Do you enjoy working with plywood as much as I do? It really does have a ton of applications, and can be used for all kinds of projects.
But mostly, I just love how it’s really heavy…
And it’s so awkward to carry too!
Was that sarcasm you’re wondering? Yes. Yes it was.
Although very useful, plywood is heavy, and that part sucks.
While you could just stick with the 4′ x 4′ half-sheets from Menards or Lowes, that just won’t always work.
Sometimes, you need a full 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood. No way around it.
So I wanted to write this article to give you the tricks I’ve picked up over time for better handling full sheets of heavy plywood.
Follow the tips on this page, and you’ll be ready handle heavy plywood, without all the back ache.
In case you haven’t gathered this already, plywood is heavy.
When you’re carrying it by yourself, have one hand down low, and have the board leaning against you with the other hand on the other edge, up high.
Using a carrying hook like this one really helps. Seriously.
I only need it for carrying the plywood from my trailer to my garage, but I use it everytime.
Position the hook in the middle of the plywood so it’s well-balanced. This keeps it from tipping, and makes it easier to pick up and set down.
Another benefit with this carrying hook, it allows the plywood to be lower than it would if it were just in your hand.
And with it riding a bit lower, you shouldn’t have to squat down to walk the plywood through the garage door.
Plus, with it closer to the ground (using the hook), you don’t have to squat as much to set it down.
If it makes more sense for your shop, you can build this plywood caddy I designed.
It’s made from a single 6′ dimensional 2×4 board, and 4 casters. I would suggest using 2 fixed casters and 2 swivel casters.
You’ll just lay one end of the plywood in the caddy, then pick up the other end and push it around.
This works perfect if you’re unloading from a pickup truck, and you have a paved driveway.
Cutting plywood with a circular saw
A great way to initially cut your plywood sheets down to more manageable sizes is to use your circular saw.
Use your saw horses, or any work bench, to support the bulk of the plywood.
What I usually do is set up saw horses (or in some cases, my infeed-table) and my outfeed roller-stands to support the plywood.
When cutting, the circular saw will need to be on the saw horse side (or the work bench you’re using), not on the roller stand side.
Also, if the cut off piece will be very large, you may need more support than just the 2 roller stands.
In the above picture, I would line up the plywood so the cut is between the saw horses and the rollers. This way both pieces are fully supported after the cut is complete.
Below is another setup I just did for crosscutting a long 27″ wide piece, using a simple cut-guide jig for my circular saw.
This would also work crosscutting the full 4′ width of a new sheet of plywood.
The jig is a 1/4″ piece of plywood with 1/2″ plywood strip glued to it.
To make the jig, glue the strip in the center of 1/4″ plywood, which should be about 14″ wide or so, and then use the strip as a fence for your circular saw and cut off one edge.
Now use that edge to line up your cut, with the jig clamped to the work piece:
Watch me cut using this setup here:
>> You can find these adjustable roller stands here.
You can also lay the plywood down on the ground, either on blocks of wood or on styrofoam pads.
You can get styrofoam insulation pads at most big box home stores. These work great since you can easily cut right through them.
Plus, both pieces will be completely supported after the cut.
Pay attention to your blade depth on the circular saw. It should only go about 1/4″ below the plywood.
Now when you make your cut, either clamp a long straight edge in place to guide your saw, or use an edge-guide like this one here.
It does a pretty good job, but honestly I prefer clamping on a straight edge.
TIP >> One thing to keep in mind when making your initial cuts with a circular saw – you don’t want to cut away all the factory edges from any given section if possible. The factory edges will be the straightest, most square and accurate reference edges when making your followup cuts on the table saw or miter saw.
Cutting plywood with a jig saw
For a really simple method, you can initially break down the plywood using a jig saw.
A straight edge clamped in place can help, but this will be a rough cut anyway.
So if you’re planning on using a jig saw, you might as well draw a line and free hand the cut.
That’s what makes the jig saw method so quick and easy.
You should not use the floor-cutting method with the jig saw. You’ll need to setup with saw horses or a work bench, and roller stands for support, like I showed above.
Cutting plywood on the table saw.
Using a table saw for initial plywood cuts is a great way to keep each piece perfectly square and straight, and leaves a cleaner edge than other methods.
However, I do not suggest cutting a full sheet of 3/4″ plywood on a contractor grade table saw.
These saws are pretty lightweight, and the heavy plywood will be hard to handle safely throught the entire cut.
Instead, cut it down to smaller pieces with a circular saw or jig saw first.
Then these small sections of the plywood can be more accurately and cleanly cut using the table saw.
If you’ve got a hybrid table saw or a cabinet table saw, it should handle the full sheets of plywood easily.
But the cut can still be awkward, so take some time initially to set up the infeed and outfeed properly.
For a good infeed setup, then you’ll need some saw horses, some kind of moveable work bench, or some roller stands.
These will need to be the same height as your table saw.
That way when you’re ready to cut, you’ll just slide the plywood from your infeed setup, right onto the table saw.
What I’ve done for my shop (as you can see above) is built an assembly table on casters, which is just the right height for an infeed table.
[You can read about my assembly table / infeed here]
That way when I’m handling large sheets, I can just roll it on over to the saw’s infeed side.
Next, you’ll set up your outfeed so there’s plenty of support on the back end.
If you have an outfeed table like I do, it works great for most cuts. But a full length of plywood is a different story.
So I have to set up a couple roller stands to catch the 2 cut-offs as they extend off the outfeed table.
And keep that in mind. There will be 2 pieces you need to support! So at a minimum you’ll want 2 of these rollers.
Check all your clearances so you know the board won’t get hung up on anything.
Double check that your outfeed is not higher than what the cut-offs will be.
Side support may be important as well.
If there’s more than 16″ or so hanging off the left, you’ll want to add some support underneath. Either another roller stand, or a saw horse it can slide on.
Overall, the more surface area you have fully supported for the entire cut, the smoother the plywood will move through the cut.
At this point, a dry run is a good idea.
Lower the blade into the table saw, and push the plywood through as if you’re making the cut.
Once that’s done and everything went smoothly, then you’re ready.
So get the plywood back at the starting location, raise the blade, and start the saw.
When cutting, just take it slow and make sure the plywood is riding tightly along the fence.
If it starts to bind (probably because the plywood is getting away from the fence) just make the correction and keep going.
Watch the process here:
How to Keep Plywood Cuts Clean
Cutting plywood, especially cross cutting (cuts that go across the grain direction of the plywood faces), can sometimes leave a real nasty finish, with tearout and chipping.
If you are cutting across the grain on your table saw, any tearout will occur on the bottom of the plywood.
You may have heard before that masking tape along the cut line makes for a clean cut… Forget that (in this case), it probably won’t help at all.
But as long as you’re using a sharp, clean blade, the top of the plywood should still end up very clean. So keep your ‘finish’ surface facing up with the table saw.
To help reduce or even eliminate tearout on the bottom, use a zero-clearance throat plate.
On the flip side (literally), when crosscutting with the circular saw or jig saw, your cleanest edges will be on the bottom.
This is because as the blade meets the wood, it’s moving upward.
So if you’re having issues with tearout and nasty cuts using your circular saw, position your plywood with the ‘finish’ surface facing down.
For more info on what the different kinds of plywoods are, and which ones you should get for your next project, check out Plywood 101.
For more options on power tools made for breaking down plywood, read 5 Tools For Cutting Plywood.
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5 thoughts on “How to Handle and Break Down Plywood”
Thank you for all the helpful information.
Thanks for all of your great tips and advice. I have been woodworking for a long time but always pick up something new or better from you. Keep up the fine work!
Hi adam Im not what you call a great woodworker but ive always love to work with wood and make things only small projects but then i found Adam and his website and tells us how he started in his garage like many of us and like me i work in my garage and its some what over loaded with tools wood and the like.So now im trying to follow his way of thinking and getting things done and putting what ever it is in there proper places making more room for every thing and more safer to walk and work in as well .Anyway i would just like to say a great thank you to Adam for his help and all the time he has taken to put all this together to give us something to work from and hopefully get to the end of that project we started. So Adam thanks again and keep up the great work god bless
Peter – Thank you so very much for the kind words. I’m really glad I can be helpful. God bless you sir.
Most of the stores offer free (or minimum charge) for cutting your plywood down to handling size. I am a disabled veteran and find if I plan just a little bit, I can specifically ask for a “easier to handle” boards. Besides I really do hate my table saw ever since it provided a really neat scar on my stomach from a little kick back.
Bit older and smarter now!!