Home Improvement 101: How to Cut a Hole in Drywall

Every home craftsman and DIYer should have an intimate familiarity with drywall. It’s one of the most popular and well-used construction materials, and it’s a critical component of every room you’ve ever stepped foot in.

Learning how to cut a hole in drywall is simple, but it does require extreme precision. For this reason, it’s easy to see how it can be an intimidating project. Today, we’ll provide you with all the info you need to learn how to cut a hole in drywall perfectly, every time.

What You’ll Need

Cutting drywall requires just a few simple hand tools, so you won’t have to worry about breaking out the power tools or purchasing anything new. Here’s what you’ll need:

Step I: Hang Full Sheets of Drywall

Before you can focus on cutting holes in the drywall to account for electrical fixtures or lighting, you’ll want to hang the full drywall sheets that don’t need to be cut to accommodate fixtures. Completing this step before cutting any drywall will help ensure that your measurements are perfectly accurate, which is critical to a job well done.

Using a power drill, drive drywall screws through the drywall and into the studs. Make sure not to overdrive the screws. You want the screw heads to be perfectly flush with the surface of the drywall.

Hang each sheet of drywall, except the pieces of drywall that you’ll need to cut holes in, until the room is complete.

If you’re cutting a hole in a piece of drywall that’s already hung, or if you’re patching a hole, Lowe’s has some really helpful tips on getting the job done.

Step II: Measuring the Hole

With the rest of the drywall in place, you’ll now be able to use the edges of those drywall sheets as points of reference for your hole measurements.

First, measure the distance from the edge of the drywall to the near edge of your fixture and note it in pencil on the sheet of drywall. Next, measure the distance from the edge of the drywall to the far edge of the fixture and note that on the drywall as well.

Then, measure the distance from the top of the fixture to the edge of the drywall above the fixture and write it down on your drywall. Do the same for the bottom of the fixture to the edge of the drywall (or floor) below the fixture.

These measurements will let you know exactly where you need to cut the hole in your drywall. Now, we’re going to mark the cut exactly where it will appear on the drywall.

Take the piece of the drywall you’ll be cutting the holes in, which should already have the measurements you just took written down on it.

Take the number from your first measurement and measure it out from the edge of your piece of drywall. Use a framing square to mark a perfectly straight line at this point. Do the same with the second measurement, and use a framing square to mark it off. You now have the measurements for each side of your fixture.

Next, take your measurements for the top and bottom of the fixture, measure those out with your tape measure and mark them with the framing square. You should now have the exact location of the fixture you need to cut out marked off on your drywall.

If you’re cutting a square or rectangular hole, your measuring work is done. But, if you’re cutting out a circular hole, you’ll need to draw a circle inside of the box you’ve just marked on the drywall.

You can do this with a compass, but it’s even easier to do with an extra electrical or lightbox. Just center the box inside the lines you’ve just marked and trace the shape. If you prefer to use a compass, find the middle of the box you’ve marked, and use that as the starting point to sketch your circle.

Step III: Cutting the Hole

Now, you can use a drywall saw or utility knife to cut the hole in the drywall.

First, take your drywall and place it on top of your saw horses.

If you’re using a drywall saw, place the point of the drywall saw on the first line you’re going to cut, and use your spare hand to tap the saw through the drywall as if you were hammering a nail. Once the saw is through the drywall, you can begin sawing through the sheetrock in a back and forth motion along the line you have drawn.

Make sure that you’re cutting EXACTLY along the line that you’ve marked. Building code only allows for ⅛” gap on any side of a fixture, and if you cut the hole too large, you’re going to be up the creek when it’s time for an inspection.

If you’re cutting a square or rectangle, make sure never to cut beyond where two lines intersect. Doing so can potentially damage the fragile sheetrock, and it will create more spackling work for you later on, as well.

If you’re using a utility knife to cut the hole, the same rules are in place. Be sure to follow your line exactly, and never cut beyond where two lines intersect.

To begin, drive the blade of the utility knife into the sheetrock, and follow the line you’ve drawn. Once you’ve completed the cutting, take your hammer and gently tap the center of the hole to knock that sheetrock out from your sheet.

If any drywall is still hanging into your hole once you knock the piece out, use your utility knife to clean it up.

Final Word

Learning how to cut a hole in drywall is an important lesson for every home craftsman to learn. Since it does involve a bit of careful planning and math, it’s easy to see how it can be intimidating at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow the tips above, and you’ll be a pro at cutting and hanging drywall in no time.

About Gus Donaldson

I built houses for over 30 years and recently retired. I've made lots of mistakes and hopefully teach you not to make the same ones. I still love to build and have a garage workshop that I use for hobby projects like the walnut bookshelf I made for my wife. I like to write and let people know that working with your hands and tools does not need to be intimidating.

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