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.

Early User of ZipWall Has a Few Things to Say About ZipWall

Zip Wall Clamping Foam

Early in my career writing about home remodeling, I received an e-mail from a marketing person at ZipWall or hired by them, asking if I wanted to have a free ZipWall system. I had just begun writing about home improvement and the idea that I could get products for free with the implied expectation that I would write about them was both novel and exhilarating.

It was 2006. ZipWall sent me a long cardboard box. Inside were two telescoping aluminum poles with red plastic spring-loaded ends. I used ZipWall for some projects, then wrote up a review in The Spruce (at that time called, and I spoke favorably about ZipWall. In fact, I still write for The Spruce, and in looking at ZipWall literature I see that comments about ZipWall poles being aluminum is incorrect; they are stainless steel. I have changed that review accordingly.

I also see that ZipWall came out in 1999, a time so long ago that ZipWall was barely getting into that Internet thing (see first print clipping below). They had their first media blitz in 1999, with a second, much smaller media blitz-ette in 2003, and then the 2006 mini blitz-ette, which included me.

ZipWall Chicago Tribune, March 19 1999
Chicago Tribune, March 19 1999

First the Obligatory Accolades

From the standpoint of easy renovation, ZipWall is king. If not king, it’s somewhere in the royal circle. I don’t even know what to say other than check out the Amazon review, filter out those pissy two- and one-star reviews, and read the top reviews. It’s all true.

If you can afford ZipWall (and it isn’t cheap) and you have just bought a home and want to remodel, buy the damn things. Price has actually gone down since 1999, beginning at $140 for a two-pole set and now going for about $90. A whole $1,285 ZipWall Tool Kit would be a wet dream, but really the two-pole set is all a DIYer needs.

And Obligatory Improvement Recommendations

  • Add arrows to the poles, indicating which direction to turn to release or secure.
  • Add an attachment system so that the plastic sheet will stay on the end of the pole as you raise it.
  • There is no place to grab the plastic plate. You have to either pry the plate off by inserting a thin object under the plate (not a good idea) or searching for some grab point on the bottom of that plate. ZipWall will say that the way to release the pole is to push up on the pole itself (ignoring the plate) and this is true in 95% of the applications. But there are the rare times you need to grab that plate and you just can’t.

But Here’s Where It Gets Interesting

Zip Wall Clamping Foam

ZipWall has really missed the boat on promoting this one. Like many ZipWall users, I use my poles for far more applications that have nothing to do with dust barriers.

  • Above, I am using ZipWall as a push-clamp system to glue together two sheets of insulation foam.
  • I have used ZipWall to hold drywall against ceiling joists.
  • When building wire chases for rope lighting in my home movie theater, ZipWall poles were a friend I depended on for holding them up while I screwed them into place.

And those are only the first three that I can think of, on a brain that is ravaged by a poor sleep last night. With a clearer head, I’m sure I could come up with tons more.

Basically, I see a company that appears to not be taking advantage of the good thing they’ve got going. Promote it more. Clean up your dated website. Show how buyers use it for things other than holding up plastic. Do that Ryobi Nation type of thing, where users send in photos.

Yes, you’re pushing 20 years old. Congrats. But that’s no reason to keep your company running on fumes.

And as the saying goes, I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t love you, man.






Construction Adhesive’s Official and Unofficial Uses for Remodeling

Construction Adhesive

When you begin your DIY remodeling career, you have the misguided notion that everything has to be done according to the book. Then you begin to see that there are many shortcuts that make your life easier. Construction adhesive is one such shortcut. Once you learn about it, it’s like the genie in the bottle. There’s no going back. See how construction adhesive can be both a blessing and a curse for the DIY home remodeler.

Construction Adhesive – In Brief

Construction adhesive is meant to be used as a bonding supplement for materials that are already bonded, not as the sole means of adhesion. Liquid Nails, that consumer-friendly construction adhesive, diplomatically says that its product’s use is “to create a more durable bond with fewer fasteners.”

Official Uses of Construction Adhesive

Construction Adhesive

Construction adhesive manufacturers say things like “bonds plywood to drywall” but are silent on the matter of actual, real-world applications. They leave that up to you. In the official sense, construction adhesive is used for bonding:

Unofficial and Less-Than-Kosher Ways to Use Construction Adhesive

  • Sticking a towel rack on a bathroom wall
  • Random manufactured stone veneer brick/stone units that fall off (easier than mixing up a batch of MSV mortar)
  • Sticking foam insulation sheets in place between studs
  • The occasional piece of millwork (baseboard, door trim/casing, crown molding) that just will not stick with conventional methods, either the entire piece or part of a piece that is already stuck in place
  • The occasional ceramic tile that comes loose

Accountability in Home Remodeling:  Pro vs. Self

As noted above, pretty much any use where construction adhesive is the only means of bonding the materials is a bad thing. Home remodeling is not supposed to work like that. If you hire a handyman to install towel racks in your bathroom and the handyman used construction adhesive to stick the racks on the wall–no screws–you would have him redo it.

But you’re doing this for yourself and you have only yourself to be accountable to. You have only two areas of accountability to be concerned about:

Will the Material Stay Stuck?

Yes, it probably will. If not, make sure that it’s not material you care about or that there are no major safety concerns. Trim or a towel rack falling down is no big deal. You would want to avoid sticking a bookcase laden with books above the baby’s crib with construction adhesive.

How Much Damage Will I Cause When Removing It?

This really is your biggest concern:  can you undo what you did? Screws are great in that way because they inflict little damage when you reverse-remodel. Construction glue is forever. Anything stuck to drywall with construction adhesive will pull off drywall paper and a thin layer of gypsum when you pull it off. If the materials are wood + wood, you may end up ripping off pieces of wood to undo your work.





Tile Grout Removal Tool: Does This Exist? Where To Get It?

If you’re got nasty, stained tile grout, sometimes the easiest option is simply to rip it out and replace it.  Cleaning tile grout can often take as long as a full-out replacement.

But how do you remove tile grout without damaging the tile?

Many products claim to remove grout from tile.  Let’s take a look at the main ones:

1.  Flathead Screwdriver and Hammer



Hammer and flathead screwdriver are the traditional method of chipping out tile grout.  Unless you have just a small portion of grout to remove, this method will tire you out quickly, leading to inevitable tile damage.

  • Type:  Manual
  • Cost:  Around $3-5
  • Effective (1-10):  1

2.  GroutGetter



A slight improvement over the screwdriver/hammer method, the GroutGetter has a triangular head to better gouge out grout with less impact to the tile.

  • Type:  Manual
  • Cost:  Around $10
  • Effective (1-10):  3

3.  Dremel Tool


Image:  Dremel

The Dremel is a 12V rotary tool which, though not specifically designed to cut out grout, has countless interchangeable heads that will accommodate this use.

  • Type:  Electric
  • Cost:  Around $100
  • Effective (1-10):  8

4.  Ridgid JobMax Combo


Image:  Ridgid

This multi-tool set from Ridgid features a JobMax™ power base handle with a Multi-Tool head that includes saws to cut through tile.

  • Type:  Electric
  • Cost:  Around $200 at The Home Depot
  • Effective (1-10):  6

5.  The Grout Remover



The Grout Remover is a novel concept.  Rather than cutting or zipping out the grout with a rotor, The Grout Remover “vibrates and reciprocates which helps eliminate damage to the existing tiles during the regrout process.”

  • Type:  Electric
  • Cost:  $69-$149
  • Effective (1-10):  ?

Tile Cutting Tools

In fact, you’ll probably use not one, but several, of these tile cutting tools.  Good thing is that, aside from the wet tile saw, these are all pretty cheap tools to buy.

Snap Tile Cutter

Snap Tile Cutter

A snap tile cutter is an el cheapo tile cutting tool that you can get from any hardware store, costing you less than a night out at the movies.  It has a glass cutter-like wheel that rolls along the top of the tile, scoring it.  After the score, you push down on the snap tile cutter to break the tile in two.

  • Only makes straight cuts.
  • Cuts are not always perfectly clean.
  • Very cheap device to buy.
  • Easy to accidentally break tiles with this tool.

Wet Tile Saw

Wet Tile Saw

This is the Big Mama of tile cutting tools.  Professional quality wet tile saws are  very, very expensive–running in the thousands of dollars.  But you can buy DIY-level wet saws for in the $200-$500 range that do a decent job.

  • Straight cuts only.
  • The continuous spray of water cools the tile and keeps dust down.
  • Uses a round blade, just like a circular saw.
  • Takes some practice–and many “test tiles” to get right

A Dremel tool is another way to make semi-circles and even full circles in soft tile.

Tile Nibbler

Tile Nipper

This is a hand tool that lets you nibble away at the tile to make rounded cuts or remove sharp, excess points from the tile.  Sometimes called a “tile nipper,” too.  Given the low price, you should just buy one and have it on hand.  No doubt you’ll find a need for it.

  • Very cheap.
  • Make semi-circular cuts (but not complete holes).
  • Can be frustrating and slow to work with.

Rod Saw

Rod Saw Blade

An alternate way to cut semi-circular holes.  A thin, gritty blade that attaches to a hacksaw.  The cheapest of the tile cutting tools out there, so it can’t hurt to pick one up and have it on hand.

  • Extremely cheap.
  • Cleaner curves than the tile nibbler.
  • Will not work on thick or floor tiles.

Learn About Types of Subfloor and Underlayment

Below the finish floor, and above the floor joists (or concrete slab), is the subfloor.  Sometimes, you’ll have an underlayment that comes between the subfloor and the finish floor, too.  These terms are confusing because sometimes you’ll want both, sometimes not.  And other times, the same material can  be used as both subfloor and as underlayment.

You have several types of subfloor and underlayment options available.  Let’s take a look, and I’ll do my best to separate the terminology.

Solid-Wood Subfloor

In modern home construction and renovation, the solid-wood subfloor isn’t seen very much.  If anything, this “subfloor” is the actual, finish floor of solid wood that the renovator has decided to lay over with another type of flooring.

Plywood Subfloor

Plywood has been used as a subfloor for quite some time now.  Plywood comes in 4’x8′ panels and is laid down in that size straight onto the joists.  The plywood is laid with its grain perpendicular to the joists.

You can’t just run down to Home Depot and grab any old kind of plywood.  The Half-Assed side of me says, “Yes, it probably will last,” but armed with just a tiny bit of information, you can certainly buy the right kind of subfloor plywood, and it’s like this:

Plywood is rated for certain uses.  In this image shown, the first figure refers to the ply’s rating on roofs; the second figure applies to floors.  So, ignoring the first number, we can see that this plywood is rating for flooring joist which are 24 inches on-center.

The Engineered Wood Association is a good resource for plywood ratings (apparently, we don’t call it plywood anymore?  Well, whatever…).

OSB Subfloor and Underlayment

Oriented Strand Board - OSB
Oriented Strand Board - OSB

OSB stands for oriented-strand board, and it works as both subfloor and underlayment (amazing, huh?).

Not to be confused with particleboard, OSB is serious stuff, and it’s bonded with resins that can even withstand exterior weathering.  In fact, OSB is often used for exterior applications.  OSB gets graded by the Engineered Wood Association, too.

Plywood Underlayment

If you’ve got a subfloor, but this subfloor is not smooth and flat enough for your finish flooring, you may decide to lay down plywood underlayment.  This plywood underlayment does not have to be as strong as plywood subfloor because it’s not such a structural material.

Particleboard Underlayment

Yes, underlayment only here.  Particleboard is not a structural material.  Wood chips are bonded together, and it’s nowhere near as strong as OSB or plywood.

What is Dimensional Lumber?

You hear this term, dimensional lumber, a lot; but in my mind it’s over-used and almost redundant.  Here’s why:

Dimensional lumber simply means any kind of lumber that comes in standardized sizes.  So, rather than a knobby, gnarly, and oddly-sized log, we’re talking about the 50 or so 2×4’s that are sawn out of that tree.  The tree:  not dimensional.  The two-by-fours:  dimensional.

That’s the definition of dimensional lumber.  Common sizes of dimensional lumber that a DIY homeowner will encounter at, say, the local lumberyard, Lowe’s, or Home Depot?

  • 2×4
  • 1×4
  • 1×1
  • 2×6
  • 2×8
  • 2×10

Now, as far as lengths go, you’ll have something like 8, 10, and 12 feet.

But it’s practically pointless to talk about dimensional lumber in the context of DIY remodelers.  Nearly every stick of lumber you will handle is dimensional.  There might be a few, rare exceptions if you’re doing some landscape work with some oddly-dimensioned piece of wood, but that’s about it.

Basically, it’s all dimensional lumber.

This Log...Definitely Not Dimensional Lumber
This Log...Definitely Not Dimensional Lumber

The Many Uses of Wood Shims

Wood shims are great things.  But I’m not really sure if you should classify them as a building material or a tool.  I think the fall into both categories.  It’s surprising how many people buy wood shims just for installing windows or doors, but never use them for other things…

It’s a great idea to buy wood shims and have them on hand for multiple uses. Wood shims are not just for installing doors and windows. You may decide to buy a wood shims (they are cheap, so why not?) and keep a couple of packs in your tool chest for things like: a spare “wedge” for forcing two pieces of stubborn lumber apart or elevating a sheet of drywall against a wall prior to screwing in (place the wood shims in opposite directions to make them flat).
Wood Shims