How to Cut Plywood Straight Without a Table Saw

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Table saws are great for cutting plywood down to size with accuracy and precision, but what if you don’t have one available? This guide will teach you how to cut plywood straight without a table saw and help you get the same quality of cuts as you would using one.

How to Cut Plywood Straight Without a Table Saw

Without a table saw, there are several other tools you can use to make straight cuts through plywood.

Use a Circular Saw

When using a table saw isn’t possible, circular saws are going to be your best bet for making clean, straight cuts. They offer the following advantages compared to other power tools:

  • Highly accurate
  • Portability
  • Versatility – they can make a variety of cuts
  • Safer than table saws

If you need to make rounded cuts or circles in your plywood then you’ll want to reach for a jigsaw. Otherwise, a circular saw is going to give you the closest replication to the cut you would make on a table saw.

Man demonstrating how to cut plywood straight without a table saw

Choose a Blade for Plywood

Splintering is a common issue with plywood. It doesn’t matter for the quick and dirty projects — your kid will love their boxcar even if the edges aren’t pretty — but for fine woodworking, your blade will do a lot to help. These are the qualities of an ideal plywood blade:

Lots of Teeth

You’ll want your blade to have at least 60 teeth, and preferably over 80. More teeth mean smaller bites through the wood with each pass, which cuts the fibers more cleanly. This is one of the easiest ways to get a smoother cut with less tear-out.

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Carbide-Tipped

Tungsten carbide is a common coating for saw teeth – and with good reason. Steel needs to be sharpened more frequently and is softer than carbide, which makes it less efficient at cutting through wood. For minimizing the risk of splinters, carbide is the way to go.

You have your circular saw and you have the perfect blade — now it’s time to get cutting. These are the other materials you’re going to need for accurate cuts without splintering:

  • Tape measure
  • Speed square/framing square
  • Pencil
  • Painter’s tape
  • Zero clearance attachment
  • Straight guide
  • Safety gear
  • Foam board (optional)

For how to cut plywood straight without a table saw, you’re going to want to follow these steps:

1. Measure and Mark

A straight cut begins with a straight cut line, which is where your framing square or speed square will come in. Use these to make sure you are drawing a cut line that is perfectly 90 degrees.

2. Tape it Up

Next, take your painter’s tape and place it so that your cut line is in the middle. The tape will lend a little extra support to the wood fibers as you cut, which will help keep them from bending and splintering.

Man lifting a table saw insert

3. Add the Zero Clearance Attachment

When you first hear zero-clearance attachment you probably think of the insert for table saws — and that’s the inspiration for the circular saw attachments.

A zero clearance insert is a piece of material, whether plastic or wood or something else, that fills in the gap around the blade of a table saw. These prevent tear out by providing more support around the edge of the cut.

The idea has been adapted for circular saws, and you can either buy one or make your own that attaches to your saw’s shoe.

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4. Set the Board Up

This is where you can decide to use the foam board or not. Plywood sheets are heavy and bulky, making them hard to maneuver if you’re on your own.

While you can wrestle a plywood board onto a couple of sawhorses or your workbench, you can also make good use of your circular saw’s portability and take it to the floor.

Place a couple of pieces of foam board under the plywood so your saw will have something to cut into on the underside (besides your floor), and you’re good to go.

No matter what workspace you decide to use, make sure the board is clamped down to it. This way there won’t be any motion while you’re cutting and your straight cut will remain straight.

Something else to keep in mind — circular saws rotate clockwise so the blade will be entering the bottom side of the board first. This side is automatically going to have less splintering, so place the side you want to be the prettiest face-down.

5. Use a Straight Guide

Table saw cuts are so accurate because of their fence – the guide that lets you maintain a consistent cut line. While circular saws don’t have a fence, you can buy or make a straight guide to use that will give you similar results.

Man holding a circular saw

6. Put on Your Safety Equipment

Safety first – especially when working with powered saws. Make sure you put on your eye protection, ear plugs, dust mask, and gloves.

7. Adjust the Saw’s Settings

Whenever you’re making a cut with a circular saw, you want the saw’s depth to be ¼ of an inch deeper than the material you’re cutting.

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Keep in mind that if you measured the depth before you added your zero clearance attachment, you’re going to have to adjust the blade again.

8. Turn On the Saw and Make the Cut

You’re going to want to let the saw come up to speed before you begin cutting into the wood. Once you start the cut, maintain a steady pressure on the saw without forcing it through.

You don’t want to dwell in one place or you risk burning the wood, and you also don’t want to stop the cut midway through if you can avoid it. For a visual explanation, you can also check out this video to see plywood cutting in action.

In conclusion, cutting plywood is something that is often left to table saws – but it doesn’t have to be. Circular saws are well-equipped to handle the job as well.

With the right blade and the right equipment, you can master how to cut plywood straight without a table saw.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.