How to Use a Hole Saw (Step-by-Step Guide)

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Drilling holes into wood comes with its array of techniques, and I’ve always found hole saws to be among the most straightforward tools for the job. However, as intuitive as they might seem, there’s more to using them than meets the eye.

To spare you the trial and error, let me share my expertise on how to effectively use a hole saw, along with some nuanced tips to get the most out of this tool.

Basics of Using a Hole Saw

Unlike regular drill bits exclusively for wood, hole saws can be used in different hard materials like metal and concrete. Depending on the available tool at your disposal, you can attach this component to a cordless drill or drill press. 

If you own a hole saw set with different pieces, ensure that the one you’ll be using matches the hole sizes you want to drill into the material. And if you’re using detachable arbors, you must choose the correct gazebo size that matches the hole saw you’re using. 

When it comes to drilling large-diameter holes, hole saws are a go-to option most woodworkers like me choose. Given their purpose, there’s undeniably a learning curve involved. Let me share a few essential reminders and tools that have proven invaluable in my own experiences, ensuring a smoother drilling journey for you.

hole saw

Time Required: At least 15 minutes.

Level of Difficulty: Average. It requires practice, but it’s simple to use.

Cost: None (if you have all the materials below)

Required Tools and Materials

Step #1: Bore the Pilot Hole

Before diving into the drilling process, recommend marking a pilot hole on your material. While hole saws may not seem as powerful, they can wobble if not handled correctly, potentially causing off-target cuts.

marking wood before drilling pilot hole

On top of that, you’ll need to use an existing hole to serve as an anchor if you’re dealing with a free-standing material to stop hole saws from spinning. 

So if you don’t want the drill bit to wander about, create a placement or smaller hole just enough until the drill bit nips into the wood. 

I often lean towards using a brad point drill bit when I’m aiming for precision with the pilot hole. Its design, featuring a sharp point, makes it an excellent choice for this purpose.

Step #2: Adjust the Bit for Proper Alignment

Once the pilot hole is drilled, you can use it as a guide to align the drill bit. This existing hole will make your hole saw drill bit stable and prevent it from wobbling, which could result in inaccurate cuts. 

adjusting drill

The hole saw’s pilot bit allows the saw blade to have a firm grip on the workpiece evenly. 

Step #3: Slowly Drill First Then Build Up Your Pace

Enlarging existing holes shouldn’t be done at a high-speed setting. It would be best to start slow when you use a hole saw to maintain momentum and cut quality. 

You can apply moderate pressure to make the drill motor operate faster, but ensure that the drill bit is already ⅛-inch deep. Remember that if you don’t start slowly, the hole saw will bite hard and start binding. 

The drill speed should also be slowed as you do this process to clear out sawdust in the groove. By doing this, you can keep the blade cool and smooth. After the new hole makes it halfway to the opposite side, you can stop the hole saw from turning and begin on the other side.

When you start drilling on the other side, you can put the handle against your hip as you hold it for even contact and better control of the hole saw’s blade. Once that’s done, you’ll see the wood plug stick out of the drill and protrude on the other side of the material.

drilling with hole saw

When drilling into metal or other hard materials, I’ve found that applying a few drops of cutting oil to the tool can make a significant difference. This provides the hole saw teeth with adequate lubrication [1] and ultimately results in a cleaner hole.

Step #4: Clamp a Scrap Wood to Enlarge the Hole

Hole saws can also be used for enlarging holes that you have already drilled in the material.

But one key thing to remember is to make sure the drill, with the attached hole saw, is firmly engaged with the wood. This prevents the teeth from gnawing and spinning out of control.

For this, I usually recommend clamping a ¼-inch scrap piece of plywood to maintain stability.

Step #5: Mark the Scrap Wood

You can place it over the existing hole for proper alignment and mark its center for a new pilot hole. 

After that, cut the disc off the extra wood using a hole saw with the same diameter and continue boring the hole. 

Step #6: Use a Chisel to Bore Deeper Holes

At this point, the hole saw will do its job if you drill the holes into their full depth. While doing that, don’t forget to withdraw the drill occasionally to free the hole saw from sawdust buildup. 


Using a hole saw drill with a side handle is also better because this design will allow users to hold the tool firmer. As you bore the hole deeper, you’ll also need to chisel out wooden plugs to achieve a clean output. If you don’t have a chisel, you can opt for a slotted screwdriver. 

Hole Saw Parts and Functions

Upon closer inspection, you’ll realize that hole saws are made up of multiple components. The most prominent part is the arbor shaft, which you’ll need to connect to the drill’s chuck. It’s crucial that the arbor’s thread matches the drill; otherwise, they aren’t compatible.

And then, there’s also the collar screw that keeps the hole saw and the bit together. You can adjust it to determine how shallow or deep the drill bit can go. Following that are drive pins that ensure the hole saw can keep up with the drill speed. 

Next, you’ll see the round saw with sharp teeth that do all the cutting. The drill bit should protrude past the saw’s teeth to guide the tool. 

Antrader BZ052215 Heavy-Duty Bi-Metal Hole Saw with Arbor

Besides arts and crafts, you can use a hole saw for typical projects like drilling a placement for door knobs or light fixtures. It could also give you a correct size hole for plumbing and installing ductwork. 

Assembling the Hole Saw

Part of learning how to use a hole saw is knowing how to assemble it. When you pick up the hole saw, you’ll see two holes on both sides of the center arbor hole. That’s where the two pins on the drive plate will be going. However, you’ll only have to do this step if the blade is large. 

After that, insert the arbor shaft and drill bit into the hole saw collar. You can keep turning the drill bit to adjust the depth to ensure it protrudes past the blade’s teeth. Lastly, use a wrench to tighten the set screw on the collar. 

Hole Saw vs. Spade Bit vs. Forstner Bit

When weighing the options between hole saws, spade bits, and Forstner bits, there are clear differences. If rough edges aren’t a concern for you, then spade bits might be the way to go. 

Unlike carbon steel hole saws, which excel with soft materials, spade bits can often lead to tear-out. From my experience, I’d typically recommend spade bits mainly for rougher construction tasks.

operating a hole saw

While a Forstner bit tends to produce a cleaner hole than a hole saw, it usually comes with a steeper price tag. Additionally, it’s not as commonly available. From my own searches, I’ve noticed that its variations typically max out at around 3 inches in diameter.


How can I remove the wood from my hole saw?

You can use a screwdriver to remove the wood residues from your hole saw. The tool should have vents on the sides, where sawdust can escape during the drilling operations. You can also drive wooden plugs away by inserting long screws.  

How can I prevent tear-out?

It would help if you used a sharp saw to avoid tear-out. You may not know, but dull blades can cause tearing on the material. 

Other than that, avoid putting excessive pressure when using a hole saw and ensure that there’s a wood piece underneath the tool for cutting consistency. 

What are the hazards of using a hole saw?

These tools carry high torque settings, so it’s only natural that they can be harder to handle. 

Because of that, hole saws may start binding and lead to injuring the operator’s arm. On top of that, it produces high heat, so you shouldn’t disassemble the blade until it cools down. 


Once you’re familiar with the parts and techniques of using a hole saw, I’m confident that you can tap into its maximum efficiency.

In addition to knowing the crucial how-tos, it’s equally important to make sure the drill you’re using is compatible with the saw. It may feel overwhelming at first, but I hope this guide has made it easier for you!

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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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