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How to Drill Through Tile: 7-Step Method

Drilling through tile is easier than you think.

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.

Key Takeaways

  • 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.

Equipment Checklist

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:

  • Drill
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • 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.

Drill Bits

Natural stone and porcelain are the toughest tile types, so they will require a diamond-tipped drill bit. Ceramics can be cut using a carbide-coated bit.

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.


Do You Need a Hammer Drill for Tiles?

You should never use a hammer drill on tiles as the percussive motion they use will shatter the tile. The only exception is if your hammer drill has a rotary mode that doesn’t use a hammering action, in which case you can use it to carefully drill holes.

How to Cut Holes in Ceramic Tiles?

One of the best things you can do to cut holes in ceramic tiles is to invest in a set of hollow diamond-coated drill bits. These are available in various sizes. Ensure they have a pilot bit that drills a pilot hole to prevent the larger bit from sliding across the surface as you drill.

Why Do Drill Bits Smoke and Get Hot?

There are multiple reasons why your drill bit might overheat or produce smoke:

  1. Your drill is too fast, increasing the heat generated by the friction between the drill bit and the tile.
  2. You haven’t kept the drill bit cool during operation by either cooling it with a damp sponge or applying lubricant.
  3. You are using the wrong drill bit. Carbide-tipped drill bits become hotter than diamond-tipped bits, which leads to them dulling more quickly. Diamond-tipped bits can withstand higher temperatures and only need cooling after use.

How Soon After Tiling Can You Drill Through the Tile?

You should always leave your tile adhesive to set for at least 24 hours before drilling through the tile. If you are hanging something substantial, such as a bathroom cabinet, you should wait 48 hours to be sure the tiles are secure. It can be tempting to rush but waiting is better than accidentally ruining your new tiles.

Can You Use a Regular Drill to Drill Into Tile?

No, a regular drill is not suitable for drilling into tile. For the drilling process to be successful, the tile must be properly marked and the drill bit must be correctly made for the task.

Using a regular drill will likely lead to cracking and damaging of the tiles. It is best to invest in a good-quality diamond-tipped drill bit as they are specifically designed for drilling through hard surfaces such as tile while also providing even heating throughout the process.

This will ensure that no matter how large or small your job may be, your tiles remain undamaged when drilling is completed.

How Can I Tell If My Tile Is Porcelain or Ceramic?

The primary difference between these two materials is their moisture absorption level. Ceramic tiles are typically composed of red or white clay fired in a kiln and generally feature a glazed surface that is highly resistant to staining.

Porcelain tiles absorb much less water, making them even more stain resistant than their ceramic counterparts. Of course, they’re also more dense and durable than ceramics, but tend to be more expensive.

Check the base of the tile’s glaze to see if it is tan or white. Observe the glaze of the tile. In that case, you are holding a ceramic tile in your hand.

Tiles made of high-quality porcelain often do not have a glaze applied to them, and their colors tend to be distributed evenly over all tile parts. It can assist you in distinguishing between the two types of material.

Compared to ceramic tiles, porcelain tiles, even in their unglazed form, have a grain-free and smooth finish.

Feel the tile’s unglazed surface to determine whether it has a coarse or rough texture. In that case, you have something known as a ceramic tile. If it has the feel of being porous, then the porcelain tile you have is most likely unglazed.

How Do You Drill Through a Tile Without Cracking It?

Drilling through tile without damaging it may seem daunting, but it’s entirely achievable with the right skill and supplies. Depending on what type of tile you’re working with, two types of drill bits are commonly used to create a clean hole: carbide-tipped or diamond-tipped drill bits.

While both are effective for different types of tiles, carbide-tipped drill bits are preferable for softer wall tile and porcelain due to their harder surface that won’t wear away easily from repeated rotations.

In contrast, diamond-tipped drill bits may be preferable for drilling into granite or other hard stones due to the strength and durability of diamonds which hold up well under pressure.

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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.