The Right Way to Cut Veneer Plywood Board So It Doesn’t Chip and Splinter

Cutting plywood veneer board is notorious for producing huge chips and splinters. How can you cut it with a circular saw and keep the veneer surface flaw-free?

Best Answer

Using a fine finish blade, cut the board upside-down and with the blade set just below the surface.


There is too much misinformation out there about cutting veneer plywood board, and I can only think of it as cognitive dissonance.

The wrong advice out there runs like this: lay painter’s tape on the surface and cut through the tape. The cognitive dissonance part, I believe, comes partially from our modern Internet-day zeal for simple hacks and tips but mainly because it seems like it should work. Tape should keep those those splinters and veneer peel-backs down, right?

Not really. This does not work as well as you might imagine–if at all.

While taping the surfaces certainly will not hurt (go ahead if you want), the three conditions I listed in the Best Answer section are far more important. Of those three, the most important is this: set your blade shallow.

Set Blade Shallow (Just Below Surface of Plywood)

This change makes all the difference in the world. I don’t know exactly how to describe the blade height: shallow, high, low, whatever. You can see here that the teeth of the saw blade extend about 1/4″ below the bottom of the board that you are cutting. By the standards of veneer board-cutting, this is still rather a deep cut. You can go shallower if you like.

Use an Ultra-Fine Finish Blade in Good Condition

Shown here is an Avanti 7 1/4 in. x 60-Tooth Fine Finish Saw Blade. No doubt there are even better veneer saw blades, but this one works fine for me. Despite the smeared paint on the blade, this is a fairly new one.

Cut From the Back

This one is debatable, but I’ve found that cutting the backside of your finish surface produces better results and less splintering. Test this out on a board for yourself.


Personal Experience

I’ve cut veneer board with this method many times and have always had good results.

Class B Source

A site called Here There Home has both sets of information. The blog writer, Corey, says that taping the board will eliminate splinters. While I personally disagree with this advice (based on my experience), this too is Corey’s personal experience, so I give credence to her statement. She even has photos of her project, showing non-splintered wood. A commenter on her blog mentions the trick about setting the saw blade high.

Can You Use Wood Glue to Bond Foam to Foam?

Foam is a finicky substance that does not respond to all types of glue. And your all-purpose adhesive solution, the hot glue gun, will melt foam. Will wood glue work?


Yes, wood glue can be used as an adhesive for extruded polystyrene foam. But the jury is out as to whether it can be used to glue foam edge-to-edge.


Wood Glue and Foam

Wood glue might be the last type of glue you would use on insulation foam. Wood, foam–they don’t really seem to go together. Yet Elmer’s White Glue is used by hobbyists to glue styrofoam. How different can this be?

For the test, I used Owens-Corning Foamular. It is a “closed cell, moisture-resistant rigid foam board,” according to the Foamular site. Nowhere in the Foamular literature does it say or even imply that Foamular has fiberglass in it. Yet I had such a strong mental association with the Owens-Corning trademarked pink color, along with the Pink Panther mascot, that I assumed there had to be fiberglass.

Face to Face Is Successful

I bonded Owens-Corning Foamular 150 to itself when constructing a bulkhead around some pipes.

That first test worked fantastically well, holding securely. The glue did not damage the foam.

I do not know how long it took to dry, because I used my Zip-Wall Dust Barrier poles as a form of clamp to push the foam piece together, and kept them in place close to 24 hours. I did check out one of my bonds after about 1.5 hours, and the bond appeared to be tight. But that also could have been the vacuum effect of having two flats pieces of material with a liquid substance between them.

Edge to Edge: Jury Is Out

Zip Wall Clamping Foam

Will Foamular’s smooth facing bond better, worse, or the same as the porous edges of two pieces that have been snapped apart?

Foamular has partial incisions that allow it to snap apart without using cutting tools. The edges are fairly ragged, but they will fit tightly together, much like puzzle pieces.

After 4 hours, I released the Zip Wall poles and the Foamular sections came apart. My conclusion isn’t so much that the wood glue failed; it’s that my test didn’t run long enough.

In the first test, the glue was spread out ultra thinly by the pressure of the two flat pieces. But in the second test, the glue was thicker and (I assume) needed more time to dry.

I will try this test again.




Drywall or Flooring: Which to Install First?

When you are remodeling a room and have everything stripped out, it can be difficult to decide which surface to re-install first:  drywall or flooring.  Which should go in first?

Best Answer

Install drywall on the walls before installing floor covering.


Protecting Flooring

Both drywall work and floor installation create a mess, but drywall’s mess far exceeds that of flooring.  By putting in the drywall first, you separate drywall and its dust from the flooring later on.

Easier to Change Flooring Later

If you were to install flooring first, pushing it against or close to the wall studs, the drywall would then extend over the flooring.  This effectively traps that edge of the flooring under the drywall, making it more difficult to remove the flooring.


When the drywall is being installed in the ceiling, it matters less because that issue of drywall trapping floor covering is eliminated.  Still, you have the issue of mess to deal with, which can be significant when hanging drywall on a ceiling.

If you have the following conditions happening all at once, you may want to consider installing flooring first:  1.) you are hanging a significant amount of drywall; 2.)  the flooring is unfinished wood.  This point was brought up by a commenter at the Fine Homebuilding forum, stating that the humidity spike caused by drywall finishing and the painting can cause the flooring to “swell and buckle.”


Tier 1 – Trade Forum

Fine Homebuilding’s forum has a good discussion of whether drywall or flooring should go in first, along with that point about drywall finishing’s humidity having the potential to affect raw wood flooring.


What’s the Easiest Way to Mix Veneer Mortar in Small Batches?

Mixing an entire bag of manufactured (veneer) stone mortar all at once is not practical for most do it yourselfers.  The mortar hardening process outpaces your fledgling masonry skills.  Yet when you try to fractionally measure out water and mortar in small amounts, it becomes confusing and inaccurate.  What’s the easiest way to do this?

Best Answer

By texture and visual cues, mix the mortar in a small batch in a paint tray or 5 gallon bucket until it has the consistency of creamy peanut butter.


When you have a 30 pound bag of mortar, like Laticrete MVIS Veneer Mortar, and you add their recommended 5.9 quarts of cold water to the entire bag, you get two things:

First, you end up with a veneer stone mortar that’s perfect for do-it-yourselfers.  You can apply it directly to the back of the stones and then stick them on cement board, no need for wire mesh and a scratch coat.  And this, my friends, is one of the core tenets of the cherished system of half-assed remodeling:  why do it hard when you can do it easy?

Second, with the addition of the water, it’s now 42 pounds, which is a hell of a lot of mortar for one session.  If you were a professional mason or even a seasoned novice working in a pair, you just might be able to put away that entire bucket in a session.  But for most of us, the mortar is going to stiffen up pretty rapidly.  You don’t have hours and hours of workable time with mortar.  And it’s not like other wet substances like drywall compound or paint that can be cryogenically frozen simply by putting a lid on it.

How to Do It

You get to use up all of your mortar in one session–without having to dispose of any over your neighbor’s fence.  Even better, it means you get a better installation because you’re not rushing your work or over-extending your session, simply because you want to use up what you’ve got.

1.  Scoop Mortar


You can use a five-gallon plastic bucket, like those cheap orange buckets from Home Depot.  Or if you want to dispose of the container when you’re done, you can use a one-gallon plastic milk jug, cut in half and thoroughly washed.  Better yet, use a metal paint tray with a plastic liner in it.  The low sides and wide, flat bottom make it easier to mix the mortar.

Scoop out about three or four trowels of dry mix.  This is better than pouring directly from the bag, as pouring is a less predictable delivery system.  Also, it creates a lot of dust.

2.  Add Water


Fill a measuring cup like a glass Pyrex with about 2 cups of cold water.  Slowly pour in small amounts of water, continually folding over and mixing the mortar.  Don’t let the water get ahead of the dry mix.  If so, you’ll need to add in more dry mix to balance out the mixture.

3.  Mix Until Smooth But Stiff


Keep mixing until the mortar becomes smooth and creamy.  One metaphor you always hear about stone veneer mortar is to mix it until it has the consistency of creamy peanut butter.  This is a good comparison.  The mortar should still be stiff enough that it will stick on the trowel when you turn it on its side.  But it should not be thick and clumpy.

Best Sources


Given that I’m not especially fond of wetwork (grout, mortar, paint, etc.), yet I consistently turn out perfect small-batch veneer mortar, you can feel confident that this method will likely work for you.  My “likely” hedge is there because some people have a hard time dealing with “by feel” mixing and prefer exact weights and volumes.

Mainstream Media – Home Related

I am not alone:  many sources use that “creamy peanut butter” metaphor.  This Old House has a good tutorial about installing a veneer stone fireplace surround where they discuss mixing mortar to that consistency rather than doing an entire bag.

Is Flat Really the Best Paint Gloss for Ceilings?

All you hear when it comes to paint gloss (or sheen) for ceilings is flat.  When you buy a can of ceiling paint is automatically comes in flat–no other choices.  Is flat really the way to go?

Best Answer

Yes.  If you had to pick just one sheen, flat would be the one that universally works for all rooms of the home.


Flat or matte paint sheen cuts down on ceiling reflection.  While there are exceptions to be made (below), flat tends to be the one sheen that universally works for most ceilings.  Also, because ceilings run continuously from room to room, with no division points (such as doorways and trim), it is difficult to change sheens throughout the house.  So, it is best to stick to one sheen.


  • “Universal” Means Democratic:  And in a democratic society, there will be winners and there will be losers.  The loser, in this case, would be the bathroom ceiling, where flat seems to be a farm for mold and mildew.  This is one room you would want to paint in semi-gloss or glossy paint.
  • When You Have Bumpy Textures:  If you have a textured ceiling, using a flat sheen can be detrimental.  Textured ceilings–popcorn, knock-down, or otherwise–can trap cobwebs, dust, and other debris.  Using a paint with an eggshell or satin sheen can help with cleaning the ceiling.
  • When You Want Effect:  You can also paint the ceiling in higher glosses for dramatic effect.  One blogger notes that she accidentally ordered Benjamin Moore Pearl sheen, and it made her ceiling look higher.  One designer said that she used a high-gloss sheen simply for dramatic effect.


Sources pretty much resoundingly say flat–truth or are they just parroting what others say?  Because the paint manufacturers will tell you whatever it takes to sell paint, I was especially interested in what DIYers, designers, and architects said.

Life of an Architect

“…you should always paint the ceiling with a flat finish.”

Designing Solutions

Flat.  “Painters once used semi-gloss finishes on kitchen and bath ceilings, thinking it would hold up better and show less staining from moisture and cooking…”

Maria Killiam

“Bottom line, use flat for ceilings–unless you are designing something very dramatic, like [a] high gloss ceiling.”

For the Love of a House

“… sheen between an eggshell and a semi-gloss” because “the ceiling with the sheen looks 2 inches taller!”

Can You Legally Do Your Own Electrical Work?

Electrical repairs and remodels are expensive because electricians themselves are expensive.  Can a homeowner legally do his or her own electrical work and get a permit?


Yes, as a non-electrician, you can do most of the same work that an electrician would do and receive a permit for that work.


In most places, homeowners who are owner-occupants can do their own electrical work.  This saves money and it saves from getting caught up in an endless backlog at times when electricians are in high demand.

But you will need to work under an electrical permit.  Your jurisdiction, whether city, county, state, or other, wants to know what you are doing, and the permit process allows them oversight.  In some places, you first need to take a homeowner’s electrical exam; in other places, you can begin the work as soon as you pull the permit.

Electrical Permits for Owner-Occupants

Locate Permitting Agency:  Electrical permitting might happen at any level, whether it be city, county, or state.  Even within one state, permitting might happen on different levels.  For example, in my state, most permitting is done at the state level.  But my city is an exception:  they do their own permits.

Pay the Money and Pull the Permit:  Your first contact with the jurisdiction might be as simple as initiating the permit online and paying the fee by credit card, a process nicknamed pulling the permit.   Permit costs scale according to how much work you are doing, usually from $50 to $150.  You will immediately be given the go-ahead to begin work.

Perform the Work:  Do your electrical work, keeping it exactly within the confines of the permit.

Call For Rough-In and Prepare:  Go online or call your jurisdiction to set up an appointment for the rough-in inspection.  An inspector will come by your house and you must be there to receive him or her.  Clear all obstructions from the area, so that the inspector can see the work.  Provide adequate light that is independent of any circuits you are dealing with in the inspection.

Rough-In Inspection:  Leave all wires uncovered by insulation or drywall.  Leave off all devices (outlets, heaters, lights, etc.).  The inspector wants to see the wire running through the walls or floors.  The inspector may require that you make certain changes to your work prior to the final inspection.

Make Changes and/or Cover Up:  If the inspector requires changes, make them and call for a new inspection.  If, instead, you pass, you are now allowed to cover the walls or floors with drywall.  Wire in the devices.  Do not mud the walls yet or begin painting, in the unlikely event that you need to open up the walls again.  This should not happen, though, as this was the purpose of the rough-in inspection.

Call For Final Inspection:  Go online or make a call to set up the final inspection.

Final Inspection:  Inspector will check devices and, if you pass, will “final out” your permit.

How Homeowners Can Pass Inspection

Inspectors Are Not Always Non-Biased:  Inspectors may have conflicting views on owner-occupants who do their own work.  Some hate the idea of this and will put up obstacles.  Others want to be helpful, understanding that it is a rare breed of homeowner who actually pulls electrical permits.  Both exist.

Inspection, Not Education:  Don’t expect a lesson in how to be an amateur electrician.  While the inspector may volunteer a tip or two, this isn’t about giving advice on wiring your home.

It’s About the Code:  Electrical code is your friend, at least in terms of passing your inspection.

Limited Time:  Inspectors’ time is limited.  Your house is just one worksite in many that they will visit that day.

Diplomacy:  Qualified electricians may have enough experience to challenge inspectors, but most homeowners do not.  If you believe you are in the right, bring it up as diplomatically as possible.


Localities:  The most important qualifier is whether or not your own area allows owner-occupants to do their own electrical work.

Other Homes:  Generally, you are allowed only to work on your own home.

If You Hire Out:  The person doing the repairs needs to be an electrician.

New Construction:   Often this is limited to remodel work, not new-construction.


This Old House

“Most municipalities allow you to do your own electrical work, though you’re never allowed to wire someone else’s home.”

Ask Jon Eakes

“…almost all work performed in new construction must be undertaken by licensed plumbers and licensed electricians.”





Drywall Screws vs. Drywall Nails: Which One to Use?

When fastening drywall to studs, you have a choice of using either drywall screws or drywall nails.  Which should you use to make it faster, easier, and cheaper to install the drywall.  Importantly, which one will keep the drywall most secure for the longest time?


Use drywall screws rather than drywall nails.


Screws are more secure because they cannot pull straight out.  When enough lateral pressure is applied to drywall nails, they will pull out.  In fact, older homes often have circular bumps in the drywall, caused by nail pops.


If you had asked me this question at any time in the last 20 years, the “drywall screws” answer would have been unequivocal and unqualified.  In fact, the conventional wisdom today is that a person is expected to use drywall screws, and that nails are considered archaic.

Recently, though, I used drywall nails to tack up small pieces of board to cover door headers, and it was a joy.  I realized that there is a limited place for drywall nails in your easy renovation repertoire.

Small Pieces:  It feels almost overkill to screw small sections of drywall in place.  Large sections (4 ft. by 8 ft. sheets) really do benefit from an all-screw or partial screw installation.

Tiny Pieces:  Sections of drywall that are downright tiny really do benefit from drywall nails over screws.  Screws can mangle up tiny pieces.

Extreme Edges:  In those instances where you have to drive a fastener closer to the edge than you would like (say, within 1/4 inch), drywall nails will drive cleaner into the board than screws.  Screws are larger, and because of the rotation effect, they will rip away gypsum on the open edges.

Field vs. Perimeter:  Professional drywall installers often like to use nails for perimeters.  It’s physically easier to get a board initially tacked up with a hammer and nail than by wrestling with a drill and screw.

Metal Corners:  Metal corner beam is nailed into drywall, not screwed.



Should I Choose Site-Finished or Pre-Finished Flooring?

When shopping for solid hardwood and sometimes for engineered wood flooring, you may have the option of site-finished flooring (unfinished flooring that requires finishing on site) or pre-finished flooring (stained and sealed in the factory).  Which to choose?


Choose pre-finished flooring over site-finished flooring.


While I hate jumping on the corporate shilling bandwagon, I do have to admit that–all factors considered–pre-finished flooring will be better for most homeowners than site-finished flooring.

Can you sense all of the qualifiers in that previous statement?  We’ll get to that in a minute.

Pre-finished flooring makes for a faster installation.  As soon as the flooring is down, you can walk on it.  The reason is because someone else (a manufacturer) has already laid down the finish elsewhere (a factory) so you don’t have to do it at your house.

With site-finished flooring, there is a gap between the end of installation and the day you can begin walking on it.

Also, the finish on pre-finished flooring is a tough multi-layer urethane that is difficult to duplicate at home.


  • Site-finished flooring gives you an enormously wide range of style options that pre-finished can never hope to match.
  • Factory finished flooring tends to have a plastic appearance.
  • One benefit of site-finished flooring is that the finish can fill in the seams between the floor boards, making the flooring more water-tight.


Bob Vila

“…when it comes to installing solid or engineered wood flooring, prefinished is my choice.”


Is GarageSkins Garage Overlay System a Scam?

Rick Medlen of Creswell, Oregon has a unique idea.  Instead of paying upwards of $10,000 for a real wood garage door, how about facing your existing door with wood panels that stick by means of rare earth magnets?  It’s an idea in the works and he calls it Garageskins.

On so many levels, it’s an idea that sits well with me.  I love the idea of USA-made products, especially those made in Oregon (he plans to manufacture them in Redmond, OR).  I love the idea of paying far less for something that looks roughly the same as the expensive thing.  More than anything, I like easy home remodels.  And this one–according to the video showing the person sticking the panels to the door–is super easy.

Whenever I see more pleas for funding than about the product itself, I get suspicious.  On the other hand, how else is Medlen supposed to pull together money if he doesn’t go the venture capital route?


I do not believe that GarageSkins is a scam.

Supporting Ideas

While I cannot predict the future, I have looked at Medlen’s online documents, stock offering ideas, and patents and I believe that this is completely on the up-and-up.

However, I do think it is a quite ambitious project that is short on lots of details.  Only one video exists now, and it’s that slick teaser with a woman putting the panels on the door.  If I were going to invest in a company, I’d want hard-and-fast facts about the nature of the product.  Concerns are:


Garage door opener motors are not exactly the strongest things in the world.  So, adding any kind of weight to it is a dicey proposition.

Laminate flooring is a corollary and it was the first thing that I thought of.  Yet laminate flooring is very (just try hauling home a kitchen’s worth of laminate), so I knew that GarageSkins has to be significantly lighter.

Consider that a double bay garage door is about 16 feet wide by 8 feet high.  That’s 128 square feet.  Medlen says that the total weight of Garageskins will be 28 pounds.  That comes out to about a quarter pound per square foot. (0.22 pounds per square foot, exactly).

If laminate flooring isn’t GarageSkins’ closest cousin, what is?  Weight is what first led me to the answer.  Fomecore board weights about 0.19 pounds per square foot, just under GarageSkins’ weight.

Indeed, foam board plus a wood veneer would be–I estimate–about 0.22 pounds per square foot.  The patent filing backs this up, saying that these are “extruded polystyrene members.”


Attached to an object that goes up and down an average of four times a day, will GarageSkins shift?

Documents state that one way to prevent GarageSkins from moving is to add a spot of caulk to each corner of each panel.  Documents also say that they tested them in 80 mph wind and found that they did not come off.

Exterior Veneer Stability

Veneers are notoriously unstable.  They tend to like to stay indoors, away from UV rays, rain, snow, and physical damage.  So the idea of putting a wood veneer outdoors on an object that moves at least four times a day gives me pause.

All we know is that on November 2016 “veneer stabilization solved,” according to the StartEngine site.

I would want to know more about this.  It would seem to me that the only way to prevent members from delaminating would be to wrap the edges.  Even sealing the edges with a liquid sealer wouldn’t last for every long