Cutting drywall is not as hard as it might look. In fact, measuring, cutting and hanging drywall is pretty easy. Today we will delve in to 3 simple methods of cutting drywall – each of which you’ll need to understand if you want to take on a drywall job yourself.
As you will see, the tools needed to complete this job are not expensive nor complicated. We rate this task at a difficulty rating of 3. Perhaps the hardest part of this whole job is handling the heavy, awkward sheets of drywall – for many people, having a helper to assist is recommended.
Cutting Drywall to Size
The most common and probably the easiest way of cutting drywall is with a utility knife and drywall T-Square.
This method is used to cut a sheet of drywall to length or width. To cut your drywall sheet to width or length, follow these steps:
- Get your measurement with tape measure and mark it on the drywall using a carpenter’s pencil on the good side of the drywall (the lighter side).
- Place your drywall square on the edge of the sheet, aligning it with your mark.
- Using your utility knife, score the drywall the entire length of the board. You only need to cut through the paper, not the entire thickness of the sheet.
- Flex the sheet forward at the score you have just made and the drywall will snap easily at the joint. The easiest way to do this is to have the sheet of drywall leaning against a wall at a slight angle, allowing you to pull the sheet forward.
- While the drywall is slightly bent at the joint, position yourself behind the sheet of drywall and run your utility knife up the back of the joint, cutting the paper on the back of the board.
Once the sheet of drywall is cut to length, you may find that the edge is a little rough. Running a drywall rasp down the joint a couple of times will clean up the edge and allow you to place the sheet of drywall on the wall or ceiling with a crisper joint, meaning less drywall compound will be need later.
Cutting holes or angles in Drywall
So what if you have to take a notch out of your sheet of drywall and not just a straight line? Using the method above won’t work well since it is difficult to break a scored line that runs in two directions.
Here is the easy and inexpensive way of cutting a notch out of your drywall sheet:
- Measure, mark and score the longest line on your drywall with the Drywall square and utility knife option described above.
- Using the saw shown here – normally referred to as a jab saw or keyhole saw, cut the remaining, shorter line.
- Follow steps 4 and 5 above to finish your cut.
A jab saw can also be used to cut holes in your sheet, usually for switch boxes, light receptacles and power outlet boxes.
To do this, measure top and bottom, left and right and note these measurements down on a notepad. Mark these measurements on your sheet of drywall and draw an outline using your drywall square.
Place the tip of your jab saw near one of corners you have marked and hammer the saw through the sheet using firm hits from the palm of your hand. Since a jab saw has a pointy end and is made for just this purpose, a couple of whacks with the palm of your hand on the handle of the jab saw should be all that is needed.
Cut the line with the jab saw and repeat on all four sides. With practice, cutting an outlet box out of your drywall should only take a minute or two. Just remember to double check all your measurements before cutting or you may be repairing a mistake later.
A jab saw / keyhole saw can be used for any holes needed in drywall, whether they are square or round. They are also very useful for making repairs in existing drywall when you need to cut a damaged sheet to a rough square in order to add a patch. A jab saw is a very inexpensive and useful tool that anyone doing repairs around their home should own.
Cutting Drywall with a Rotary Tool
If you don’t plan on hanging very much drywall, the tools we have shown you above will be more than enough to do any drywall job. But if you have a lot of drywall to hang or just like cool tools, then adding a rotary cutter or drywall router to your collection may be the ticket.
Used properly, a drywall router can speed up the task of hanging drywall by a huge factor.
While using a cutout tool like the one we show here can speed up the task of hanging drywall, there is a learning curve to using this tool. Here we will give you some of the tips and tricks to using a rotary tool on your drywall job.
Tips and Tricks for using a Drywall Router
TIP #1: Push electrical wires to back of boxes.
If you will be using your rotary tool to cut out around electrical boxes, make sure all wires in box are pushed back as far as possible to ensure you don’t cut them with the cutout tool.
TIP #2: Use guide point bits in your tool.
A guide point bit has a small section at the tip of the bit that is smooth and doesn’t have a cutting surface. This area is used to cleanly run around the object you are cutting a hole for without cutting into it or wrecking the surface. We have placed a link to our favorite guide point bits at the end of this article.
TIP #3: Direction of cut.
If you are cutting around the outside of an outlet or receptacle, cut in a counter-clockwise direction. Cutting in this direction ensures that the bit of the tool will hug against the outside of the box, giving you the cleanest cut possible.
If you are cutting out a window or door opening, you will cut in a clockwise direction as you are cutting the inside of the opening.
- Outside cut: Counter-clockwise cutting direction
- Inside cut: Clockwise cutting direction
Don’t be concerned if you forget these directions, you will quickly feel how the tool is responding in your hand so you can adjust the direction of the cut accordingly. If you are cutting the wrong direction, you will find that the tool wants to wander rather than hugging tight to the object you are cutting around. In this case, just reverse direction of the cut.
TIP #4: Use the depth guide.
If you watch a few Youtube videos of pros using a drywall router, you will probably notice that most of them don’t use the depth gauge that is provided with every rotary tool. These guys do this job all day, every day and can use a rotary tool in their sleep. Even after having installed at least a thousand sheets of drywall over the years, I still use the depth gauge and suggest you do the same.
Not using the depth gauge means that you have a higher chance of hitting wires in switch boxes and light receptacles. The last thing you need is having to call an electrician to fix broken electrical wires. Set the depth gauge to the thickness of the drywall plus around a 1/4 inch. So for standard 1/2 inch drywall, set the depth to roughly 3/4 inch.
TIP #5: Mark center of boxes
Using a rotary cutout tool to cutout electrical boxes is not only much quicker than using a jab saw, but requires a lot less measuring as well. When using a cutout tool, simply find the rough center of the box you need to cut out and mark it on your sheet of drywall before hanging it.
Cutting Openings with your Rotary Tool in Drywall
When you have all openings that need to be cut out marked on your sheet, hang the board on the wall with a couple of screws, just enough to hold it in place.
Make sure you don’t put any screws near any of the openings you need to cut out as you risk breaking the sheet of drywall if there is too much pressure on it.
- With the sheet hung on the wall, use a very small amount of pressure with your free hand to make sure the sheet is pressed against the box and then plunge the cutout tool into the mark you placed for the center of the box.
- Move the router toward the outside until you find the edge. Pop the router out of the drywall and plunge it again just beside your first cut so that you are on the outside of the box.
- Move the rotary tool in a counter-clockwise direction around the box, making sure the guide point stays in contact with the box at all times to ensure a clean cut.
- When you have cut around the box, the scrap of drywall should fall out and you can press the sheet in and around the box.
- Cut any other openings on the drywall sheet and you’re done. Screw off the sheet as you normally would.
After just a little bit of practice, you will find that using the rotary tool is not only much quicker than using a jab saw, you are less likely to make mistakes since only simple measurements are needed. When you are new at using this tool, you might find that you make the odd mistake by cutting in the wrong direction and the tool wanders off a bit and makes a cut where you didn’t want one. It’s not the end of the world, a little bit of extra drywall compound and a bit more sanding when you are at stage will hide any mistakes made at this stage.
As you have seen, cutting and hanging drywall is not a very difficult job and can be done by almost anyone, especially if you have someone to help carry the awkward sheets of drywall.
With very few tools and a limited amount of experience, there is no reason you can’t do your own drywall rather than hiring it out to the expensive professionals.
Below are links to a few more items that we have mentioned throughout this article that you may want to consider purchasing for your first drywall job.
You can never have enough spare blades for your utility knife. Olfa is our favorite brand of utility knife and these are our favorite model of blade for the knife as they are heat treated for extra durability and are very sharp for easy and crisp cuts.
We are personally a fan of the Rotozip rotary tool for drywall jobs, but there are many different brands available on the market. Dewalt makes a very good cutout tool as well and is our second choice.
If you are buying a cutout tool for your drywall job, it is a good idea to pick up some spare guide point bits for the job. These are our favorites.