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Plywood is a type of sheet good made from piles of thin layers of wood veneer. These thin sheets of wood veneer are glued together such that the grains on one layer run perpendicular or diagonal to those of the adjacent layer. This cross lamination of the thin sheets of wood gives plywood very good structural properties. For example, plywood has very good shear and tensile strengths and is also very flexible. On the flip side, cutting plywood without tearouts is one of the most difficult jobs in woodworking. The irregular grain direction from one veneer to another affects the quality of the cut. This is why I am writing this article to share with you some tips on how to avoid tearouts when cutting plywood.
What is tear out in woodworking
Tearout in woodworking refers to the ugly jagged edges on a wood material after cutting. It happens in crosscutting when the end grain adjacent to the kerf does not have strong support. You can also call it chipping out.
When chipping out occurs in woodworking, it hints at many things including a blunt blade, wrong blade, bad workpiece setup, poor quality of workpiece among other things.
Tear out in plywood
In plywood, tearout occurs mainly because the alternating veneer layers do not provide sufficient support to the end grain fibers. As a result, plywood splinters leaving behind an unattractive jagged edge. There are many other reasons why chipping out or splintering occurs while cutting plywood.
In this article, you will learn those reasons and seven easy ways you can use to reduce or stop tearouts while cutting plywood. You can apply these tips when using any type of saw to cut plywood. It does not matter whether you are using a hand saw or power saws such as a circular saw, track saw, or table saw. The result will be the same; a nice, clean, splinter-free edge without tear outs.
Ways to Stop Tearout in Plywood
1. Use a proper cross-cutting blade
The number one solution for preventing tearout is using a proper blade. This rule applies to any type of stock. Use crosscutting blades for cutting across the grain and rip cut blades for cutting along the grain.
In addition to using a proper blade, it is good to pay attention to the tooth count. When cutting plywood, crosscut blades with higher tooth count do a cleaner job than blades with fewer teeth. Generally, a crosscut blade with 60 teeth and above should do a decent job.
2. Use a painter’s tape on the cut line
A painter’s tape is not only useful in painting but also in woodworking. It is an effective hack for reducing chip out on wood materials such as plywood. Before making your cut, apply the tape along the cut line. Ensure the cut line is centered on the tape for optimal results. Burnish the tape to ensure it sticks on the plywood or your workpiece good. Now, as you make your cut, the tape will hold down the end grains to prevent the fiber from chipping out.
You can also use masking tape or blue tape as an alternative to the painter’s tape. However, do not substitute a proper blade with the tape.
3. Score the cut line first with a utility knife
Scoring the cut line before cutting with a saw blade helps sever the fiber on the topmost layer of the plywood. This prevents tearout from happening as the fiber is already separated. The best tool for scoring or cutting through is a utility knife. You just make 3 or 4 passes on the cut mark and you can be sure to make a cleaner cut with your saw.
4. Cut with the good side down
Whether to cut with the good side up or down depends on the type of saw you are using. If you are using a table saw, it is best to place the good side up. This is because a table saw blade cuts downwards into the workpiece and therefore tearout will appear on the underside.
Otherwise, for a circular saw, a sliding miter, or a chop saw, place the good side of the workpiece down. These types of power saws rotate the blade upwards, meaning that chipping out will occur on the top side.
Whatever type of saw you are using, always ensure that the blade enters through the good side of your workpiece and leaves through the bad side. This will ensure that the ugly tear outs will occur on the side that you can hide in your project.
5. Sandwich the board between two sacrificial boards
If you want both sides of your plywood to have clean edges after the cut, you can use sacrificial boards. Sacrificial boards are simply waste boards that you can use to sandwich the workpiece tightly. This holds down the grains at the edge of the cut thereby preventing splintering and chipping out.
6. Use a zero clearance insert on the table saw
When using a table saw to cut plywood, always use a zero-clearance throat plate or insert. It keeps the end grain intact and prevents tear outs. Zero clearance inserts are available for different types of blades and are also easy to make. Check out more about zero clearance inserts in this article: 5 useful table saw jigs
If you are using a track saw ensure that the track sits flush with the plywood workpiece to provide zero clearance. The track saw rail sits very tight on the surface of plywood, it suppresses the fiber hence preventing splintering.