One of the most challenging woodworking tasks is dealing with plywood and other large sheet goods. In the U.S. these are usually 4’ x 8’ or even a little larger for some materials. A ¾” sheet can weigh 50 pounds or more. They are unwieldy and a challenge to move by yourself and transport.
If you don’t have a truck, check with the place you bought the plywood and see if they can cut it down into smaller pieces. Most of the big-box home centers will have a panel cutting saw. Or, if you have a battery powered circular saw you can cut the plywood in the parking lot using any of the techniques in this video.
If you have a short bed pickup like mine, you can just load the plywood with the tailgate up. But if you have a lot of plywood, this would be hard to load and would probably damage the tailgate. Instead, transport the load with the tailgate down. Either way, be sure to strap the boards in place. If you only have a few sheets, a block with sandpaper on the base will grip the boards and hold them in place.
Lifting plywood by yourself
The trickiest part about maneuvering sheet goods is getting it positioned vertically and trying not to damage the corners too much. If you have long arms, you can just reach with your left hand on top and right hand underneath as a hook. Or you can make a simple lifting hook like this one.
Supporting your lumber
When cutting sheet goods, it’s really important that both sides of your cut are supported. Unsupported pieces can bind your saw or break off before you complete the cut.
I prefer to work on the ground, out in my driveway. One method is to use 2x4s for support. Just set them under the plywood and cut slightly into them.
My favorite technique is to use styrofoam building insulation. This is by far the easiest method to ensure even support. Set the depth of your cuts so they just barely cut into the insulation.
In general, my philosophy is to rough cut the plywood into pieces that are manageable, so that I can cut to the exact dimensions on my table saw.
Probably the easiest most accurate method for cutting large sheet goods is to use a tracksaw. If you think you are going to be using a lot of plywood, this is the way to go. These are tools that come with both the rail and a dedicated plunge saw. The main drawback to track saws is they are expensive. For the same money, you could get a bandsaw, which you will get a lot more use out of.
To make a reasonably straight cut, really all you need is a straight edge to run your circular saw along. A level works fine, or you can even use the factory cut edge of another piece of plywood. You will need to clamp it to the board, so you’ll need to adjust your foam support or cut it down a little to give you some room.
These days my go-to solution is this straight-edge clamp. My friend Tim Sluder send this to me a while back and it’s been a game changer. It works great with my full sheet of insulation because it clamps in place to the edges of the plywood.
To use any edge guide, you just need to know the offset of your saw’s blade to the edge of the base. So in my case, that’s 1 ½” so I just subtract that much from the final dimension I need to cut. I make a mark on each end of the plywood and set the straight edge on them.
There’s nothing wrong with drawing a straight line and following it by eye. It’s a quick and easy way to break up plywood into manageable pieces. If you are going to cut freehand, make sure that you have one factory-cut edge you can use to square it up on your tablesaw. No freehand cut will be perfectly straight and if two opposite edges are wonky, it will be really difficult to square.
Unless you have plenty of shop space, I highly recommend buying only the amount of plywood you need for a project and break it down as soon as you can. If you are working in a garage like I am, don’t bother trying to build a rack for storing 4 x 8 sheet goods. I made this lumber rack to store plywood cutoffs no larger than half a sheet.
So there you have it! Now go get that plywood and get started on your next project!
Tools in this video:
Peachtree Edge Guide► https://amzn.to/2Q3wOdq
Kreg Accu-Cut Track Guide► https://amzn.to/2KagEda