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How to Get Your Plywood Cut for Free at Home Depot

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Learn how to get great wood cuts from Home Depot, whether it's your first time doing so or not!

Learn how to get great wood cuts from Home Depot, whether it's your first time doing so or not!

Does Home Depot Cut Wood For You?

If you googled the process of getting plywood cut at Home Depot (or even Lowe's for that matter), you would find an endless list of complaints and warnings about why you should not have them cut your plywood. I, on the other hand, have pleasant experiences using their service. It’s all about the approach.

If this is the first time you're using their free cutting services or you are new to shopping at a big-box lumber store, the process may seem intimidating. You may feel unprofessional or a bit overwhelmed because you're out of your comfort zone. Don’t be! With the right preparation, you can get what you need and end up with a successful project using custom cut wood from Home Depot.

home-depot-plywood-cuttingright-the-first-time

What Is Home Depot's Cutting Policy?

Most of the stores who provide wood-cutting services have policy guidelines posted. It states a few things:

  • The accuracy of the cuts are not guaranteed.
  • The first two or three cuts are free. Beyond that, there is a charge for additional cuts.

The person cutting your wood will likely point the policy out to customers who are belligerent and, in most cases, will be glad to offer the reasons why the policy is in place. Here's what you might overhear them say:

  1. “Sir, this saw cuts all kinds of wood all day long. It is meant to cut wood down so that it easier to handle and fit inside your vehicle.”
  2. “Ma'am, this saw cuts all kinds of wood all day long. The blade we use is for multi-purpose cutting, not fine cuts.”
  3. “Sir, this saw cuts all kinds of wood all day long. I’ll get close, but it gets knocked out of alignment pretty easy.”

On the other hand, this same associate can and will make perfect cuts, not charge you extra for extra cuts, and, in some cases, offer you a discount on your material. It’s all about the approach.

Remember: Be Patient With the Wood-Cutting Associate

Believe it or not, the biggest key to getting plywood cut correctly is your attitude. So, before we begin this step-by-step guide to getting your wood cut, keep in mind that the associate who operates the saw usually doesn’t want to do it. The store is usually understaffed, the workers have a long list of things to do, they just cleaned up a mess a rude customer left for them, and now you have shown up.

Every day, employees get customers who try to monopolize their time, aren’t prepared with dimensions, demand perfection, and insist that cuts beyond the equipment's abilities or beyond company policy be made.

How to Approach an Employee to Get Custom Lumber Cuts

  1. Be respectful from the start, and the end result will be better than expected.
  2. Take the time to prepare and establish a relationship with the associate cutting your plywood. It will more than pay for itself down the road.
Be prepared when you go to buy lumber and have it cut at Home Depot.

Be prepared when you go to buy lumber and have it cut at Home Depot.

Step 1: Prepare for Your Visit to Home Depot

Do your homework. For my cornhole project, I needed four pieces of plywood, each measuring 2’ x 4’ with the grain all running lengthwise. And yes, I knew right from the start that I would end up with pieces 1/16” smaller than that because of the thickness of the saw cut. Here's what I did.

  • I got out a piece of paper and drew a simple cut plan. In this case, I drew a piece of plywood and laid out where I wanted the cuts and added the dimensions.
  • However, my homework was not yet complete. Before I left for the store, I grabbed two other important things: a tape measure and a pencil.
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Why Should I Bring My Own Tape Measure or Pencil?

I never borrow a tape measure or pencil from a store associate even though most of them carry them and will lend them out. The main reasons are because of accuracy and respect. The tape measures they have are usually jostled around and dropped many times throughout the day. This means the hook end is usually bent or the inside/outside variance is worn. An inaccurate tape measure can throw your project off by as much as an eighth of an inch.

On the matter of the pencil, it's seldom you will find a lumber associate that actually carries a pencil. Most people carry pens or permanent markers because pencil points break, and sharpies are a mainstay of various other tasks they perform.

Make sure you choose the best time to go to Home Depot.

Make sure you choose the best time to go to Home Depot.

Step 2: Take Note of the Time

Know that timing is everything. If your schedule allows it, the best time to arrive at Home Depot is after 9 am and before 3 pm.

  • Before 9 am is the busiest time for contractors.
  • After 3 pm, it also gets busy with general homeowner traffic.

Another great sweet spot is Sunday in the morning or late afternoon. Generally, these are the slower hours, and sales associates are more likely to be relaxed and not feel rushed when it comes time to serving you in the cutting section.

Run Through This Checklist Before Heading Out to Home Depot

  • Research the project
  • Know what plywood to get
  • Grab the cut sheet, tape measure, and pencil

I’ve done this so many times before that I have developed a routine. It doesn't just help me get my plywood cut. I also save time and know I'll get the best service and cuts. The remaining steps may seem a bit detailed, but there is a method to my madness. Just trust me and try for yourself!

Step 3: Choose a Cart

Yay, you’ve arrived! Park near the contractors’ entrance. This is the closest entrance to the plywood and the easiest place to load after you are finished. As soon as you get out of your vehicle, scan the outside of the building for a shopping cart. No, not just any cart—choosing the right cart does make a difference to the person who will be cutting your plywood.

Yes, some stores have carts inside the store. The problem is that it can be hit or miss depending on the time of day or level of traffic. You can take a chance that there is an available cart or save a step and grab one now.

What Cart Is Best for My Lumber Needs?

  • Flat Cart: Great for sheet goods, bulk lumber
  • Platform Cart: Great for heavy bulky items
  • Lumber Cart: Great for dimensional lumber, pipe, and sheet goods
  • Standard Shopping Cart: Great for general shopping and supplies

You can see what to look for in the reference photo above.

What's the Right Answer?

The right answer is the lumber cart. Why?

  1. It makes the task of loading the panel saw much easier. It turns a two-person job into a one-person job.
  2. The height of the cart is close to the height of the panel saw. This makes loading easier and reduces the risk of damage.
Put something in your cart so it doesn't disappear!

Put something in your cart so it doesn't disappear!

Step 4: Load Something in the Cart

Sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it? Trust me because it works! Why?

You grabbed the right cart and you are ready to go get your plywood and get it cut. However, what if you pushed your cart into the aisle and then walked away to inspect the lumber choices? You turn around and find that your cart has mysteriously disappeared! Now you are back to square one—unless you reserve your cart.

By simply placing an item on the cart you choose (such as a 2'x4'x8'), you are essentially reserving your cart. Simply return the wood before you check out.

Make sure to mark your lumber.

Make sure to mark your lumber.

Step 5: Select the Wood

The smart thing to do is to know what you want before going shopping. Nowadays, the internet makes it pretty simple. For my cornhole project, I wanted a piece of 0.75” plywood that was good quality, flat, and able to be painted without the grain showing through. With only a couple clicks and keywords, I was able to go to the Home Depot website and not only find what I wanted but also the following:

  • Where to find it
  • The current price
  • How many were in stock
  • Reviews of the lumber quality

I also did the same with Lowe's just to compare pricing. Once I determined the store where I wanted to buy my wood, I printed out a copy of the listing. It turned out that Home Depot was almost a dollar cheaper on that particular day. I also printed out the Lowe's price for a reason you will see later.

Armed with my cart, my 2'x4', tape measure, pencil, cut sheet, and printouts, I went directly to the plywood aisle. Knowing how hard it is to pull a bulky sheet of plywood into my cart without damaging it, I brought along a friend to help me.

There are signs posted all over the place and overhead announcements stating that associates will be happy to help. Usually, I plan on them not being as free or willing to help as the more likely scenario. From time to time, I am pleasantly surprised when an associate jumps in. In my experience, this happens more frequently at Home Depot than at Lowe's.

How to Choose Your Wood

  • Be picky about your wood. You do not have to take the top sheet. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Even though it may seem like extra work, put the sheets you don’t want back on the rack.
  • On the other hand, you may find that the first sheet has some damage but won’t affect your current project. In many cases, being willing to take this sheet will get you a discount of up to 70%, especially at Home Depot. The trick here is to point out the damage to an associate—as part of their cull process, lumber associates are empowered to discount damaged merchandise.

Before you get your plywood cut, it's important to do some measuring and marking. Unless the cut is very simple, like cutting the sheet in half, I usually push my plywood on the cart to the drywall tools area.

  1. I get out my tape and pencil and mark exactly where I want the cut(s). I do not rely on the cut person. By marking the cuts, you take away the guesswork and eliminate the possibility of miscommunication.
  2. After marking the cut points and double checking my measurements, pull a Drywall T-Square from the rack and literally draw the full length of the cuts. It may seem to be just a bit overkill, but it eliminates the guesswork. This is a very important step.

How to Mark Your Lumber for Cuts

If you are concerned that an associate will stop you, don’t worry, they are used to it. In fact, you will find many of the good ones doing the same. The right thing, of course, is to put the T-Square back when you are done. If you don’t already have one, buy it! They are relatively inexpensive, and you'll find it invaluable for future projects.

With all of that being said, the time has come! We are ready for the cutting to begin! Push your cart to the panel saw.

Have the associate cut the wood piece into smaller pieces.

Have the associate cut the wood piece into smaller pieces.

Step 6: Find a Cutting Associate

Finally, we made it to the saw! We are prepared, have our cuts marked, and are ready. All we need is someone to do the cutting. There used to be a time that cut stations had a call button—nowadays, it's not as likely. If there is a button, push it. Then push it again if you don’t get help in a reasonable amount of time. If there is no call button, one of three things will happen next:

  1. All of a sudden, you feel like you are in a ghost store. All of the associates you saw earlier suddenly vanished.
  2. Pinch yourself. Perhaps you are the one who vanished, and the associates you see don’t seem to see you.
  3. You must be pretty good looking as associates come running to ask if they can help.

If you find yourself in the third situation, you are good to go!

If you're in the second situation, simply pretend to start doing the cut job yourself. Doing so will instantly make you visible as associates don’t want to get caught letting a customer mess with off-limit equipment. Also, the saw is usually locked-out and requires a passcode to start in most cases because of liability issues.

If you're in the first situation, leave your cart at the saw and find an associate. Don’t go too far because the further you walk away, the less likely the associate is to be qualified. If you can’t find someone, go to any cashier. They will make a call directly to the person on duty or make an overhead announcement.

  • This works especially well at Home Depot, as one of their goals is to offer excellent customer service. The corporate management takes it very seriously, and the last thing store managers want is to get a customer complaint about bad customer service. A lot of their reviews are based on customer satisfaction, which directly affects their bonuses at the end of the year.

Hopefully, you did not have to resort to the last scenario. Even if you did, the end result will be that you have your cut person in place. Time to get it done!

Like I said earlier, I’ve done this a lot. Many of the lumber associates know me by name and don’t even question or challenge my approach. After all, I know their name and submitted their name to corporate for excellent customer service experience. As a result, the associates have been rewarded and are pleased to see me, knowing that I have the power to put bonuses in their pockets.

Make sure to help the associate as much as you can!

Make sure to help the associate as much as you can!

Step 7: Get the Best Cut From the Wood-Cutting Service

To get the best cut possible, follow these four tips to make it happen.

  1. Help load the sheet into the panel saw. At the very least, hold the cart so it doesn’t roll while the cut person transfers the wood. After the cut is made, help them remove the cut pieces.
  2. Talk about your project and show them your drawing. The cutting associate may or may not be interested in why you need this particular sheet of plywood cut, but tell them regardless. This serves two purposes: it empowers the cut person to share their experience with the project and it transfers ownership, at least partially, to the success of the project.
  3. Ask for vertical cuts only. The accuracy of the panel saw is generally best for vertical cuts. The ripping of the plywood in horizontal cuts tends to be off due to inexperienced operators who don't keep the board flat to the saw. The cut may start out correctly, but by the end of the cut, the board will slip, resulting in measurements that are skewed. Plan your cuts. Most projects, if planned correctly, can be done with mostly vertical cuts if the cuts are made in the right order. Don’t hesitate to request the cutting sequence to follow your cut plan. For example, in my cornhole project, I ask that first the board gets cut in half so that I am left with two 4’x4’ pieces. From there, I ask that both of those pieces get flipped and get cut in half again. This allows for all vertical cuts and saves the operator from having to reposition the saw head.
  4. Be patient. Most associates carry a phone and are expected to answer it even when they are with a customer. If they are trained properly and if it is an internal call, they will explain that they are with a customer and will call them back later. If they receive an external call, they will respond to a simple question, transfer the call to another associate, or explain that they will call them back when they are finished helping their current customer. You may also find that other passing customers will interrupt the cutting process to ask for directional guidance or with simple questions. Again, be aware of busy times, try to avoid the rush hours, and be patient.
Check out with your purchase!

Check out with your purchase!

Step 8: Check Out

Good job to both you and the cutter! But the adventure isn’t quite over… Don’t forget to thank him or her! After doing this two or three times, they will remember you and anticipate your presence on your next visit. Now, it's time to walk away and pay for the materials. After that, go back to your shop and finish your project!

Your Checkout List

  • Is the price of the plywood identifiable to the cashier? Save yourself and the cashier the hassle of calling for a price check. Sometimes, cut plywood can make it hard for a cashier to know what the product was before it was cut. If in doubt, get the cutter to write down the SKU on a piece of paper and initial it.
  • Check your receipts and know what your bill should be before you leave. Mistakes happen, and it is easier to fix the problem before you pay than after.
  • Ask for loading help if you need it at point of check out. Most projects, especially after being cut down, are easy to load. If your project is large, however, an extra set of hands would be helpful. Let the cashier know as they have a button that will automatically send out a page for loading assistance.