Drilling holes in wood is easy if you have experience, especially with power tools. Unfortunately, cutting a square hole (important in furniture joinery) isn’t as straightforward.
It’s significantly different from merely driving round holes through the wood. First, you need the right tools. But, more importantly, you must apply the appropriate techniques.
Below is a guide on how to cut a square hole in wood plus a review of nine excellent tools to make holes in wood, including their pros and cons, depending on your circumstances.
How to Cut a Square Hole in Wood?
The most common method to cut a square hole in wood is using a jigsaw. While a chisel or a drill can also do the job, a jigsaw makes cutting perfect square holes in wood effortless. All you need to do is measure the hole, secure the wood, drill the starter holes, and make the cut.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Cutting Technique
The ideal cutting tool for your project depends on the nature of the job, your experience, and certain wood qualities. So, consider the following before picking a tool;
We strongly advise against splashing hundreds of dollars on a new tool for a one-time job. So, only purchase the desired tool if it’s a long-term investment. Otherwise, use the tools you can find within your workshop.
Level of skill
How much experience do you have? Which cutting tools have you handled before? For instance, have you ever used a drill or a power saw?
What about a router? Drills and saws can be dangerous for first-timers, while routers are often complicated for novices.
Learn more about trim routers for door hinges in our next article.
The number of pieces
How many such projects do you have in the pipeline? For instance, how many chairs do you intend to make if you’re cutting square holes for chair joints? This consideration will help you choose an economical but less tiring tool.
How much time do you have?
Is the project time-sensitive? Are you on tight deadlines? If so, it’s best to use power tools as they allow you to progress faster. Routers are particularly fast. Unfortunately, you can’t say the same about hand tools like chisels.
See also: The best hand tool brands
Different tools are suited to different wood thicknesses. For instance, using a chisel to bore a hole through a six-inch thick piece of wood is not wise. Instead, it would be much better to use a router.
The desired outcome
Lastly, your decision will depend on the desired shape, accuracy, and efficiency. For instance, do you want a machine that automatically removes the wood dust as you move along?
If so, then a chisel is out of the equation. Similarly, not every hole-cutting tool can make perfectly square holes.
- Cutting tools (I recommend a most accurate combination square for this work.)
- Pencil and measuring tape (Read more on the best tape measure for woodworking.)
- A framing square
- A sledgehammer
- Sandpaper (to prepare the wood surface)
Cutting holes in wood exposes you to many safety hazards. The following are safety measures to keep yourself out of harm’s way;
- Wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from wood dust and splinters.
- Wear a safety mask or dust mask, so you don’t inhale the dust particles.
- Wear protective gloves to protect your hands from cuts, burns, and poisonous tannins.
- Avoid loose-fitting clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, especially when using power tools.
- Use the right blade for the right tool. Mixing up the blades is very dangerous.
- Always get the blade/tool to full speed before touching it on the wood, not vice versa.
9 Ways to Cut Square Holes in Wood
Begin by drawing the desired shape on the piece of wood to take the guesswork out of the equation. Use a pencil as it allows you to erase and correct mistakes easily.
Once you’re done, pick up the identified tool and start cutting. The following are nine tools to consider;
#1: How to Cut Square Holes in Wood with a Jigsaw
Cutting a square hole with a jigsaw blade is easy. Begin by securing the wood. We recommend using sawhorses for this purpose. Then make sure there is enough space below the jigsaw for maneuver. Then proceed as follows;
- Make a starter hole with a drill.
- Start cutting the market area with the jig saw.
- Remove accumulating dust with a vacuum cleaner.
- Finish up the cut by sanding to smooth out any rough areas.
- It’s easy to handle and manipulate
- LED light for optimal visibility
- The jigsaw is fast and efficient
- It’s not ideal for large projects
- The repair parts are not easily available
#2: How to Cut a Square Shape in Wood with a Chisel
The chisel is an age-old woodworking tool and a workaholic in any workshop. It’s great for DIY projects and recreational jobs.
It doesn’t require much experience to handle and is one of the safest cutting tools in the workshop. We recommend a square chisel for cutting square holes.
Here’s how to cut square holes in wood with a chisel;
- Place the tip of the chisel in one corner of the drawn square.
- Drive it through the wood using a sledgehammer. Keep the chisel straight.
- Keep hitting the chisel with the hammer until it goes through the entire wood thickness.
- Repeat for all the four corners of the square hole.
- Cut out the square hole.
- You have many chisel types to choose from
- Chisels are safer than most wood-cutting tools
- Chisels are durable and remain sharp for long
- Chiseling is a slow, energy-sapping process
- Chiseling leaves behind jagged edges
#3: How to Cut a Perfect Square Hole in Wood with a Drill and Hand Saw
A drill is a much faster tool to cut a square hole in a wood sheet. However, we recommend using the drill alongside a hand saw for the best results.
The easiest way to use the two cutting tools together to cut a square hole in wood is to drill the corners of the square and use the drill holes as starting points for sawing.
- Position the drill’s pilot at one corner of the square.
- Drill a hole through the wood to the other side.
- Repeat for all four sides of the square
- Begin cutting from one drill hole to the next using the hand saw
- Remove the plank of food from the center of the square.
- Smooth the rough sides with sandpaper.
- Drills are excellent for boring through thick wood
- Drills and saws are readily available workshop tools
- It’s a relatively safe method
- It’s a slow method of cutting holes in wood
- The method may not work on extra-hard hardwoods
But still, there are other methods of making holes in wood without power drills and they are discussed below.
#4: How to Cut a Square Hole in Wood with a Router
Routers are widely considered the best tools for cutting a notch in wood.
Routers are powerful and fast. They can also get through any wood type (hardwood or softwood) and small to standard thicknesses.
Above all, a router is extremely accurate. The only major downside is that a router is a tad extensive.
Here’s how to cut a hole in a wood piece with a router;
- Use a drill to make a pilot hole in one corner of the wood sheet.
- Prepare a fence for the router and make sure the router aligns with the square hole.
- Switch on the router and allow it to run through the first line/side of the square.
- Pause the router, rotate the piece of wood, and switch on the router to cut the next length of the square.
- Repeat until you’ve cut all four sides.
- Routers are fast and accurate
- They are perfect for large projects
- Results in clean, smooth holes
- Routers are expensive investments
- Setting the router can be complex for newbies
#5: How to Cut a Square Hole in Wood with an Angle Grinder
An angle grinder isn’t designed to cut holes in wood. However, it can save the day if you can’t readily find a more appropriate tool for the job.
Of course, you must modify the machine by switching out the grinder disc for a sawing disc. Then proceed as follows;
- Secure the wood sheet to two sawhorses
- Turn on the angle grinder
- Slowly move the sawing disc through the lines you drew earlier.
- Finish up by sanding the rough edges
- It’s a fast, time-saving process
- It cuts clean, accurate lines
- It’s a great way to improvise
- You first must switch the blades
Read More: How to Cut 45 Degree Angles
#6: How to Cut a Square Hole in Wood with Mortising Machine
A mortising machine is a specialized woodworking tool for cutting square and rectangular holes, mortises, or recesses into wood sheets.
They are powerful tools that work almost like drill presses. The main difference between a mortising tool and a drill press is that mortising machines square the corners of the cut holes.
Here’s how to use a mortising machine;
- Set up the auger and chisel
- Set the depth of the mortise
- Set up the fence
- Orient the hollow chisel
- Set the hold-down
- Cut the mortise
- It makes clean, neat, square holes
- It’s a fast and efficient machine
- It’s perfect for making mortising joints
- Mortising is a complex process
- The mortising machine is expensive
#7: How to Cut a Square Hole in Wood with a Circular Saw
Cutting holes with circular saws isn’t too different from using a handsaw. You need a drill bit in this case, too, to make the starter holes. Then after creating the starter holes, you can cut the square hole without any problems.
- Position the drill in one corner of the square sketch and drill through to the other side of the wood piece.
- Repeat step #1 for all four sides of the square sketch.
- Use the cordless circular saw to cut the wood from one drill hole to the next while following the pencil lines.
- A circular saw is portable
- It is versatile
- It’s great for thick and thin wood sheets
- Circular saws can be dangerous
#8: How to Cut a Square Hole in Plywood
The best way to cut a hole in plywood is using a jigsaw. It’s a lightweight handheld power tool that’s easy to control.
Moreover, jig saws employ reciprocating saws that move up and down at very high speeds, thus reducing the risk of splintering, which is common in thin wood sheets such as plywood.
- Secure the plywood sheet
- Drill the starter holes
- Make the cut
- Sand the rough edges
#9: How to Cut a Hole in the Middle of Wood
Puzzles, toys, and other projects sometimes require cutting holes in the middle of the wood. For instance, you may need to cut a round hole in the middle of an MDF board for wiring.
Similarly, you may need to cut a square hole in the middle of solid wood when making a toy. Doing so while leaving the surrounding sheet intact requires the correct tools and proper cutting methods.
The following is a quick guide to help you make square holes in the middle of wood sheets using a drill and jigsaw.
- Draw the square where you want to cut it. We recommend using a pencil and protractor to draw accurate shapes.
- Place the drill with the point of the bit at one inside corner of the square sketch.
- Drill a hole through the corner.
- Install a cutting bit on the jigsaw blade, then insert the bit into the hole you drilled in the last step.
- Turn on the tool to begin cutting and follow the pencil lines from corner to corner.
- File the corners or sand them to achieve smooth edges all around.
Additional Tips and Tricks When Cutting a Square Hole Through Wood
- Always focus on the job. Distractions can lead to inaccuracy or preventable accidents.
- Use appropriate and accurate measuring tools throughout to avoid irregular/lopsided squares.
- Some tools will give you squares with jagged edges. Use an oscillating tool to fix the rough edges, then sand it for a smooth finish.
For perfect results, you can visit the nearest wood cutting shops.
Additional Resources: How to Cut Paneling Already on the Wall
How to cut a square recess in wood?
A jigsaw is the most common way to cut a square recess in wood. Chisels and drills are other tools you may consider for the same job. However, a jigsaw is faster and more efficient. Moreover, jigsaws create clean square hole lines that only require light sanding.
Next, read on: How do you cut balsa wood?
There are many methods and tools to cut square holes in wood, from jigsaws to chisels and drills. It comes down to which tools you have in the workshop, the type of wood, and the type of square hole you seek to cut.
The bottom line is to reduce the workload as much as possible while maximizing your safety.