Dear Mr. Electrician:  What is the best way to remove the pre-punched concentric knockouts in an electrical circuit breaker panel without loosening the remaining outer knockout rings?

Answer:  Remove the concentric knockouts very carefully.  If you look closely at the way the concentric knockouts are stamped on the electrical load center you will see that they alternate between being punched in and being punched outwards.  You could start with the smaller center KO first, but I usually go with whatever is easier and most convenient for each job.

I use a hammer and an old screwdriver for making the first punch.  Begin the knockout removal by banging it in the direction that it was pre-punched from the factory.  Depending on the manufacturer, some concentric knockouts are easier to remove than others.  NOTE: Text links below go to applicable products on Amazon and Ebay.

Concentric Knockout Removal

Concentric knockouts that have been punched in with a hammer and a screwdriver
Concentric knockouts that have been punched in with a hammer and a screwdriver

Once you get it started by hitting with the screwdriver you need to twist it or knock it forth and back a few times to loosen it up.  If you have a good pair of diagonal pliers or a pair of BX Cutters you can sometimes get in there and cut one or more of those welds or the ring itself.  Just don’t try to get it real fast.  Be patient and work it out.  You will feel the knockouts get loose as you move them forth and back.

Two concentric knockouts punched in a little
Two concentric knockouts punched in a little

For subsequent knockout rings sometimes you can use your pliers to carefully pry the ring halves until they are up enough to squeeze them together and then move the pliers forth and back parallel to the anchor point until it breaks off.

If you try to rock in the other direction it will tend to twist the next ring up.  Just keep removing the rings in the direction that they were punched and you should be fine.

Adjustable pliers squeeze the punched in knockout ring
Adjustable pliers squeeze the punched in knockout ring

In a situation where the electrical sub-panel is recessed in a wall, you can use a long thin screwdriver and stick it between the edge of the wall and the edge of the panel to apply a little pressure on one of the rings from the outside to get it started.

Ebay Has New Electrician Tools

Cutting the punched out knockout ring using BX cutting pliers
Cutting the punched out knockout ring using BX cutting pliers

Each electrical manufacturer’s concentric knockouts are different in strength and ease of removal.  Sometimes they pop out too easily and you have a much bigger opening then you need.  Fortunately there are reducing washers available in all trade sizes, made to transition from the larger opening down to the size that you need.

If you punch out the wrong knockout, it can be sealed up again using a knockout seal.  Reducing washers and knockout seals can be purchased online or at almost any local electrical supply company.

The cut concentric knockout ring can be easily removed
The cut concentric knockout ring can be easily removed

The knock outs on a load center cover tend to be much easier to remove to allow for each circuit breaker.  However there is always a possibility that the wrong knock out gets removed or a circuit breaker is relocated thereby leaving an open knock out on the load center cover.  Fortunately every electrical load center manufacturer also has available blank filler plates to cover up the empty slots in the circuit breaker cover.

Two knockouts completely removed to the desired size
Two knockouts completely removed to the desired size

The remaining burrs on the knockout holes can be filed down using a half round file.

BX Cutters after cutting out some concentric knockouts
BX Cutters after cutting out some concentric knockouts

If you punch out too big of a hole, you can use reducing washers.  If you punch out the wrong hole, you can fill it with a knockout seal.

First knockout punched inward for removal
First knockout punched inward for removal

In the electrical panel above the inner 3/4″ knockout was the easiest to punch out first.

Knipex high leverage diagonal pliers cutting the knockout rings on the bottom of the electrical panel
Knipex high leverage diagonal pliers cutting the knockout rings on the bottom of the electrical panel

I cut the next ring using my Knipex Diagonal Pliers.

Cut knockout rings on the bottom of a sub-panel
Cut knockout rings on the bottom of a sub-panel

With the concentric knockout ring cut it is very easy to remove by moving it forth and back a few times.

Diagonal pliers cutting through the 1 1/4" concentric knockout ring
Diagonal pliers cutting through the 1 1/4″ concentric knockout ring

The last concentric KO ring that I needed to remove was cut.

Cut concentric knockout rings inside of an electrical panel
Cut concentric knockout rings inside of an electrical panel

Cutting the concentric KO rings is not always this easy.

Inch and a quarter knockout removed from electrical panel
Inch and a quarter knockout removed from electrical panel

All of the unneeded concentric knockout rings have been removed.  An 1 1/4″ connector will be going into the above knockout.

If no pre-punched factory made concentric knockouts are available, you will need to make your own hole using a hole saw or a knockout punch.  You can find the correct size on my electrician’s hole saw post.