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Maybe you need to make a rounded cut, or maybe it’s the only saw you have on hand. No matter the need, you’re asking yourself: can you cut plywood with a jigsaw?
The answer is yes, and this guide will walk you through the steps of making clean, smooth cuts with your jigsaw.
- The Challenges of Cutting Plywood
- Use the Right Blade
- Use the Right Saw Settings
- Other Best Practices for Preventing Splintering
The Challenges of Cutting Plywood
Plywood sheets are bulky and can weigh upwards of 60 pounds. This can make them awkward to handle and maneuver, and there’s also the risk of injuring your back.
The other big challenge is that the smooth, finish-quality faces of the plywood are very, very prone to splintering (aka tear out) during crosscuts. When using a jigsaw on plywood, these are the main factors that contribute to tear out:
- The right blade isn’t being used
- You have the right blade but it’s dull or dirty (which can make it seem dull)
- You force the saw through the cut
So, can you cut plywood with a jigsaw without splintering? You can if you use the following tips and tricks.
Use the Right Blade
These are the qualities you want to look for in your jigsaw’s blade:
High Tooth Count
No matter what kind of saw you’re using, more teeth on its blade will give you a smoother cut. For plywood, you should look for a jigsaw blade with 20 tpi (teeth per inch).
Traditionally, jigsaw teeth were “set”, which means that the teeth alternate angles as you move down the blade. The set tooth alignment makes for a fast cut – but one that rips at the wood.
Jigsaw blades with ground teeth are inline, and while it’ll be slower, you’ll get a much cleaner, smoother cut with them.
Wide vs Narrow
As for the width, whether you want a wide or a narrow blade entirely depends on what you’re trying to cut. If you’re making a straight cut, a wider blade will be less likely to deviate from the path.
On the other hand, if you’re making a curved cut a narrow blade will be better for navigating the turns.
Reverse-Tooth Blade vs Regular
Jigsaw teeth are normally facing upwards so that the blade cuts through the bottom of your workpiece first. With reverse-tooth blades, the teeth are facing down and cut through the top first.
Whichever side the teeth enter first will be the side that ultimately has less splintering. If you’re making a cut in a plywood piece that has already been attached to something, you may want to use a reverse-tooth blade to help preserve the face.
Bi-Metal or Carbide-Tipped
Carbide-tipped teeth are the gold standard for smooth cuts. Tungsten carbide is a harder metal than steel, so it gives you a smoother cut through the wood. It’s also stronger – which means your blade will last longer before becoming dull.
Speaking of which, a dull blade is a one-way ticket to splinter land. You could have a ground blade with 20 tpi and carbide-tipped teeth, but it’s still going to shred your edge if it’s not sharp.
Sawdust and pitch can also collect on an otherwise sharp blade and make it seem dull, so don’t forget to keep your blades nice and clean between your DIY projects.
Use the Right Saw Settings
Now that you have the right blade, it’s time to look at the saw itself. Many type of jigsaws come equipped with multiple speed settings and orbital action.
The speed dictates how fast the blade oscillates, while the orbital action determines if the blade moves forward on the upstroke and downstroke. Faster speeds mean a faster cut, but with more risk for tear out on plywood. Aim for a mid to slow speed.
As for the orbital action, it can be a big help for making rounded cuts but you’re going to want to turn it off when you’re going straight. The extra motion of the blade can contribute to tear out and can also make your cut less accurate when cutting straight.
When you go to make the cut, you’ll want to let the saw come up to speed before you start and then cut slowly. If you force the blade through the wood that’s a sure fire way to get tear out.
If you’re not entirely sure of the saw’s settings, make practice cuts. Get a feel for what a faster speed vs a slower speed looks like, and how much orbital action you want for your rounded cuts.
Other Best Practices for Preventing Splintering
Your blade is going to do the heavy lifting when it comes to preventing splintering, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give it a little extra help to get that perfect finish.
Painter’s tape isn’t just for painting – you can also use it to hold the fibers of the veneer in place as you cut. Once you draw your cut line, take the tape and center it over the line on both sides of the board. Then just draw the cut line back over top.
Use a Zero Clearance Insert
You can either buy or make these handy inserts, but either way, their action is the same. Normally, the only contact the jigsaw body has with the workpiece is the shoe. This means that the fibers surrounding the cut have no support from the saw itself.
A zero clearance insert forms an entire solid base around the blade, which presses down on the fibers along the kerf and helps keep them from splintering.
Score the Cut Line
When you look at the physics of splintering when woodworking, the blade is putting force across the wood’s fibers. When that force outweighs the blade’s cutting ability, the fibers will bend and splinter before the blade actually slices through.
By scoring the cut line with a utility knife, you determine exactly where the fibers will cut. Since the jigsaw blade is wider than your knife blade there’s still the potential for tear out at the edges, but scoring will help.
Flip the Board
If you decided not to use a reverse-tooth blade, you’ll want the best side of the board facing down so the blade’s teeth cut through that side first.
In conclusion, can you cut plywood with a jigsaw? Yes! With the right techniques and blade, you should feel confident that your jigsaw is a competent power tool for making splinter-free cuts in plywood.