How to Cut Paneling With a Circular Saw

How to Cut Paneling With a Circular Saw

Paneling has a wide variety of uses and comes in a wide variety of materials.  If you have added wainscoting and a chair rail to your living room or den, you’ve likely used a paneling of some sort – perhaps melamine, or melamine applied to particle board, plywood, or MDF.

Side note, and in case you’ve never worked with melamine before, it’s technically a laminate product made with paper and resin.  It’s often used in kitchen and bathroom cabinetry because of its durability.  You’ll find it used in shelving, display counters, and even in furniture and flooring.  

But let’s get back to cutting paneling with your circular saw.

SKIL 16-5/16 In. Magnesium Worm Drive Skilsaw Circular Saw - SPT70V-11

What saw did you use to cut the paneling to fit?  How did you cut it?  What saw blade did you use?  Were you able to cut accurately?  Was there any splintering or tear-out?

Or do you have a paneling job planned for your next project right now?  You could use a jigsaw for the job, but we want to answer all those questions for you to help make the job easy using your circular saw.

Since splintering on the back side of the paneling won’t be seen, it’s the face side we want to keep pretty and splinter-free.  In order to understand how to do this, it’s first important to understand how your circular saw cuts.

Understanding Your Circular Saw For Cutting Paneling

There are a few basics we want to cover for using your circular saw for cutting paneling of any kind.  They include:

  1. Your table saw blade spins with a cutting-down action.  The workpiece is pushed into the blade, and is cut with a downward motion through it.  However, your circular saw blade spins with a cutting-up action.  

This is important to know when cutting paneling because it is when the blade of a saw is at the bottom-through of the cut that splintering can occur.  Thus, you want the face of the paneling to be at the top of the cut, the part the blade hits first, not last.

Since your circular saw blade cuts up and we want the blade to cut the face side to avoid splintering, we want the face side of the paneling to be down.

  1.  Secondly, and as with all power tools for cutting, we want a sharp blade on the circular saw.  If you have a variety of blades for your circular saw and can choose among a few, it’s wise to use a blade with a higher tooth count (teeth per inch), something in the all-purpose range of 60 – 80 teeth.  A finish grade (100 – 140 teeth per inch) is not necessary.

Blades with fewer teeth cut faster, but blades with more teeth cut finer.  It’s a fine cut we want when cutting paneling.

A carbide blade would be your best choice, too.  Carbide blades will hold their sharp longer, and as we said, a sharp blade makes a cleaner cut.

Freud D0760A Diablo 7-1/4" x 60-Tooth Ultra Fine Finishing Circular Saw Blade with 5/8" Arbor and Diamond Knockout Single Blade

Another option for cutting your paneling is using a paneling blade (an apt name both for the task and for this article.  These blades cut, size, and score the various materials from which paneling is made like wood, melamine and other composite materials.  A higher tooth count helps make paneling blades another good choice.

Of course, a utility knife can also be used to score paneling to get the cut started.  Scoring, whether by use of a paneling blade or a utility knife, can help minimize or prevent the chance of splintering.  An accurate measure and a straight edge can guide the knife along the cut line.

  1. Thirdly, and speaking of which, you want to make sure the cut is straight, of course.  A straight edge of some sort, whether a metal measuring stick or a long metal level, or even a track saw (we’ve written about track saws in an earlier article) or jig, will come in handy after you’ve measured your cut carefully.

The Cut

For the cut, then, we now know we want:

  • The face side down and well supported;
  • An accurate measurement;
  • A clear line or scoring to follow;
  • A sharp, all-purpose blade;
  • A straight edge to act as a fence for the cut (rule, level, jig, track); and
  • A steady hand.

Some like to use a masking tape on the face side of paneling as an added protection to further help prevent splintering.  If you use the tape, straddle the cut line so you are cutting through the tape.

We have several videos to send you to for ideas and suggestions for cutting paneling, and each has something to offer:

In this video, ¼” plywood is the paneling material being cut, and it demonstrates the use of a utility knife’

This video is about wainscoting, and the woodworker actually turns the blade in his circular saw around for the cut.  As he points out, for this technique, you will cut the paneling face-side up.  While we don’t recommend this, it is another option.

Finally, in this video, the woodworker is cutting plywood, but we liked some of his suggestions, especially an inexpensive tool for moving large sheets of anything, as well as using a piece of rigid insulations as your cutting surface.  They are as applicable to cutting paneling as cutting plywood, and fit nicely with this article.

It’s the splintering and tear-out we want to avoid when cutting paneling.  By following these simple steps, it’s not as daunting a task in your project as you might have thought.  The right tool (and blade) for the right job, and the simple steps suggested will give you that clean cut you want.