Cutting Drywall With Oscillating Tool

Trying to make neat, precise plunge cuts in various materials was a problem that needed a solution. For decades, DIYers and tradespeople had been using their common circular saws, jigsaws, hand saws, and other tools somewhat off-label for this purpose, and rarely with stellar results.

When it came to drywall, in particular, it wasn’t impossible to get decent results with things like jab saws, utility knives, or even circular saws, but the performance was either slow, messy, or tedious. Often, it was all three.
Cutting Drywall with Oscillating Multi-tool
Interestingly, the medical industry was the first to see how limited our tool options really were. Doctors needed a safe and simple way to take plaster casts off of their patients, but only had rotating or linear back and forth or sawing motions to choose from, both of which had the potential to cut through the skin. The oscillating multi-tool was the industry’s answer for solving the dilemma of needing to make orderly, depth-controlled plunge cuts into soft materials, and the construction industry soon followed suit.

Can You Use an Oscillating Multi-Tool to Cut Drywall?

Yes. You can cut drywall with an oscillating multi-tool. In fact, the oscillating tool is an industry favorite for cutting drywall. These tools can cut through soft gypsum material like butter and can do so at any point along a wall or unhung drywall sheet more precisely and cleanly than jab saws or circular saws.

While you can cleanly cut drywall sheets using a utility knife, it is not easy to do the same on sheetrock that is already installed. This is where the oscillating multi-tool truly shines. The multi-tool isn’t the fastest tool out there and they can be quite noisy, but it is an excellent option for creating neat, intentional cutouts in drywall.
Oscillating multi-tool on drywall

Advantages of Using an Oscillating Multi-Tool

Because the oscillating multi-tool blade effectively vibrates instead of spins, the overall design of the tool allows it to make crisp plunge cuts with defined edges in precise locations in many different materials, but especially in drywall. In actuality, the blade on a multi-tool moves from side to side (oscillates) with a slight 3-degree arc at a dizzying rate, but “vibrate” is at least an accurate visual.

1. Ability to Plunge Cut

The main advantage of an oscillating multi-tool when it comes to drywall cutting is its ability to do plunge cuts cleanly. Thanks to this design and a plethora of available blade styles and options, the plunge cut’s width and depth are easier to control than when using other tool options.

This means that an oscillating multi-tool can typically be used when clean lines and specific cutout dimensions and shapes are necessary, like in the case of cutting out spaces for electrical boxes or vent registers, when creating access panels for working on existing plumbing and electrical work while avoiding having to replace large sections of drywall for this purpose, or when replacing drywall is necessary and avoiding the internal wall utilities is tricky.

2. Flush Cutting

The ability to perform flush cuts is another serious advantage to using an oscillating multi-tool, and it’s not only useful when working with door jambs. A flush cut is a cut that occurs along a horizontal surface, like a countertop or flooring. The ability to flush-cut drywall is incredibly valuable when working on projects such as backsplashes and flooring or wall trim.

3. Wide Range of Blades

A large variety of available blade options also allows for a multitude of positioning and cutting directions when using the tool. Unlike circular saws, for example, which can only spin in a single direction meaning that cutting can only be performed by pushing the saw forward through the material, oscillating multi-tools can be used in either a push or pull motion if equipped with the correct blade. This allows the user free range of motion when making curved or intricate cuts. Even circular cutouts for things like plumbing rough-ins are possible and easy to perform when fit with the right blade.

4. Depth Marking

Oscillating multi-tool blades also often offer measurements or other markings on the blade, itself, that let the user gauge the depth of the cut in a much more straight-forward way than most other tools.

Certain blade styles can even replace the need for drywall rasps and allow the user to shave off small areas of drywall for a cleaner and more precise fit.

Drywall Cutting Blade for Oscillating Tool

Though there are oscillating multi-tool blades designed specifically for drywall (and even some that perform a variety of common drywall cuts all in one blade), the best blade to use generally depends on the type of cut needing to be made and the location of the cut. Even if a blade does not claim that it is designed specifically for drywall and is instead designed for wood, you may still find it useful for cutting drywall.

Oftentimes, the two uses are combined into one blade design and your blade will be marketed as a “wood and drywall” blade, or “wood, drywall, and PVC”, or even “wood and metal”. Simply put, drywall is a very soft material, and if a blade on an oscillating multi-tool can cut through wood, it is likely that it can also cut through drywall cleanly without much trouble. However, the drywall-specific blades have smaller, tighter teeth and more drywall-specific characteristics. For this reason, the drywall blades will always provide a cleaner cut and more versatility.

Note that you will often see the descriptor of “HCS” on oscillating multi-tool blades. This is an abbreviation for “high carbon steel” and means that the blade is best used on wood, PVC, and drywall, as all of these are considered relatively soft materials. This is in contrast to blades meant for cutting metal, for example, which are typically made from bimetal or tungsten carbide, a much stronger material.

We’ll go over a few drywall cuts, below, and the type of blade that would likely work the best for each task.

Cutting a Hole or Circle in Drywall with an Oscillating Tool

If you need to create neat holes in drywall for things like pipes or light fixtures, there are two blade options for your oscillating multi-tool: a multi-function drywall blade equipped with “dagger” blades or a hole saw attachment blade. A hole saw attachment blade is designed much the same as a common hole saw you’d use with a drill with the exception that it vibrates rather than spins. The hole saw attachment blade would certainly provide a more perfect circular cut but you are limited to the singular diameter of your hole saw.

To help you picture a multi-function blade attachment, imagine a Swiss Army knife with all of the doo-dads and attachments extended/open. One of these attachments is a dagger blade that looks much like it sounds and allows you to easily pierce drywall and then push or pull along your cut-line (or, in this case, cut-circle).

Using a multi-function blade allows you to make a circular cut of any size; it just may not be as neat as the circle created from a hole saw or a drill bit. However, if you can draw a fairly neat circle, you can probably also cut one using a multi-function blade.

Cutting Out a Relatively Small Square Shape in Drywall

If you need to make neat, precise cutouts for things like electrical boxes or vent registers, a multi-function drywall blade is, again, an excellent choice. This is particularly true when considering that these types of blades generally come with cutting depth markings that allow you to accurately gauge your cutting depth. They also generally come equipped with rasp sections to clean up or fine-tune your cutout afterwards.

Another option for this type of drywall cutout is a plunge cut fine cutting blade. These are generally simple and square in shape and are designed for straight plunge cuts and cut lines. These characteristics would allow the blade to create plumb, square edges relatively easily and quickly.

Performing Flush Cuts in Drywall Along a Horizontal Surface

Sometimes, shopping for blades for your oscillating multi-tool can be slightly confusing, especially if you’re new to using this kind of tool. Blades often come in a variety of packs, and though usually, the blades all look relatively different and clearly state the appropriate material they should be used on, they aren’t always labeled very descriptively.

But thankfully, this one is simple:

A flush-cut blade is exactly what it sounds like. They are usually shaped in half or 3/4 circles and look a bit like a Victorian folding hand fan, though they also come in rectangular shapes and allow you to make cuts parallel to a flat surface without damaging the surface itself. As with most blades, there are flush cut blades meant for drywall, flush cut blades meant for wood, flush cut blades meant for metal, and flush cut blades capable of being used on multiple materials.

Cutting Out Large Panels or Sections of Drywall

Fan-shaped blades, as described above, are also a great choice for cutting out large sections of drywall, though a multi-tool is not the quickest tool for this kind of job. It is recommended that you use something like a drywall cut-out tool, also known as a zip tool, if cutting speed is important to you. However, the multi-tool can provide you with very clean, straight lines if you choose to use it for this purpose.

How to Cut Drywall with an Oscillating Multi-Tool

Using an oscillating tool to cut drywall
Thankfully, using an oscillating multi-tool is fairly easy to get the hang of. If you’ve never used one of these tools before or if you are unfamiliar with the blade you are wanting to use, I recommend practicing on a scrap piece of drywall, first. This is the best way to understand your tool’s speed, power, and quirks.

A simple rundown of the steps you will follow are:

  1. Choose and install the correct blade onto your multi-tool.
  2. Mark your cut-out with a pen, pencil, or chalk line.
  3. Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) like safety glasses, a mask, and gloves. Oscillating multi-tools do not produce a massive amount of dust, but keep in mind that inhaling drywall dust is hazardous.
  4. Turn on your multi-tool and slowly press your blade into your marked cut-line.
  5. If using a straight blade, first allow your blade to reach your desired cut depth and use a slow, gentle side-to-side motion as you move your tool across the desired length of your cut-line.
  6. If using a dagger tool, determine if a push or pull motion is best for your shape (again, practice, practice, practice!), push the edge of the blade to the desired cut-depth, and push or pull your multi-tool along your desired cut-line or curve.
  7. Complete your desired cut-out shape, remove your oscillating multi-tool from the cut-out, turn off the machine, and remove the drywall shape you have just cut.
  8. Admire your new familiarity with yet another useful tool and enjoy your growing collection!