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15 Essential Hole Saw Smarts Every DIYer Should Know

Our best hole saw tips for getting your project done right.

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hole saw smarts drillFamily Handyman

Hole Saw Smarts

When you need to drill a large hole, bigger than 1-1/2 in. in diameter or so, a hole saw is simply the right tool for the job. However, hole saws have a well deserved reputation for being no fun to use. If the prospect of using one conjures memories of an ice pack on your wrist and the smell of burning wood, relax and read on. Here are 14 tips to help ensure safe, successful cutting.

Plus, lean how to choose the right hole saw for your project.

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spade auger forstner bitFamily Handyman

A Bit is Better for Some Holes

For holes 1-1/2 in. in diameter or less, a spade, auger or Forstner bit is a better choice than a hole saw. These bits are far less likely to catch and twist your arm, and there’s no plug to pry out, just wood shavings. So start building your hole saw kit with sizes that are larger than 1-1/2 in.

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cleaning hole sawFamily Handyman

Keep it Clean

Hole saws are often tasked with cutting through studs and joists, which are typically pine, spruce or Douglas fir. All of these species contain lots of pitch and resin, which build up on the saw’s teeth. This buildup adds friction, slows cutting and increases heat. This excess heat causes the teeth to dull very quickly. Cleaning off the pitch after use greatly extends the life of hole saws. You can buy specially formulated cleaners, such as CMT Formula 2050 Blade & Bit Cleaner ($13 for an 18-oz. bottle) at home centers. Or, do a quick search online to find plenty of homemade solutions.

These incredible tips from The Family Handyman readers and editors will help you complete your woodworking projects faster and better than ever before! So check out these 34 clever handy hints for your woodworking projects.

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worn hole saw teeth

Don’t Struggle With Worn-Out Saws

Like any other cutting tool, a hole saw will get dull with use. If your hole saw cuts slowly or starts to smoke, it’s likely dull and needs replacing. If you’re adept at sharpening, you can give it a shot, but a new saw makes life much easier.

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build your own hole saw kit bitFamily Handyman

Build Your Own Kit

A quality hole saw kit costs $50 to $200, depending on the number of saw sizes and the type of teeth (bimetal, carbide or diamond; bimetal teeth are sufficient for most work). If you can’t afford to buy the whole kit at once, don’t worry. Most manufacturers sell individual hole saws and arbors. Build your kit one saw at a time as needed, sticking with one brand so you can use the dedicated arbor for new hole saws. That way, you won’t end up with odd-sized hole saws that you’ll never use.

Check out our Top 10 Woodworking Tips.

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hole saw drill pressFamily Handyman

Use a Drill Press

Whenever it’s an option, use a hole saw in a drill press. A drill press ensures that the hole is straight and enables you to clamp the workpiece down securely. The drill press’s handle gives you total control over the pressure you’re applying, and you can easily adjust the drill press to run at the proper speed.

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hole saw kitsFamily Handyman

Avoid Cheap Hole Saw Kits

These cheap kits seem like a great deal, but you get what you pay for. The teeth dull very quickly and the saws are often shallow, limiting the thickness of the material you can drill through.

Check out these 10 Dirt-Simple Woodworking Jigs You Need.

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marking hole saw depth of cut

Don’t Burn Out Your Drill

Cutting holes with a hole saw is hard work for a drill, and if you’re not careful, you can burn out the motor. If you feel your drill’s motor housing getting hot, stop and let it cool off. Plus: Learn how to avoid tear-out with this super-simple hole saw tip.

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backer board work piece sacrificial boardFamily Handyman

Back Up Your Workpiece

When you’re cutting holes that need to look tidy on both sides, clamp a sacrificial backer board under the workpiece to prevent blowout (splintering on the exit side). If you’re at the drill press, a backer board also serves to protect your drill press table.

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hole saw pilot hole drillFamily Handyman

Cut From Both Sides

When possible, drill from both sides. This does two things. First, it helps prevent blowout. Second, you don’t end up with the cutout plug stuck in the hole cylinder. Start cutting from one side, stopping as soon as the pilot bit comes out the other side. Next, insert the pilot bit in the hole on the other side of the workpiece and finish the cut.

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auxiliary handle drill hole sawFamily Handyman

Use an Auxiliary Handle

Although you’ll often use a hole saw in a handheld drill, sawing large holes is a tough job, so use your most powerful drill. Besides power, the drill should have an auxiliary handle, as hole saws don’t act like drill bits. They have a tendency to “catch,” giving your wrist a nasty twist. It can even yank the drill right out of your hand while the spinning drill handle crashes into anything in its path. An auxiliary handle lessens the chance of losing your grip.

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hole saw drill press log planter

Watch Your Speed

Whatever the material, slow is the way to go with hole saws. The larger the diameter of the hole, the slower you’ll need to go. For wood, aluminum, brass and mild steel, 500 rpm is about right for a 3/4-in. hole, all the way down to 75 rpm for a 5-in. hole.

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rock the drill with hole saw bitFamily Handyman

Rock the Drill

Cutting holes goes much faster if you slightly rock the drill in a circular motion so not all the teeth are cutting at once. You’re also less likely to burn the wood than with constant, even pressure.

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cutting with hole saw and seeing mark

Don’t Use the Trigger Lock

Using your drill’s trigger lock might seem like a good idea, but it’s quite dangerous. If the hole saw catches and jerks the drill out of your hands, you’ll have a spinning airborne cutting tool.

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drill clearance hole sawFamily Handyman

Drill Clearance Holes

As a hole saw is cutting, there’s nowhere for the sawdust to effectively exit the kerf. So it gets packed into the teeth, causing slow cutting, heat, burning and premature dulling. Drill a couple of 1/2-in. clearance holes to give the sawdust a way out. To get the clearance holes in the right place, start the pilot bit and let the teeth cut in about 1/16 in. Drill clearance holes through the workpiece, just inside the kerf.

If you’re looking to become a DIYer or if you’ve been a DIYer for years we’ve got an assortment of 50 incredible DIY projects you can try. Check them out.

The Family Handyman
Originally Published in The Family Handyman