Sheet Goods Rack
6th in a series of articles by Barb Siddiqui
No matter how 'practiced' one is with a well set up table saw, unless you have the luxury of a surrounding table surface, cutting 4x8 sheets of plywood alone can be unnerving. To bring things down to manageable size, cutting full sheets with a portable circular saw is a reasonable way to go. The problem is, you can't exactly lay the plywood sheet on a workshop floor, and you usually need both sides of the cut supported so the fall-off won't bind the saw.
There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to buy a 4x8 sheet of foam insulation board several inches thick and lay it down to cut into. The problem with that is, you are on your knees scrambling along to follow the cut, and you hash up the insulation board pretty quickly.
Another way is to build a "sheet goods rack" to hang between two 36" or 48" sawhorses spread about four and half feet apart. For the sake of easy storage, the rack doesn't have to be a full 4x8 feet (I hang mine on ladder hooks from the ceiling joists), because the workpiece can slide around on it to support the cut if necessary.
The rack is made from simple pine 2x4s and 2x2s (which are actually 1 1/2" x 1 1/2"). Cut two lengths of 2x4 to fit the back side of your sawhorse dimension. Mine are 33" to fit between the angled-out legs.
Notch the 2x4s in a 1 1/2" square at four locations: a 1 1/2" square cut at the top of each end, and two spaced in the middle by eye. Clamp the 2x4s together to cut these notches, so they'll line up. (Quick tip: you can cut a 1 1/2" square from light cardboard and align it with the top edge of the 2x4 in the four locations, then trace around it to mark your cuts.)
At this point four six-foot 2x2s will fit in the notches, with the 2x4s inset in ten or twelve inches from the ends so there will be some overhang beyond the sawhorses. The notched openings should be just deep enough that the 2x2s lay flush with the top of the 2x4s.
Lay the rack upside down and attach the 2x2s with screws from the bottom in pre-drilled holes. It's a good idea to first use steel screws, then back them out and substitute brass screws of the same size, in case a spinning blade should encounter one. The reason for the change is that brass screws are softer so they won't hurt your saw, but they can strip out quite easily.
Placed over the sawhorses, the rack is now ready to support large pieces for cutting. Remember to adjust the depth of your saw blade to just go through the material being cut, and the rack will last a long time. With a plywood sheet or hollow-core door on top, it can also double as a knock-down assembly table for case work.