How To Drill Through Tile Without Damaging It

Your tiled wall is finished and ready for accents, but that requires drilling through the tile. Before you drill into that smooth tile, you need to know how to drill the necessary holes without cracking and breaking any tile. So where do you start?

1. Choose the drill bit. Regular drill bits are not strong enough to drill through the hard surface of tile. There are two common drill bits recommended for drilling into tile.

Carbide-tipped masonry drill bits are probably the most widely known for drilling into tile. They are designed for drilling into rock-hard surfaces, and with patience and care can be used effectively for drilling through tile without causing the tile to break.

Diamond-tipped drill bits are even more durable and are recommended by many for drilling through hard tile surfaces. Diamond-tipped drill bits are best for drilling very hard types of tile; they may be more expensive, but they will not burn out as easily as masonry bits.

2. Breaking through. The most difficult part of drilling into tile without ruining the tile is getting through the hardened, glazed outer surface. Tiles are made to be strong and withstand a lot of abuse, but these characteristics that make them durable home products also render them resistant to drilling.

It is difficult to start a drill into tile because the drill bit tends to skip around on the top surface rather than bite into the tile and bore through, but there are a few “tricks of the trade” you can employ.

One way to get a drill bit started into tile is to make an X over the tile in the spot to be drilled using masking tape. Be sure to measure again after applying the masking tape so the drilled hole is not misplaced, then start your drill bit into the tape. The tape gives the bit surface traction.

Scratching an X into the tile at the point of drilling works in a similar fashion, providing enough of a place for the bit to grip without skittering around the tile. Be careful not to scratch into an area that will be visible and leave unsightly marks on your tile.

A reusable way to keep the drill bit in place and keep from having to continuously apply tape is to notch out a small area from a block of wood. Hold the “keeper” in place over the drill hole with your free hand.

3. Boring through. Once the bit is started, the rest is a matter of patiently boring through the tile with the drill until you break through. Hard tiles can take some time drilling.

Start drilling slowly, on low speed. Gradually increase the speed as appropriate, but understand that drilling tile is not a question of speed, but rather persistence. Apply constant firm pressure, but not too hard or you will break through the tile rather than drilling into it.

The tip of the drill bit should be kept lubricated to avoid overheating the bit and burning it out by wearing it down or breaking. Water is the safest way to lubricate and cool the drill bit as you go. Devise a hose system delivering a constant trickle of water over the bit, or spray as you go with water. An extra set of hands is useful; if you are on your own, pause periodically to spray the drill bit (tip area only). Of course, use common sense and never spray water into or directly on the motorized portion of the drill.

Getting boring, lubrication, speed, and pressure right takes some practice. For best results, start slow and prepare to take your time, gently increasing speed and pressure as needed.

4. The backside. Once you are through the tile itself, the pressure is off. The rest of the project should be smooth drilling to bore through the wall board or mounting surface. Decrease the speed and pressure on the drill or switch to a regular drill bit to finish the hole through the wall board. Avoid crashing through wall board surfaces. The back side of the wall will be blown apart and will not hold wall anchors.

Insert needed wall anchors. The portion of the anchor that sits into the tile should house only an unthreaded screw top. Expanding an anchor in a tile with a threaded screw may crack the tile. The board behind the tile should be relied on for anchoring.

5. Finish. Your hole is now drilled and ready for hanging items. Now that your first tile-drilling experience is over, subsequent attempts should only get easier using the knowledge you have gleaned from the project. With patience, persistence, and a little luck, hopefully you won’t need to read on to find out how to replace a broken tile.

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