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How can I cut a semi-circle out of a curved surface, such as this:

this object on a rifle

As you can see from the picture, the circled area is one I'm having trouble with. I can't seem to find a way to cut a hole into a curved surface without messing up the topology. Could someone help me with this?

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Cutting it without messing up the topology (ngons, tris, unwanted distortions, etc.) will be hard.

However, for your specific case I think you might have better luck building the shape by extruding/filling.

For example:

  1. Duplicate a cylinder:

    enter image description here

  2. Select some of the edges along the top/bottom of the cylinder and press W>Bridge edge loops:

    enter image description here

  3. Repeat for the other side(s), then add a solidify and a subserf modifier:

    enter image description here

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