Cutting plywood without power tools

by brae  

Power tools are noisy, need appropriate space for setup and are a little intimidating to me.  So, I use a standard utility knife with either a metal ruler or metal T-square to make my plywood cuts (technique learned from Real Good Toys).  This is my cutting board on an old TV tray.

I use this method on everything from 1/64" thick wood veneer to 3/8" thick plywood, though the latter takes some doing.  For boards up to 1/8" thick, I cut on one side only.  For thicker boards, I make cuts on both sides to meet in the middle.  Here is that process.

I've photographed the process along the way with staged photos...meaning I am not actively cutting in these photos.  I can't hold the camera and photograph myself cutting, because cutting requires two hands -- one to steady the board and ruler and the other to cut the board.

First, I make my guidelines on one side of the board.  This is the doorway placement for the bathroom-to-hallway door on the new 1/4" thick plywood wall, which I cut using this method.  The top cut has already been started in this photo.

With a sharp blade in my utility knife, I cut along the lines using the T-square to start.  This makes sure the lines are square with the bottom crooked doors allowed.  :D

Once I have a deep line, I switch to the metal ruler because I can position the board and the ruler in a more comfortable position for me.  You might find using only the T-square works best for you.

I cut part of the way through the board by making repeated cuts along the same lines.  I then mark these cuts on the opposite side of the board.

I measure on the opposite side from where the cuts began and transfer the guidelines.  I don't do this in the beginning just in case my cuts are off a little from my initial guidelines on the first side.

I then repeat the cutting process with the T-square or metal ruler (or first one, then the other) on the new side.  I flip the board back and forth, repeatedly cutting deeper into the grooves until the cuts meet in the middle.  The board then separates and you are left with a reasonably clean edge.

If there is any excess wood on either side, I use the utility knife to clean up the edges.

I use 60 grit sandpaper to smooth out the edges, and we are ready to test out the door.

I obviously wouldn't use this to scratch build an entire house from 3/8" plywood, but it's a usable method for the small amount of cuts I usually make during a build.  Thicker boards take some elbow grease and patience -- and a few breaks in between cuts, but this method gets the job done.  :D


Comment from: JeannetteT [Visitor]
Just last night I was thinking "I wonder how Brae cuts her wood?" I was curious to know if you used a mini saw. Then I come to your page tonight, and I see your You answered my question. Thank you! I've been using my utility knife also. :)
04/03/12 @ 22:52
Comment from: Kathi [Visitor]
Thank you so much for this post! I don't have a power saw and was pondering how to cut plywood without one. I want to make new walls for my coffee shop. The foam core just doesn't seem sturdy enough, plus it's warping a bit. I will try your method for sure! I have LOTS of blades for my utility knife!
04/04/12 @ 04:54
Comment from: April [Visitor]
I wondered how you managed this. I was thinking..I know they live in the city, where does one keep power tools in small spaces? And wow, the neighbors must hate them! LOL
04/04/12 @ 05:30
Comment from: Daphne [Visitor]
Thank you so much for this post! I've been pondering this very thing to scratch build some roomboxes and furniture. I was too chicken to try and am scared to death of hubby's power tools (although I've used my Dad's when I was younger...getting old and 'skeert' of everything!). Yer' such a goldmine, Brae!
04/04/12 @ 06:31
Comment from: Lyssa [Visitor]
So brave and dedicated! I used the utility knife method once, and then whined lots and lots until I had all sorts of power tools. :)
04/04/12 @ 07:00
Comment from: ascension [Visitor]
Es un placer visitarte, siempre me voy con mucha informacion. Me encanta tu trabajo. besitos ascension
04/04/12 @ 10:08
Comment from: brae [Member]
Thanks, everyone! &#59;D
04/05/12 @ 00:05
Comment from: madhavan [Visitor]
Hi, its just amazing and I waiting for a long time to know, how to cut plywood without using power tools,finaly I got it through you thanks and let me try out this.
01/02/15 @ 08:23
Comment from: Don [Visitor]
Invest in a low cost power saw. cutting anything thicker than 3/16 with a utility knife would be tedious and dangerous!
11/25/16 @ 14:58
Comment from: brae [Member]
Using power tools without know-how can also be dangerous. This method is mainly for a small amount of cutting, thinner boards and times when noisy power tools can't be used. It has worked well for me, and one should always be careful when using any cutting tool. I do now use a scroll saw and Dremel more often but not when I was first starting out. I still use this method for a lot of my cuts.
11/25/16 @ 15:27
Comment from: Sam [Visitor]
I know this post is a million years old (I'm reading every post about this project from the start!) but I just had to comment after reading the last bit about "obviously not scratch building an entire dollhouse from plywood". I am doing just that right now, and let me tell you, DON'T DO IT! I don't think I'll ever regain the feeling in my fingertip from pushing down on the knife. Amazing work on your blog and the houses, you're crazy talented! Just wanted to share anyway, on with the rest of the posts I go!
04/14/20 @ 11:35
Comment from: brae [Member]
Thank you!! :>>

I had a quick look at your site, Sam, and wow! That is a big undertaking. You're doing great so far! :yes:
05/10/20 @ 10:16

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