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While plywood has a wide variety of applications, cutting it can be tricky. It’s notorious for splintering, so what jigsaw blade for plywood will give you the cleanest cut?
This guide will help you choose the right blade so that you get the smoothest edges for your woodworking project.
What Causes Plywood Splintering?
Plywood is made of multiple thin layers of wood called plies that are glued together with alternating grain orientations.
The veneers on the outside are graded based on the number of visible defects – but no matter the grade, splintering can take even cabinet-quality plywood and turn it to scrap.
Splintering, aka tear out, is a physics phenomenon where the wood fibers pull up on the edge of a crosscut.
As the blade moves through the wood it puts force on the fibers, and that pressure is what makes the fibers bend and pull up.
When the force of the saw is greater than its ability to cut, that’s when tear out occurs – and that’s where your blade comes in.
Things to Look for in a Blade
In order to minimize plywood splintering and preserve the finished look, you can’t reach for any old jigsaw blade.
With hundreds of different blade types out there, however, how do you know what jigsaw blade for plywood to use?
These are the main things you should be looking at when comparing blades:
- 20+ TPI
- Ground alignment
- Carbide teeth
- Reverse-tooth blade
- Negative hook
- Hollow-ground teeth
- Wide vs narrow
- Shank type
Number of Teeth
In some cases, less is more. When it comes to cutting plywood, that’s definitely not true. A high tooth count means more cutting surfaces are going to come into contact with the wood fibers, and the force will be more distributed among them.
The result? A cleaner, smoother cut. Because there’s less space between the teeth the saw won’t cut as quickly, but speed is a low price to pay for a good finish. For plywood, look for a blade with at least 20 TPI (teeth per inch).
Just because a blade has a lot of teeth doesn’t mean they’ll all be pointing the same direction. Jigsaw blades come in two different alignments: set and ground.
Blades with set teeth have each tooth alternating the angle it’s pointing. This makes the blade cut quickly without heating up, but at the expense of your finished edge.
Ground teeth are all oriented the same direction, making for a slower cut that will heat up more quickly. It also makes the blade cut much more cleanly through the plywood and helps prevent splintering.
The bodies of many jigsaw blades are made from steel, but what about the teeth? The tooth composition largely depends on what you’re trying to cut.
For ceramic tile you’d want to use diamond teeth, for sheet metal you’d want to use bi-metal teeth, and for plywood you’ll want to use tungsten carbide teeth.
Tungsten carbide, or carbide as it’s commonly called, is a metal that is stronger than steel, meaning it will take longer to get dull.
It’s also harder than steel, which means that the cutting edge will be more likely to slice the wood fibers before they bend.
If you look at a regular jigsaw blade, you’ll see that the teeth point upwards towards the saw rather than down towards the workpiece. The face that the teeth enter first – the bottom side with a regular blade – is the face that will have less tear out.
While you can flip your plywood sheet over to make this work to your advantage with a regular blade, you won’t always have that ability if you need to make a cut in something that’s already in place. This is where a reverse-tooth blade is handy.
Speed can be the enemy when using a jigsaw. You have less control over the cut, and you’re also more likely to get splintering.
When a blade’s teeth are angled forward, this wants to pull the blade through the wood faster and is called a positive hook. A negative hook does the opposite – it slow’s the blade’s progress which gives you more control and less tear out.
Some blades have hollow-ground teeth, which means that the cutting surface of the tooth is a concave shape.
While this makes the teeth get dull faster, it also makes for a sharper cutting edge which results in a cleaner cut.
Similarly to whether you need reverse-tooth blades, the best blade width will depend entirely on the nature of your DIY project.
If you need to make circles or other rounded cuts, you’re going to want a thinner blade.
For straight cuts, a thin blade is going to be less stable and potentially less accurate. Look for a wider blade for better straight cuts.
The shank of a blade refers to the topmost part that locks into the saw itself. Most jigsaws these days will take either T- or U-shank blades, but if you have an older model it may only take a U-shank.
You could have the best blade in the world for plywood, and it won’t matter if it doesn’t actually fit your saw.
What Jigsaw Blade for Plywood?
While the elements above are all things that will help your plywood cuts, most blades are going to have some combination thereof. The following are some of the most popular jigsaw on the market:
1. Bosch T101AO
Many people agree that this is a great plywood blade. It’s designed with anti-splintering in mind, and with 20 TPI it’ll help you get the smooth cut you’re looking for.
Rather than a single blade, this kit offers three different ones that all have different advantages. The T244D blades are designed for curved cuts and circles, while the T144D blades will give you stable, straight cuts.
The T118A blades are made for cutting sheet metal, but for thin plywood sheets the high TPI will give you a great finish as well.
This kit comes with five different blade types, which allows you to make virtually any cut you could need in the plywood. The TPI’s range from 6 to 32, and there are sheet metal blades included also.
In conclusion, what jigsaw blade for plywood will cause the least splintering? Look for high tooth counts and favorable conformations, or go with one of the popular blades that are designed for plywood.