How to Cut Perfect Holes in Wood

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4 Ways to Cut Perfect holes in Wood

You have a few options when you need to cut a hole. What you choose depends on how big you need the diameter, how clean you need the cut, and how much you want to spend. Here are 4 of the most common methods to cut perfect holes in wood

One of the simplest methods for cutting a hole any size is to use a jigsaw. The drawback here is that the saw can drift while you are cutting and getting a perfect circle is nearly impossible. And while the result might be good enough depending on what you are building, in this video I want to focus on methods that will produce a perfect circle.

Cutting holes with a Jigsaw is a simple method.
Cutting holes with a Jigsaw is a simple method…
…but it’s almost impossible to make perfectly round holes.

Spade bits

A spade bit has two cutting edges and a center point.

The least expensive method is a spade or paddle bit. These are mostly used in rough construction projects where the quality of the cut isn’t critical, say drilling holes in wall studs to run electrical wire. That said, you might be surprised how clean they will cut holes in solid lumber as long as you drill slowly and use a backer board. In fact, the cuts I get with them often rival the quality of a Forstner bit.

A spade bit can cut a pretty clean hole in solid lumber…
…and plywood.

One drawback to spade bits it that they aren’t available for making large holes. I think the biggest diameter I normally see is 1 ½”. But a set of spade bits is cheap and worth having in the shop.

Forstner Bits

A Forstner bit makes clean cuts with flat bottoms.

A big jump in quality is the Forstner bit. These are definitely the best choice for woodworking projects. They bore super clean cuts with minimal tear-out. Since they produce a flat bottom, they are also useful if you only need to drill through partway through a board. And you can find them in larger diameters than spade bits: I’ve seen them up to 4” and you can probably find even bigger ones.

Use slower speeds on your drill for bigger bits.

Of course the biggest drawback to Forstner bits is their cost. Depending on what brand you buy, they can be very expensive. I recommend getting a multi-bit kit. I bought a set at Costco for $50 over 15 years ago and still get great results. And I just saw this 14 piece set on Amazon for a little less than $50. If you are a weekend woodworker, an affordable set will work fine.

A set of Forstner bits

Hole Saws

Hole saws in a variety of diameters.

Hole saws are available in even larger diameters than Forstner bits and they can be a little cheaper. Unlike spade and Forstner bits, they cut out plugs rather than bore holes.

Rather than boring through wood like the other bits…
…hole saws remove round plugs.

As with the spade and Forstner bits, you will have the best results using a drill press. If you don’t have one, be sure to clamp your workpiece down. It will be impossible to hold it by hand. Drill slowly raising the saw up and down to clear out the sawdust. If it stops cutting, check to see if the teeth are clogged.

If you don’t have a drill press, be sure to clamp your work piece down.

Circle-Cutting Router Jig

All three of the previous techniques rely on having to buy a special bit or saw for each size hole you need to cut. This can get pricey. And what if you need to cut a really large hole, say 10” in diameter? All you need is one tool: a router. This is a great way to cut small or large holes. The main drawback is that the setup time takes longer than the other methods.

A circle cutting jig for your router will produce round holes any size.

How to make a circle-cutting jig for a router

  1. Remove the base of your router.
  2. Attach a scrap of plywood to the base.
  3. Insert a straight bit
  4. Measure the radius of the hole you need.
  5. Mark your radius distance from the bit to a point on the plywood base.
  6. Drill a screw into this point and screw this into your workpiece and a scrap backer board.
  7. Drop the router into your workpiece and rotate it around the screw to cut the hole.
Replace your router’s base with a strip of plywood.
Drilling a hole where the pivot point will be.
After screwing the base to your workpiece, drop the router into the wood and started revolving around the screw.

Like everything else in woodworking, there are options for every task. These are my favorite ways to cut perfect holes in wood. Mostly I want to emphasize that you can accomplish just about any woodworking goal with modest tools. My advice is always to buy a new tool or upgrade what you have only when you simply can’t accomplish something with what you have.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. The Jasper Model 200 circle jig has proven to be handy for me (corn hole boards, speaker cutouts, etc.). I lack the space to store scrap pieces for future jigs. However, new tools are like dessert … you can always find room.

  2. How would you sharpen the circle cutting tools you’ve shown us, the spade bit, forstner bit, and hole saws? I have a drawer full of spade bits and they won’t cut they’re so dull. my hole saws just burn the wood and do not cut! I’ve recently purchased a set of forstner bits so they are cutting pretty good for now.

    LaMar Burns

  3. I have set of the hole saws and it was great to see them in use as i got them in a sale and have not used them yet.
    patrick

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