HOWEVER, their blades tend to be from the cheapest brand and they never change them out so I make sure to have them cut a little long on everything. Also, their plywood isn’t the greatest and you get lots of tear out. It is the price we pay for not having our own panel saw.

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

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