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Two Things (One Product And One Process) That Have Changed My DIY Life

Y’all, my life (my DIY life, that is) has been changed. Revolutionized. I know that sounds dramatic, and maybe it is, but I don’t think I’m being overly so.

One of the biggest problems I’ve had when DIYing big projects that require sheet goods like plywood or MDF is that they’re just so dang difficult to cut. Until now, I almost never dragged full 4 x 8 sheets of plywood or MDF home and cut them myself, even though I made sure that I bought a truck with an 8-foot bed specifically so that it would hold full sheets.

My process until now has been to decide exactly how I needed each sheet cut for the project I’m making, like the cabinets and built-in daybed in my niece’s bedroom

…and draw a diagram showing how the specific pieces would be cut from each piece of plywood or MDF. Those cut diagrams would look like this…

And then I’d take my diagrams and cut lists to Home Depot and have them cut all of the pieces for me. I’d literally guide the person from one cut to the next telling them exactly where to cut, how to set the saw for the next cut, whether to measure from the bottom or the top, etc. Yes, I micromanage them. 😀 But they always seem to really appreciate it because it makes the process go much faster, and they don’t actually have to spend their time figuring out how to get the cuts I need from each sheet. They just have to do exactly as I tell them. 😀

That process has worked okay, and obviously I’ve gotten lots of big projects done by using that process, like the music room bookshelves…

…and the hallway cabinet…

hallway after remodel - new linen closet with cabinet for hidden cat litter box and entrance on side

That process has some problems, though. First, at times, I’ve had to wait up to 45 minutes for someone to be available to cut the plywood for me. That’s valuable time wasted. Also, Home Depot doesn’t change their blade as often as I’d like, which means that most of the time, the cuts on plywood result in the top veneer being chewed up along the edges. And then there’s the fact that I’m relying on someone else’s accuracy (or lack thereof) rather than having full control myself. And although it doesn’t happen often, I’ve gotten some pieces that are off by 1/8 to 1/4 inch. That can be pretty significant, depending on the project.

Even with those issues, having them cut the sheets for me was always more preferable to bringing the full sheet home myself, trying to find a way to prop it up using 2 x 4’s so that my circular saw blade could go all the way through the material and not hit the work table, floor or concrete underneath. Then finding a straight edge that’s long enough and actually straight, measuring and marking the cut, and then clamping the straight edge into place for every single cut. That process just stinks, and it’s so time-consuming. Then you get to the end of the cut, and the plywood starts to shift and binds the blade. And then as you finish the cut, one end inevitably falls to the ground and scars the face of the plywood.

I’d rather deal with chewed up edges and slightly wrong widths than go through all of that to cut enough pieces for a big project.

Of course, I’d love to have one of those massive, industrial-sized table saw set ups that hold full sheets of plywood as you easily guide it through the blade, but I have no room for such a thing right now.

But y’all. The solution is so easy. I mean, it’s stupid easy. I saw this on a video a few days ago, and my mouth was hanging open at how ridiculously obvious this solution is, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of it at any point during the last 10 years.

The obvious solution? A 4 x 8 piece of rigid foam insulation. This is the one I bought. One sheet is around $20, and it will probably last through a couple of big projects. Right now I’m working on my pantry cabinets, and I’m about halfway through with the cuts I need to make, and the insulation board is holding up great.

So you just put the insulation board on your work surface, and then place the plywood directly on top.

I’m working directly on the floor since I’m working by myself, and I didn’t want to have to lift sheets of 3/4″ plywood up onto a work table to cut them. But if I had a helper, I would have set up my saw horses, placed a piece of plywood on top, then put the foam board on that to create my work table.

I set my saw to cut just over a 3/4″ depth (probably around 7/8″ to 1 inch), and the blade goes right into the foam insulation. And since the insulation board is one inch thick, there’s still plenty of it left intact to hold together, even after making 20+ cuts. I have zero doubt that I’ll be able to make all of my necessary cuts for the pantry cabinets using this one sheet of foam insulation, and it’ll probably last me all the way through my studio cabinet project as well.

I mean, that’s such a ridiculously simple idea, right? And yet, it’s one that had never occurred to me. I’m sure there are plenty of you who already use this method, but for those of you still trying to prop full sheets of plywood up on 2 x 4’s or sawhorses so your blade will go through the material, and then cursing when the plywood shifts and the blade binds, I wanted to pass this tip along. I don’t think I’ll ever have Home Depot cut plywood or MDF for me again.

But the second piece to this equation that has revolutionized my plywood cutting is this Kreg circular saw guide. I bought mine on Amazon (click here to find it).

This thing is so easy to use! I’m a big fan of Kreg tools, and this one is great to have in your toolbox. Without this (or something like this) your foam insulation sheet really isn’t going to do you much good, because you’ll still be stuck using clamps with a straight edge, which means you have to have space under the plywood for the clamps.

So just get rid of the clamps and straight edge altogether and use a simple tool like this. It makes the job so much faster and easier!

I’ll be the first to say that the tool isn’t perfect. I wish they had thought through the construction a bit better. The clamps that clamp to the circular saw are metal, but the metal clamps are held by plastic. That part should have been made of metal. Also, this tool only cuts up to 24″ widths. That means if you need to rip a piece of plywood that’s 32 inches, you can’t just set the tool to 32 inches and go. You have to subtract the 32 inches from the full width of the plywood (48 inches). Then you have to set the Kreg guide to 16 inches to make the cut. So rather than cutting the part that you do need. you’re cutting away the part that you don’t need. I didn’t find that to be a problem at all, but from reading the reviews, evidently some people find that annoying.

Also, while it does rip cuts beautifully, it won’t do cross cuts over 24 inches. I’m still looking for a guide that will do that (Kreg has this one, but I’m still reading reviews to decide if it’s worth it).

But even with those two issues, I still find this Kreg circular saw guide to be well worth the $39 that it cost me. The circular saw guide and the foam insulation board have made my plywood cutting over the last couple of days so easy. Heck, I might actually call it enjoyable! I won’t ever hesitate to buy full sheets of plywood or MDF again.

Hopefully by tomorrow I’ll have enough progress to show you on the cabinets. Stay tuned!



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24 Comments

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Kathy
    October 15, 2018 at 10:06 am

    Slick trick!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Brenda Pawloski
    October 15, 2018 at 10:17 am

    I’ve been around awhile and remember that you had some frustration getting Home Depot to rip the material you were using to create a plank treatment on a condo bathroom. The result was so worth it though!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sewducky
    October 15, 2018 at 10:21 am

    You know they sell 2″ thick foam too? I’ve we used the 2 inch stuff to carve/create fake graves for a friends Halloween wedding. The foam dust was not fun cleaning up, because static electricity would make it move around in unwanted, unexpected ways. We spent equal parts of our time cleaning up vs making, but it was a fun project. I recommend a mask too if cuts are kicking out more of a dust vs larger particles too.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Margie E
    October 15, 2018 at 10:35 am

    Yay! I have been wondering how I was going to this! Now I know!!!!! Thank you ❤️

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Theresa P
    October 15, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Go Kristi! Go Kristi! Can’t wait to see the pantry cabinets! EEK! So excited! I’m so glad you picked this as your one room challenge! You’ll probably be pooped by the end and need to take a week break, but it’ll be worth it!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Alta Craig
    October 15, 2018 at 11:03 am

    woohoo! happy for you to find an easier way, dontcha love it when that happens!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Chris
    October 15, 2018 at 11:15 am

    I have a saw guide but I never thought of using the foam insulation. What a great tip and just in time for some bookshelves I need to build.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    sharon
    October 15, 2018 at 11:28 am

    Thanks for the great tips. I ended up using a craft a table to clamp to and wound up cutting right through the table! And we use this for holidays!!! Good thing someone invented tablecloths. I’m still a bit intimidated by circular saws 🙁
    BTW, your nieces bedroom is absolutely charming. It seems that you’re not intimidated by anything!!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Rebecca B
    October 15, 2018 at 11:44 am

    I’m surprised that you never bought a table saw. There are some nice folding ones on the market.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi
      October 15, 2018 at 1:06 pm

      I have a table saw, but there’s no way you can cut a full 3/4-inch piece of plywood with it. It’s portable, so it’s lightweight. Just moving the heavy plywood over the top moves the table saw.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Rebecca
    October 15, 2018 at 11:53 am

    How is Felicity Smoke doing?

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sherre
    October 15, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    It looks like you got extruded polystyrene board. There’s another type of foam insulation, expanded polystyrene board, which is actually more like styrofoam and would result in little beads of styrofoam EVERYWHERE (think packing-peanuts on a tiny scale!) Tell your readers to stick to the pink boards, haha!! 🙂

    That’s an ingenious idea with the insulation, though!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Andrea Beu
    October 15, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you so much for the tips. I have always had the store cut my pieces but I always have to factor in at least an extra inch because of all the tearing. And then I have to recut at home. This will be so much better.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Anon
    October 15, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    Happy for you and am passing along this tip to my DIY dad! Your built-in projects are some of the most exciting projects for me to see and admire. You’re amazing at that!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sue
    October 15, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    That sounds very good, using the insulation to help make your cuts as perfect as you need them. Do you find that it is better to make all your cuts for a project before attempting to build anything?

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Carla from Kansas
    October 15, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    I’ve seen this done on some other blogs. Maybe sawdust girl. So glad you got the Kreg cutter. Have wondered if it was worth it. Also, the Kreg item you are researching. Please let us know what you decide.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Judy
    October 15, 2018 at 3:42 pm

    I bought one of those Kreg cutters to cut my plywood it’s the best thing I’ve used in awhile. I get the same cut each time love it.
    Since reading your blog I’ve had more courage to try new things I want to thank you for that.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Tamara
    October 15, 2018 at 7:19 pm

    My Home Depot doesn’t do the cutting…so I also cut on the floor, but I use hockey pucks under the board (can you tell I’m from Canada?🤣). You can buy rubber ones for about a dollar each, so the material sticks to puck and the puck sticks to the floor; it raises the material about 2 inches off the floor. The rubber also absorbs any vibrations. I like the insulation idea too!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Kelsey
    October 15, 2018 at 10:47 pm

    I like the insulation trick. We use a ripped piece of plywood about 6″ wide and 8′ long, screwed to another piece of plywood an equal width plus the width of the saw plate and offset by the width of the saw plate as a circular saw ripping jig. You line the edge of the jig up with your cut line (so you cut on the outside of your line), clamp it down, and cut. It’s pretty quick and much more accurate than setting a level or square multiple times. Works well with a couple pieces of offcut. If you stack your two pieces of plywood and cut the bottom wider one with your saw, it’ll be a perfect match to your saw plate. The top piece keeps the saw from wandering off your cut line.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    BeckyJ
    October 16, 2018 at 12:40 am

    I discovered the foam board idea on YouTube and bought the Kreg saw guide last year when I built a Murphy bed. Couldn’t have done it without them. Home Depot never seemed to get my cuts right.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    susang
    October 16, 2018 at 10:02 am

    how do you handle the 4 x 8plywood by yourself?

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kristi
      October 16, 2018 at 10:31 am

      I don’t have any problems moving 3/4″ plywood by myself. I even unloaded all 10 sheets from my truck and brought them into the studio by myself. 🙂 Of course, I only have an unfinished plywood subfloor in my studio, so I didn’t have to worry about scratching a floor. I just backed my truck up to the back doors of the studio, stood each piece up on edge and slid it out of the bed and directly into the studio, and then keeping it up on its edge, I slid it across the floor to the work area. If my floor were finished, and I had to be careful not to scratch it, I’d have to have help or use my panel carrier (one of these).

      Now MDF is another story. MDF is so much heavier than plywood, and I can’t lift/move a 3/4″ sheet of MDF by myself. I mean, I can. I did it just the other day, but just about killed myself doing it. But I don’t have any problem with plywood as long as I don’t have to be careful about the floor.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Kathleen Conery
    October 16, 2018 at 5:38 pm

    One of those wood working struggle that just never occur to us non-woody folks!
    My husband built a board for just this purpose. On a 4’x8′ plywood sheet he built, out of 1″x2″, a series of shapes (squares and rectangles). He places this on sawhorses, and then the sheet of wood is clamped on top with his cut lines set between the lines of raised shapes. It took a little time to set up, and of course he has a garage work space to store it in, but it works great for him!

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