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How to Drill Into Brick

Drilling into brick is easier than you think.

Drilling into brick needn’t be a chore. All it takes are the right tools and a calm approach. Hanging artwork, mirrors, or more substantial items like shelving and cabinets is easy as long as you follow our step by step guide.

Want to know how to drill into brick? Read on.

How to Drill Into Brick

Choose the right drill. Hammer drills are best because they tackle the toughest material. Also keep in mind your personal safety. Brick dust contains hazardous material. Use HSS masonry drill bits, starting small and working up to the size you need. Drill a pilot hole, and then scale up.

Is It Better to Drill Into Brick or Mortar?

This is always hotly debated. The answer depends on what you are drilling for and what you intend to hang on the wall. Mortar is softer than brick, so it’s easier to drill through. It is ideal for hanging lighter items like picture frames and paintings.

However, we wouldn’t recommend hanging shelving by drilling into mortar alone. Old mortar is particularly crumbly and quickly turns to dust. New mortar would still struggle to take the weight of heavier objects.

One advantage of drilling through mortar, though, is that you don’t need a hammer drill. A rotary drill will do just fine.

Brick is solid, so it is better to drill through if you are hanging something with significant weight. This is only true of newer brickwork. Old bricks are weaker, and just like old mortar, they too become crumbly.

You run the risk of cracking older bricks. So, in this instance, it might be better to drill through the mortar to give your anchor a solid brick to expand against.

Finally, drilling into mortar is easier to patch should you decide that you’ve drilled in the wrong place. Trying to repair brickwork will leave obvious spots where the hole has been.

What Type of Drill to Use for Brick?

For smaller holes, you might get away with using a rotary drill. That said, the type of drill depends again on the type of brick you have. As we’ve said, older bricks are weaker, as well as easier to drill through, but new bricks can be dense. Therefore, in that situation, you will need something that packs a punch.

Say hello to the hammer drill.

Hammer drills are perfect for drilling through masonry; it’s what they were made for. The rotation of the drill bit is enhanced by the hammer action, pushing the bit up and down at the same time.

This hammer action, or percussive motion, is what makes the hammer drill a powerful hand tool. But it doesn’t end there. Once you have the hammer drill, you will then need the right drill bit.

What You Need

Having the right tools and equipment makes drilling into brick easier. But before we start, we need to talk about Personal Protective Equipment:

  • Protective goggles (It is dusty work).
  • Ear defenders (Hammer drills are noisy).
  • N95 respirator (Brick dust contains hazardous particles).
  • Work gloves.

So here’s what you need:

  • Tape measure and pencil.
  • Hammer drill.
  • Masking tape.
  • High-Speed Steel masonry drill bits (one small and one the desired size for the hole).
  • Can of compressed air.
  • Wall anchors or anchor screws.
  • Dustpan and brush.
  • Vacuum cleaner with pre-filter.
  • Mop (Optional).

How to Drill into Brick

1. Make a Mark on the Wall

Measure the exact position where you want the holes to go using the tape measure. Mark the spot with the pencil. When done, offer up the bracket or shelving, or whatever you are hanging on the wall, to see that the marks are accurate.

Top Tip

Measure twice and drill once. It’s better to realize a measurement error before you drill a hole, so always double-check.

2. Mark the Depth of the Hole

If your drill has a stop bar, set it to the desired depth you want the hole to be. However, if you don’t have this facility, wrap masking tape around the masonry drill bit to indicate when you have reached that depth.

3. Safety First

Brick dust contains Crystalline Silica, a hazardous substance when inhaled. According to the Department of Labor, nearly 2 million workers are at serious risk from exposure to silica.

N95 respirators remove 95% of harmful pollutants, like Crystalline Silica, preventing long term damage to lung tissue.

It’s time to take personal protection seriously. Put the goggles on, along with the gloves, ear defenders, and the N95 respirator. Don’t be tempted to ignore these protections, because drilling into brick can be dangerous.

Also, if you are drilling above head height and need a ladder, make sure that the ladder feet are on a flat and stable surface.

4. Make the Pilot Hole

Insert the pilot drill bit into the hammer drill, set the speed to slow, and position the drill perpendicular to the wall. This is important because if you drill at an angle, it will affect the grip of the anchor and make life difficult when trying to line up the screws to fix your bracket to the wall.

Don’t exert too much downward force on the drill bit at this point. You want it to slowly turn until it starts to bite into the surface of the material. Once you feel resistance, press harder using steady force until the pilot drill reaches the desired depth.

Quick Note

If the drill has one speed, work in short bursts to minimize the drill bit veering off the path of the hole.

5. Change to a Larger Drill Bit

Change the smaller bit for the HSS drill bit that matches the diameter of the hole you want. Again, using the same principles of setting the drill perpendicular to the wall and applying a steady downward force, start turning the drill bit slowly as it starts to bite.

Once you have reached the bottom of the hole, withdraw the drill bit.

6. Clear the Debris from the Hole

Use the can of compressed air to clear away any brick dust and debris from the hole. Keep your face at a distance when you do this. Make sure all the dirt is out, or it will compromise the integrity of your wall anchors.

7. Insert the Anchor

Insert the wall anchor, making sure it is flush with the surface of the wall. Offer up the item you are hanging and insert the screws. Make sure they are tight, but be careful not to overtighten. Wall anchors are plastic and easily damaged if overtightened. This reduces their grip on your item.

Quick Hint

If you don’t want to use anchors, use anchor screws instead. They grip hard surfaces. Make sure you drill a hole slightly smaller than the diameter of the screw so it can gain some purchase.

8. Clean up the Work Area

Keep your goggles and N95 respirator on but remove the ear defenders. Sweep away the largest chunks of debris, then grab the vacuum cleaner to suck the remaining brick dust away. If you have a solid floor, use the mop.

Once completed, take yourself outside with the can of compressed air and clean off your shoes and clothes. Then wash your clothes and take a shower.

Yes To Overalls

If you want to protect your everyday clothing, invest in a pair of work overalls.

Just Another Brick in the Wall

Drilling into brick is simple — not something to be feared. Once you complete the first hole, you will be wondering what all the fuss was about.

With the right tools, proper guidance, and a plan to execute the job (making double-sure you keep yourself safe), you will be hanging brackets, mirrors, shelves, and cabinets in no time.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.