A staple in any tradesman’s or DIYer’s toolbox, the hole saw is the ideal tool when you need to create a perfect circle in wood, metal, PVC, and more. The simple design allows you to rapidly transform your power drill into a hole punching machine.
Hole saws are ideal when you need to create a cleaner and larger diameter hole than a spade bit will allow. This makes them popular for cabinet installations, cable management openings, and installing door hardware.
The design allows you to create a clean hole without cutting into any of the surrounding material. It also supports cutting much larger diameter holes than traditional drill bits.
Cutting clean holes with a hole saw takes a little technique and practice, so follow along for a step-by-step guide on how to use a hole saw.
Tools & Materials
Using a Hole Saw – Guide
A Word of Caution
Before you get started, be aware that hole saws can actually be fairly hazardous to the uninitiated. They create a good deal of torque and can kick back unexpectedly putting a lot of strain on your wrists. Use a firm grip with both hands while drilling, and if your drill has a side handle consider using it.
While a hole saw may look like a drill bit, it functions like a saw and can create lots of splinters and sawdust. It’s also a good idea to wear eye protection to avoid getting these in your eyes.
Step 1: Mount the Saw in the Arbor
The first step is mounting the hole saw onto the arbor. Arbors – sometimes called mandrels – are the intermediate pieces that connect the hole saw to the drill’s chuck. They also hold the pilot bit in place in the center of the hole saw.
Either way, you’ll want to screw the base of the saw onto the arbor’s collar screw. Hand tighten it until it’s snug, but don’t overtighten – this can lead to the saw becoming stuck to the arbor.
If the pilot bit feels loose in the arbor, you’ll want to tighten it before you continue. You can typically tighten it by using a hex key in the slot built into the arbor’s collar.
Step 2: Secure Hole Saw to Drill
Next, tighten the arbor inside your drill’s chuck.
One thing to keep in mind when using a hole saw is that they require significantly more torque than a typical drill bit. That means you’ll need a drill with at least 18 volts, preferably 20 volts. If you’re planning on using a really large diameter hole saw (6-inch+), then you’ll need to bust out the corded drill.
Step 3: Drill Pilot Hole (Optional)
If you need a perfectly clean hole with no blowout or splintering, then you’ll want to drill a pilot hole all the way through your material before using the hole saw. This isn’t necessary when you’re punching holes in wall studs, but if you’re installing a doorknob, then drilling a pilot hole first makes sense.
Use a drill bit that’s slightly small than your arbor’s pilot bit to create the pilot hole.
Step 4: Cut the Hole
Now it’s time to cut your hole. Hole saws can create a lot of torque, so you’ll need to make sure your workpiece is secured in place with clamps.
Grip your drill in both hands, and gently plunge the saw’s cutting edge into your workpiece. You don’t want to slam it in with too much force, as this can cause the blade to bind in the material and stop spinning.
As you progress through the cut, you’ll want to pull back every so often to allow the built-up sawdust to clear. Keep drilling until you can see the pilot bit poking through the opposite side.
At this point, you’ll want to pull the saw out of the hole and finish drilling the hole from the opposite side. If you don’t care about possible blowout damage, then you can simply drill all the way through without changing sides halfway through.
Step 5: Remove the Plug
One frustrating thing about using a hole saw is the wood plug stuck inside your saw after cutting a hole. This can be particularly frustrating when you need to cut a lot of holes in a single sitting.
The traditional way to do this is using a long screwdriver through one of the slots to pry the plug-free. This works OK but isn’t very effective when you need to do it repeatedly.
The other way you can do this is by unscrewing the hole saw from the arbor and then poking the plug out from below. This works a bit better, but can also be annoying if the arbor is difficult to separate from the hole saw.
If the plug is seriously stuck and you can’t get it out with the above methods, you can try driving a small screw into the plug from above and pulling it out with a pair of pliers.
If you’re interested in a quality hole saw arbor that’s easy to clear the wood plug from, check out the Freud Diablo Quick Change Mandrel. It features a quick-change attachment, so you can detach the hole saw from the arbor with the push of a button.
Buying Hole Saws
If you browse online you can find complete hole saw kits in the $20 to $30 range. They’re typically made from carbon steel, which is cheap to produce but isn’t very durable. These saws are OK if all you plan on doing is occasionally cutting holes in wood.
Anything more than that and you’ll want to step up a set of bi-metal hole saws.
Bi-metal saws are durable and tough enough to cut through a variety of materials like metal, hardwood, and hardened plastics. They cost a bit more than their carbon steel counterparts, ranging between $35 and $100+ for a full kit.