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Feeds to the Attic Plumbing chases and chimney chases are the first places to look when trying to find a route for feeds to the attic. When these don’t work, you should check to see if any closets line up from one floor to the next. You may be able to run a piece of pipe in the corner of the closet to pull your feeds through. If there is an obvious way to get wires to the attic (such as a chimney chase or plumbing chase), I usually pull a few up there, then work down into the walls. It’s also easier to find walls from the attic because they were often framed before the ceiling was covered. All you have to do is lift the insulation and look (Figure 7).

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Figure 7. Finding partition walls from the attic is usually easy — just lift the insulation and look for the top plates.


It’s often necessary to make notches in the wall and ceiling to get around framing members. These should be as small and neat as possible. The most common place I have to notch is where the wall meets the ceiling (Figure 8).

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Figure 8. After drilling one hole to find the bottom edge of the top plate, you can drill at an angle that will pop the bit through the center of the wall in the attic.

Say I’m running a wire from a wall switch to a ceiling light. The goal is to get a wire from the wall bay up into the joist bay. Using a 1/2-inch spade bit, I start at the corner and drill to find the bottom edge of the top plate. I then drill up from the corner through the plate into the joist bay. You may also have to make notches to get from one stud (or joist) bay into the next. After finding the stud, I drill a 1-inch-deep hole in its center. I then drill at a tight angle in both directions to get access into both bays (Figure 9).

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Figure 9. To run a wire across a stud or joist, the author drills three holes: one straight in, and one each at a tight angle into each bay.

This leaves only a small hole to patch.

Cutting in Boxes

After establishing where I want a box to be (Remember: Measure to the height of the other boxes in the room, not the cover plates!), I trace the outline of the box onto the wall. Then, depending on the wall finish, I often scribe the outline of the box with a razor knife. With wood paneling, scribing prevents splintering; if the wall is wallpapered, it prevents tearing. On a skim-coat plaster wall, scribing with a razor knife prevents the plaster edge from splitting and peeling away from the blueboard. Next, using a 3/8-inch spade bit, I drill out the corners of the box, then cut it out with a cordless jigsaw. I carry two hole saws for cutting in round boxes: a dull one for cutting through plaster and a sharp one for cutting through wood and wood lath.

Plaster and Lath

Cutting rectangular boxes into true plaster and lath requires a little more work. After determining the approximate location of the box, I drill 1/8-inch holes about 1/4 inch apart until I find the space between two pieces of lath. I work my way up until I find the next space, then I center the box on the piece of lath before tracing the outline of the box. I drill out the corners, then I use the razor knife to scribe and completely remove the plaster. I like the cordless jigsaw for cutting lath because it vibrates the wall less than a keyhole saw. A recip saw or corded jigsaw will shake the wall to pieces. When using the cordless jigsaw, I never let the shoe touch the plaster. Any vibration will turn the plaster to dust. To finish the cut, slide a screwdriver behind the middle piece of lath and hold the lath firmly between your thumb and the screwdriver. Then cut the lath on one side, leaving 1/4 inch uncut. This helps keep the lath from vibrating while you cut the other side. After removing the middle piece, you can grab hold of the top and bottom pieces while cutting them out.

Metal Lath

My first impulse when I find out that a job has metal lath walls is to run away. After my heart stops pounding, I pull out my jigsaw with as many metal blades as I can find — I often go through two blades for each box I cut in. The lath will also destroy a drill bit after a couple of boxes. Another thing to make working with a metal lath wall more difficult is that you can’t use a tone generator. If the energized snake touches the metal lath, the lath will become energized, making an accurate reading impossible.


Patching your holes may be the most important part of the job. A good patching job creates the illusion that you were never there. I like to patch holes as I go so I have time for another coat before going home. Go light on the spackle to avoid sanding. For small holes, I use Onetime, a lightweight spackle from Red Devil that dries so quickly I can get a second or third coat on in the same day. For larger holes, I’ll use a quick-drying mix-up powder like Durabond. This dries even harder and faster than spackle, giving me a solid base coat in a short time. The stuff dries in about 15 minutes, so mix up only what you can use quickly. n