How to Cut Square Holes in Wood: 11 Best Methods

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Understanding how to cut a square hole in wood is crucial woodworking knowledge that not every newbie can do well. This unfamiliarity leads them to choose the wrong cutting tools and prevents them from making the perfect square holes.

To avoid jeopardizing your project, I have put together this straightforward guide on cutting square holes in wood. I hope it makes the task more manageable for you!

What are the Basic Tools You’ll Need to Cut Square Holes?

No matter what power tools or methods you intend to use, don’t forget to include these things on your tool list to help you make the perfect square hole in wood. 

measuring tools on wooden surface

How to Prepare the Wood for Cutting Perfect Squares

Some may say that even beginners can cut a square hole. They may even treat making a larger square shape on a wood piece as a trouble-free task. However, you must face the reality that it isn’t the easiest fundamental skill to master. 

And while that’s true for some people, you should know that smaller square holes can be trickier to handle. You’ll encounter specific difficulties, especially if you didn’t prep the material properly. Here are some measuring steps you must follow to prevent that from happening:

cutting square hole on wood
  1. Take measurements of the entire square area where you’ll cut your holes. 
  2. Whether it’s a wood sheet or a small lumber piece, don’t forget to mark the center point of the solid wood using a pencil. 
  3. Utilize your framing square to add markings on the square hole’s sides over the flat surface. 
  4. Measure the drawn square markings to guarantee that the final hole won’t have the wrong size requirements. 
  5. Once the markings on the wood sheet match your desired square hole measurement, it’s time to start cutting. For an accurate cutting pattern, you may consider using a cutlist optimization program online to avoid miscalculations not just in measurements, but in the overall materials included in your project.  

Picking Your Prefered Cutting Tool

Anyone can cut a square hole in wood joints with simple hand tools like a square chisel. And if you want to finish the task faster and more accurately, there’s no shame in opting for reliable power tools such as circular saws and drills. 

Regardless of the hand and power tools you’ll use for the square hole task, remember that the outcome still depends on how well you execute the technique. Let me guide you through the correct methods to get it right.

Safety Tips

Besides making perfectly square holes, other woodworking tasks can expose you to different safety risks. Furthermore, did you know that using a power tool causes around 400 thousand ER visits in the US every year[1]?

wearing protective gears

Fortunately, you can avoid these unprecedented accidents. All you need to do is follow these safety precautions:

  1. Always wear protective gloves when working with power tools. They safeguard against lacerations and other serious injuries in the event of accidental blade contact.
  2. Read each power tool manual thoroughly and follow the guidelines to avoid mishaps.
  3. Put your safety goggles on to shield your eyes from flying wood chips or dust particles as you cut the square hole in the wood.
  4. Do the woodworking outdoors or inside a well-ventilated space. 
  5. Don proper protective clothing, like a dust mask, closed shoes, and other attire suitable for the workshop’s environment. 
  6. Always ensure you take the correct measurements to prevent wasting time and resources on corrections.
  7. Lastly, remain focused on the task of making a square hole and steer clear of any distractions.

Cutting Wood for Square Holes: 11 Best Methods (Power + Hand Tools)

Method #1: Jigsaw

It’s a no-brainer that a jigsaw is one of the power tools suitable to cut square holes in wood. Also, you can use jigsaw to cut wooden dowels. Since it’s not as heavy as other tools, holding it against a flat piece won’t be too challenging. 

Besides, you can rely on its reciprocating jigsaw blade to move at a fast phase to get the job done faster. 


Step #1: Measure the Square Hole Area Where You’ll Cut

You must ensure that the square hole is measured accurately. Grab the measuring tape and framing square for this process. The latter will serve as a tool to help you make precise 90-degree angles in every corner of the wood sheets. 

Take note of these measurements by drawing the lines on the material with a pencil or chalk. 

Step #2: Secure Your Wood

Using a jigsaw blade to cut a square hole won’t be effective if the wood sheets keep moving during the cutting process. You must ensure that the space under the marked area is enough for the blade to move without restrictions. 

You can utilize a reliable sawhorse for this step, place the two rails under the sheet, or use the table edges to keep the wood in a secure position. As long as you ensure that it won’t move during the square hole cutting, you won’t have problems. 

Step #3: Create a Starter Hole Using Your Drill

The only problem with jigsaws is they can’t drill holes from above. Because of this, you have to make starter holes on the wood using a tool on each corner of the square hole marking you drew. 

drill clutch

If the pilot holes aren’t accurately positioned, trust me when I say that you won’t achieve the perfect square cut. Always remember, these starter holes need to align with the size of the jigsaw’s blade.

You also don’t need to drill multiple holes if the square hole you intend to make doesn’t need sharp edges because one would suffice. 

Step #4: Begin Cutting The Marked Area

After the pilot round holes are in place, it’s time to power your jigsaw up and point its blade into the pilot hole. As long as you follow the marking you made earlier, you’ll get the shape of the square hole in no time. 

You must know that using this power tool will produce sawdust, so I highly recommend attaching a vacuum cleaner to the jigsaw. If that’s not an option, make sure to clean the area manually.

cutting a starter hole

Alternatively, a jigsaw with teeth downward stroke features may also work to your advantage.

Step #5: Smoothen the Cut By Sanding

A square hole will have smooth edges if you use sharp blades. However, I still recommend sanding the cutline to keep it free from excess wood parts.

You can use regular sandpaper, but don’t shy away from utilizing power sanders if you have one at your workshop. These tools can help eliminate the burrs left by cutting a square hole with a jigsaw. 

How to Cut Without a Jigsaw: Top Alternatives

I understand that not every workshop has a jigsaw on hand. If you’re faced with the challenge of making a square hole in wood and don’t have one, consider these alternative options:

  1. Angle Grinder
  2. Hand Sawing Tool
  3. Woodworking Chisel
  4. Rotary Tools (Dremel/Router)
using a chisel

To explore all your options, read further into my guide to discover how to cut a square hole using other cutting tools.

Method #2: Hand Saw

Although using a hand saw to cut a square hole isn’t as easy as opting for a jigsaw, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible to execute. Like the previous method, the initial step is to take your measurements with pencils and measuring tapes. (Check the best measuring tapes here!)

Once the wood board is secure, you must drill a round hole in each corner of the square-shaped drawing you just made. Again, the holes must be large, with enough space outside the markings should be sufficient enough for the hand saw to move freely. 

After that, follow the measurements you drew earlier to make a square hole in the wood. Don’t leave the burrs behind. I suggest sanding them using sandpaper or any sanding machine.  

Method #3: Chisel

You’ll need more than one tool if you want to cut a square hole in wood using a chisel. This method requires the help of a regular hammer or sledgehammer. Like the previous tools, you must make the proper markings and secure the wood. 


However, you must ensure that the material is being pushed from the bottom part to prevent cracking or splitting while hitting the chisel from the top. 

Next, point the chisel on the line you marked and pound the hammer. I recommend using a sledgehammer because it carries more weight than regular ones. 

It would help if you also hit the chisel as hard as possible so that it can cut through no matter what wood thickness you’re working with. Continue with the same method until you cut the thick wood with square cuts. 

When Should You Use a Chisel?

A chisel is the best alternative to a jigsaw if you’re working with a thin wood sheet and when you don’t have electricity at your workshop. You can also rely on chisels if you don’t have a mortising machine. 

using a chisel

Materials with rough surfaces are better handled with chisels. It also works well when scrapping dried glue off the wood. 

Method #4: Router or Dremel

As rotary power tools, routers and dremel machines are great machines that can make square cuts. Just insert small circular blades into these tools, and you’ve conveniently turned them into miniature circular saws.

If you already did the basic process of marking and securing the wooden material, the next step is to power the tool up and start cutting. It’s the easiest way to cut squares next to using jigsaws. 

Method #5: Angle Grinder

If you want to utilize an angle grinder, you must replace its sawing disc with ones equipped with fine teeth because their designs are meant to cut wood. The process is similar to other methods, which means you must measure, mark, and secure the material. 

angle grinder

After you turn the grinder on, start the cutting process according to the drawn measurements. It’ll leave some rough edges, so I suggest sanding edges to yield better results. 

Method #6: Square Drill Bits

You can use a square drill bit with drill presses to make squares in wood. As these machines are not as handy as a cordless drill, not every woodworker can execute this method.

A lever drives the drill bit into the surface to go through the thick wood. You must also follow the correct measurements to drill a square hole properly. 

Method #7: Square Holes (Without Drill Press)

Alternatively, you can use a power drill with a square punch bit. Using framing squares, sketch out the guide for the shape in the area you plan to cut. When selecting drill bits, I strongly recommend opting for ones that are smaller than the square you aim to create.

Start drilling while following the marked lines you drew. You can use a hammer to push the square punch bit. 

power drill and wooden boards

After the square hole punches push through the wood, continue hammering it until the inner wood gets removed. 

Method #8: Larger Square Hole Punch and Multiple Drilling Points

An enormous square hole punch can produce a larger cut than typical ones. I recommend utilizing the massive bits for the first hole. However, you must switch to a smaller one when removing excess materials. 

When you start punching on the marked lines, assist the process with a hammer for better wood penetration. Instead of sandpaper, use a chisel to smoothen the edges. 

Method #9: Mortising Machines

These tools are designed to accurately carve out square or rectangular cavities, known as mortises, with remarkable speed and accuracy. So it’s a no-brainer choice for square cuts.

Although they can come out with rounded corners, these tools are efficient. The only problem is not every woodworker can afford them. 

Method #10: Hand Tools

If you’re not rushing to finish the task, you can do it manually using handy tools. This method requires a chisel, frame square, sledgehammer, and sandpaper. You can also screw into wood without a drill using these hand tools. But, to cut square holes in wood with these tools, follow these steps:

hand saws, plane, measuring tools
  1. Draw the square blueprint on the wood blank with the help of a pencil and frame square. You can also choose a ruler or straight edge for the measurements. 
  2. Point the chisel on one of the square’s edges.
  3. Once in position, pound the chisel with the hammer. Add as much force as you can. 
  4. Repeat the previous step on the remaining three edges.
  5. Keeping the hammer-pounding going until the inner wood of the square falls out from the material. 
  6. Use sandpaper to smoothen the edges. 

Method #11: Circular Saw

Using a circular saw can be an effective way to achieve square cuts. However, one challenge is the size of the hole. You might not be aware, but these tools come with larger blades. I’d advise getting a smaller saw if you’re considering this approach.

circular saw holder

All you need for this process is accurate markings, secure the wood, and align the blade. After that, you’re ready to make squares. 

Also Read: Measuring and Cutting 45-Degree Angle Cuts in Wood 

Tips to Consider in Making Square Holes in Wood


You have already won half the battle of mastering this technique once you know the basics of how to cut square holes in wood. 

Even though all these methods might tempt you to purchase tools, I don’t recommend using anything you’re not comfortable with. After all, you have several options to weigh.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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