The table saw was designed to cut lumber but it can be used for other types of wood if you know how to make it work for you. Ripping lumber is perhaps one of the most common table saw uses. But that’s not all that your table saw can do.
Plywood can be cut on a table saw but it is not as simple as your typical lumber is when you cut it. The challenge is using a table saw can sometimes lead to rough edges and cuts on plywood. It’s the way that plywood is made but it also has to do with the blade and design of your table saw.
Now, that being said, you can use the table saw if you know how to do it right!
Start with the Blade
The first thing you need to be prepared for cutting plywood on the table is your blade. If you have a dull blade or a dirty blade, you’re simply not going to get a good cut on the plywood. It’s that easy.
So start by making sure you have a sharp blade. That’s your first step. And then let’s take it one step further. Ripping lumber doesn’t require a smooth cut. It’s common to get a rough cut. So you need a sharp blade but you also need a blade that is made to cut more smoothly.
This just means that you want more teeth, or a higher TPI on your blade than a traditional table saw blade. You may have to purchase a blade to have on hand if you don’t have any. 80 TPI is a great option.
Once you’ve got the blade selected, just be sure that it is clean before you actually install it to the table saw. If you’ve used it, the best thing that you can do is clean it after each use before putting it away. However, go ahead and check for things like rust or other debris.
You’re cutting against or through the grain with plywood so you need a clean blade for a clean cut.
Prep the Blade on the Saw
Now, you need to get the blade installed and positioned correctly. First, be sure that the saw is powered off and unplugged. These are both for your safety so that no mishaps with the blade occur.
Install or change the blade to the proper blade that you cleaned earlier. Remember that we’re looking for a sharp blade with a high TPI number as those will work the best for cutting plywood.
One of the tricks for a smooth cut on your plywood is to raise the blade up. You want the blade to be high so that it cuts the wood perpendicular, rather than hitting the wood from a lower angle. This will also ensure you get a smooth cut.
While you are raising the saw blade, you need to be sure it is not raised too high. For safety purposes, we recommend making sure the blood does not protrude more than an inch above the top of the plywood surface. Generally speaking, if you just make sure the blade is about one tooth length higher than the wood, you should be good!
Get the Wood Ready
Now, your blade is set and you’re ready to get the wood set up. Plywood tends to be very large so you will probably need to make accommodations for this. We recommend having some sort of sawhorse or support system to keep the plywood stable from cut to finish.
You can use a table, sawhorses, or whatever is around but you want to be able to hold the plywood flat and steady as it moves through the saw. Some people prefer to use a roller stand as it can move with the plywood. That’s a great option if you have one available.
Get the support in place and get your wood lined up. Line it up against the fence, adjusting the fence if needed.
Once you’re all set up, you’re ready to go! One more thing that you can do to try to make sure your edges stay smooth is to tape the plywood. You can use something like painter’s tape and just apply it to both sides of the plywood along the cutting line. When you finish, just carefully remove the tape.
You’re going to cut with the best side of the plywood facing up so just be sure that is how your wood is positioned.
Make the Cut
It’s time to make the cut!
First, you need to put on all of your safety gear. You definitely need to have eye goggles and some ear protection. For this, we would also recommend some work gloves to prevent splinters or snags while you’re pushing the wood along the blade.
Make sure your wood is positioned and ready using the tips from the previous step.
Now, you can power up the saw.
From the other end of the plywood, you can start pushing it towards the blade. Be sure to keep it straight and steady as you go. Keep the plywood firmly against the fence to help guide the wood as you go.
You are most likely going to use one hand to propel the plywood forward while using the other hand to make sure the plywood stays lined up against your rip fence so that the cut is straight. As you get closer to finishing, you can reposition slightly and hold the wood as normal.
This process should work pretty well. The hardest part is keeping the plywood stable and using the right blade. However, here are a few additional tips that might help you out.
- Raise the blade to about a tooth’s height above the plywood.
- Always face the plywood with the best side up
- Try using a table insert with no clearance
- Use a blade with a higher TPI (80 is great)
- Try painter’s tape as a blade guide. It really helps with smoothness.
- Don’t forget to support any wood overhang
Most of these were covered in our instructions but we felt they were important enough to point out here. These tips will help you be more successful.
If you’ve read through this guide, you’re ready to get started! The most challenging part of the operation is to simply keep the wood steady and pressed against the fence. Plywood is large and often heavy or cumbersome. If you plan to cut a lot of it, it might be worth investing in a rolling guide to help you out.
Hopefully, you can use these tips and the process here to get your plywood cut neatly.