How to Safely Use and Handle Plywood

Handling plywood presents a bit of a challenge beyond the general safety procedures involved in any woodworking project.

Safely lift Around a bulky Piece of Plywood

Part of what makes plywood such a great material is its sheer size. Unfortunately, that quality also poses one of its greatest challenges.

First, consider how much a sheet of plywood weighs.  A full size sheet of plywood weighs in at about 55 pounds. The best method for moving plywood is teamwork. American Woodworker suggests the following options:

  • Use a rolling cart to move plywood sheets
  • Use a 12-foot-long rope to move sheets by bind loops on each end of the rope and then place the loops around the bottom corners of a sheet; then, pull up on the center of the rope for a “handle” and lift up(it will still be heavy, but a bit less awkward to move)

Cutting

Working with a large material such as a sheet of plywood may increase the danger level. Self-reliance is a great thing, but, whenever possible, find someone to help in the cutting process, at least when first ripping the large sheet into smaller components.

All types of building jobs that involve saws and cutting warrant the use of both safety goggles and respirators. Be sure the saw is equipped with the proper blade for the material. If possible, use a rotary saw to make the initial crosscuts on plywood. You will get a more accurate cut than trying to do it solo using a table saw, have a higher chance of retaining all digits, and avoid long-term scarring using this method.

If a table saw is the only option available, use the appropriate safety devices:

  • A strapping out-feed table that supports plywood after it goes through the cutting blade area.
  • Tables or sawhorses to provide side support when cutting wider piA featherboard for moving materials towards the sawblade that holds material up against the saw’s rip fence, decreasing the chances of kickback and bent sawblades.
  • A riving knife, properly used, may eliminate almost all kickbacks occurring during ripping, and when used with other proper safety practices such as correct blade heights, blade guards and stance, significantly deceases the risk of table saw injury

Dust

Most woodworkers wear eye protection that keeps dust and debris from their eyes. However, many disregard the need for lung protection. Cutting plywood creates dust. Breathe in dust particles from just about any substance can cause respiratory issues, from mild throat irritation, to asthma, or worse. Because the vast majority of woodworking occurs indoors, dust easily accumulates on surfaces and spews out from newly cut surfaces.

Dust remediation systems are one method of decreasing dust inhalation problems.  Many tools come equipped with an attachment to a dust remediation system, or even to a simple shop vac. More expand systems that accommodate the needs of an entire shop also exist. However, one simple and widely available option is the dust mask, which is sold just about any place that also sells wood products. Read the label to ensure it is intended for use in wood shops and then WEAR IT.

Safety is Essential for Great Results

Adhering to safe plywood handling practices ensures great outcomes on all fronts. Shortcuts are tempting, and the added expense of safety implements may seem unnecessary, but in the end, they pay off.