Drywall, or sheetrock, is as versatile as it is quick to install. Drywall makes the process simple, whether you’re building a new addition, adding a wall, creating an archway, or patching holes in a wall. However, the product typically comes in large 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets that need cutting to fit. After learning a few simple cutting methods, though, you can master the skill in a short time.
Preparing to Cut Drywall
Drywall is available in lengths up to 12 feet long, so you’ll need a good amount of space to work in and maneuver the material when you’re cutting. Create an open space on the floor where you’re working the size of one drywall sheet plus a few feet on each side to make sure there’s plenty of room before starting.
Measure and Mark
Photo: Angelov / Adobe Stock
The first step to successful drywall cutting is accurate measuring. Measure the wall space that the drywall sheet will cover. Note the measurements for height and width. Also, measure the locations of doors, windows, and electrical outlets that will fall within the sheet’s space.
For lengthwise cuts, make one mark along the long edge of the sheet. Make the mark approximately 1/4-inch shorter than the actual measurement. Line the drywall t-square up to the mark and continue a line from edge to edge of the sheet.
For height cuts or cuts that cross the long dimension of the drywall, make a mark on each short edge of the sheet about 1/4 inch less than you need. Use a chalk line to connect the two marks.
At windows, doors, and outlets, mark and draw the outline of each item. Leave 1/8 inch of clearance on each edge that you draw. You can use the t-square or another straight edge to make precise lines.
Cut Drywall With Utility Knife
Photo: Antonio Gravante / Adobe Stock
The most straightforward cut to make in drywall is also the most common. Use this technique when cutting a continuous straight line from one side to another in drywall.
“As with any custom cutting, we stick to the adage of ‘measure twice, cut once,’” says Bob Tschudi, Angi Expert Review Board member and general contractor in Raleigh, NC. “For drywall, we also make sure that the razor blades are always sharp, as a dull blade will tear the paper.”
Lay the marked drywall flat on the floor or lean it against a wall. Score the top paper of the sheet by firmly dragging the utility knife along the entire length of your line.
Turn the sheet over, so the back of the sheet is facing upward. If it’s leaned against a wall, turn the sheet around, so the back is facing you. Grasp the edge of the sheet section you’re removing with one hand. Press firmly at the cut location with the other hand. Pull the sheet part you’re removing upward (or toward you if leaning) until the gypsum snaps apart.
Continue to support the cut piece and cut the backing paper along the broken seam with your utility knife. Cut from end to end and remove the cut piece. You can use the drywall rasp to cut down rough areas of the cut.
Cut Drywall With Jab Saw
Photo: ungvar / Adobe Stock
Another skill you’ll often use when cutting drywall is making cuts with a drywall jab saw. To do this, stand the drywall sheet on its edge or elevate it to create open space below. Score the top paper of the drywall along your line with the utility knife. Place the tip of the jab saw at the point where you’ll start cutting and firmly apply pressure on the saw until it pokes through the drywall sheet. Move the saw back and forth to cut the sheet.
Make Combination Cuts
Many times you’ll encounter two cut lines that intersect. Use a combination of techniques to make the cuts.
Cut the shortest lines of the layout dimensions from one edge of the sheet to the intersection with the jab saw, as in step three. You can also use a reciprocating saw if you’re cutting inward from the edge of the sheet. After making the short cuts, cut the long line with your utility knife, as in step two. Use the rasp to clean up any rough edges.
Cut Drywall After Hanging
As your drywall cutting skills improve, you can save time and create more accurate cuts by making them after the drywall is in place. You can make these cuts using a jab saw, oscillating saw, or drywall router.
Turn off the power to the electrical circuit if you’re cutting outlet holes. Install the drywall sheet in its final location. Use several screws to attach it to the wall, but only enough screws for support.
Poke your saw through the drywall at or near a corner of your cutout. Feel the edge with your saw tip and cut along the outside edge of the outlet box, window frame, or door frame until you reach the end of the first edge. Turn your saw blade in the direction of the next edge and continue cutting. Continue until the cut piece is loose, then finish attaching the drywall sheet to the wall with drywall screws.
“If your cutouts for outlets are slightly larger than the wall plate, you might not have to repair it, as electrical suppliers now offer oversized covers,” says Tschudi. “We use these ‘jumbo’ covers as our standard.”
Cutting Drywall Yourself vs. Hiring a Pro
Cutting drywall is a simple process. It can be challenging to measure the location of outlets and other cutouts accurately. Fortunately, drywall mud can cover almost any mistakes, so you won’t have to throw away less than perfect sheets. Each drywall sheet costs between $8 and $18, or about $0.25 to $0.38 per square foot.
If hanging drywall isn’t your idea of a good time, or if you simply don’t have the time for a large project, a nearby drywall installer can help. Professional drywall installation costs around $1.50 to $3 per square foot and includes cutting, hanging, and finishing for the entire project.