How to cut sheet goods in tight quarters
Strong? Check. Flat? Check. Stable? Check. Pain in the neck? Check. In a small shop, sheet goods' unwieldy size can outweigh its many positives. Getting the sheet home in pristine condition may seem easy compared to the edge-dinging, veneer-scratching obstacle course presented by lawn equipment, vehicles, and power tools. The solution: Do most of the cutting outside the shop before moving it inside.
Cut up on aisle 12
Many sheet-goods retailers have a panel saw in the back of the store and grant you a limited number of free cuts. Bring along your cut list and take advantage of this service to break down your sheet goods into manageable, slightly oversized chunks before you leave the store. Some words of caution: The blade on the panel saw is likely well past due for a sharpening. Allow enough in your rough dimensions to account for splintering and under-trained sales clerks.
Drive a pickup? Don't let the sheet leave the safety of the bed before breaking it down, as shown below. Drive a smaller vehicle such as a minivan or crossover SUV? Load it up with collapsible sawhorses and a few 2x2" furring strip supports, a cordless circular saw, and a circ-saw guide. Then make your initial cuts in the store's parking lot, ensuring the cut pieces will fit in your vehicle. Ignore the curious stares of other shoppers; they're just jealous that they didn't think of it.
Poor man's panel saw
Build your own down-and-dirty version of the home center's pro-level panel saw by attaching short lengths of slotted steel angle to a pair of sawhorses, photo below. (Allow enough clearance below them to accommodate your circ saw.) Rest the sheet on the steel angle, positioning the cutline between the steel angles. Clamp the plywood to each horse to prevent binding during the cut, attach a straightedge guide, and cut.
Drop it in the driveway
Lay down a 1 1⁄2 x48x96" sheet of extruded-foam insulation. (If your straightedge guide requires clamps to secure it, cut the foam down 4" in length and width to accommodate them.) Drop your plywood on top, and add your edge guide. Set your blade depth to clear the plywood, but miss the driveway, and cut away.
Infeed and outfeed
If you still have some unwieldy tablesaw cuts to make after your rough breakdown, outfit your saw with infeed and outfeed to safely support the workpiece through the entire length of the cut.
If you have no other option than to manhandle full (or nearly full) sheets in the shop, pick up a low-cost, one-person panel handler, far left. (See our review of a few at woodmagazine.com/panelhandlers.) Or build a back-saving panel cart like the Fold-flat Sheet Goods Mover, left, from the March 2012 issue of WOOD® magazine or at woodmagazine.com/sheetmover.
Stanley's Panel Carry (no. 93-301, woodmagazine.com/panelcarry) lets you lift a sheet of plywood with one hand while steadying it with the other.