Ripping cabinet-grade plywood -- with a circular saw

Tips and accessories for getting decent cuts with a hand-held power saw. September 26, 2000

What is the best way to accurately rip 4-by-8 sheets of plywood using a circular saw? I am looking for a guide or something similar to make precision cuts.

Forum Responses
My experiences with ripping oak, maple, and cherry ply (these are what I use) is poor. Not saying it can't be done with a circular saw, but I have found that a good table saw is the only way.

I've also found cross-cutting of parts for base cabinets (23-1\2 inches wide) to be more frustrating, until I purchased a 3 HP radial arm saw with a 24-inch cut.

I have been using a 1-by-4 inch, 9-foot piece of aluminum, and clamping it to the board at the width I want to cut it plus the distance from my saw's base to the outside of the blade.

I have had good results minimizing splintering by putting tape the length of the board where the blade will cut. I have talked to others who have scored the board with a utility knife to minimize splintering.

Putting a good blade on that saw will help as well. I recommend a 40-tooth Matsushita.

A few years ago, I purchased an AT55E circular saw "package" from Festo (also known as ToolGuide). It comes with a straightedge system that, in my opinion, is second to none. Not only is the straightedge system accurate -- it's much like a "shoot board," you place the straightedge precisely where you want the cut, no measuring "back" to allow for the saw base, etc. -- but it also has an "anti-tear-out" design that works. I'm able to crosscut pre-finished birch plywood with no appreciable tear-out.

While it's no substitute for a panel saw or large table saw, (i.e. production work), it's true strength is for in-the-field and installation work, or environments that are too confined to accommodate the larger tools.

I forget just what I paid for it now - I'm guessing $400 to $500 for the complete system. That may seem pricy, but it really will provide cabinet-grade accuracy, and you can carry it all under one arm.

Aluminum straight edge, good blade, then following with a router pass will get you shop-grade results at ripping, crosscutting, or fitting laminate tops in the field.

Greg, one thing you might try is to rip an 8-foot piece of 1/4-inch melamine to approximately 1 foot wide. (You will need a circular saw guide or a table saw to do this, ha ha! Maybe you can borrow one?)

Anyway, mark back on the melamine the distance of your saw blade to the edge of the bed, plus 1/4 inch. The remaining width of your melamine is your next rip width for the next piece of melamine. Affix the smaller width on top of the larger with glue. I used contact cement.

Next, you need to run your circular saw along the edge of the top piece. This will rip the bottom piece to match the bed-edge-to-blade distance of your saw. Then all you have to do to rip ply goods of 8-foot lengths is mark both ends and clamp your melamine guide to the plywood.

I made mine 4 feet, for crosscuts and doors. For 8-foot rips I use a table saw. I also agree that the 40-tooth Matsushita will achieve a beautiful cut.

A sliding table on a table saw makes quick and accurate work of ripping panels. Be sure to use table extensions.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor R:
I've had good luck using a zero-clearance baseplate on my Skilsaw along with some custom guides. Just screw on a piece of half-inch mdf to your saw shoe and make a plunge cut with the blade. With the baseplate and a good thin blade, I get little or no chip-out at all. Also try putting a little self stick sandpaper on the bottom of your guides. Helps tremendously. Low tech is great and cheap.