Cutting plasterboard is actually a very simple process. In the vast majority of cases, all you will need is a small selection of hand tools. There are very few occasions (none I can think of) where the best tool for cutting plasterboard was a power tool.
Let me be clear about this. If someone says you need a power tool to cut plasterboard, such as a circular saw, or a jigsaw, or any other expensive tool, one of two things is happening:
- They are trying to sell you a power tool.
- They have never cut a piece of plasterboard in their life.
There are really just a handful of tools you will need to cut plasterboard and the majority will cost very little.
I have done a lot of boarding over the years, and I am quite confident in saying, I have never used anything other than the tools I am about to mention. I have also never seen a professional plasterer use a power tool to cut plasterboard.
So, with that out of the way, here are the 6 tools that you will need to cut plasterboard.
- Sharp Stanley knife
- A decent sized spirit level, or some other kind of straight edge
- Tape measure
- Pad saw
- And an old hand saw
As you can see, these are all hand tools. The one caveat to this rule, would be a cordless drill and a hole cutting bit. This could be handy if you are cutting a lot of down lights (or something similar). However, you will already be using a cordless drill to fix your plasterboards, so this shouldn’t be an extra purchase and hole cutting bits are relatively inexpensive.
How each tool is used to cut plasterboard
The entire process of cutting and fitting plasterboards is extremely simple. Even somebody with limited construction or DIY knowledge, should be able to do it with the correct tools and a small amount of practice.
The key to success, is simply a case of measuring and cutting the boards accurately. Once you figure this out, you will probably be surprised how easy it is.
Below is a list of each tool we mentioned previously and how to use it:
Cutting plasterboard with a Stanley knife
This is the tool you will use most often. It will be the main way you cut the length and width of your boards.
Before you fit a board, you will need to take your tape measure and measure the area where your board will be fitted. In some cases, you may be fitting whole boards, without any cuts. However, eventually you will reach a point where a cut is required. This will usually be as you approach the corner with another wall, the ceiling, or an opening for a door or window.
Simply measure the size of the area that needs cutting and transfer the measurement to your plasterboard. To do this, you can use a spirit level or some other kind of straight edge to draw your lines.
Once your line is drawn and you have double checked to make sure it is accurate, hold the edge of your level to the line and score it with your Stanley knife. You will be using the level as a guide to ensure a straight cut along the pencil line.
Once you have cut along the line, you can easily fold and snap the board. Fold your board so there is an obvious crease line on the back of the board, then simply use your Stanley knife again, to cut the back edge.
And that’s it, you should now have your board cut to length and ready to fit.
Cutting plasterboard with a Pad saw
A pad saw, also known as a keyhole saw, or a jab saw, is a handy little tool that can be used for cutting holes in your plasterboard. A few examples of its use are:
- Cutting holes for wires. For example, a wire hanging from the ceiling for a light fitting
- Holes for pipes
- Electrical sockets and light switches
- Holes for down lights
- And basically, any other hole you need to cut in your boards.
To cut out a hole, you simply need to measure where it needs to be and transfer the measurement to the plasterboard. This is possibly the most complicated bit of the entire process, as your measurement needs to be accurate.
With this in mind, you should always double check your measurements before you cut out.
Once you are confident your pencil marks are in the correct place, you can jab the saw through the surface of the plasterboard. Do this more into the middle and then saw out to the line. Then just follow the line around until you have fully cut out your hole.
As I mentioned, the measuring and transferring of your measurements is the most difficult part here, the cutting is actually really easy. So, make sure you double check your measurements. Obviously getting holes in the wrong place could ruin an entire board.
Finally, if you are cutting holes for down lights, you can use a hole cutting attachment for a cordless drill.
With that said if this is a new down light installation, the electrician installing your down lights would usually do this part of the job for you. On the other hand, if you are cutting out for existing fittings, a hole cutter will definitely give the neatest finish.
Using a surform to adjust your plasterboard cuts
When cutting plasterboard, you will want your boards to fit pretty tightly, to avoid big gaps between boards. This means, you may sometimes cut your board a little too big.
Whilst this will require extra work to take some off, it is better than the board being cut too small. As the saying goes: “you can take it off, but you can’t put it back on”.
The surform is the perfect tool in this situation, it looks like a small plane, and it’s used in a similar way. The main difference is the bottom edge. Unlike a plane it doesn’t have a blade, instead it has a kind of grater, similar to a food grater.
This tool is perfect for shaving the edge of a plasterboard. You can use the surform to adjust the size of your board, until it fits nicely in its intended position.
Using an old hand saw when cutting plasterboard
I’m a big believer in always having an old hand saw lying about. There are many jobs where you don’t want to risk ruining a nice sharp saw, and this is one of those jobs. It’s not essential for cutting plasterboards, but it can be handy for occasional quick cuts, and it tends to be a neater cut than a pad saw.
However, definitely don’t use your new/sharp saw to cut plasterboards, this will blunt the blade and ruin your saw, so ensure this is a spare that you use for rough jobs.
There is no specific job I would recommend your hand saw for, there is just the odd occasion where you might find it useful (personal preference).
So, there you have it. Let me just reiterate the main point of this article. You don’t need power tools to cut plasterboard!
The best tools for cutting plasterboard are all relatively cheap hand tools. Anyone telling you otherwise, is probably trying to sell you something you don’t need.
As you can see, in most cases this is a relatively simple job, and the tools reflect this. The actual cutting is extremely easy with every type of tool. The biggest challenge is the actual measurements and making your boards fit neatly.
To do a good job, just ensure you have a sharp Stanley knife, and take the time to measure accurately, before you cut your boards. If you follow this rule, and use the tools mentioned in this article, you’ll be boarding like a pro in no time.