I'm working on a project where I need to break down some sheet goods and I want to use my table saw to get the best and most accurate cuts parallel to the factory edge. The problem is that my workpiece is wider than the distance between the fence and the blade. I only have a job site saw at the moment.

What's the best way to handle this?

Also, I'm a little worried about safely doing this since I don't have an outfeed table and the sheet goods are big and unwieldy. I'm a beginner so I'm just looking to get some tips on how to manage this.

  • You can't do this with the saw as currently configured, if it's beyond the capacity of your saw it's beyond its capacity. And anyway you wouldn't want to do this without an outfeed surface of some kind, even if it's just something jerry rigged for this one use. So you have to look at a workaround, or do it with a different tool. Any other power tools at your disposal that might be able to do the cut? Please edit the Q to include the mention of any. Oh BTW since you're a beginner perhaps it needs to be mentioned that breakdown cuts are rarely intended to be final cuts [contd]
    – Graphus
    May 18 '20 at 13:39
  • It's perfectly normal to cut to approximate size, then do final trimming (either by cutting or using a router) to get to final size. Breakdown cuts on full sheets to high accuracy are difficult to do reliably and repeatedly using many saws, not due to a limitation of the saws but because the sheets are heavy and unwieldy.... the exception is a panel saw which is purpose made for this, but few enough pros have ever made one of them.
    – Graphus
    May 18 '20 at 13:44
  • Whether it's helpful for this particular project or not, you may consider investing in an outfeed roller stand. It's a metal stand with either a single roller on top or multiple ball rollers, has legs that will spread for stability or fold for storage and has an adjustable height. It's very helpful for cutting any piece of wood that's notably longer than your table's top. If it's a very long piece, you could use one on the infeed side to help control the piece, too. You just need to use extreme care since the infeed support could be in your way as you push the wood past the blade.
    – FreeMan
    May 18 '20 at 16:09
  • 1
    Thanks for the suggestions all. I think it sounds like I just need to break down the sheet into smaller chunks and then do the final cuts on the table saw.
    – Tom D
    May 18 '20 at 20:38
  • Another thing that sticks out is that you're referencing the factory edges. Often veneered products have factory edges that aren't usable due to chipping, sanding through, rough quality cuts, etc. May 20 '20 at 0:02

For sheet goods, I prefer to bring the tool to the material instead of the other way around. Assuming you have a powered hand saw of some kind with a decent shoe, I'd recommend you give this a try.

Using a medium sized table saw for breaking down large sheet goods is a good way to find out how quickly a saw can separate meat from the unwary operator.

If you do any amount of work with sheet goods, I'd always recommend investing in some kind of guide. Some guides are just straight-edges you can clamp to the piece. Others are the fancier ones you attach to the shoe of the saw. It is, of course, a time-honoured tradition to make your own guide out of clamps and some factory cut lumber, as well.

I've used store-bought and home-made straight-edge guides in the past, and they all worked well enough for rough cuts.

Otherwise, my advice:

  1. Have someone help you.
  2. Build or borrow an outfeed table. Many shops are built with portable tables that are at the same height (or adjustable height) so they can be used for this exact purpose.
  3. Assume it will bind and kick-back, and be prepared. Refresh yourself on how material behaves when some fraction of real horsepower decides it wants to transfer some rotational force in another unexpected direction.

Depending on dimensions, and whether you need more than 2 pieces out of a sheet, you might rough cut the sheet goods into smaller chunks with a circular saw, then put them through the tablesaw. (This obviously isn't going to work if you need a 30" finished size and your saw only cuts 24".)

If the rough cut idea works for you, then you only need to get something (outfeed stand, box, milk crate) at the right height a few feet away to help with the outfeed.

If your needs are a little more complicated and can't be helped by rough cutting, then you'll need to build a temporary table to drop the job site saw into. Ideally, it's a full sheet of melamine faced plywood, though particle board would work. Have the saw positioned in the right-front corner of the sheet. Depending on your lumber source, they might have sheets around that have been slightly damaged that they'll sell for a discount.

And a final wildly expensive idea: get a tracksaw and a long track. It'll do everything you want without moving sheets around.

  • 1
    Instead of get a track saw, the interwebz are filled with instructions on how to make a track saw. Since this is a woodworking site, that should be within the capacity of most of us and our occasional visitors. ;)
    – FreeMan
    May 19 '20 at 14:32
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    Good point! And @graphus aptly pointed out that a router is interchangeable with a circular saw and a guide. May 20 '20 at 3:07

Depending on your saw capacity, the size you need, and if the sides of the sheet are already perfectly parallel, you can use the rip fence on the waste side and have your off cut be the finished piece. For example, you have a 4x8 sheet of plywood and need a 36in wide piece but your rip fence only goes to 24 in. You set the fence to 12in minus the thickness of the blade (usually 1/8in or 3/32) and run the sheet through and end up with a 36in wide piece and a 11 7/8in piece. I would also definitely get someone to help maneuver the sheet and consider making a simple outfeed table/stand as large sheets can be unwieldy and unsafe, especially on a small job site saw.


Having followed my own advice in a comment on Aloysius' answer, I did a DuckDuckGo search for "home made track saw" (or something similar) and came up with a 90-second video (on the tube of you) from Tom Silva of This Old House fame showing how to make a very simple track saw from scrap plywood. (This was only one of hundreds of videos & written instructions I found, choose your favorite.)

Not having a lot of scrap plywood laying around, I bought a sheet of 3/8" ply, carefully ripped 2 strips about "yay" wide each off the long edge (super wife is an excellent assistant in-feed table/material guide) on my father-in-law's table saw, then took the pieces home.

I glued the two 4" strips to the plywood and "clamped" it with a pile of lumber over night. In the morning, I ran my circular saw along each edge of each glued strip, once with the wide side of the sole plate next to the attached strip, once with the narrow side.

This gave me 2 8' long track saws. I cut one into a 5' and 3' section.

Despite these being made of some rather wavy plywood (can you get 3/8" ply that isn't warped in some fashion?), they worked extremely well for all the rip- and cross-cuts I needed in sheet goods for the shed I just built.

  • at only 3/8" thick, the act of clamping each end down on my cut marks bent the track straight to meet the flat sheet I was cutting
  • Using the track saw makes for effortless, nearly brain-dead straight cuts at any angle across the sheet without having to focus on a chalk/pencil line
    • This was exceedingly handy since my saw seems designed to throw as much waste as possible toward the user's face when focusing on that cut line.
  • I can stretch to the other side of a 4' sheet and still have a straight line
  • I don't have to draw/snap a line all the way across the sheet, 2 simple marks is all that's necessary.

This is a very fast to build, incredibly simple and easy to use jig that I wish I'd had 20 years ago!

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