We are in the middle of our home remodeling and we have just noticed that our ceiling seems to be a bit thicker than what the maximum our recessed lights allow for.

As shown within the picture link below, our ceiling is comprised of different layers (of different thicknesses):

enter image description here

  1. Lower layer: (visible from the room) made out of sheetrock (5/8in thickness)
  2. Mid layer: Plaster (3/4in thickness)
  3. Top layer: Lath (1/8in thickness)

The recessed light container we are using has adjustable clips for different ceiling thicknesses although we have just noticed that our ceiling is too think so the clips would not really sit on top of the ceiling but rather create resistance on the hole.

enter image description here

My question here is if there is some sort of drill bit that, after drilling the initial hole diameter where the container is going to fit in, could expand the hole diameter above the lower layer of sheetrock.

enter image description here

  • 1
    Do you have access from above, like an attic?
    – Niall C.
    Aug 16, 2012 at 16:18
  • Unfortunately no. 2nd floor apartment in a brooklyn brownstone.
    – macutan
    Aug 16, 2012 at 16:24
  • Tester101, thanks a lot for editing the post (I tried to arrange it in a similar way but I didn't have enough reputational points). Much clearer now.
    – macutan
    Aug 16, 2012 at 16:26
  • You could attach a 5" hole saw upside-down (backwards?) to a drill, but you wouldn't be able to get a 5" hole saw through the 3" hole.
    – Tester101
    Aug 16, 2012 at 16:28
  • Is the visible layer a smooth finish or is it a texture? Aug 16, 2012 at 18:52

6 Answers 6


There is a category of power tool called a multi-tool that is basically a very small saw usefull in cutting in tight spaces.


After you cut the initial hole, this tool could be used to trim away the area in the uper section on an angle to make room for your retaining arms.

The tools come in corded and cordless version, and at various price points. The are very handy and can do other things, such as spot sanding and grinding.

  • Bib!!, thanks a lot for this suggestion, I will try getting one of these and see if i can make it work. For the purpose of closing the question, what is amount of time until people contribute to this question with answers? Your answer looks like a solution to my problem but I am also open to hear other suggestions.
    – macutan
    Aug 16, 2012 at 18:52
  • 1
    @macutan People may/will provide answers until the end of time (or end of Stack Exchange at least). The rule of thumb I use for accepting answers, is to accept the answer after you have successfully completed the task. So if you get one of these tools, and it works out for you, accept this answer. People may continue to add answers and up/down vote those answers, but the one that should get the "check" is the one that worked for you.
    – Tester101
    Aug 16, 2012 at 19:05
  • Tester101 makes a great point. Part of the goal of the site is to get a wide number of viewpoints/solutions from a range of people with divergent experiences. Some of the best Q&As have lots of different approaches to a problem (often several good ones).
    – bib
    Aug 17, 2012 at 11:49
  • I going to give this strategy a go,... I noticed also while looking at multi-tools that dremmel has some circular bits that can cut... so might try that too. Will revert back with feedback of how it went.
    – macutan
    Aug 20, 2012 at 13:03
  • We ended up doing a mix of using this multitool (very gently) and a chisel. thx for all answers!
    – macutan
    Sep 24, 2012 at 14:05

Once you have the hole made, could you not break off the other layers with your hand or a small prying tool? You'd probably only need an extra 1/2" diameter outside of the hole for the cans clips to catch.

Or you could even just mark where the clips are and just chip away some layers at that exact location.

  1. Cut the five inch hole all the way through.
  2. Cut the sheetrock back an additional inch.
  3. Create a plywood ring with outer diameter six inches and inner diameter three inches.
  4. Install that in the hole using three or four toggle-bolt anchors.
  5. Install your recessed fixture.

enter image description here

  • Toggle bolts through a 1" wide strip of plaster and lath is probably not going to hold much weight at all. I wouldn't be surprised if the plaster crumbled when the bolts were tightened, even a little bit. A 1/8" toggle bolt calls for a 3/8" pilot hole, so you'll only have 5/16" of material on the side of the bolt hole.
    – Tester101
    Aug 17, 2012 at 11:56
  • So make the strip wider, or glue it, or back it with another piece of plywood on top - lots of ways to make this work. (Also, you only need an 1/8" hole because you don't need to put the toggles through the holes).
    – dbracey
    Aug 17, 2012 at 15:49
  • Actually, I'd look into ignoring the clips completely and just screwing them into the ceiling through the sides or bottom of the can. Usually the trim ring comes off and there's some metal skirt, which may even have holes in it already.
    – dbracey
    Aug 17, 2012 at 15:51

I just had the same problem when I tried to put in Halo cans. They are made for 5/8 thick ceilings max. My ceiling is 1 inch thick. Here is how I got mine to fit. Take out all the clips and flatten the end that contacts the ceiling in a vice. Now you will have about a half inch of the clip in the vice so just re-bend the clip and it will be shorter. Some of them were still real hard to clip in but I was able to go into my attic and pull on them while my wife pushed them from the bottom. You pull up on the clip till the point or top of the clip comes thought the can. We put in 10 cans this way and I think this might be easier than trying to cut out the ceiling. Its 100 in the attic but only 75 in my back yard. If you can get the right can, that would be the best.


The cans you have are meant to go into a drywall ceiling and it's going to be very difficult to get them to work in your ceiling. You would have to dig a load of ceiling out to allow the arms to swing down, and you'd weaken your ceiling significantly doing so.

I'd say your best bet is to take those cans back and exchange them for ones that are designed to go into a ceiling such as yours, or install a different type of lighting system.

  • Thank you Greg for your prompt reply, is there no drill toolbit that might be able to do the job?, we only need to open up the high layers by just a bit more than an inch...
    – macutan
    Aug 16, 2012 at 16:17
  • I know of no bit that will do that. If you really want to do it this way use a chisel so that you don't take out any more ceiling than necessary. The more material you remove from around the hole the more you weaken your ceiling.
    – GdD
    Aug 16, 2012 at 16:19

Break the clips provided, by bending them repeatedly. Start with less then the distance your ceiling is thicker than 1/2". Now put a similar to original bend on the shortened clip as the original did, install per original directions dictate.

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