Up until about the 1950s, houses were constructed with wood lathe and plaster instead of more lightweight and efficient drywall. The plaster was comprised of three layers, each rock-hard and difficult to saw through. Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you’ve found yourself squaring off against one of these formidable plaster walls that needs to come down, or maybe you just want to blast through it to build a window or door.
Whatever your battle, cutting plaster can be a challenge, especially if you need to preserve any of the wall you’re cutting around. You’ll need to be careful about creating too much vibration, which can crumble or crack the plaster. But fear not. Your internet-scouring has led you to the answers you need. Below are the best ways to tackle plaster without breaking the wall, your back or the bank. We’ve even included the top products of 2020 to help you get the job done.
A Comparison of our Favorite Picks for 2021
Renovating Older Homes
Unlike the drywall homes of today, before 1950, walls were constructed with plaster. It was hard, cracked, and tough to work with if doing home renovations, unlike the much more affordable and efficient drywall we are all familiar with. And if you intended to cut a plaster wall, the skill and tool had to be very specific.
Many people flip houses these days as a revenue stream, and some of those houses are pretty old. Southern homes can date back as far as when plantations littered the countryside. And while their historical aesthetic is charming, updating electrical work and other small renovations will still require you to cut through plaster.
Cutting Plaster the Right Way
The trick when cutting plaster is in the challenge of getting through the hard material without damaging the surrounding wall. Plaster might be hard, but too much vibration can crack it. Unless the entire wall is coming down, you have to do it a certain way for the integrity of the plaster.
First, you need the right tools and the right protective equipment. Plaster is very dusty when cut, and inhaling it is not wise. Always wear goggles and a mask when doing anything involving plaster cutting.
The 3 Best Tools for Cutting Plaster
1. Angle Grinder with Diamond Blade
The high speed of an angle grinder is perfect for cutting through plaster without causing too much vibration. Before you get started, you’ll want to mark off the area with masking tape and draw your cut lines over the tape. This will help reinforce the plaster while you’re working. You won’t need to apply much force, just let the tool do the work. Once you’ve made your cut lines, you can then remove the plaster and cut the wood lath behind it, if needed. Keep in mind, cutting plaster will generate significant dust and might even throw silicates or lead into the air. You’ll need to wear a respirator and goggles while you’re working and clean up with a HEPA-filtered vacuum or wet mop.
We recommend you wear the Gerson Silica & Concrete Dust Respirator Kit with Pancake Filters – Signature Pro Series for the best protection. Check out our recommendation below for the best angle grinder to get your job done.
- Angle grinder comes with 13 Amp motor
- 8,500 RPM metal grinder
- Guard can be adjusted to redirect sparks away from user
2. Reciprocating Saw
As mentioned above, tools with high vibration are not great options for detailed plasterwork. You can easily crumble or crack the surrounding plaster. But if you’re planning to topple an entire wall, a reciprocating saw can you give you great power and efficiency. They’re not completely destructive to smaller projects either.
If you mark off the cutting area with masking tape to reinforce the plaster and use a high-powered saw (like the one we recommend below), you can make successful cuts. You’ll want to start by punching a small hole in the middle of your cutting area with a drill bit (see our number 3 recommendation). Don’t use a hammer, or you’ll get cracks spidering in every direction. Once you’ve made your hole, insert the saw blade and cut outward to your line. Use a 6-inch demolition blade for best results, and take precautions for dust as mentioned above, including a respirator.
Check out the model below for our top pick of reciprocating saws.
- Powerful 11.0 AMP motor that delivers up to 2,800 strokes per minute
- Variable speed trigger for precise cutting in a wide variety of applications
- "Tool-less" blade change and shoe adjustment for fast blade installation and removal
3. Carbide Drill Bit
Cutting plaster isn’t always about removing squares. You may need to drill a hole for multiple reasons, such as anchoring screws or starting a hole to install an electrical plate (or if you’re using a reciprocating saw). The best way to cut holes in plaster is to use a carbide drill bit. As with the other methods above, you’ll want to use masking tape to cover the area first, which will reinforce the plaster. When you make your hole, drill right into the masking tape. You’ll want to use a low speed to prevent cracking and damage. Avoid pushing on the drill, as well. Let the power do its thing or you’ll risk cracking. Below is our top pick for carbide drill bits that’ll melt right through plaster.
- 2 cutter carbide tip of masonry drill bit set maximizes carbide surface contact for longer bit life.
- Four flute design cleans debris out for fast, efficient drilling
- Three flats on shank eliminate bit slipping in chuck (except DW5232, DW5233, DW5237, DW5238)
Vibration is your biggest adversary when cutting plaster. It looks like it’s hard as concrete, but it can be brittle and can crack easily with age. Whatever tool you pick, the lower the working vibration, the better. If you do have to cut with a device that vibrates, prepare the plaster first.
There are some ideas on how to do that, but the one that seems to work the best is tape. If you tape the cut line, then cut through it, the plaster will be less likely to crumble. Again, age makes a difference. To stem those concerns, use an angle grinder, monitor the pressure you use, and always use a diamond blade.
Cutting plaster can be a hairy business, especially with the wrong tools. Whichever option you choose, make sure to avoid too much vibration against the walls. Handsaws and hammering can especially cause instantaneous chipping and fracturing. Look for high-powered tools that will gradually work into the plaster and avoid short blades.
The angle grinder is really your best bet among the options above, as it will give you the ability to monitor the amount of force going into the wall. All the methods above can cause damage to the surrounding plaster if you don’t use making tape for reinforcement, so be sure to tape off the area thoroughly before you start cutting. It’s also crucial that you protect your lungs with a respirator (again, we recommend the Gerson Silica & Concrete Dust Respirator Kit with Pancake Filters – Signature Pro Series). Use care cleaning up the dust afterward, as well. You’ll need a HEPA-filtered shop vac or wet mop to keep from kicking the dust up in the air.
Cutting options are sparse when it comes to ripping through plaster. It’s a delicate process, and you’ll want to use care to preserve the remaining structure. Remember to go for high power, long blades, and carbide or diamond blades to make sure you get a clean cut. A lot of information is swimming around out there on the internet, so we hope this guide has narrowed your options, and helped you decide on the perfect tool and method to get your project done efficiently, cleanly, and without damage. Good luck tackling that plaster!
Pete has been working in the trades since high school, where he first developed a passion for woodworking. Over the years, he has developed a keen interest in a wide variety of DIY projects around the home. Fascinated by all sort of tools, Pete loves reading and writing about all the latest gadgets and accessories that hit the market. His other interests include astronomy, hiking, and fishing.
As the founder of House Grail, David’s primary goal is to help consumers make educated decisions about DIY projects at home, in the garage, and in the garden.