PTA West Boards


Cutting Plywood

When cross-cutting a plywood panel, the bottom layer of veneer often splinters out along the cut line. But there are steps you can take to prevent this.

  • Perhaps the easiest way to avoid splintering is to use a blade that’s made just for cutting plywood. These blades have lots of teeth (typically 80), and the teeth are ground in a pattern that creates a clean, shearing cut.

But what if you don’t want to spend the money for a single purpose, rarely used saw blade? There are a few tricks you can use to get a clean cut with a combination blade.

  • First, if the blade is crusted with sawdust or pitch, clean it before cutting the plywood. Sometimes, however, even a clean blade will splinter the veneer. There are two reasons for this. One is that a combination blade has fewer teeth than a plywood-cutting blade, so it doesn’t cut as cleanly.
  • The other reason is that the cutting edge of the teeth may be pushing the veneer down rather than slicing it off.

One way to avoid this is to change the cutting angle of the teeth by raising or lowering the blade. If your panel is splintering on the bottom, lower the blade. If it’s splintering on the top, raise the blade.

  • The most common way to get a clean cut is to score the panel along the cut line before making the cut. To do this, cut through the veneer layer with a sharp utility knife.

While this method works, it’s sometimes difficult to line up the saw blade with the scored line. An easier way is to score the panel is to use the saw blade itself. The idea is to make the cut in two passes. On the first pass, set the blade just high enough to cut through the veneer layer. Then raise the blade to finish the cut on the second pass.

  • Another way to keep the veneer from splintering on the bottom is to use a backer board. This is a piece of plywood or Masonite that’s placed below the workpiece when making the cut. This way the veneer layer is fully supported and the plywood can be cleanly cut.



Pocket Hole

To create a pocket hole in a piece of wood, you need a pocket-hole jig. This is a simple device that clamps the piece of wood against a block so a special drill bit can precisely penetrate the wood at a low angle. The location of the hole is very critical as the screw that fits into the hole must exit the wood at a very specific location. If the screw exits the wood at the wrong location the resulting connection between the two pieces of wood will be weak. You can create strong joints between two pieces of wood without glue. Once you try it, you’ll become an instant fan of pocket holes.


The underbelly of this table shows how pocket holes were used to join the pieces of wood together.

An often overlooked component to the pocket-hole system is the pocket-hole screw. The screws I use are special ones made by the company that makes the jig. These screws differ from regular screws in several ways. The tip of the screw is actually a miniature drill bit. As you turn the screw it drills its own pilot hole so the wood doesn’t split. There are even different thread patterns on the screws that have been developed to work with different species of wood. Don’t underestimate the importance of using the correct pocket-hole screws. If you use a drywall screw or some other screw stored in an old coffee can, you may split the wood or cause a blow out where the fat screw blasts apart the wood like a firecracker on the Fourth of July.

You can create a pocket hole, using the right jig and drill bit in seconds. The jig controls the angle of the hole and a special ring on the drill bit ensures the bit stops at the exact position to create the strongest joint. You’ll be assembling professional-quality joints in minutes. The two most important things I feel must be done are: 1. The cuts on the finished piece of lumber must be precise. 2. The wood pieces should be clamped together in the exact finished position as you turn the screw tight.

It’s really important to pay attention to the best side of the piece of lumber you’re using. Typically you want the best side to face outwards. This means the pocket holes should be drilled on the side of the wood that has any imperfections. Keep in mind the pocket holes are intended to be hidden on the underside of furniture or inside a drawer. It’s best to drill your first hole or two in scrap wood so you can see how the wood looks after it leaves the pocket-hole jig.


Close-up of pocket holes

It’s mission critical that the pocket-hole jig that the bit passes through is securely clamped to the piece of wood that’s being drilled. This ensures the hole is the correct size and that the hole is at the correct angle. There is only a slight margin of error when drilling a pocket hole in wood that’s one-half-inch or three-quarter-inch in thickness.












Calibrate your Tape

I’ll bet you have dropped your tape measure a time or two. Look at the tip of the blade. See if the little prongs that grab onto the end of a piece of wood are bent. If they are, your tape is going to read wrong when you translate an inside measurement to a length! Take two pliers and carefully straighten the tape prongs.






















Laminate Flooring

Installing laminate flooring is basic carpentry work as well. You can buy flooring that resembles any of the number of more expensive flooring materials from exotic woods to stone. Laminates are light, strong, durable, and easy to install. And because laminate planks are two or three times wider than the natural materials they resemble, you can cover a lot of floor in a short time.

Most of the materials are designed to snap together without glue or nails. (Some brands can be glued).These floors float which means they are not attached to a subfloor.

Instead laminates lay on foam underlayment, which makes the flooring easier to install. The subfloor must still be smooth and level, but the foam underlayment makes the flooring more forgiving of small subfloor imperfections.

Carpenters then install the underlayment it comes in green or blue plastic foam that rolls over the subfloor. Rubber-backed underlayment is more expensive but it makes the floor more resilient and also more comfortable. Some laminate packs now come with underlayment already attached to the back.

If you’re installing over a concrete slab in a basement or in any other place where moisture might be a problem, you will need some kind of waterproofing membrane under the foam. Flooring is a big part in carpentry that most people tend to forget about until they have ugly floors.



Make a Set of J Hooks

Here’s a new funky and fun way to hang stuff … J-hooks are so easy to make.


This is where all those off cuts and scraps of timber and board come in handy. Grab some off cuts, use your jigsaw and clean-cut blade, clamp the timber or board firmly to a work bench, and start making a set of J-hooks.

Use Rust-Oleum Painters Touch to paint them in bold colours and mount them onto the wall, behind the door, or even on built-in cupboard doors – they’re great for kids rooms.

Paint them white and mount behind the bathroom door for towels.

j-hooks-1 The secret behind the J-hook is the keyhole bracket mounted at the back of the hook. You will need to find a narrow keyhole bracket, and they can be difficult to find. If your local hardware store does not stock them, ask them to! Or if you are fairly handy with a drill – make your own.

j-hooks-2 Use the fischer Metal Cavity Fixing when attaching your J-hooks to hollow-core doors or drywall.

j-hooks-3 Use fischer SX plugs and screws for fixing to brick walls.











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