Do You Need A Circular Saw Or Jigsaw For Plywood?


One of my first projects, when I started woodworking, was made from plywood. I had everything ready to go, but at that time I only had some basic tools to cut the plywood. Maybe you are in the same situation. Do you need a circular saw or jigsaw to cut plywood?

Both a circular saw and a jigsaw can be used to cut plywood. However, both of these tools make different types of cuts which can affect how the finished edge will look. Both the circular saw and jigsaw blades need to be adjusted in order to get a neat edge.

Now that we know that either tool is capable of cutting plywood, we first need to find out what type of cut you want to make as both a jigsaw and a circular saw can cut 2 different ways.

Do you need a jigsaw or circular saw for plywood

What Type Of Cut Are You Making?

Do you know how you would like to cut the plywood? Sheet material like plywood can be cut in a variety of ways depending on the finished product you are looking for. You can make the following types of cuts:

  • A Straight Cut – This is the most basic of cuts and is simply cutting the plywood off as either a cross-cut or rip cut. Rip cuts are usually made first which is cutting a piece from the long side of the plywood. Once that cut is made, a cross-cut happens next.
  • An Angled Cut – An angled cut would be one that the edge is cut at an angle compared to the face of the plywood. Angled cuts will still be straight cuts in nature. Angled cuts are great when you want to miter 2 pieces to join at a 90-degree corner. In this case, both cuts would be made at 45-degrees.
  • A Curved Cut – A curved cut is wavy in nature and can be circular if required. This does not follow any straight lines.
  • A Compound Cut – This cut is a combination of 2 of the above cuts. For example; you may need to cut a curved shape with a mitered or angled edge. Only 1 tool can do that job.

Did you know Plywood can be cut without power tools? See my article showing you 5 other ways.

What Type Of Cuts Can I Do With A Circular Saw?

A circular saw is a perfect tool for making long straight cuts and mitered cuts. The rigid blade means it can cut relatively straight compared to a jigsaw.

I would always recommend using a circular saw to cut straight pieces from plywood sheets.

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How To Make Straight Cuts In Plywood With A Circular Saw

  1. Place the sheet of plywood down on 2 sawhorses or on a workbench and ensure the piece is secured with a clamp.
  2. Mark a straight line where you intend to cut
  3. Adjust the depth of the saw blade until just the gullets of the teeth are coming through the other side of the plywood.
  4. Ensure to wear the appropriate safety equipment to do the job. I highly recommend ear & eye protection as a minimum.
  5. Plug the circular saw in and ensure the cord is well out of the way of the cut. Also, make sure the cord won’t get caught up while you are cutting.
  6. Make sure you are holding the saw with both hands and you have a firm grip.
  7. Start the saw and wait for the saw to reach full speed before starting the cut.
  8. Start the cut and follow the line you marked earlier. You should make sure you are cutting on the waste side of the line to make sure your finished piece will be the correct size.
  9. As you finish the cut make sure to guide the circular saw fully through the plywood in a straight line.
  10. If your saw bogs down in the cut at any stage, release the trigger immediately while holding the saw steady. You can then inspect the possible cause and continue.

The same process above is what is used to make either a rip or crosscut. A rip cut can be done using the rip guide that comes with your saw. Just follow the guide along the edge of the plywood.

For a cross-cut, you will need to mark a straight line and follow this as you cut. Want to cut plywood but have no power? See my article showing you how to cut plywood WITHOUT power tools.

Beveled cut with circular saw

What Type Of Cuts Can I Do With A Jigsaw?

A jigsaw is a perfect tool for cutting curves or shapes in plywood. A jigsaw does not do straight cuts well as the blade is only very narrow compared to the blade of a circular saw.

When you try and use a jigsaw for straight cuts, the blade tends to wander, and is very difficult to get a straight line.

If you want to cut any curves or compound cuts in plywood, the jigsaw is the best tool for the job.

How To Make Curved Cuts In Plywood With A Jigsaw

  1. Place the sheet of plywood down on 2 sawhorses or on a workbench and ensure the piece is secured with a clamp.
  2. Mark a straight line where you intend to cut
  3. Ensure you are using the right blade for the job. A wide stiff blade is great for straighter cuts while a narrow blade is perfect for any tight curves you wish to make.
  4. Ensure to wear the appropriate safety equipment to do the job. I highly recommend ear & eye protection as a minimum.
  5. Plug the jigsaw in and ensure the cord is well out of the way of the cut. Also, make sure the cord won’t get caught up while you are cutting.
  6. Start the saw and wait for the saw to reach full speed before starting the cut.
  7. Start the cut and follow the line you marked earlier. You should make sure you are cutting on the waste side of the line to make sure your finished piece will be the correct size.

Making Mitred Cuts With A Jigsaw

A jigsaw also has a tilting base like a circular saw and can make mitered cuts. Usually, it is much harder to get a straight cut with a jigsaw because the blade tends to wander and bend in a cut.

The tilting base can be loosened with an Allen key and moved to the desired angle. I would only ever make mitered cuts with a jigsaw if I needed a curve with an angled edge with is also known as a compound cut.

The reason being is a jigsaw is very unreliable at keeping the same angle throughout the cut. The blades tend to bend creating a steeper or shallower angle than required. If you are after a mitered edge I suggest the circular saw every time.

How To Prevent Plywood from Splintering

This could be the most common reason why someone asks if they should use a jigsaw or a circular saw to cut plywood. We all know that the cut edge usually ends up with lots of chips and splintering. How do you prevent it?

You can prevent the plywood from splintering by using some masking tape along your line and use a sharp blade.

You can use both a circular saw and a jigsaw to cut plywood and also get a clean-cut edge by following the right practices and procedures.

Circular Saw Best Practises To Prevent Tear Out

  • Lower the blade depth so that only the gullets of the teeth protrude on the backside. This means that when the blade comes up to make a cut, it is coming up at an angle and not straight up. This prevents a lot of tear-out on the face.
  • Run some masking tape where you intend to cut. This holds the wood fibers down and prevents tear-out.
  • Use a blade with lots of teeth. A blade that has a high number of teeth is a finishing blade for crosscuts and makes a neat cut on plywood.
  • Use a thicker blade – Thicker circular saw blades will be less prone to wobbling or bending in a cut. A blade that bends in a cut is more likely to cause some chip out of the edge.
  • Use a sharp blade – dull blades will produce a lot of splintering and tear out and may even cause burning!
  • Cut on the back – You could mark your lines on the back of the plywood and cut from that side. When you turn it over, your cut line will be neat and splinter-free.
  • Use a sacrificial board – You could place a thin piece of scrap plywood on top of where the cut will be. This will support the cut edge and prevent tear-out. This is not always going to be easy to achieve but it works well.

Do you get tear out while cutting MDF with a jigsaw? My article explains how to prevent it and how to cut MDF with a jigsaw.

Jigsaw Best Practises To Prevent Tear Out

  • Use the right blade – Always buy good quality jigsaw blades as they will give you a much better-finished result. A blade with a fine set of teeth will also help give you less splintering.
  • Turn off the oscillating feature – If you turn off the oscillating feature on the side of your jigsaw, you will find that the neatness of your cut will improve.
  • Consider a down cut blade – You can buy a jigsaw blade with the teeth pointing down. This means that when you cut, any chip out will be at the back where no one sees.
  • Use a sharp blade – dull blades will produce a lot of splintering and tear-out and may even cause your blade to bend.
  • Cut on the back – As we discussed with a circular saw, you could mark your lines on the back of the plywood and cut from that side.
  • Use a sacrificial board – You could place a thin piece of scrap plywood on top of where the cut will be. This will support the cut edge and prevent tear-out.

What Are The 5 Best Circular Saw Blades To Cut Plywood?

Whether you cut plywood often, it is important to have a good quality saw blade on hand that you can swap out just for those fine jobs that require that extra bit of detail.

Below is a list of 5 blades that I have used and would highly recommend when cutting plywood. What you will find below, is that the number of teeth on the blades is a determining factor in the quality of the cut.

Freud D0760A Diablo Finishing blade. (My personal favorite)

  • 7-1/4″ diameter
  • 60 Tooth
  • 5/8″ Arbor

View price here on Amazon

DeWalt DWA171460 Blade

  • 7-1/4″ diameter
  • 60 tooth
  • 5/8″ Arbor
  • Anti stick coating
  • Thin Kerf

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Overpeak Finishing Blade

  • 7-1/4″ diameter
  • 60 tooth
  • 5/8″ Arbor
  • 5 x longer life span

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Oshlun Ultimate Blade

  • 6-1/2″ diameter
  • 60 tooth
  • 5/8″ Arbor
  • Negative rake on teeth
  • Great for plywood & aluminum

View price here on Amazon

DeWalt Ultra Fine For Panelling

  • 6-1/2′ diameter
  • 90 tooth
  • 5/8″ Arbor
  • Ultra fine cut for paneling

View price here on Amazon

One consideration when picking a blade for cutting plywood would be to find one that is a little thicker. A lot of blades advertise thin kerf which uses less effort to cut but these blades can wander in the cut and cause some tear-out.

This one goes without saying but please use a blade that is sharp! Dull blades are harder to push through a cut and usually always end in a cut of lower quality.

What Are The Best Jigsaw Blades To Cut Plywood?

The right jigsaw blade is vital in order for a jigsaw to produce a good quality cut. Do not skimp on cheap blades! Buy the best you can find as I can guarantee you will more than pleased with how they cut.

Jigsaw blades generally come in sets as you will tend to go through more of these than you would with a circular saw. When my jigsaw blade is half worn, I always throw it out and get a new one. These are the problems you can face with a dull blade.

Below I have listed some of the best jigsaw blades I have found for cutting plywood.

Tarose 30 Piece Blades

  • 20 teeth per Inch (TPI)
  • 3-1/4″ Long

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DeWalt DW3762H Down Cut Blades

  • Cuts downward to prevent tear-out
  • 10 teeth per Inch
  • 4″ long

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Diablo Ultra Fine Finish

  • 13 teeth per Inch
  • 4-5/8″ long
  • Pack of 5
  • Ultra fine finish

View On Amazon

Make Your Own Track Saw System For Perfect Cuts In Plywood

A track saw is a system you can buy that was started by Festool that consists of a plunging circular saw that slides along an aluminum track.

The track saw prevents tear out as the fine blade cuts right alongside the aluminum edge which supports the grain of the plywood and provides a clean cut. The problem with these tracks saws is they are quite expensive for the beginner woodworker.

There are a few other name brands that have come out which work well but they are still not cheap.

You can make your own with a few scraps of plywood and a little bit of your time. I recently made one and it works extremely well. Don’t be afraid to make your own things as you can get the job done and save a ton of money.

This video shows you exactly how to make your own track saw and make neat cuts in plywood every time!

Conclusion

As you can see from the above article, it is possible to cut plywood with a circular saw or jigsaw provided you use the right procedures and you are aware of the type of cut you wish to make.

For generally reducing the size of plywood sheets, I would always use a circular saw as you can get straighter and faster cuts.

I hope this article has helped you out with your plywood project!

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