Home Depot Plywood Cutting—Right the First Time!
If, by chance, you would do an internet search on getting plywood cut at Home Depot, or even Lowes for that matter, you will find an endless list of complaints and warnings about why not to have them cut your plywood. I, on the other hand, have found that to be just the opposite. It’s all about the approach…
And if this is the first time to use their free cutting services or you are a novice at shopping at a big box lumber store, the whole process may seem a bit intimidating. You may feel unprofessional or a bit overwhelmed by being out of your comfort zone. Don’t be. With the right approach, you can get what you need and end up with a successful project and do so with confidence.
Bad Attitude = Bad Cuts
Believe it or not, the biggest key to getting plywood cut correctly is your attitude. Keep in mind, the associate who will be “operating” the saw doesn’t want to do it. They are usually understaffed, have a long work list, and have just cleaned up a mess that a rude customer left for them. And now, you show up. Everyday they get customers who try to monopolize their time, aren’t prepared with dimensions, demand perfection, insist that cuts be made beyond the scope or limitations of the equipment, or fall outside the boundaries of company policy. Be respectful from the start and the end result will be better than expected. Taking the time to prepare and establish a relationship with the associate cutting your plywood will more than pay for itself down the road.
Most of the stores who provide cutting services have policy guidelines posted. It states simply, that the accuracy of the cuts is not guaranteed and the first two or three cuts are free; beyond that, there is a “charge” for additional cuts. The person who is cutting your wood it very aware of that sign and is most anxious to point it out to customers who are belligerent and in most cases will be glad to offer the reasons why.
1.) “Sir, this saw cuts all kind of wood all day long…it is meant to cut wood down so that it easier to handle and fit inside your vehicle.”
2.) “Mam, this saw cuts all kind of wood all day long…the blade we use is for multi-purpose cutting, not fine cuts.”
3.) “Sir, this saw cuts all kind 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.
7 Steps to Perfection
The steps listed below are actually quite simple and very easy to implement. My most recent experience reaffirms that the process works. For example, I am in the process of building Cornhole games for family and friends as gifts and for profit. I use good ¾ inch thick cabinet grade plywood which is expensive. The design I use results in “no waste”—if, of course, the cuts are accurate. I will come back to my studio very satisfied and will continue to buy not only my plywood from Home Depot, but also, the nuts, bolts, and tools I need in the future. This is, after all, what Home Depot wants…they don’t make money on the plywood or the labor involved in cutting it: they make their profit on the accessories and “add-ons”. A well managed store will bend over backwards to sell me a carriage bolt or better yet, a new jig-saw.
BYO, Bring Your Own
Step One: Be Prepared
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 will end up with pieces 1/16” smaller than that because of the thickness of the saw cut.) 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: My tape measure and a 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 banged and dropped many times throughout their work day…the result is that 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 1/8 of an inch. On the matter of the pencil, its seldom you will find a lumber associate that actually carries a pencil…most carry pens or sharpie markers because pencil points break and sharpies are a mainstay of various other task they perform.
Step Two: Side Note--Timing
Great! You did your homework. You’ve researched your project; know what plywood you want; grabbed your cut sheet, tape measure and pencil…and now, the adventure begins.
I’ve done this so many times that I have developed a routine that serves to not only get my plywood cut, but also saves me time and ensures I get the best service and perfect cuts. The remaining steps may seem a bit detailed but there is a method to my madness. By following this path just once you will discover how simple it really is. The next time you do it, you won’t even have to think about it…you will be in and out very quickly—with a perfect result.
As a side note…and actually pretty important, timing is every thing! If your schedule allows it, the best time to arrive is after 9am and before 3pm. Before 9am is the busiest time for contractors, after 3 it also gets busy with general homeowner traffic. Another great “sweet spot” is Sunday mornings or late Sunday afternoon. Generally, theses are the hours that are not as busy and sales associates are more likely to be more relaxed and don’t feel rushed and are more flexible when it comes time to serving you.
Step Three: Left foot right foot
Yay, you’ve arrived! Park near the contractors’ entrance—this is closest to where you will find 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—but, not just any cart…choosing the right cart does make a difference to the person who will be cutting your plywood. And, by the way, don’t forget your tape measure, pencil, and drawing.
And yes, some stores have carts inside the store…the problem is, that it can be a 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. But, either way, grab the right one!
Types of Carts
A. Flat Cart: Great for sheet goods, bulk lumber
B. Platform Cart: Great for heavy bulky items
C. Lumber Cart: Great for dimensional lumber, pipe, and sheet goods
D. Standard Shopping Cart: Great for general shopping and supplies
And the answer is...Don't cheat...Take the poll first!
The right answer for increasing the perfection of your plywood cuts is the "lumber cart". Why? For two reasons: 1): It makes the task of loading the panel saw much easier...turns a two person job into a one person job, and 2), the height of the cart is close to the height of the panel saw...makes loading easier and reduces the risk of damage.
Also note: It is advisable to load your plywood with the face of it to the back of the saw--because of the up-cut of the blade, less tear out will occur.
Load a 2 x 4 onto your cart
Sound pretty stupid, doesn't it? Trust me…it works!
So, you grabbed the right cart and you are ready to go get your plywood and get it cut…but wait…what if you push your cart into the aisle and then walk away to inspect the choices? Somehow, you turn around and your cart has mysteriously disappeared! Drat, now you are back to square one…unless of course, you reserve your cart.
By simply placing an item on the cart you choose such as a 2 x 4 x8, you are essentially reserving your cart, and then, right before you “check out, you simply return the 2 x 4.
Step Four: Rock and Roll
The smart thing to do is know what you are shopping for before going shopping. Nowadays, the internet makes it pretty simple. In the case of my Cornhole project, I knew I wanted a piece of ¾” plywood…I wanted it to be quality, needed it to be flat, and I needed to be able to paint it without the grain showing through. And so, with only a couple of clicks and keywords, I was able to go to the Home Depot website and not only find what I wanted, but also knew exactly where to find it, the current price, how many were in stock, and, was able to read reviews of the quality. I also did the same with Lowes just to compare pricing. Once I determined “where” I wanted to buy it, I printed out a copy. Turns out, Home Depot was almost a dollar cheaper on that particular day. I also printed out the Lowes price for a reason we will use later…
So, armed with my cart, my 2 x4, my tape measure, pencil, cut sheet, and my printouts…I went directly to the plywood aisle. Knowing the bulkiness of pulling a sheet of plywood off of the rack and placing it in my cart without damaging it, I brought along a friend to help.
Now of course, there are signs posted all over the place and overhead announcements stating that associates will be happy to help…sometimes yes, sometimes, no…usually, I plan on “no” being the more likely scenario. However, from time to time, I am pleasantly surprised when an associates jumps in. (This happens more frequently at Home Depot than Lowes.)
Note 1: Be picky…you do not have to take the “top” sheet. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it…and, even though it may seem like extra work, put the sheets you don’t want back on the rack.
Note 2: On the other hand, depending on your project you may find that the first sheet has some damage but won’t affect your 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.
One more stop before you get your plywood cut…measuring and marking. What I do, unless the cut I need is very simple and straightforward like just cutting the sheet in half, is push my plywood on the cart to the drywall tools area.
I will first get out my tape and pencil and mark exactly where I want the cut(s). I do not rely on the cut person. By you marking the cuts you take away the guesswork and eliminate the possibility of miscommunication.
After marking the cut points and double checking my measurements, I will then 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, again, eliminates the guesswork. This is a very important step.
If you are concerned that an associate will stop you—don’t worry—they are use to it—in fact, you will find many of the “good” ones doing the same. They right thing, of course, is to put the T-Square back when you are done. On the other hand…if you don’t already have one…buy it…they are relatively inexpensive and you will find that in future projects, this simple tool is invaluable—it’s not just for laying out and cutting drywall.
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.
Step Five: Song and Dance
Finally, we made it to the saw; we are prepared, have our cuts marked and, are ready…now all we need is someone to do the cutting. There use to be a time that cut stations had a “call” button—now days, not so likely. If there is a button, push it…and 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:
- All of a sudden, you feel like you are in a Ghost Store—all of those associates you saw earlier, suddenly vanished.
- Pinch yourself…perhaps you are the one who vanished and the associates you see…don’t seem to see you.
- You must be looking pretty good looking…associates come running to you…asking if they can help.
So, if you find yourself in the number three position…you are good to go! But, …
…If you find yourself in the number two position…the solution is simple…start doing the cut job yourself…not that you really can, but acting like you are going to will instantly make you visible…associates don’t want to get caught letting a customer mess with off-limit equipment. (Besides that, in order to really turn on the saw, in most cases because of liability issues, the saw is “locked-out” and requires a pass code to start it.)
And finally, if choice three and two are not an option…number one will do the trick.
When all else fails…take a hike…
Leave your cart at the saw and find an associate. Don’t go too far. The further you walk, the less likely the associate will be qualified. If you can’t find one, 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…one of their goals is to offer excellent customer service and corporate management takes it very seriously…the last thing store managers want is to get a customer complaint about bad customer service…much of their reviews are based on customer satisfaction…this directly affects their bonuses at the end of the year.
Hopefully, you did not have to resort to the last scenario…but, 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, have submitted their name to corporate as “excellent customer service experience”…and as a result, the associates have been rewarded…they are pleased to see me knowing that I have the power to put bonuses in their pockets.
A simple script to perfection
1. Say “Hi”…followed by their name…you will find it written on their apron or vest…
2. Shake hands…”hi, Dave…can you cut something for me?”
3. “Working on a new project…I’m making a cornhole game…here’s what I need…
4. “I need three cuts…first, can you cut the sheet in half on that line, and then flip it over and make the other two cuts?”
Other hints that help...
Help load the sheet into the panel saw or at the very least, hold the cart so that it doesn’t roll as the cut person transfer it. After the cut is made, be willing to help remove the cut pieces.
Talk about your project, show drawing…
The cut person may or may not be interested in why you need this particular sheet of plywood cut, but regardless, tell them. This serves two purposes: 1) it empowers the cut person to share their experience with the project and, 2) it transfers ownership, at least partially, to the success of the project.
Ask for vertical cuts only
- Accuracy of panel saw—generally, panel saws found in lumber yards are accurate making vertical cuts—ripping of the plywood (horizontal cuts) tend to be “off” due to inexperienced operators not keeping 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 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’ x 4’ 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.
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 to the caller that they are with a customer and will call them back or respond to a simple question. 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 simple questions. Again, be aware of busy times, try to avoid the rush hours, and be patient.
Step Six: Exit Stage Right
Mission accomplished…good job to both you and the cutter! But, the adventure isn’t quite over…
You are happy…the cutter did good…don’t forget to thank him/her! After doing this two or three times, they will remember you…they will trust your approach and anticipate your presence on you next visit…and now, time to walk away and pay…time to go back to your shop and finish your project…just about…
At the point of “checkout”… “checklist”
- 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…know what your bill should before you leave…mistakes happen…it is easier to fix the problem before you pay than afterwards.
- Ask for loading help if you need it at point of check out. Most projects, especially after being cut down are easy to load…but sometimes…if your project is large, an extra set of hands would be helpful. Let the cashier know…they have a “button” they push that will automatically send out a page for loading assistance.
Step Seven: Get Paid
Now, this isn’t really a step as much as it is just some helpful firsthand advice from someone who knows how the system works. If you are anything like me, I don’t have a money tree growing in my backyard…and so, I economize everywhere I can. Some of the tips below may also work for you…but even, if just one of them helps, the pennies you may save will certainly add up…perhaps even, pay for your gas going to the store or allow you to buy “one more tool”.
Both Home Depot and Lowes will give you a 5% discount if you have and use their credit card. Ask for it! For my Cornhole projects I spend an average of $65…@ 5%, I save $3.25…pays for my gas.
Basically, “pay before you buy”. I watch for gift card discounts on sites like Ebay and Amazon. Yes, it does take a bit of web surfing, but, when I find a gift card offer, I calculate the total cost savings and use it…I end up saving about 8% on average. (After shipping, processing) …on a $50 dollar gift card, I end up saving $4.00.
Price match plus 10% off. This is the reason I always check current prices before I buy. If Lowes price is cheaper, I will print out their current price…and take it to Home Depot…Home Depot will match their price and take an additional 10% off…for example, one day I found that Lowes was cheaper on a piece of plywood…I printed it out and showed it to the cashier…they in turn, gave me the price match + 10%...on one piece of plywood, I saved over seven dollars!
Both Home Depot and Lowes offers 10% discounts and both follow similar policies. There are certain guidelines to follow. Check their respective websites for details or contact me directly. The great thing about these discounts is that if you follow the guidelines, the discount applies to your total purchase…
Yes, you read that right! 70% off. I don’t use this method too often, but I do use it. You see, Home Depot has a policy…it’s called “Cull”. If a sheet of plywood or lumber is damaged, the rule of thumb is to discard it or reduce it by 70%. Their process is to place it on the “cull” cart…first come, first served…However; lumber sales associates are very liberal when it comes to discounting lumber. The trick here is to make the deal before you ask for it to be cut and make sure that the damage will still work for your project. If you see a piece of plywood or lumber that you can use even with the damage, ask the associate for a discount. They are authorized to mark it down 70%.
The odds of this are slim…but, some people do get it…it is a very legitimate thing…Win a $5,00 gift card…
When you check out at Home Depot, the cashier will ask you or point out to you about the Customer Service Survey…Do it! Every time you respond to the simple survey, you are entered into their quarterly drawing…I’ve checked it out…people do win…(Still waiting for my turn…)
If the cashier asks you if you want to sign up for email…do it! No, they will not spam you…they will send you special offers, additional discounts, and notifications of special buys and free events. You can always delete them later if you want, but…this is a great way to take advantage of even more savings!
The End...just about...
I know I get a bit long winded sometimes...but I love teaching...I love sharing...and, I love learning.
Please feel free to comment, offer suggestions, ask questions...
Hopefully, this article has helped.
May your cuts be perfect...Every time!
And special thanks to those employees at Home Depot and Lowes--their input, suggestions, and skills are greatly appreciated.