If you do a lot of woodworking–especially cabinets, built ins, or storage pieces–plywood quickly becomes your best friend. But sometimes breaking down a full sheet of 3/4″ plywood can be a little….daunting. So I’m showing you how to cut down plywood sheets easily and accurately so you can quickly move on to the fun stuff–the building 🙂
If you’ve noticed, I use A LOT of plywood around here. Plywood is a really nice material that makes building large furniture pieces clean, easy, and quick. I love using it.
But cutting it down isn’t exactly the highlight of my day. So I’ve figured out the easiest, most efficient way to cut down plywood sheets using a few simple guides. No special tools required. An extra set of hands is always nice to help lift the sheet up onto the sawhorses, but not necessary if you use a little creative determination…and leverage 😉
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To break down my plywood sheets, I use four things:
- Circular saw with Plywood Blade
- Kreg Rip Cut
- Kreg AccuCut
- Kreg Trak Horses (optional, but I really like them)
Now, you can totally use a table saw to cut down your plywood sheets. I have a really nice table saw, but I still prefer using a circular saw to cut my sheets down because trying to maneuver a heavy sheet of plywood through a table saw by myself is a struggle.
It’s much easier to cut it down with a circular saw 🙂 So that’s how I’m showing you. I’ve got a video here, step by step below, and some FAQ and tips at the end.
Step 1: Setting Up Plywood Cutting “Station”
In order to cut down plywood, it needs to be set up on something–like a workbench or saw horses. Or if you prefer to cut on the ground, that works, too. BUT, no matter where you choose to cut down your sheets, it needs to be setting on some sacrificial scrap blocks.
This allows you to lower the blade of your circular saw so that it will cut THROUGH the plywood, but you won’t cut your workbench, sawhorses, or anything important.
Now, personally, I prefer to set up my Kreg Trak Horses to cut my plywood on. You can use any brand saw horse, or even homemade saw horses. I just like these because they are easy to set up when I need them, and they fold away when I don’t.
So, I set my scrap 2×4 blocks on the top of my Trak Horses and set my plywood sheet in place.
Step 2: Setting Up Circular Saw
I keep two circular saws handy in my shop–I know that isn’t feasible for everyone, but it’s really cut down on changeover time in my shop. So it’s something to consider for your own shop, especially if you cut a lot of plywood. I keep one for general purpose use, and I keep the other set up specifically for cutting plywood.
But, if you only have one, when you get ready to cut plywood with your circular saw, make sure to install a plywood cutting blade. These blades typically have a high tooth count to help prevent tear out for cleaner cuts.
Once the blade is installed, it’s time to add the Kreg cutting sled. Now, I use a Kreg Rip Cut and a Kreg Accu-Cut to cut down my plywood sheets. This blue Kreg sled attaches to the circular saw to allow you to use it with these guides.
That said, attach the sled to the circular saw base according to the instructions and based on your particular style saw. The sled attaches using these two set screws. It’s important to make sure the sled is attached square on the saw base, and not crooked.
NOTE: It takes a few practice cuts and adjustments to get the sled set up with the Accu-Cut and Rip Cut the first time. I recommend setting the sled up with the Accu-Cut first, then the Rip Cut. I set mine up so that I don’t have to adjust the sled when swapping between the two to keep things quick and accurate. That’s another reason I use one saw specifically for plywood…I never have to remove the sled once I got it dialed in and making accurate cuts.
Step 3: Ripping Plywood Sheets to Desired Widths
I know this is STEP 3, but you can cut down plywood in whatever order you wish. Typically, it’s easiest to rip the sheet lengthwise into the widths you want before cross cutting the lengths you want. Speaking of, let’s discuss the difference in cross cuts vs rip cuts. Rip cuts go WITH the grain, cross cuts go ACROSS the grain. So it looks like this on a plywood sheet.
For ripping plywood sheets, I use my circular saw with my Kreg Rip Cut guide. This guide is designed to rip plywood into strips by running the straight edge along the edge of the plywood while the circular saw cuts a certain distance away.
I slide my circular saw with sled attached onto the guide and set the desired width, then flip the tab to clamp in place. Double check with a tape measure that the distance from the BLADE to the guide matches the width you want. Also keep in mind that the blade CUT (or kerf), should be on the WASTE side of the piece.
Before cutting, I make sure my blade depth is set to cut SLIGHTLY (1/16 – 1/8″) deeper than my plywood sheet.
Then, I cut from one end of the sheet to the other keeping the straight edge nice and tight along the plywood edge. It’s important to keep it tight, but also square so that the blade cuts square. This should give you a plywood strip your desired width.
NOTE: If your plywood is moving while you are cutting, clamp it onto your saw horses where it won’t be in the way of your cutting.
Now, that’s how to easily RIP cut a plywood sheet, but what about cross cuts?
Step 4: Cross Cutting Plywood Sheets to Desired Length
Again, you could swap step 3 and 4, but I usually rip first, then cross cut second. My miter saw can cut up to 16″ wide boards at a time. If my plywood strips are smaller than 16″ wide, I like to use my miter saw (again, with a fine tooth blade, or it may cause a lot of tear out), to cut my pieces to the desired length.
BUT, if my pieces are wider than 16″, I use my Accu-Cut. This has been a really handy guide to have not just for cutting plywood, but for several other applications as well.
So I measure and mark the desired length I want to cut my plywood, and use a square to make a mark on each side like shown below. NOTE: when cross cutting plywood with a circular saw, flip the good side over so that it’s on the bottom. Most tear out will occur on the top of the cut when using a circular saw, so whatever tear out you encounter should be on the “bad” side if you flip it upside down.
Now, it’s important to make sure you have a support underneath where this cut will be made. If you only support the ends, the piece will sag at the cut and pinch the blade. This could be dangerous and cause kickback. I position my saw horses so that this cut is supported OR place a couple 2x4s across them like shown below.
Once everything is properly supported, it’s time to cut. The same sled I used with the Rip Cut fits with the Accu-Cut as well. When the Accu-Cut is properly set up, I simply line up the cut edge with the marks I made with my square earlier. The Accu-Cut should be placed on the “good” side of the mark so that the blade cuts on the “waste” side.
Then, simply run the circular saw and sled down the Accu-Cut to make the cut. The rubber grips on the bottom of the Accu-Cut guide should hold it in place while you make your cut. If you find it’s slipping, wipe the dust off the grips, and wipe the dust and debris off the plywood surface.
Step 5: Start Building 🙂
And that’s how I cut down my plywood sheets! It’s really that simple…set the sheet on scrap blocks on sawhorses, rip widths, cut lengths, start building.
If you’d like to see some project examples using plywood, here are a few of my favorites:
FAQ and Tips to Cut Down Plywood Sheets
WITH SLED ATTACHED, set your saw on top of your plywood sheet and lower the blade so that it is about 1/16-1/8″ below your sheet.
Always pay attention to cut on the WASTE side of the mark. So if you measured a 24″ long piece to cut, cut on the side of the mark that you didn’t measure from.
I’ve had several people ask me how I get my Rip Cut to cut accurately and square. It’s important to make sure the straight edge guide is square to the top slide like shown below.
If your Rip Cut isn’t cutting right, usually the issue is that 1. something is loose and needs to be tightened, or 2. either the straight edge OR the sled isn’t attached square. The blade should be perfectly parallel to the straight edge guide. Making sure the straight edge guide is square to the top and the blade is square to the top should make them both parallel.
The Accu-Cut is designed to not have to be clamped. I’ve never had to clamp mine. The rubber strips on the bottom hold it in place while cutting. Simply brush or blow off excess dust on the strips and the plywood surface before placing, and it holds just fine. However, if you WANT to clamp it, you can. Just make sure to clamp so that it’s not in the way of cutting.
When used properly, set up properly, and routinely checked for square, these guides are very accurate. You can see me using them in almost every single video of a project I’m cutting plywood for. If they didn’t work, I wouldn’t use them. BUT, the key is proper set up. Take the time to get these guides square and dialed in by making test cuts and adjusting as needed. And when at all possible, once you have the sled set up like you want it, don’t remove it.
Most of the plywood I cut is 3/4″ thick, so it’s heavy. Its weight holds it in place most of the time. However, if you cut enough off, it obviously weighs less and can shift more easily when cutting. If your plywood is moving while cutting, you can try a couple things. Clamp it down, but place clamps where they won’t be in the way of cutting. Use some type of rubber “grippies” on the bottom to keep the sheet from slipping (an example are these Rockler bench cookies). Or just cut really SLOWLY.
It doesn’t matter what you’re using it for. If you ask me, I will always, always, always recommend using 3/4″ PureBond hardwood plywood. Even if you’re painting, even if it’s for a shop project, even if it’s going in a closet. I’ve used some sanded pine for shop projects in the past and, yes, it’s cheaper, BUT I can tell a huge difference in the strength. Hardwood plywood won’t bend nearly as much under heavy weight as pine plywood will. Sure, hardwood costs more, but it will be stronger, finish smoother, and it’s just all around easier to work with. I use 3/4″ birch plywood 99% of the time–ESPECIALLY FOR CABINETS. And the other 1% is when someone specifically requests oak for a furniture project instead of birch.
I hope this post gets you a little more comfortable and confident working with plywood. Breaking down a full plywood sheet can be overwhelming, but with these simple guides and a circular saw, you can have it cut down in minutes so you can move on to building 🙂
If you’d like to check out some other helpful guides and beginner’s tips, head over to the Getting Started page for more.
Be sure to pin this for later and until next time, happy building 🙂