It starts with the right tools, and ends with due diligence to ensure you’re doing everything properly.
You can cut a circle in wood using a few different main methods, and we’re going to show you how to apply them all.
- 1 Use a Hole Saw
- 2 Use a Sawzall and Protractor
- 3 Use a Jigsaw
- 4 Dremel with Cutter Attachment
- 5 How Thick Should the Wood Be?
- 6 Will a Hole Saw Get Jammed?
- 7 Tips to Get the Right Cut Every Time
- 8 Can You Cut a Circle in Wet Wood?
- 9 Does Cutting a Hole in Wood Make it Weaker?
- 10 Safety Tips While Drilling/Cutting Holes
- 11 Better for All Projects
Use a Hole Saw
Yes, the perfect tool already exists for this task, and it’s a hole saw.
There’s no easier, faster way to make a perfectly circular hole in wood.
You can cut a circular diameter up to about 7” for most hole saws, though some high-end ones (and high-cost as well) can cut up to a 12” diameter.
Anything past 7” and you’re going to see the price dramatically inflate, as if they were a rarity.
All you have to do is gently touch the saw blades to the wood, and use two hands to hold it in place.
Let the hole saw do all of the work. Holding it down or pressurizing the saw isn’t going to do you any favors; let it do the work.
If you push too hard, you could damage the motor, or you could shred the edges of the hole interior. Then it’s going to be all gritty and not at all smooth; that’s not the goal.
Use a Sawzall and Protractor
A sawzall usually doesn’t have a lot of power behind it, but if the board is ¾” thick or less, this will do the trick.
Use a protractor to designate a perfect hole, and use a marking pencil the entire way around. A no. 2 pencil just isn’t going to do the trick: you want to be as accurate as possible.
Simply use the sawzall to cut around the edges of the marking. When you’re done, hit the edges with a light 80 grit sandpaper to buff out any imperfections.
Use a Jigsaw
There’s a little bit of difficulty surrounding this because you have to free-hand with a jigsaw.
The circle isn’t going to be completely perfect, but don’t worry, we’re going to fix that later on.
Use a protractor to make a circle just like you did with the sawzall, and make it as close to the edge of your board as possible.
You’ll also have to clamp the board down on either side because it’s going to vibrate and skid across the table if you don’t.
Three clamps will be enough to guarantee it isn’t going anywhere.
The first cut is going to be the most difficult because you’re sinking the jigsaw into the wood from above instead of cutting across it.
This is where the main inconsistency is going to be in the end result.
Do the best you can with cutting this. Use your sandpaper or sanding block to fix the edges, and take a step back to look.
If this is for aesthetics on a desk or cutting board, the circle might look slightly wonky from the naked eye. If it’s for function, then minor inconsistencies won’t be an issue.
Dremel with Cutter Attachment
Dremels became something of a phenomenon because they have so many attachments that you can use with it.
The best one for this would be a circle cutter attachment, which includes a protractor-like tool that gets the job done better than just about anything else, save for a hole saw.
There’s a peg that gains traction on the surface you’re trying to cut, and a 10” metal frame that’s attached to it.
You can slide the peg up to reach a different length, and the dremel attachment will rest on the other end.
Once you find the right size hole you want, hold the peg in place, and gently move the dremel around the circumference.
How Thick Should the Wood Be?
It all depends on your tools.
You’ll see a different blade depth for every tool. Jigsaws are going to be able to cut thicker wood than a hole saw. Figure out the tool that you’re using, and adjust it to the right size of wood.
For most projects where you need a perfect hole, the wood is going to be ¾” thick and up. The thicker the wood, the harder it’s going to be to cut through it.
Will a Hole Saw Get Jammed?
Yes, hole saws can get jammed.
If you choose the wrong hole saw (or hole saw drill bit), wood bits are absolutely going to jam up.
You’ll notice on the side of any hole saw the end, there are a few slats that are designed to allow wood shavings to rise up and spill over the top.
Pull the hole saw up intermittently during drilling to allow additional shavings to come out, and you should be able to avoid this.
Tips to Get the Right Cut Every Time
Start With a Sharp Blade
You’re trying to get a perfect hole every single time, and even if your blade is partially new, it’s not as good as a brand new, never-before-used blade.
Blades essentially chip away at wood very precisely, and if there’s even a bit of dullness, you’re going to be left with frayed edges around the hole.
Start out with a slow cut, and gradually work your way into the rest of it.
If you just jump right into the cut, you could miss the proper shape of the circle, or you could chip the edge and initially ruin the project.
Even if you have a hole saw, you have to start out slow to ensure you get that clean, crisp cut.
Use the Right Tool
If the RPM is too high, the power is going to shred through the wood a little too quickly.
If you’ve ever heard about something called kickback from using a table saw, you can get that if your jigsaw or sawzall has a bit too much juice.
It could also vibrate the wood and cause little tears along the edge of the hole.
Can You Cut a Circle in Wet Wood?
You can, but it’s not going to work well.
When wood gets wet, the fibers get saturated and retain all of the moisture. If it’s wet enough, it will swell and expand, and you can absolutely ruin the wood this way.
One of two things are going to happen.
First of all, it could just shred the wood fibers into mush. If the wood is wet enough, you will absolutely destroy it. It’s going to look like a mess when the wood eventually dries as well.
If you drill a hole into wet wood, and it’s completely successful, then you can still mess the wood up.
That has to dry before you can do anything with it, but by the time it’s dry, you’re not going to have a perfectly circular hole anymore.
You’re going to have a hole that looks however it settled during the drying process. Whether you leave it to air dry or you use a heat lamp, it’s not going to settle the same way.
The fibers expand to the point that the perfect circle is warped.
Does Cutting a Hole in Wood Make it Weaker?
How thick is the wood? How big is the hole?
You have to take these things into account before determining the bending strength of the wood.
It’s going to change the density of the wood, and it will definitely weaken it, depending on what you’re planning on doing with it.
If you cut a 10” hole in the center of a shelf or a desk (I don’t know why you would, but humor me), and you put 50 lbs of weight on it, it’s going to bow and bend more than the same sized piece of wood if it were uncut.
Small holes won’t do much harm, especially if they’re less than 1” in diameter and were formed with a drill bit.
Safety Tips While Drilling/Cutting Holes
Safety is the ultimate first goal whenever you hop into the workshop. Here are some quick safety tips when cutting holes in wood.
- Don’t start drilling or cutting if you’re feeling tired or fatigued in the least; it will cloud your judgment, especially for something that’s so precise.
- Bring a rolling toolbox around with you so you can keep your tools, drill bits, and spare blades in a safe place at all times.
- Get all of your materials in one place before you start. You don’t want to lean over a saw blade for any reason.
- Get a mental detailed list of steps (or this guide) in front of you right away so you aren’t leaving a half-done workspace at any point.
- Keep your foot space clear as can be; extension cables behind you at all times.
Better for All Projects
It’s essential to be able to cut holes in wood for numerous reasons, especially if you’re making custom work.
You can find a ton of different uses for perfectly cut circles through wood, and now, you know a bunch of different ways you can achieve it.