Circular Saw Guides for Cutting Sheet Goods

You can make your own straight-edge jig for cutting panels, but many cabinetmakers and installers recommend buying a specialized tool. November 20, 2008

What is the cheapest and easiest way to cut sheet goods? All I have is a portable tablesaw, etc. I need something to do the occasional outdoor kitchen and built-ins, etc. Looking to purchase something to rip and cross cut the boxes accurately and efficiently without getting into too much.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor P:
A decent cabinet saw with sleds for squaring up panels is what I use. I'm shopping for a slider, but I've built a bunch of boxes this way. That Festool saw and guide is something I've seen used for site built cabinets and would be what I'd use were I to go back to doing that.

From contributor A:
For onsite or occasional work, the small Festool saw and guides work really well. This system will cut hardwood veneer ply and melamine without chipping on top or bottom, and can quickly rip up a 4' x 8' sheet within 1/64" over its length.

Fabricate a portable cutting table (approximately 3' x 6') out of 1" x 4" strips of 3/4" ply. Place this on sawhorses, cover with a sheet of foam insulation, and cut away. If you need to process 5 sheets, place them all on the table at once, sandwiched between sheets of insulation.

To avoid having to measure, cut off a 48" aluminum rule to compensate for the guide's width, and use a brass stair gauge to set stops on the rule - fast, repeatable, and accurate.

From contributor M:

Go with the Festool. You will be happy. I use that setup all the time. I know it's expensive, but worth it. I also have the vac for it. I can cut sheets of MDF all day, and no dust on me (or up my nose)! Also very nice when it's time to clean up.

From the original questioner:
I've looked at the Ffestool a few times. I forgot about it. Price always turned me away but now that I'll use it more, I will check it out. I'll be cutting a lot of starboard, so it actually would be easier than trying to push through a saw. It's probably 5x heavier than plywood.

From contributor J:
Ditto on the Festool. I bought mine for the express purpose of cross-cutting plywood that I couldn't safely handle on the table saw. It works well for that, however it's slow. On the other hand, I keep finding new uses for that thing every day. We've had two occasions lately where we needed to cut down cabinets that were too wide to go between two walls. The Festool saw is the tool for that purpose. It cuts like a laser. I also build a lot of laminate countertops. It works great for that, particularly if the job will have angles in the tops. Once you get one of these, you'll wonder what you ever did without it.

From contributor L:
I've got a nice 10' slider and I will still pull out the Festool as often as not for initial breakdown of sheet goods. With the quality of plywood these days (and the quality of storage thereof) it's often easier to use a saw and guide as anything (well, unless you have a good vertical panel saw).

From contributor Z:
You can also make a dedicated straight edge guide from a piece of 1/2" ply and a good straight piece of hardwood. It is "dedicated" because it will only be dead on with the saw that created it. That is what I use. Price difference is about 995 dollars.

From contributor L:
Actually, the Festool saw is $445. The 106" guide rail is $212. So the total to work any sheet of plywood, with two guide rails, is $657. A good, non-Festool saw is going to cost you $150+. A good 40 tooth blade is going to cost another $40+. I guess we won't count the cost of the plywood or other material used to make the straight edge, but you do have to count the time, and it takes a minimum 3/4 hour to make a truly straight edge from scrap. So, we'll call that $45+. So your total is up to $235 for a guide that has to be clamped to the material (chewing up precious time) and can't cut a reliable miter... Difference is $418. Still significant, but that's a days work.

From the original questioner:
What would be a good circular saw to look at if I went that route? My Porter Cable has a flimsy base and doesn't cut well with straight edges. Older models were better, I know. What is max length that Festool will cut with guide?

From contributor W:
I use both approaches - the Festool, and a "shoot board" (straight edge dedicated to a particular saw). They both have their places. I use the shoot board for rougher work, where accuracy and finish cut quality isn't critical. When it's time to create the perfect cuts, though, nothing (and I do mean nothing) beats the Festool for a circular setup. The rubber strip on the cut edge eliminates tear out, completely. The tracking rail eliminates wandering, completely. The undermount clamping system saves all kinds of time and bails you out of difficult spots where shoot boards are tough to lock down. And the rubber strips on the bottom of the straightedge prevent any marring of finished surfaces (something that is awfully tough to depend on with a shoot board). And nobody makes a better setup for controlling dust from the saw - nobody.

For crying out loud - spend the money and get the Festool, and let those people who think it costs too much dribble their money away 20 bucks a day. In two weeks, you'll be putting the 20 bucks in your pocket instead of burning it up in labor.

From contributor J:
The Festool saw comes with a 55" guide which is comfortable to use on 4' wide sheetgoods. There's enough rail there to hang over both sides so you can go into and out of the cut and stay on the rail. The 106" rail works the same way on 8' sheets. There is also a connector system available that enables you to put two or more smaller rails together. I don't know first hand how well that works.

I used the plywood cutting guide for years with a good circular saw. It works well but doesn't compare with the precision and clean cut you'll get from the Festool saw. Another thing is the Festool has clamps available that clamp the rail down from underneath the rail itself. They aren't in your way when you're trying to cut.

Festool's got a good video about these saws on their web site. You should check it out if you haven't already.

From the original questioner:
I was wondering because I will be cutting a lot of starboard which I believe comes in 54" wide sheets.

From contributor J:
Contributor W's right. Go buy your saw and quit quibbling about this. I guarantee you in a week you'll be wondering why you hadn't already. I understand tool budgets all too well and know there's never enough bucks to get what we really need, but we aren't talking about a CNC or an edgebander here.

I didn't get into the issue with the vac but he's right about that too. I've cut MDF in people's houses and had virtually nothing to clean up. The customers even marveled at how well it worked.

From the original questioner:
Okay, I'll quit! Where is best place to buy? Online or local store? What is a good price?

From contributor F:
The price is the same across the board but you may want to buy it from a company that will deliver by mail to avoid paying state taxes.

From contributor B:
Get the Festool. Order it either from them directly or from McFeely's. I use two 55" guide rails which are connected by rods (you have to buy two - why they aren't sold in pairs is beyond me). The 106" rail seems a nice option, but is almost certain to get damaged. Festool sells a nice carrying bag for the 55" rails. Make an investment, and get the saw, an extra rail, connecting rods, clamps, and carrying bag. I use the saw to initially process sheets before the table saw, even in the shop. Additional uses come up all the time.

From contributor G:
Nothing you can buy is $100.00 or $1000.00 more accurate than the guide you can make yourself out of plywood and a couple of spring clamps. It might take you 10 minutes to make it. There are no problems with tear out because of the weight of the saw and the simple design of the jig itself. I've built many cabinets without my table saw using these! You can also use it to straighten a board before running it on a jointer. The same thing can be made for a router guide out of 1/4 inch. They are super fast to set up, cheap to make, portable, and I would dare to say as accurate as anything you can buy.