Using a Drywall Router
Building Skills: Learn how to make quick, clean, and accurate cuts.
For years, I avoided using a drywall router to cut holes for electrical boxes, lights, windows, doors, and so forth. To use this small tool, you hang the sheet, make a plunge cut with the 1/8-in. self-guided helical bit, and follow the edge of whatever it is you want to fit the sheet around. I’d tried one on a few occasions, with results such as mangled wires and overcut drywall. I reverted to doing things the carpenter’s way: laying out the holes with a square and a tape measure, then cutting them with a knife and a keyhole saw. This was slow, but at least I was on familiar ground.
Still, every drywall pro I knew used routers to make quick, clean, and accurate cuts. There had to be something to these tools. They don’t cost a lot either (about $60 to $110), and the bits are only a buck or two each. Tool use usually comes easily to me, so my failure with drywall routers was both out of character and frustrating. And I wasn’t alone; many carpenters I’ve talked with are buffaloed by these tools.
When faced with a big project of my own, I finally decided to figure it out. After a few missteps, I’m cutting holes in drywall faster and more accurately than ever. Here’s what I learned.
Using a Drywall Router: Step-by-Step
Go clockwise on inside cuts
Unlike recessed lights, electrical boxes, and windows with jambs that extend beyond the stud faces, rough openings are cut from their inside.
Set the bit deeper so that the tip clears the eased edges of framing lumber, and cut clockwise.
Drywall routers and bits
The RotoZip is the granddaddy of drywall routers, so much so that the job-site term for a drywall router is a RotoZip. A number of companies now make drywall routers, however, and there are even cordless versions, such as Makita’s XOC01, which I tried out on an earlier job. Both tools have their place. The RotoZip has more power, and because it’s corded (the 6-ft. cord could be longer; drywall screwguns come with 16-ft. cords), there isn’t a battery to run out of power, which makes it a better choice on a larger project. On the other hand, the Makita has enough power, the batteries have plenty of life, and not having cords to trip over is hard to overrate, particularly on tight remodeling jobs. Both tools use the same 1/8-in. helical bits that guide the cut by riding on whatever you’re cutting out.
Product photos: Dan Thornton
All other photos: Rodney Diaz