Woodworking projects can be a great hobby and way to pass time. But there’s no doubt you’ve probably run into a project that pushes your skills to the limit.
For example, cutting square holes in wood.
I’ve been there, and I’m sure you have been too. It can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.
Square holes are notoriously challenging to cut, and for some, it’s enough reason to try a different design or construction method altogether.
In this post, I’ll explore how to cut square holes in wood, some tips and tricks you can use to cut a square hole in wood, and much more. Let’s dig in!
Basic Tools For Cutting Wood
To cut a square hole in wood, there are some basic tools that you will need to have on hand, no matter the method you use to cut.
While these may or may not be tools you have handy, you will need them to help you lay out your square hole, as well as complete the cut.
Tools you will need include:
- Pencil dark enough to mark your wood
- Measuring tape to perform basic measurements
- A framing square and some sort of straightedge tool
- Sandpaper, and either sanding blocks or an oscillating tool to finish the square hole
Preparing Your Square Hole
Even though cutting a square hole in wood is a relatively basic skill, it can be a very frustrating one to master.
Additionally, while a large square hole can be fairly easy to cut, it is far more challenging to cut a square hole in wood that is smaller.
Before you pick a way to cut your square hole, you’ll need to measure and mark where your square hole will be.
- First, measure the entire area that you will be cutting the square hole into.
- Then, find the center point of the area, whether it’s a sheet or a small piece of lumber, and mark it with a pencil.
- Use the framing square to mark the sides of the square hole on the surface.
- Measure the marked square to ensure the final hole will be the exact size needed.
Once the hole is marked and confirmed to be the right size, you can move on to cutting the square.
I always suggest measuring twice and cutting once, so be sure to measure correctly to avoid any mistakes.
How To Cut A Square Hole In Wood With Power Tools
There are several ways that you can get perfectly square holes for your project without fancy equipment or special tools.
You can use a jigsaw, but you can also use things like Dremel tools, your power drill, and in a tight spot you can even use an angle grinder.
Using a jigsaw with a fresh jigsaw blade is probably the simplest and quickest way to get a square hole, but jigsaws are not quite as common household tools.
This means you’ll need to either buy one or borrow one if you don’t already own one.
Once your square hole has been marked, you will need one or more starter holes (also called a pilot hole).
To make pilot holes you’ll need a drill bit that has a width greater than that of the saw blade.
Then take your drill and make one or more holes on the inside of the hole to be cut.
You can then insert the small jigsaw blade into the hole and cut your square hole.
In most cases, even with very smooth jigsaw blades, you’ll want to sand down the inside of the square hole you just cut. You can use a sheet of sandpaper on a sanding block, or you can use an oscillating tool with a detail sanding attachment.
If you’ve never used a jigsaw before, check out my guide here!
Routers & Dremel-Style Rotary Tools
Handheld routers and the whole lineup of rotary tools will all function relatively similarly when cutting square holes.
The most common way to cut a square hole using a tool like this is to use a special router bit.
The bits available for routers and rotaries can make the process for cutting a square hole nearly as simple as using a jigsaw.
Once you’ve measured your hole and secured your wood, you’ll need to install a bit that is made for the wood thickness that you’re working with.
Once the bit is up to speed, saw slowly along the lines you drew to get a perfect square.
For smaller square holes, you may not even need to get a larger tool out than your power drill.
In some cases where the hole is small enough, you can drill enough holes to remove most of the wood from your square hole, using other tools to finish the removal.
Just as if you were using the drill to make starter holes, you will start by making sure your square is properly marked and measured.
Then drill holes in each corner, and several along each side, on the inside of the square to be cut out.
Then you can change to a larger drill bit, and make larger holes in the middle of the cutout to remove more wood. Using larger drill bits in the middle can allow you speed up the process.
Once opened up enough, a few minutes with small wood chisels and you can have the square hole cleaned up and smooth.
While it may not be the first solution that you may think of, using an angle grinder to cut a square hole in wood is actually very simple and straightforward.
Before you start, you will need to change out the grinding or cutting wheel for the small circular blades that are available. They resemble the blades that are available for your average circular saws and have woodcutting teeth to handle cutting through a wood sheet.
Once your hole is measured and marked, secure your wood, grab your grinder, and get it up to speed. Then simply move the disc along the lines you marked, cutting out the square hole.
When you finish up, you’ll want to sand down the cutout to make sure you have a smoother finish.
Cutting Square Holes With Hand Tools
There are situations where you may want or need to use hand tools to create a square hole in wood you are working with.
The biggest caveat is that obviously, using hand tools will be much more effort and physical work, it can also take significantly longer.
There are some additional steps or considerations when using hand tools, but it will be largely the same process.
There are two primary ways that someone can make a square hole in wood by using hand tools.
One option is to use a square chisel and a hammer to shave off the needed areas. Another is using a handsaw of some sort to get through and remove the cutout. The third way is to use a prefabricated square hole punch.
Using a hammer and chisel is probably one of the oldest methods used to cut a square hole in wood.
It is also one of the most labor-intensive ways to complete the job.
On the upside, you’ll be able to make square holes without any power tools at all, which many people may not have.
The same preparation steps still apply, so make sure you have marked, measured, and remeasured your hole. Then you will need to secure your project down to something since you will be striking the chisel with a hammer – which can cause your wood to move.
Be sure something is supporting the bottom as well since you’ll be striking in a downward direction.
Line up a chisel on the line of the square hole that you marked, and strike it with your hammer. Make sure that your chisel is perfectly vertical or the hole will be skewed.
Also, a sledgehammer will give you more effective strikes than a regular claw hammer – but you’ll want to have a chisel large enough to support the use of a larger hammer.
You want to try to get the chisel all the way through the material in a single strike.
Once you advance around the sides of the square hole, you will have punched out your square. Aside from a little finishing work, you’re done. This is also a great way to cut wood without a saw.
Chisels make very clean lines, and won’t need extensive sanding or finishing which makes it one of the best options to cut a square hole in wood.
Use a Handsaw
There are many types of handsaws that you may have on hand that will help you cut a square hole.
The most popular will generally be a hacksaw, coping saw, ripsaw, or keyhole saw.
While these are all generally used for other purposes, using them to cut a square hole in a pinch is not uncommon.
You should practice controlling the saw and making straight line cuts before you get started on your project.
Cutting tools like handsaws take more skill, but they can produce a result that stands up to any that a power tool can create.
The process will be similar to using a jigsaw, since you are using a saw it just isn’t powered.
Just like in the other methods for making square holes, you’ll need to have your perfect square hole measured out and marked on your material.
One key difference is that when using a handsaw, your starter holes will need to be much larger than with a jigsaw, because the blade width is much greater, and you’ll need room to move the saw.
Be sure you are keeping the holes in the corners, and on the inside of the piece being cut out.
Using a handsaw will give a relatively rough finish, so using sandpaper to smooth the finish is going to be a necessity but it should be relatively easy.
Square Hole Punches
Square hole punches are a super-fast and easy way to make smaller square holes for things like plugs or decorative square holes for accents.
They will come in many variations of square dimensions and can be used to make multiple holes quickly.
The biggest downside to square hole punches is that they cannot be used on thick pieces of wood blocks or thick wood joints. However, their square shape and sharp edges allow them to easily punch the entire square hole in one blow.
There is also a larger version of the square hole punch that is called a mortising machine or a hollow chisel mortiser. These machines are similar to a drill press, but instead of putting round drill holes into a flat piece of wood, they put square holes in thick wood sheets.
It’s likely that you don’t have a square hole punch sitting around, so you’ll probably want to try other cutting tools to get the job done.
There is no telling what can happen during any project, and it’s always a good idea to make sure you are operating as safely as possible.
This means you should be wearing protective clothing and gear, and implementing some basic safety precautions while handling or operating any tools.
Your basic protective safety gear should include:
- Wear protective gloves
- Wear safety goggles
- Use of a dust mask
- Closed-toe shoes
- Long sleeves & long pants
Also, be sure that you are familiar with the operation and safety features of each of the power tools you may be using. Each tool will have its unique operation and safety precautions that you need to consider.
Make sure all blades are sharp. A sharp blade on chisels, drill bits, saws, or grinders will make sure things go more smoothly.
Final Thoughts on Cutting Square Holes
There are many different methods and techniques you can use to cut or drill a square hole in wood.
The easiest ways are with power tools like a jigsaw, circular saw, or cordless drill.
If you don’t have any power tools, don’t worry! You can also use a few different types of hand saws and chisels to get the job done.
Remember to always measure twice and cut once and follow all safety precautions when cutting.