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I'm looking to make some drawer boxes out of plywood, and don't think I have enough space to set up to feel safe using a circular saw (certainly no room for a table saw).

Popular opinion seems to be that you can't cut straight with a (handheld) jigsaw. But with it against a straight edge clamped as makeshift fence, how can it be worse than (my amateur) hand sawing? Does the blade really wobble side to side that much?

Can plywood be (hand) planed, or does the glue gum up too much? If so I would think a jigsaw wobble cut & planing would still be faster/better overall than by (my inexperienced) hand?

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    I'm glad you added that last paragraph as that's exactly what I was going to suggest. In hand-tool woodworking you will nearly always plane a sawn surface, and this holds if you're working with ply. Now since you did ask this already, the site's in-built Related feature handily has this Q&A at the top. I haven't looked at all of it again but there's sure to be something in that which will help you get better results (and obviously you can confidently saw knowing you will get accurately to your line afterwards by planing). [contd]
    – Graphus
    Oct 9 at 19:00
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    Will you bring home full sheets of plywood or can you get cuts done where you buy? If they will cut strips you only then need to do crosscuts to length needed .
    – Volfram K
    Oct 10 at 5:39
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    @AloysiusDefenestrate, yes in relation to guides. Even just a straightedge is a huge boon IME, and various commercial and DIY guide systems work extremely well from what I've seen; your interpretation mileage may vary, but the demos sure convinced me. I take it as a given with jigsaws that you should let it cut at its own pace but I suppose it's worth emphasising in case that's not obvious to anyone, a guide is not a pass for suddenly have the saw cut X times faster.
    – Graphus
    Oct 10 at 16:32
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    "don't think I have enough space to set up to feel safe using a circular saw." Premise is flawed. The thing you need space for is the sheet of plywood. The circular saw sits on top of the plywood, just like a jig-saw will. It takes zero extra space. Unless you're trying to rip a 4x8' sheet into 2@ 4x4' sheets, the jig saw will buy you nothing over a circular saw. The only advantage it will gain you is that it's easier to handle with one hand when stretching, BUT you loose significant accuracy in your cut with one hand.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 10 at 17:47
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    @AloysiusDefenestrate Both.
    – OJFord
    Oct 11 at 11:52
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Remember that every sheet of plywood should have two good long edges, two good short edges AND possibly four square corners1. Use this to your advantage if the factory edges are in good condition; and if they're not perhaps a little hand planing or sanding with a block will clean them up enough that you can use them as the bottom edge in drawer boxes.


don't think I have enough space to set up to feel safe using a circular saw (certainly no room for a table saw).

FWIW circular saws are considered the tool for making at least the initial break-down cuts on sheet goods, so if you will be using plywood etc. a fair bit one can be a worthwhile purchase. And arguably the safest way to use one to do this is to work on the floor, on top of a sacrificial surface such as thick insulation foam, so the method doesn't require a dedicated workplace.

Also, with just a few scraps of wood and a little ingenuity you can quite easily create a very capable sawing guide, saving 'a little' over some of the commercial track saws ^_^

Circ saw on foam

Popular opinion seems to be that you can't cut straight with a (handheld) jigsaw.

Well popular opinion is wrong in this case. As I say in my Comment above, the (many) people who say this are either blindly repeating a 'fact' they've heard, or they're relating their own experience where they did it wrong.

Sure, with a jigsaw you won't easily match the kind of cut you can achieve with a table saw, or a circular saw for that matter (even used freehand), but you can cut at least as straight as with a panel saw and nobody goes around criticising hand saws for how bad those are at sawing to the line!

Just as when making cuts with a hand saw, so much comes down to the user.

With a jigsaw if you push the cut you're setting yourself up for failure. But slow down and be patient, let the saw do the work, and you can saw to line really well.

Does the blade really wobble side to side that much?

AFAIK it's not really about blade wobble, it's more about blade deflection (from pushing the cut) which can tend to pull the saw away from the desired path.

Slow right down however and a wandering jigsaw will start to behave itself. Sawing is not a race.

And that's just if sawing freehand. Things get even better if you jig it.....

Sawing Straight with the Jigsaw

Can plywood be (hand) planed, or does the glue gum up too much?

Obviously plywood quality varies (lots) but yes you can definitely plane it.

You'll probably find you need to re-hone your iron a little more frequently than normal, but not excessively so. I recently had to plane quite a bit of OSB which is way tougher than a typical plywood, and even that wasn't too bad2.

Watch out for spelching at the corners due to every second ply being at right angles to the edge, and utilise one of the end-grain planing tricks for clean corners.

What plane to use
Honestly just about anything. If the drawers you plan to make are not small you could do with using a no. 4 or 5 for their longer soles, but you can do this quite well with a block plane. Just needs a little more care to ensure your edges end up straight if you're using a shorter plane.

Regardless of the plane you use having the iron nice and sharp will of course pay dividends.


Sawing plywood by hand

I don't want to dissuade you from trying to saw sheet goods by hand, because with one of the better modern panel saws with tough, hardened teeth and the right setup (saw horses etc.) you can break down plywood surprisingly quickly3 and easily by hand.

Your first few cuts are unlikely to be the straightest ever made naturally, but as you're already committed to cleaning up the sawn edges by planing as long as you stick to the waste side of the line it sorta doesn't matter :-) And you will get better at it with practice.

So don't dismiss it as unworkable method, despite the undeniable advantages of doing it with a power saw. Sometimes it's just way faster to do it by hand, and good enough.


1 At least two have a reputation for being reliably square, but never take this for granted. Always check.

2 And this was with stock irons in very much non-premium planes, so not using A2, PMV-11 or anything like that :-)

3 3/4" material saws at approx. one inch per stroke according to Jim Tolpin.

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  • Great answer, many thanks. I know they're 'the tool' to use, (and all else equal would be my preference) which is why I pre-emptively asked 'without'.. but I must admit it hadn't occurred to me to do it on the floor. I'd need to be absolutely sure I was only sacrificing the sacrificial material though, insulation might be a bit riskily compressible for that? I suppose I could have some sacrificial-if-necessary wood underneath it.
    – OJFord
    Oct 11 at 14:23
  • Welcome. The standard material for this is some kind of rigid foam. Perhaps the choice is the pink stuff, you see that in so many pics & vids. But I deliberately didn't use a photo of that because obvs it's not about the colour, it's the type of material that matters. Now you don't have to use foam of course, there are other sacrificial materials you can use, including MDF (which is what many cutting tables have as their replaceable top). But for the floor some sort of rigid foam seems the ideal solution and because it's much thicker than most MDF it's more forgiving on depth. Cheaper too.
    – Graphus
    Oct 11 at 17:12
  • 'Rigid foam' = expanded polystyrene ('XPS'/'EPS') right? (edit: there seems to be a distinction between extruded=XPS & expanded=EPS...) I do have some scrap MDF, probably not thick enough to use on its own though, unless I also lifted it up off the floor a bit with some smaller scraps. As you say though EPS is cheap, I suppose I have the fluffy rolls of insulation in mind, but I just imagine being worried it'll squash a bit and I'll end up with a nice new pattern in the floor. Might have to go and have a look at some first, or watch some videos.
    – OJFord
    Oct 11 at 20:30
  • I was under the impression the pink stuff was something different to expanded polystyrene, but a quick Google search says it is actually. The stuff in the image I posted does appear to be EPS judging by most of the word Styrene being visible on the face.
    – Graphus
    Oct 11 at 22:15
  • Oh I actually assumed that was the brand Styrofoam that was stamped on it. Having watched a few YouTube videos on it, I was coming to the conclusion that it is something different (but I don't know what, they all just called it 'rigid foam' or similar as you did) - might not be available here in the UK though, if it is, from what I can see.
    – OJFord
    Oct 11 at 23:44

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