Learn how to cut a circle in wood six different ways, depending on the tools you have in your garage or workshop!
Cutting circles in wood can be tricky, there's no doubt about it. Heck, it is hard enough to cut a straight line, let alone a perfect circle! However, with the proper tool and the right method, it is entirely doable. Soon you'll be able to cut a circle in wood with ease!
There are quite a few different ways to tackle this task. Each one has its own benefits and setbacks. Some techniques are more accurate, and some are better for quick cutting. Review each method before you start cutting, so you know which one will work best for your project.
Cutting a circular hole vs cutting a wooden circle
Keep in mind that some of these methods are for cutting a circular hole, and some are for creating a wooden circle. If you're building cornhole boards, for example, you want to make a circular hole.
But if you want to make a wooden circle, like the dots on the side of this IKEA Lego table, you want to keep the inside of the circular cut intact.
Now let's learn how to cut a circle in wood!
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Cutting a Circle in Wood with a Hole saw
Using a hole saw is the absolute easiest way to cut circles in wood for your project. All you have to do is lock your hole saw in the chuck of your drill or drill press and start cutting. You can use hole saws to cut circles from ¾ inches up to 7 inches in diameter. If you're making cornhole boards, you'll want to use a 6" hole saw.
Hole saws are the easiest to use, but they have a few drawbacks. Here are some things to look out for.
As you are cutting, use only moderate pressure and pull the hole saw up every few seconds to allow the sawdust from your cut to escape. If you don't, then your hole saw may overheat. If you see scorch marks on the wood inside the hole, you know it's getting too hot!
The entry side of the hole tends to cut cleanly, but the back is another story! You can get serious blow out on the exiting side of the hole if you don't take the proper precautions.
The pressure from the hole saw can cause the back of the board to splinter instead of cutting cleanly. Clamp a piece of scrap wood underneath to prevent blow out and hold those fibers in place throughout the cut.
If you're trying to cut a circle in a thicker piece of wood, you might be limited by the depth of your hole saw. But there's a trick to cut through material twice as thick as your hole saw is deep!
Start cutting the hole on one side of the wood. When your hole saw bottoms out, reverse the drill to take it out. Then insert a normal drill bit into the hole in the center of the circle left behind by the hole saw bit. Drill all the way through to the back of the board.
Now flip the board over and line up the center bit of the hole saw with the hole you just made. The saw will meet the cut in the middle of the board, resulting in two clean sides!
Cutting a hole with an adjustable circle cutter drill bit
If you can't find the right size hole saw for your project, try an adjustable circle cutter instead! It looks similar to a compass, but with a really sharp blade on the end instead of a pencil.
However, you can't use a circle cutter in a hand held drill. You MUST use a drill press. The cutter is asymmetrical, and spins off-balance. This could be dangerous in a handheld drill that could lose control easily! Even in a drill press, you need to adjust the speed to less than 500 RPM.
One added benefit to the circle cutter bit is that the blade can be reversed to create a curved cut edge. If you want to make wooden wheels for toys, this is the tool to use!
Cutting a Circle in Wood with a Jigsaw
This may be one of the most obvious ways to cut a circle in wood. The jigsaw is known for being the perfect tool to make tight cuts and fancy curves. There are a few different ways you can go about cutting a hole with a jigsaw. Some are great for quick cuts that don't require a lot of accuracy and some create finish quality cuts!
Draw the Circle
First, measure and draw your circle on the surface of your material. The easiest way to do this is with a beam compass. Just lock in the radius of your circle, place the point in the center, then draw! A cheaper alternative is a string tied to a nail and a pencil, but it's a little more difficult to get the perfect size.
Freehand Cut with a Jigsaw
If your circles don't need to be absolutely perfect, you can try cutting it out freehand with the jigsaw. How you start the cut depends on whether you're making a circle, or cutting a circular hole.
When cutting out a circle, you can simply start at the edge of the board and guide the blade towards your drawn line. Make sure to cut on the outside edge of the line, then sand down the edges until you get the exact diameter you need. If you're making multiples of the same size, stack them together and sand all the edges at once!
To cut a circular hole in a board, first you need to drill a smaller hole for the jigsaw blade. Use a drill bit to make a hole close to the cut line on the inside of the circle.
Then insert the jigsaw blade into the hole, and cut out the circle by following the inside edge of the drawn line. Then sand the cut edge until it's the perfect size!
Using a Jigsaw Circle Cutting Jig
If you need a more accurate cut, you should try using a circle cutting jig for your jigsaw. This jig turns on a centerpoint which guides your saw along the cut. You can buy one, but unless you are making a ton of circles, it probably isn't worth the money. For a cut every now and then, you can just as easily make one!
First, take a thin strip of wood, like 1/2" plywood, about 4 or 5 inches wide. Attach your saw to one end of this board then attach the other end to the center point of your circle with a nail. Watch the video below for more in-depth instructions on how to set this jig up.
Note: If you use this jig to cut your circle, you will get very accurate results, but the edge of your piece will be a bit ragged. This is not because you are doing something wrong, it is simply the nature of using a jigsaw. If you need a perfect circle with a super clean edge, use a router to make your cut, as shown below.
Cutting a Circle in Wood with a Router
If done properly, using a router to cut larger circles will provide the most accurate circle, as well as the cleanest cut. To cut a circle with a router, you must use a guide called a trammel.
Just like with the jigsaw, you can buy a trammel if you are cutting out a ton of different circles. This is the one I have, and it can also cut ovals!
However, you can very easily make one from scrap wood as well. The video below shows you how to make a circle cutting jig for a router.
Cutting a circle in wood with a table saw
This method for cutting circles in wood is a little more advanced. As you probably know, a table saw is not intended for cutting circles. However, with the help of another fancy jig, it can cut very accurate circles as well.
The jig you use to cut circles on a table saw is the exact opposite of the ones above. Instead of moving your saw, this jig allows you to spin the wood against the blade. At first, you will be making long passes, cutting off the square corners.
But soon, your corner cuts will become smaller and smaller. At last, you will finish off by slowly spinning the wood on the edge of the blade until you are left with a circle. You can watch the video below to learn how to build your jig. Pretty cool, right?
Cutting a Circle in Wood with a BandSaw
The process for cutting a circle in wood on a bandsaw is similar to the table saw method above. Before you start to make your cut, you should make sure that all of your bandsaw settings are on point. Your cut relies on accurate measurements, and if things like blade tension, guide blocks, or bearings are off, then you will not get an accurate circle. The video below will explain how to build and use your jig.
Hopefully, cutting a circle in wood doesn't seem like such a daunting task anymore! No matter what tools you have in the workshop or garage, you can tackle this project safely and accurately. Which is your preferred method? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!