Of all the drilling jobs you might need to complete as a DIYer or professional, making holes in tiles is one of the most intimidating. Tiles are brittle and prone to cracking or snapping if you don’t use the correct approach.
Fortunately, with the right tools, techniques, and a little patience, you should be able to make holes in tiles without any issues. If you have never done it successfully before, you might need some advice on how to do it properly.
To help you do that, we have written a step-by-step guide on how to drill through tile. This includes which tiles are the hardest to drill, the equipment you will need, and the technique you should use.
- Choose the right drill bit: Carbide-tipped for ceramic tiles and diamond-tipped for natural stone, porcelain, or glass tiles.
- Set the drill speed to 100-200 RPM and start drilling slowly with gentle pressure to prevent cracking the tile.
- Use masking tape on the tile surface to prevent the drill bit from slipping and causing damage.
- Wear safety goggles, gloves, and a face mask while drilling to protect yourself from debris and dust.
What Tile Is the Hardest to Drill?
Porcelain and natural stone tiles are the hardest types to drill through. Porcelain is the toughest tile material as the heating process in the kiln alters its composition, making it into artificial stone.
Porcelain has high silica content and when it is fired at the correct temperature for long enough, it becomes as hard as granite. It is also very brittle, which means tile cutters will probably be unsuitable.
Glass tiles are also difficult to drill as they have slippery surfaces, which means the drill bit is less likely to grip. Be careful when drilling through glass tiles as there is a high risk of your drill veering off course and scratching the surface, ruining its appearance.
Ceramic tiles are generally the easiest to drill as they have a softer, more powdery composition. Once you have broken through the glaze, your drill bit should find it easy to bite into the material.
What is the Best Drill Bit for Tiles?
Each drill bit is intended for a different purpose, so it is important to know which one to use to drill through tiles without damaging the surrounding area.
Carbide-Tipped Drill Bit
For drilling standard ceramic tiles, the best drill bit to use is a carbide-tipped masonry bit. They have the strength required to grind through the surface layer of glaze and penetrate the tile, but they should be used at a slow speed. If you drill too fast, you risk the bit slipping across the surface of the tile, scratching or even shattering it.
Diamond-Tipped Drill Bit
When drilling natural stone, porcelain, or glass tiles, you should use a diamond-coated drill bit. The diamond grit scrapes away the surface of the tile, removing the tough outer layer without applying so much pressure that the tile cracks.
Diamond-tipped bits are also suitable for ceramics, which are a little softer to drill into. They can withstand extreme heat, so they won’t dull quickly due to the friction of drilling.
What is the Best Tile Drill Bit Speed?
You should always use your drill at a slow speed when working with tiles. Rushing your work increases your risk of scratching the surface or potentially shattering the tile due to the extra pressure. Try setting your drill to 100 or 200 revolutions per minute. By doing this, the bit can grind away the surface of the tile without overheating and causing damage.
When drilling tiles, it is important to protect yourself as shards of debris could be launched. You should always wear:
- Safety goggles protect your eyes against flying debris and abrasive dust
- An N95 face mask filters out as much dust as possible and prevents you from inhaling it
- Non-slip latex safety gloves provide a better grip and protect your hands against tile shards
Once you have the required protective gear, you will need the following equipment, depending on your tile material:
- Tape measure
- Wooden block
- Wet sponge
- Vacuum cleaner
- Masking tape
- Masonry drill bit
- Wood drill bit
- Diamond-tipped drill bit
- Carbide-tipped drill bit
How to Drill Through Tiles
1. Measure Twice, Drill Once
Like any DIY task, you should always double-check your measurements before you start drilling. If something goes wrong later, it will be almost impossible to fix without replacing the entire tile. Use your tape measure to determine where you want the hole and mark the spot with a pencil.
When you are satisfied that your mark is in the right spot, stick a strip of masking tape to the surface of the tile. This tape will have a rougher surface than the tile, which will reduce the risk of your bit slipping while drilling.
2. Make a Template
You can check your measurements by drilling pilot holes into a wooden block. This is useful when you are drilling multiple holes for objects such as shelves and want a quick, reliable way to drill accurately.
It should be possible to mark your drill spots with one hand while holding the wooden template with the other.
3. Wear Your Safety Gear
Before you start drilling, put on your goggles, gloves, and face mask. This is also a good time to insert your drill bit into the drill. Determine which bit to use based on the type of tile you are drilling.
4. Start Drilling
Once you have the right tools, have prepared the surface, and put your safety equipment on, you can start drilling. Take things slowly as overheating your drill bit or causing vibrations could lead to the tile cracking.
Touch your drill bit to the tile and let it spin at the lowest speed setting while applying gentle, consistent pressure. As the bit turns, it should penetrate the protective layer of glaze and start biting into the underlying material.
5. Increase your Speed
Increasing the speed doesn’t mean you should try to use your drill at maximum speed. You can increase it gradually, for example going from 100 RPM to 200 RPM.
If you are encountering resistance and your drill bit is starting to get hot, you can soak a sponge in cold water and use it to cool the bit.
Keeping the bit cool will help it stay sharp for longer and decrease the risk of the tile cracking. Be very careful not to get any water in your drill motor as it could cause serious damage.
6. Swap the Drill Bit for the Substrate
If you want to drill a deep hole, you will probably need to replace the bit after it passes through the tile, depending on the substrate. If your tiling is mounted on plyboard backing, use a wood drill bit. If it is on blocks or bricks, use a masonry drill bit.
After switching bits, place it in the existing hole and drill into the backing, being careful not to enlarge the hole or veer off course. Once you have reached the required depth, withdraw the drill.
7. Clean the Hole
Use your vacuum cleaner to suck any debris out of the hole. Try to make it as clean as possible so the wall anchor fits snugly and won’t be pulled out by the weight of whatever you are mounting on the wall.
You can use a damp sponge to wipe away any stubborn dust residue.
Top Drilling Tips
- Diamond-tipped drill bits are harder-wearing and have better heat resistance. You just need to make sure to cool them after each use. Carbide-tipped bits become dull far more quickly when they are hot.
- Drilling into grout is easier than drilling into tiles. If possible, try to make holes in the grout rather than the tiles, as there is less risk of damaging the surrounding surface.
- Use a drilling template, or a special accessory called a drill guide. Drill guides have suction cups that will attach to the tile and provide a clear guide of where the drill bit needs to go. These guides are typically plastic and are more expensive than simply making your own template with a block of wood.
- Instead of water, use fresh cutting oil. This lubricates the drill bit and helps it stay cooler for longer.
- To avoid drilling too deep, wrap some masking tape around the drill bit to indicate when you reach the required depth.