Best sawset for cutting plywood

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    Antonio Santos

    Hello everyone,

    I’m new to sharpening saws (I’m going to start sharpening this week!), and I would like to know what is the best option for sharpening saws to cut plywood?
    I think Paul Sellers never mentioned this, at least I don’t remember.
    Ripcut or crosscut?
    What is your opinion?

    Thank you all, best regards


    Probably the first thing to realise about ply is that it isn’t wood….. not in the accepted sense. It’s a manufactured composite…. the outside often looks good, but you can’t see what’s in the middle.

    It consists of thin layers of varying quality softwood, grain running alternately in both directions, reinforced with a very robust glue of indeterminate quality and hardness. Some glues are very hard and brittle and will wreck a decent saw in seconds.
    Ply can range in quality from builders’ shuttering to very expensive Birch ply. In each case the construction is identical and at the cheaper end of the range can contain pockets of air or even the occasional nail or stone sandwiched between two ‘clean’ outer sheets.

    However, if the saw-choice is Rip or Cross-cut, then it depends on the direction(s) of the outer sheets on each side; if you are cutting across the grain, use a cross-cut…… along the grain, then it’s a rip. To avoid horrible tear-up along the cut line, it’s a good idea to knife-score two parallel lines the width of your saw kerf and cut down the middle.

    Personally, I don’t go anywhere near ply with a good saw. I’d suggest buying a decent hard-point saw, (sadly un-sharpenable) and to keep it for this stuff.

    Good luck

    Roberto Fischer

    Why not use a cross cut saw regardless of face grain direction?

    There’s that variety of bad plywood with a veneer. The veneer is so thin that you should probably always score with a knife first.

    Antonio Santos

    Thanks for your inputs.
    I already saw plywood (birch plywood) with handsaws (panel saws), it’s just that I never sharpened them.
    And since I’m going to start sharpening, I was wondering what would be the best, ripcut or crosscut.
    They are the ones that Paul uses and recommends, the S&J.

    Larry Geib

    As Roberto says, score the ply on the down face to the “good
    “ side of the kerf. And if you know which will be the face side, cut into, not out of the ply on that face.

    It’s probably best to file your saw for crosscut, IMO. At least half the wood will be cut across will get less tearout on the down side whether you cut across or with the veneer face. Cut at a shallow angle and you’ll also get less tearout. Take your time and don’t power into the cut. Let the saw do the work.

    If you have a choice on tooth count, use the finer saw. I have an 11 point saw I use for ply.


    It goes back to how much you have to cut. If it’s only a couple of small bits, then experiment with various solutions in the way of saws.

    If we steer away from thinking of ply as what it isn’t – that is as natural wood – cutting the stuff with hand saws that are specifically designed for cutting natural wood will always end up with a ragged cut-line however careful you are….. and blunt the saws very quickly. Hence, we have hard-point saws that are designed to withstand the vigours of man-made stuff, such as ply and chipboard.

    Next, unless the cut-finish is unimportant and out of sight, you’ll end up spending as much time cleaning it up to an acceptable edge as you did on the cut.

    Then there’s the problem of plane damage. Good hand planes get scratched to bits and blunt quickly on the brittle glue lines in ply…… this is another tool that is designed for wood, not composite man-made ply. If you want to check what your tools have to deal with, split some ply in half and look at what’s in the middle!

    However, there are saws that are designed to deal with this stuff…….. a high-speed circular or table saw with a fine-kerf, 100 teeth at least, they can go to 140 – they are specifically made for this job which hand tools are not. Or a band saw. Third choice is to get your supplier to do it on their machines.

    Sorry to cast any doubt on your tools…… but it is definitely a case of horses for courses. You wouldn’t put a race-horse to work with kids riding it on the beach or a donkey in the Derby.

    Good luck with it……… you’ll always get a good physical work-out with sheet material what ever you do, but don’t expect it to behave as if it is wood!

    P.S. – There was a Paul Sellers work bench made of Birch-Ply a while back. Looking at it again, it is interesting to see that the bulk of cutting the sheet to dimension was done on a band-saw.

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