Top 10 Tips for Working with Sheet Goods

Many woodworkers shy away from sheet goods as they think they shouldn't be used to build quality furniture, and they're too hard to work with. Sheet goods have their time and place, and with a few pointers on how to work with them, you'll be able to reap their benefits with relative ease.

By Rob Brown
Photo by Rob Brown

1. Use the Lumberyard’s Panel Saw if Possible

A panel saw should provide you with straight, safe and quick rips and crosscuts. Even if you only want a sheet ripped in half so you can fit it into your hatchback or get it down your basement stairs, using the lumberyard’s saw might be the difference between possible and impossible.

2. Create a Clear, Simple Cut List for the Lumberyard

If the lumberyard has a panel saw, do your very best to show up with a cut list with clearly labeled dimensions. And keep in mind that some saws (and operators) are going to be very accurate, while others aren’t.

3. Choose the Right Vehicle

If you’re transporting material in your vehicle, whether it’s full sheets or panels that were cut to size at the lumberyard, ensure they won’t slide around, or worse yet, fall onto the road. Applying the brakes too hard and making tighter turns will pose the biggest problems.

4. Consider Paying for a Delivery from the Lumberyard

A delivery charge may seem excessive at first, but when you account for your time and energy it might make a lot of sense. Just be ready for action when the delivery truck arrives.

5. Storing Sheets

Protect stored sheets from water, getting damaged, and falling over. Raising them off the ground by placing sheets on strips of solid wood, making sure sheets aren’t in the way, and making darn sure they won’t fall over are the bare minimum when storing sheet goods.

6. Keep Things Clean

A clean, uncluttered shop will not only make working with large sheets easier, it will make it much safer for you and the other work-in-progress in your shop. It might take a few extra minutes at the start to clean up, but you will save that time in the long run.

7. Lots of Cutting Options

Common options for breaking down a sheet in your shop are a table saw, jigsaw, track saw and circular saw. Don’t think that just because you don’t have a large sliding table saw you can’t work with sheet goods. And once the parts are cut to size, use chalk to label them. Things can get confusing once three or four sheets are broken down into panels.

8. Use Supports

Infeed and outfeed supports when using a table saw, and supports in general (track saws, circular saw, etc.) are very helpful. Also consider surface heights when using a table saw. Setting an outfeed table ever-so-slightly lower than your table saw’s surface works great.

9. Protect Your Lungs

Fine dust from solid wood isn’t good for your lungs, but man-made boards are even worse. Adhesives add chemicals to the mix, and your lungs will appreciate the protection a proper dust mask offers.

10. Ask for Someone’s Help Moving Full Sheets

Plywood isn’t overly heavy, but particle core and MDF can be much heavier. Full 4×8 sheets aren’t just heavy, they’re very awkward to maneuver, especially if your shop is on the small side.

ROB BROWN

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