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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How to make a circle-cutting jig for a router
- Remove the base of your router.
- Attach a scrap of plywood to the base.
- Insert a straight bit
- Measure the radius of the hole you need.
- Mark your radius distance from the bit to a point on the plywood base.
- Drill a screw into this point and screw this into your workpiece and a scrap backer board.
- Drop the router into your workpiece and rotate it around the screw to cut the hole.
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.