How to Cut Holes in Plaster & Lath


Lath and plaster walls were once a common way to finish interior surfaces. Plaster stayed cool in the summer and retained heat in the winter. However, after contractors discovered the low cost of gypsum wallboard, lath and plaster was discarded as building material. While new homes use wallboard to finish interior walls, some older structures still have the original lath and plaster interior finishes. Normally, cutting through lath and plaster is difficult. Use a few simple tools and techniques to cut holes through this type of wall.

Things You'll Need

  • Utility Knife
  • Chisel
  • Keyhole saw
  • Vacuum
  • Mark the location of the hole on the lath and plaster wall. Use a pencil to draw an outline of the hole being cut out. Lath and plaster are harder to cut through than wallboard. Lath consists of thin wood strips nailed to the wall's framing studs. The strips are spaced so there is a small gap between each piece of lath. This small gap allows the plaster to adhere to the lath. Plaster, which is denser than wallboard, is spread in a thick layer over the lath.

  • Trace the outline of the drawn hole with a utility knife, applying pressure to score the plaster. Scoring the plaster cuts a small groove in its surface. The scored groove prevents cracking when cutting out the hole.

  • Chisel out the plaster within the scored area. Hold the chisel at a 90-degree angle, taping it lightly with a hammer. Do not to use too much force because this causes the plaster to crack beyond the boundaries of the hole. Remove plaster from the center of the scored area, working outward towards the scored edges.

  • Cut the exposed lath with a keyhole saw. Keyhole saws are designed with a thin blade tip that will fit into the gap between the lath strips. If the saw's tip does not fit within the gap, use a utility knife to enlarge the gap. Once the gap is enlarged, continue removing the lath strips. Cut the lath as close to the holes edge as possible.

  • Remove any remaining debris from the cut out area. This includes any loose pieces of plaster. Vacuum the chiseled area out to remove any plaster dust. Wipe down the surrounding wall and the hole is complete.

Tips & Warnings

  • Place a garbage can directly under the area being cut out to catch any loose debris falling from the wall. Vacuum the work area immediately after chiseling out the plaster. This keeps plaster dust from spreading throughout the immediate area. If the area being cut is large, consider using a reciprocating saw to cut the lath.

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  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/ Images John Howard/Lifesize/Getty Images
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