How do you layout your project?

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Forum topic by therealSteveN posted 11-06-2020 07:49 PM 1529 views 0 times favorited 55 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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10006 posts in 2036 days

11-06-2020 07:49 PM

Hi All.

It is safe to assume that most of us use plywood from time to time for projects. It’s often the “easy button” to cover a larger area of space, add to that it is, stable, fairly inexpensive, and can add structural strength, and versus some alternatives often weighs less than structural solid wood. So if you never use plywood, do you quit reading, well depends if your projects need to be laid out on solid wood?

So I propose a discussion on what you like to do when you need to lay something out, to make a cutlist. Do you use a paper and pencil? Computer software, something on a phone app? Put your pluses and minuses, maybe it will give someone an idea on a new way to approach this.

I have long used graph paper, and pencil. I always allow a small overage, so I don’t need to worry about a cutline (kerf) to most of you. However my way is sometimes a bit slower, and almost always requires me to essentially cut each piece twice. Once with overage, and again to trim to exact, but I do that already with hardwood, so I’ve always accepted that, as part of my way of doing it.

My musts will always allow for the kerf. I’ve measured out a good number of XYZ magazine plans, and they seldom add for that space we all know exists. However if you don’t check for it before using a “plan” it won’t be until later, that you are having trouble figuring why this won’t…...? Either that or at bare minimum why your projects are always smaller than the plan says they should be.

If you just wing it, and start cutting with no layout, well I hope that works for you, because I’m thinking you buy more sheets of plywood than me to do the same job. If you never considered it, maybe room for growth, and learning here.

Jump in, tell us how you do it.

Rather than explain how I do it in long form, I’ll drop this link, it’s close enough to what I do to count. I’ll admit most of mine look like this, rather than the incredible tidy look of a computer generated cutlist.

Kreg tools on plywood layout

-- Think safe, be safe

55 replies so far

View Ruscal's profile


148 posts in 640 days

#1 posted 11-06-2020 07:58 PM

I draw it up like yours. Then I know right where to rough cut the sheets with a circular saw. I like to break the sheets down right off my pickup’s tailgate and with a sawhorse or two. Getting too old to tote 4×8x3/4 sheets into the shop.

-- Have a hobby? You should have a business.

View 987Ron's profile


3829 posts in 778 days

#2 posted 11-06-2020 08:11 PM

Same as Russell but no pickup truck and the top of the Explorer is to high. Into the shop, very short distance.
Drawing up on graph paper so I can experiment on orientation to achieve the best use of the sheet of wood and also see how the cutting will evolve.

-- Ron

View clagwell's profile


404 posts in 1254 days

#3 posted 11-06-2020 08:21 PM

Same here. Graph paper, 4B pencil lead, and a good eraser.

-- Dave, Tippecanoe County, IN --- Is there a corollary to Beranek.s Law that applies to dust collection?

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

7481 posts in 3955 days

#4 posted 11-06-2020 08:24 PM

Years ago I used a program called Cutlist, and it was very good. It was limited, but for a hobbyist it was just the ticket. However, somewhere along the line we became a Mac household, and Cutlist isn’t written for a Mac so I had to give it up. I understand that Sketchup users can get a Cutlist plug-in for that but that is my total knowledge on it. So any more I just hand scratch something out on whatever I have laying around….that’s usually a form of graph paper.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View MrRon's profile


6322 posts in 4705 days

#5 posted 11-06-2020 08:56 PM

I am fortunate to have autocad software. I can design, layout to scale, make cut lists, etc. Fot accuracy, I can work to thousands of an inch or any fractional accuracy I want. ± .001”; ± 1/16”; ± 1/32” for example.

View MrLaughingbrook's profile


312 posts in 3429 days

#6 posted 11-06-2020 09:42 PM

I use for ideas then go to graph paper or just visualization. I use a circular saw free hand on a chalk line to buck the 4×8 panels down. I dress, then use the factory edge against the table saw fence to cut off my freehand cut, then flip and trim it again to have parallels. Rip those pieces again if needed. I sequence so that all cuts to the same dimension are done with one fence set because I know I cannot exactly return to a prior fence setting with my equipment. Next all squaring cuts are then made on a large panel sled with the fence on the leading edge and a stop block. If the square cut length exceeds my 48” fence then I think a visual alignment to a scribe mark is sufficiently accurate…

the panel sled hanging on the wall:

-- MrLaughingbrook

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312 posts in 3429 days

#7 posted 11-06-2020 10:04 PM

More thoughts on the topic:

I’m willing to give 1/4” waste to avoid making an edge cut that flings sawdust everywhere [even with my Shark Guard on top and my Laguna drawing from beneath].

I rarely make anything more than a tick mark on the part to be cut.

-- MrLaughingbrook

View sansoo22's profile


1983 posts in 1116 days

#8 posted 11-06-2020 10:35 PM

For breaking down sheet goods I either have a drawing on graph paper if its a complex cut list or I have a list of my measurements and how many of those pieces I need. If I’m doing a bunch of drawer boxes I might not draw them all out. I might just draw the larger cuts so I know where to break down my sheet at.

I always start with my track saw and insta rail square to square off one corner of a sheet. I don’t like relying on the factory edges as I have found many that aren’t square. With the track saw I cut both a long and short side to get a square corner. I then mark that corner as square and work off of it. I also use a drywallers t-square just because I prefer to see full lines on my sheet. My table saw only has a 30” rip capacity so I rely on the track saw quite a bit. In the example drawing you have I’d make the 43-1/2” cut, then the 42” cut with the track saw. Take those over to my table saw and do all the 17-1/4 cuts then move down to the next size and so on.

Being rather new to this hobby I’m glad you brought this topic up. I’m interested to see what others do and learn a few things about maximizing both time and materials.

View Mrphiltx's profile


18 posts in 1030 days

#9 posted 11-06-2020 10:35 PM

+1 for cutlistoptimizer.

I use it when designing, so I can see if 1/2” here or there means less wood to buy.

Smaller projects, I’ll just measure and do the math on a piece of paper.

View GR8HUNTER's profile


9623 posts in 2174 days

#10 posted 11-06-2020 10:47 PM :<))

-- Tony---- Reinholds,Pa.------ REMEMBER TO ALWAYS HAVE FUN :<))

View LesB's profile


3471 posts in 4905 days

#11 posted 11-06-2020 10:50 PM

I use a cad program to draw it up on my Mac computer. Usually included the cut diagram in the same file I used to draw up the project.

I first create the 4×8 scaled rectangle to represent the plywood sheet (two clicks of the mouse). Then I create line drawn images of the pieces I need to cut from the that sheet to the same scale and if a wood grain is direction is important I indicate that on each piece.. At that point I can drag the pieces onto the 4×8 image and find the best position and orientation that leave the least amount of waste. Sometimes this involves allowing a little space between pieces to roughly cutting sections out with a jig or skill saw because it can’t be done directly on the table saw.

If I’m working with a particular sheet veneered plywood and I want to locate the grain patterns to be included in a particular piece I can drag a digital picture of that sheet into the cad program and adjust the size to match the drawing scale. Then I can locate the individual pieces on the pattern to overlay the section of the wood grain I want on that section. Being particular about the wood grain pattern does not always lead to the most efficient use of the wood but asthetics are important in craftsman project.

The program is use is specific for Mac computer called MacDraft Pro. It is an English company called Microspot. I have used it to draw some very complex and detailes projects.

-- Les B, Oregon

View bandit571's profile


31912 posts in 4145 days

#12 posted 11-06-2020 11:00 PM

It’s called Single Brain Cell Sketch Up for a reason…as I rarely commit anything to paper….maybe a few measurements here and there…

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View SMP's profile


5317 posts in 1367 days

#13 posted 11-06-2020 11:01 PM

I draw it on graph paper similar to your pic and then draw arrows for grain direction on each piece while double checking. In the past, in an effort to fit as much onto on sheet, i have crammed things in disregarding grain direction, only to realize the mistake upon assembly/glue up. Sucks having to buy another sheet or project panel to make another piece.

One place where I ensure it is cut extra large is on panels, for example using a piece of ply for a door panel thats going to go in a groove in stiles/rails. Weird things can happen when cutting grooves in stile and rails and assembling, and its better to have a little more to trim off after remeasuring the dry fit door, than to have a loose panel that needs to be remade.

View Redoak49's profile


5588 posts in 3450 days

#14 posted 11-06-2020 11:21 PM

I draw it on graph paper and arrange for grain and least waste.

I typically breakdown with a Festool track saw. With hardwood veneer plywood, I may trim on my saw with a high quality plywood blade.

View johnstoneb's profile


3220 posts in 3634 days

#15 posted 11-06-2020 11:24 PM

I use Cutlist but always print it out look it over closely. There are time that I can do a better job buy hand.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

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