Mr. DIY Landlord Buying Guide: Drywall Cut-out Tools

During the construction of a new home or during renovations, such as our kitchen remodel where existing drywall is removed, electrical wiring is installed in the walls while they are still exposed.  Wiring termination points, such as light switches, outlets, and light fixtures,  are housed in electrical boxes to remove electrical and fire hazards.  The front face of these electrical boxes need to sit flush with the surface of the wall and are therefore installed protruding from the front face of the wall studs. Before drywall can be installed on the walls, holes must be cut out to accommodate these protruding electrical boxes.  This is one of the most time-consuming and challenging tasks involved in the  installation of drywall.

Pitfalls of Making Drywall Cut-outs

If the holes cut in the drywall are not in the exact right location, you are left with three options.  You can enlarge the existing hole to fit and end up with ugly gaps which will then have to be patched.

 

Instead of patching the overcut area, you can possibly try covering it up with a jumbo cover plate and end up with an unsightly assortment of differently size cover plates in the house.

The last, most time-consuming, and expensive option is to start all over again with a new piece drywall.

Drywall Cut-out Marking Tools

Several products are available to assist with making cutouts in drywall. They can be categorized into two main groups based on their strategy.  One set of products aims to mark the location of the boxes when the drywall is placed over them.  The mark made is then used as a guide for making the cut.

The HandyMark Drywall Marker 1-Pack HM1001-BF does this by making impression marks when the drywall is pressed against the electrical box.

This product is also available as a 2-pack on Amazon.The Calculated Industries 8105 Blind Mark Drywall Electrical Box Locator Tool uses magnets to help you pinpoint and mark the positions of electrical boxes when the drywall is placed in front of them.

The magnet is placed inside the electrical box.  When the drywall is placed over the box a second magnet of opposite polarity is then used to find the the magnet behind the drywall which then pinpoints the location of the electrical box.

Box Marker Shortcomings

While the box marking tools are a good solution for small drywall jobs, their limitations quickly become apparent on larger jobs:

  1. When a sheet of drywall covers multiple outlets, you may have to purchase additional box markers.  The costs can quickly add up.
  2. Boxes come in an assortment of sizes and shapes so you would need to purchase a variety of markers to match the needs of your project.
  3. Some of the box markers do not allow the drywall to be cut in place on the wall.  This makes the process much less efficient and the results significantly less accurate.
Drywall Rotary Tools

For these reasons, drywall professionals overwhelmingly favor a second category of tools commonly referred to as drywall rotary tool, spiral saw, drywall router, or drywall cut-out tool.  These tools make cut-outs by means of a rotary bit that hugs the outside edge of the electrical box and using it as a guide as it cuts the drywall.

With a drywall rotary tool, the process for the installation of drywall over electrical boxes boils down to three steps.

  1. Measure and record the location for the center of the electrical box on the wall.
  2. Install drywall over the electrical box.
  3. Make the cut-out with the drywall rotary tool.

Not only is the process simpler than using marking tools, cutouts made with spiral saws are perfectly snug.  In addition, drywall rotary tools have several advantages over box marking tools.

  1. They leave much less room for error since the drywall is cut in place rather than marked, removed, and then cut.
  2. They can be used for electrical boxes of any size or shape.
  3. For the amount of work and time they save, they are relatively inexpensive.  Corded versions of these tools can be purchased for around $50.  Attachments for existing tools can be purchased for even less.
  4. They can also be used for making other drywall cut-outs, such as around doors and windows.  This video from Rotozip demonstrates the many other uses of drywall rotary tools.

Rotary Tools Options

Drywall rotary tools can be purchased as a dedicated tool such as the Rotozip SS355-10 5.5 Amp High Speed Spiral Saw System with 2 Accessories.

Corded models of these tools from name-brand tool vendors can be purchased for about $50 to $70.   For example, the DEWALT DW660 Cut-Out 5 Amp 30,000 RPM Rotary Tool with 1/8-Inch and 1/4-Inch Collets is available currently on Amazon for $52.


If you want the convenience of cordless models, you will have to pay a little more than twice the amount of the corded models.  For comparison, the less powerful DEWALT DCS551B 20V Max Drywall Cut-Out Tool is $109 and that price is for what is called a “bare tool” model which does not include a battery or charger.  So, if you don’t already have the necessary battery, you will be looking at a minimum of an additional $100 expense for the battery and charger.
Vendors, such as Dremel,  offer drywall rotary attachments for their multi-purpose cutting tools.  If you already own one of these tools, you can get the functionality of a drywall rotary tool for less than $20.  For example, the Dremel 565 Multi-Purpose Cutting Kit is available on Amazon currently for $15.57 and is compatible with Dremel rotary tool models 4000, 400, 398, 395, 300, 285, 275, 200, 100, 8200, and 800.

If you have Ridgid’s JobMax power multi-tool, the RIDGID JobMax Rotary/Drywall Cutter Head is another attachment option.  If you already have a JobMax 4 Amp Multi-Tool with Tool-Free Head but already planned on buying one, you may want to consider fast-tracking your purchase.  Home Depot has a current promotion where you can choose one attachment to be included for free with your purchase of the JobMax 4 Amp Multi-Tool with Tool-Free Head.  The JobMax 4 Amp Multi-Tool with Tool-Free Head is one of the attachments valid for this promotion. This promotion is valid until 1/29/2018.

Mr. DIYL Recommendation

If you are looking for a tool to help you make precise clean drywall cut-outs, I would recommend purchasing a corded drywall rotary power tool over a box marking tool, regardless of how large or small the job is.

If you already have a power multi-tool for which the vendor offers a drywall cut-out attachment, then then purchase the attachment.  This is a very good and very low cost drywall cut-out solution.

If you don’t already have a power multi-tool that accepts a drywall cut-out attachment, then purchase a dedicated corded drywall rotary power tool.  The tool is relatively expensive and easily pays for itself in the time and work that it will save you, not to mention the many other uses it can serve due to its versatility.  The big box home improvement typically stock the Rotozip models in their stores but will have models from other vendors, such as Dewalt, and Makita, available as online purchases.  All models are available for purchase on Amazon.

Purchasing a cordless model only make sense financially if you already have the necessary battery and charger from the vendor of the tool.  Even then, the additional cost of the corded model can only be justified if you frequently do large drywall jobs and/or work at sites where power is not always available.

I hope you found this buying guide helpful.

Happy drywalling,

Mr. DIY Landlord

 

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