I'm a complete amateur trying to turn an old 14 wide x 22 long single car garage into a wood shop. Nobody in my immediate family or friends does any serious woodworking, but I do have some family members/friends who have been in other trades for decades and are pretty handy, so I'm learning by researching and getting advice from them.
Lately I've been finding myself needing to cut full 4' x 8' plywood panels lengthwise down the middle for shelves or other things. I'm the type that usually likes to research myself silly to find the best possible solution before committing to something. In this case, it seemed to me that the answers online were pointing to a panel saw, though that may just be because I started from the perspective of "What do places like Home Depot do?" And I remembered they have large panel saws for things like this, and it seemed fitting since the word "panel" is in the name, it's obviously for cutting panels.
I'm working on a serious budget, so I'm trying to avoid spending 1k+ or even more on a pre-made aluminum frame panel saw. I looked around and saw that some folks have in fact built their own, such as this youtube video, or there are apparently kits you can buy such as here, or here. Though upon suggesting the idea of building a panel saw for this purpose, I was met with pretty strong resistance from 2 people, who both suggested their own solutions.
1) Table Saw
One family friend suggested that a panel saw is too large and unwieldy, requiring 16 feet to push a panel fully through, or otherwise too difficult/a hassle to make, and I should instead use my existing 4x8 workbench, modify it to the height of a table saw he could lend, and buy some infeed rollers and push a full 4x8 panel through a table saw, outfeeding onto my workbench.
He at first convinced me, but upon further reading and thinking I realized some points:
- Safety - On many woodworking sites/forums, I see many members claim that attempting to maneuver a 4x8 panel through a table saw could be pretty dangerous, and that table saws are best for smaller boards/panels.
- Practicality - It seems to me that this method would still require at least 16 linear feet of space, probably realistically more like 18-20, but would be even more unwieldy than a panel saw since the board would be horizontal rather than vertical. Additionally, this solution almost certainly would not work for also cutting an 8 ft piece width wise, so I'd ultimately have to use 2 different solutions.
- Quality - I have never used a table saw once in my life, but I imagine it might be hard to hold and maintain a 4x8 panel steady and straight against a fence, so I don't imagine getting high quality cuts perfecty every time would be easy with this method.
2) Circular Saw
This is my current method. Another family member of mine essentially suggested I should continue with my current solution, which is propping up the plywood sheet above my workbench with 2x4, clamping down, setting up a guide board, and using a circular saw along the length, though he suggested I should lower my workbench height to make this easier. (Currently, my workbench height is approx 40 inches. Would lowering to 36 really make this much easier?)
My thoughts on this were:
- Safety - Seems fairly safe, as long as boards are securely clamped, and the saw is handled securely.
- Practicality - Practical in that it fits into the footprint of my workbench, but the entire reason I'm searching for another solution is because in my opinion, it's a pain to prop up a plywood sheet and clamp it down, tack on a guide board, and then struggle to securely hold a circular saw halfway across (2 ft) while cutting down the middle of the panel. Additionally, in cases where I need to first cut along the length, and then go back and cut across the width, I have to adjust and turn the 2x4 tracks underneath and the guide board every time. Since I used 8ft board lengthwise, the boards are too long going the other way so I have to swap them out.
- Quality - Quality seems to be good, as long the guide is setup properly.
3) Panel Saw
This is what places like Home Depot have setup for customers to use. Assuming I can build a safe, reliable panel saw for fairly cheap, it seemed to me this would be the best option. Note - I do not count having to put in time and effort to build a panel saw as a negative of this option, because in fact I'm trying to build as many projects as I can, though I would count expense as a negative.
- Safety - If the panel saw is sturdy, including the supports, the saw carriage, and the saw carriage rods, then it seemed to me this would be the safest of the 3 options. The saw is fixed rigid, can only move in 1 axis, and is always facing away from the operator.
- Practicality - Very easy to use. Just plop in the panel, adjust to position, and slide panel through saw (or saw across panel).
- Quality - Again, the saw is rigid, and if the bottom track support for the panel is perfectly inline with the blade, then the quality should be top notch and consistenly repeatable, correct? One good point brought up was if I'm trying to turn the saw 90 degrees and cut horizontally, isn't the top of the panel going to weigh down and bind up the blade?
Other Thoughts - I had the idea of making a panel saw with traveling x and y axes, in order to deal with the issue of needing 16 feet of space, though this idea was lumped into the bag of "too difficult".
So ultimately, the question is what is the best method to make the most difficult 4x8 panel cuts (which seems to me to be lengthwise, down the middle), with respect to the 3 qualities I've brought up: safety, practicality, and quality? Am I right in thinking the panel saw is the answer to that question, or am I being naive and is one of the other suggestions made to be a better solution?