Handling Sheet Goods
Full-size plywood and MDF sheets are hard to manage by yourself, and can be dangerous to cut on a tablesaw. WOOD magazine design editor Jeff Mertz shows how to safely handle sheet goods in your shop.
Working with sheet goods definitely has its advantages. The material is extremely stable and won't expand and contract as the weather changes. It can speed up your work by not having to edge-glue panels to make up a big side of like an entertainment center. It can also save you some money. But part of the downside. Is the materials extremely heavy and awkward and can be easily damaged on the edges and mess up the veneer. We're gonna show you a couple simple tips to make that process easier and more successful. If you're gonna handle sheet goods one thing that I highly recommend to save your back is a panel carrier. This one I really like, because it folds up and I can shove it in my pocket or under the seat in my truck. But simply unfold it, hook it under the sheet, and now I'm good to go. One of the things that I try to do is keep the amount of sheet goods I have stored in my shop to a minimum. They just take up space, and you're gonna get damaged edges. So what I do is make a cutting diagram of all my sheets with some rough dimensions, and then I head to the home center. I buy just what I need, and when I come home, I break them down with a circular saw. Why a circular saw? Well, handling a 4x8 sheet across a tablesaw can be very dangerous. It can lead to kickbacks, damaged materials, even if you do have all the proper infeed and outfeed support, there are better ways to do it. So let's take a look. When I break down a sheet, I do it on the shop floor. I set a piece of 2 inch foam insulation down, and then throw my sheet right on top of it. That way, when I make my cuts, I'm fully supported underneath every inch of the sheet. Then I measure the diagonal corners of the sheet just to verify that everything is square. Now lay out your cuts: make sure you mark both ends to reference when you set up your straight edge. With many clamp on tool guides I have to account for the distance between the edge of the saw and the edge of the blade and sometimes that can be tricky to measure. I like this one. That's custom fit my saw. I line up with mark with the edge of my guide. And now that's the edge of my blade is gonna cut right on that mark. It will leave me a nice clean edge. So now I'll set up my guide aligning it with the mark on one hand and clamp it. Now I can clamp that because my foam is actually cut about four inches smaller than a piece of plywood that way I've clamping clearance underneath the sheet. Line up the second end and make the cut. I just repeat the process to further break down the sheet until I'm ready to go to the tablesaw. Now that I've broken down the sheet into manageable sizes that I can handle on the table saw. I want to talk about some safety operations at this machine. As with any power to operations make sure you're wearing hearing and eye protection. The saw comes with a splitter. Please use it. It'll help prevent binding and kickback. Also. I wanna talk about our outfeed table. This is nice and wide and provides plenty of support. One of the things I don't wanna have is to run a wide piece through, and have a narrow outfeed support that will only support half of it and the other half falls on the floor or gets caught in the saw. When handling longer stock I don't want to approach a running saw with my material. I wanna use an infeed support stand. That way I can in position the stock where I want it, fire up the saw, and make the cut. Earlier I cut this sheet to about twelve inches wide. My final width will be narrower than that. So first, I run my factory edge against the fence and make one parallel trimming cut. Now I'll flip the board end to end, adjust my fence to the sheet's final dimension, and clean up the second edge. Cross cutting a piece like this on the table saw is too dangerous to do. There's a better and safer way. I can stack up multiple parts for the same part of my project, align all the edges flush, and then using my foam blocks and my crosscut jig, along with clamps and a circular saw I can trim them to their final length. By stacking, I know I have two identical parts. When crosscutting long and narrow work pieces it's good idea to use a cross cutting panel sled. This one rides in the miter gauge and is trimmed to be flush with the saw. I mark my panel length, line it up with the end of my fence, and now when I cut it, it'll be right on the money. For more shop tips and wood jigs like these check out WOOD magazine or visit us online at WOOD magazine dot com.