Drilling through tile can be the most frightening part of a DIY project for many people. One wrong move and you crack the tile.
However, it doesn’t have to be scary. If you follow the recommended steps and go slowly, you can install your towel bars and bathroom accessories without fear.
Easy Steps For Drilling Through Tile
Tile requires some specific tools and techniques. We’ve got the process laid out so you’ll be drilling through tile like an expert. Of course, it pays to remember that even pros can make a mistake!
1. What kind of tile do you have?
Knowing the type of tile material you are working with is critical. Understanding a bit about materials in your newly tiled bathroom is key so that you can choose the right tools and drill bits.
Certain kinds of tile require specific drill bits. Pay attention to the recommendations so that you’ll have success when drilling your tile.
- Porcelain tile is harder than ceramic. So when considering how to drill through porcelain tile, you’ll have to push harder to break through. You’ll also need special drill bits that can get through the glaze as well as the porcelain. The same holds true for stone tiles too.
- Ceramic tiles are not quite as hard but they are indeed slippery. When drilling through glazed ceramic tile, you’ll need the right tile drill bit and a few tips to keep the drill from sliding on the surface of regular ceramic tile.
- Glass tiles are also challenging due to their slippery surface. Glass tile material is also more susceptible to scratches and blemishes if the drill bit slides.
2. Use the correct drill bit
Before you start drilling, it’s critical to choose the right tile drill bit. You’ll want to use brand new bits too. A used bit — or the wrong drill bit — can mean tile cracking. Older bits can be less efficient and are far more likely to damage the tile.
Also, never use regular drill bits for tile — they’re just not strong enough.
The proper types for tile drill bits are diamond-tipped drill bits or carbide-tipped drill bits.
Diamond-tipped drill bits are certainly more expensive. Of course, they are also super durable. You can depend on this drill bit to get through hard tiles. These are good for porcelain tiles and they don’t burn out as easily as carbide bits.
Carbide-tipped drill bits are the most common type used to drill through tiles. This type is best for regular ceramic tiles and natural stone tiles, but not for porcelain tiles. Carbide-tipped bits just aren’t as strong as a diamond-tipped drill bit.
3. Gather up the proper tools
In addition to the proper bits, you need a single power tool: a good power drill. You’ll also want to have these things on hand, including the correct protective equipment.
- Masking tape
- Tape measure
- Sponge or cloth
- Dust mask
- Safety goggles
- Latex safety gloves
4. Measure and mark the hole locations
If this isn’t your first time drilling tile, then you already know it’s a slippery challenge keeping the drill bit in the right place.
Before you start drilling, you can make things easier and a little more stable. Try this trick: Use masking tape on the tile surface where you want to make the holes.
Measure the spots for the drilling points and mark the locations with an X. The masking tape will create some tension when you start drilling and it’s just enough to keep the drill bit from slipping.
You’ll also want to use a level to make sure that the marks on the masking tape are properly located. No one wants a crooked tile bar!
If you have to drill more than one hole, you can also make a template out of a piece of wood. Just drill a hole in the wood that’s the same size as your drill bit.
Then, hold it in place as a guide for the drill. It’s also possible to buy commercial drill guides, which might be a good choice if you’re going to be doing a lot of DIY projects.
By the way, the same construction rule of thumb for cutting also goes for drilling tiles. Measure twice, cut/drill once!
5. Drill the tile
The moment of truth! When the holes are marked and measured, it’s time to drill. The first and most important piece of advice is to take your time and go slowly. The tiles are tough so it’s easy to go all out right away and drill fast. But, that’s the quickest way to damaged tile.
In fact, tile drill bit speed is the key factor. The best way to start is to drill slowly on low speed. Trying to drill through tiles is not at all like drilling holes in wood.
Go too hard or fast and you can overheat the drill bit and create vibrations that are enough to crack or damage the tile.
Once you start drilling slowly, you’ll want to add some pressure gradually. Too much pressure all at once will break and crack the tile.
After you successfully drill through the glazed surface of the tile, you can drill a bit faster. You can also add a little pressure to get through the rest of the tile to the wall.
When you reach the wall surface behind the tile, maintain the slow drill speed to keep the wall intact. You want your wall anchor to sit properly in the hole. Also, many experts recommend changing to a regular drill bit once you reach the wall.
6. Keep the drill bit cool
Drilling through tile is a little different in that you need to keep the drill bit cool. As it makes its way through the tile, it gets hot and can overheat.
Also, carbide drill bits will stop when they overheat, but diamond bits will still work as long as you cool them.
There are a few options for ways to do this.
- Use a wet sponge. By holding a wet sponge under the drill bit, you can keep it cool. It also has the added benefit of catching some of the tile dust. If you’re working solo and can’t hold it against the tile whilst drilling, choose another option.
- Spray water on it. It also works to stop drilling periodically and spray some water on the drill bit. Just be sure to keep water away from the power drill motor.
- Commercial spray systems to keep bits cool are available if you’re going to be doing a lot of tile drilling.
7. Clean up the tiles
You’ve marked and made the holes. But, before you attach your toilet paper holders or towel bars, be sure to clean the tile. Drilling tile is a dusty business!
Remove any masking tape that you used. With a wet cloth, wipe down the tile to clean off any dust particles or debris that came from the drilling. Finally, insert your wall anchors or plugs and attach the bathroom accessory.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ
What tile is the hardest to drill?
Porcelain tiles are the hardest tile surfaces. The manufacturing process makes porcelain as hard as stone. It also has a higher silica content than ceramic tile, however, which also makes it brittle. That’s why you can’t use tile cutters for porcelain.
What’s the best drill bit for tiles?
You’ll need different drill bits for different tiles. Carbide-tipped masonry bits work best for standard ceramic tile. The best drill bits to drill through porcelain tile or glass tile are diamond-tipped bits.
Diamond tips help the bit get through the tough surface of the tile without cracking. That is if you drill slowly and properly. The diamond tip style is also good for ceramics, but is not necessary.
How to drill through porcelain tile without cracking?
The best way to drill through tile is to always use a low speed and start slowly. You never want to go too fast or hard on tile, because you can crack it and overheat the drill bit.
Recommendations are to ruin the drill at 100-200 RPMs. This speed will help you bore through the tile without creating strong vibrations that can crack the tile.
It also helps avoid overheating. You’ll also want to use a fresh, new diamond-tipped drill bit.
Why does the drill bit smoke and get hot?
Drilling too fast will create enough friction to make the drill bit smoke and the drill overheat.
Avoid this by being sure to drill slow and by keeping the drill bit cool. You can either occasionally dab it with a wet sponge, spray some water on it or dip it in some cutting oil.
Can I use a hammer drill for drilling into tile?
No! You should never use hammer drills for tile. It is also called a percussion drill or impact drill. While it’s used mainly for drilling hard materials, it is not used for drilling tile.
The hammer drill motion will crack any kind of tile. It might work for brick and stone, but certainly not for tile.
How do you prevent scratching tile?
To prevent scratching your tile, always use light pressure when drilling. Pushing down too hard can make the drill bit slip and make a big scratch on the tile surface.
Using some masking tape or duct tape on the tile where you’re drilling can help prevent slippage. It also adds a bit of protection against scratching.
What about drilling through travertine tile?
Travertine is a natural stone that is part of the limestone family. The soft, porous stone is easy to drill with masonry bits.
The exception is when it has a polished, glazed surface, which makes it harder to drill. In those cases, a diamond tip is the best bet.
Drilling through a ceramic tile: Conclusion
For sure, drilling through a ceramic tile shower to install an accessory can be nerve-wracking. Do it incorrectly and you’ll end up having to replace some cracked tiles.
That said, it’s not a difficult process to drill tiles. You just need the right tools and some patience to know how to drill through tile without cracking it.
If you’ve never done it before, it doesn’t hurt to clamp a spare tile to some wood and practice!