Drilling through tile strikes fear into the hearts of most people. Tiles are brittle and prone to cracking if the correct techniques are not adopted. To drill through tiles takes patience and a systematic way of working.
If you’ve ever wanted to know the correct procedure on how to drill through tiles, we show you a step by step guide.
How to Drill Through Tile in 7 Steps
- Mark the spot for the hole.
- Measure twice, mark once.
- Use masking tape to create a non-slip surface.
- Set the drill speed to 100 RPM.
- Start slowly, pressing the drill bit against the tile.
- Use carbide-tipped or diamond-tipped drill bits.
- Clean the hole.
What Tile Is the Hardest to Drill?
Porcelain and natural stone tiles are the hardest to drill through. Porcelain, in particular, is the toughest because the heating process in the kiln changes the make-up of the tile material, turning it into artificial stone.
Porcelain has a high silica content, and when it is fired at the right temperature, and for long enough, it goes as hard as granite. It is also very brittle, meaning that tile cutters are ineffective.
Glass tiles are also tricky to drill because glass is slippery, making it difficult to get the drill bit to grip. Be careful when drilling through glass tiles because you are likely to veer off course with the drill bit and scratch the surface. This makes for unsightly blemishes on tile.
Ceramic tiles are probably the easiest to penetrate because they have a softer, more powdery content. But when you have broken through the glaze, the drill bit has something to bite into.
What’s the Best Drill Bit for Tiles?
Different drill bits have different uses, so knowing which one to use is crucial if you want to drill through tiles successfully.
Carbide-Tipped Drill Bit
If you are drilling a standard ceramic tile, then the best drill bit to use would be a carbide-tipped masonry drill bit. They have the strength to grind through the layer of glaze and penetrate the tile, but only if you do it at a slow speed. Going too fast risks the bit traveling across the surface of the tile, or worse still, it shattering under pressure.
Diamond-Tipped Drill Bit
If you are drilling natural stone, porcelain, or glass tiles, then go for a diamond-coated drill bit. The diamond grit allows the drill bit to scrape away at the surface of the tile, removing the tough outer layer, without applying so much pressure that the tile cracks.
That said, diamond-tipped bits also cope well with ceramics, because they are a little softer to drill into. Also, they can withstand extreme heat, meaning they don’t dull after a couple of uses.
What is the Best Tile Drill Bit Speed?
The simple answer is to use a slow speed setting. Going too fast risks the bit scratching the surface and also the tile shattering under the intense pressure. Try setting your drill at 100 or 200 revolutions per minute. That way, the bit can grind away the surface of the tile without overheating and causing damage.
What You Need
The first thing you need to do is take your safety seriously and invest in the correct protective equipment.
- Safety goggles because drilling through tile creates dust that could get lodged in your eyes.
- An N95 face mask to ensure little or no pollutants present in the tile dust get breathed into your lungs.
- Non-slip latex safety gloves to give you a better grip as well as added protection for your hands.
The tools you will need are as follows:
- Tape measure.
- Wooden block.
- Wet sponge.
- Vacuum cleaner.
- Masking tape.
- New masonry drill bit.
- New wood drill bit.
- New diamond-tipped drill bit.
- New carbide-tipped drill bit.
How to Drill Through Tile
1. Measure Twice, Drill Once
Every tradesperson knows that before you make your first mark, you should double-check your measurements. That way, you don’t make any mistakes. Get your tape measure and pencil and work out where you want the hole.
When you are satisfied that you have the correct location for the mark, grab your masking tape and stick a strip to the surface of the tile. This gives you a non-slip surface that allows you to make your mark and get your drill bit to grip.
2. Make a Template
You could check to see if you have the correct measurements by drilling pilot holes through your wooden block. This is useful when you are drilling more than one hole and need a quick and straightforward way to guide you.
It enables you to mark your spot with one hand while holding the wooden block with the other.
3. Don Your Safety Gear
Before you start drilling, put on your goggles, gloves, and face mask. Also, now would be a good time to load your drill bit into the drill. Decide what bit to use depending on the type of tile you are drilling.
4. Start Drilling
Okay, so you have the right tools, prepped the area, and got your safety equipment on — it’s now time to start drilling. Take things slowly when you start, because you don’t want to heat up your drill bit or cause vibrations that could crack the tile.
Touch your drill bit to the tile and allow it to turn at the lowest speed setting while applying firm but gentle pressure. As the bit turns, it starts to bite into the tile once the protective layer of glaze is penetrated.
5. Increase your Speed
This doesn’t mean you should go mad and increase to the maximum speed of your drill. It’s more of a gradual process, going from 100 RPM to 200 RPM, and so on.
If you are experiencing some difficulties, or the drill bit is starting to run hot, try soaking the sponge in cold water and dripping it over your bit.
Allowing the bit to cool will increase the working life of your tools and decrease the risk of the tile cracking. Be careful that you don’t get water in your drill motor as this will spell disaster for your power tool.
6. Swap the Drill Bit to Suit the Substrate
The type of substrate that the tile sits on determines which drill bit you use once you break through the tile and reach the wall. If your tiling has a plyboard backing, then use a wood drill bit, and if it is on block or brick, use a masonry drill bit.
Follow the existing hole and drill through the backing, being careful not to enlarge the hole or veer off course.
7. Clean the Hole
Grab the vacuum cleaner and suck out the debris inside the hole. You want it as clean as possible so that the wall anchor fits properly and doesn’t slide out under the weight of whatever you are fixing to the wall.
You can use the sponge with water to wipe away any stubborn dust residue.
Top Drilling Tips
- Diamond-tipped drill bits are more hard-wearing and cope better with high temperatures. After they heat, they keep on going. You just need to make sure you cool them after each use. Carbide-tipped bits quickly fade after they heat up.
- Drilling into grout is easier than cutting into tile. If you can, aim your holes in the grout for a hassle-free installation.
- Use a drilling template, or a special accessory called a drill guide. They have a suction cup that attaches to the tile and gives you a clear guide where the drill bit goes. These guides are typically plastic and more expensive than creating a template with a block of wood.
- Swap out water and use fresh cutting oil. This coats the drill bit and helps to keep it cooler for longer.
- To make sure your hole is not too deep, wrap some masking tape around your drill bit to tell you when you have reached the required depth.
Do You Need a Hammer Drill for Tile?
You should avoid using a hammer drill on tile at all costs. The hammer action will shatter the tile.
How to Cut Holes in Ceramic Tiles?
One of the best ways of cutting holes in ceramic tiles is to invest in a set of hollow diamond-coated drill bits. Those tend to come in various sizes. Make sure they have a pilot bit that drills a pilot hole and stops the larger bit from wandering.
Why Does the Drill Bit Smoke and Get Hot?
There are three reasons why this happens:
- You are using the wrong speed, which increases the amount of friction between the drill bit and the tile.
- You have forgotten to keep the drill bit cool during operation.
- You are using the wrong drill bit. Carbide-tipped drill bits get hotter than diamond-tipped bits. They start to dull very quickly if this happens. Diamond bits can withstand higher heat levels and only need cooling after use.
How Long After Tiling Can You Drill Through the Tile?
You should always allow your tile adhesive to set for a minimum of 24 hours. If you are hanging something substantial, like a bathroom cabinet, it might be better to wait 48 hours to be sure the tiles are set.
The last thing you would want is to work the tile loose, or even worse, the surrounding tiles.
The Hole Truth
Drilling through tile is challenging, but not impossible, as we’ve shown. By working methodically, and going slowly, you will be an expert in no time at all.
Why did you fear drilling through tile so much? Now you are the go-to tile guy.