Drilling into tile surfaces is a common requirement for various DIY projects, such as hanging towel bars, shelves, or plumbing pipe stub-outs in tile surrounds. However, tiles are brittle, slippery, and prone to cracking, making this task seem challenging. Fear not, though, because with the right tools, techniques, and precautions, you can successfully drill into tile surfaces without causing damage or headaches.
Before You Begin
Choosing the Right Tools is the first step towards drilling into tile effectively
The tools you select can significantly impact the outcome of your project.
- Spiral Thread Bit vs. Hole Saw: For small holes in tile (between 1/8-inch and 5/8-inch in diameter), opt for spiral thread bits. These bits have a solid shank and are designed to core out the tile by pulverizing it into powder. For larger holes (between 3/4-inch and 4-inch in diameter), use a hole saw. Hole saws are circular and hollow, cutting the perimeter of the hole while leaving the middle mostly intact yet removable.
- Diamond-Tip vs. Carbide-Tip Bits: When it comes to drill bits, never use all-purpose bits meant for wood, metal, or plastic on tile surfaces. Instead, choose either carbide-tip or diamond-tip drill bits. Diamond-tip drill bits are known for their superior strength and durability and are suitable for various materials, including ceramic, porcelain, granite, marble, and glass. Carbide-tip bits are more budget-friendly and work well for softer materials like ceramic tile.
Safety Considerations are paramount when working with tile
Always take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your surroundings.
- Use a Rotary Drill, Not a Hammer Drill: Avoid using a hammer drill as it’s unnecessary and its pounding action may risk cracking the tile. If you have a hammer drill, switch it to rotary mode.
- Wear Safety Gear: When using a hole saw, equip your drill with its control handle to prevent hand and wrist injuries. Additionally, wear safety glasses and a dust mask to shield yourself from tile dust when drilling into tile.
What You’ll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Rotary drill
- Carbide- or diamond-tip drill bits
- Carbide- or diamond-tip hole saw
- Retractable starter bit (for hole saw)
- Painter’s tape
- Fresh water (in a bottle or sprayer)
How to Drill a Small Hole in Tile
Shut Off Services Behind Tile
- In bathrooms, tiled walls often conceal plumbing pipes and electrical wires. To prevent accidents, turn off the electricity to the area at the electric service panel. If you suspect the presence of pipes behind the walls, cut off the water by shutting off the home’s water main.
Find the Stud Behind the Tile:
- Locating a stud behind a tiled wall can be challenging due to the added layer of tile and mortar. Start with a conventional battery-powered dielectric constant (DC) stud finder, as it might detect fasteners through the tile. If this doesn’t work, try a rare earth magnet-based stud finder or use detective work by finding studs in the upper non-tiled portion of the shower.
Add Tape to the Drill Location
- Prevent drill bits from slipping or wandering by placing two layers of painter’s tape on the tile. This provides the drill bit with enough grip to carve out a slight depression in the tile.
Mark the Drill Location
- Use a pen or pencil to mark the drill location directly on top of the tape.
Cover the Area Below the Tile
- Tile dust can be abrasive, so avoid letting it fall onto shower pans, bathtubs, or countertops. Tape sheet plastic on the floor below the drill area to catch the dust.
Start Drilling Slowly
- Turn on the drill at a low speed and begin drilling through the tape. Maintain the drill at a low speed until it carves a shallow dimple in the tile.
Increase Drill Speed
- Gradually increase the drill speed while maintaining steady but not excessive pressure. Take frequent breaks to allow the drill bit to cool down. Spraying a small amount of water on the surface can help control dust and maintain a lower temperature.
Complete the Hole in the Tile
- Continue drilling until the drill bit fully penetrates the tile. Be prepared for the drill to thrust forward and impact the tile’s surface once it fully penetrates. Ease up on the pressure to prevent damage.
How to Drill a Large Hole in Tile
Shut Off Services
- Just like when drilling small holes, begin by turning off electricity and water services. Identify and avoid studs and other obstructions in the wall.
Chuck the Hole Saw Into the Drill
- Attach the hole saw to the drill and ensure it’s securely chucked in. The hole saw should have a center retractable starter bit. Some hole saws have the starter bit attached, while others require separate attachment before chucking it into the drill.
Mark the Drill Spot With Tape
- Apply a small square of tape to the center of the intended hole. This tape helps you monitor the progress of the hole saw on the tile.
Press the Drill Against the Tile
- Press the hole saw’s retractable starter bit to the marked spot and begin drilling. Drill until the pilot catches in the tile and begins digging out material.
Press the Hole Saw to the Tile
- While the drill is rotating, continue to press down until the teeth of the hole saw make contact with the tile. Increase the drill speed. The hole saw should start carving out a shallow circle from the tile.
Stop and Add Water
- Every 30 seconds or so, pause the drilling, clear away dust, and allow the hole saw to cool down. Spraying water in the area helps control dust and keeps the work material cool.
Complete the Hole
- Keep drilling, applying even pressure. Towards the end, be cautious as the drill may fall into the wall cavity. Ease up on the pressure when you feel the hole is nearly complete.
When to Call a Professional
Drilling small holes in tile with a spiral-thread bit is relatively simple and can be accomplished by most DIY enthusiasts with patience and care.
However, drilling large holes in tile with a hole saw can be a more complex task. Especially in environments like shower or bathtub tile surrounds, where precision is crucial, it’s often worthwhile to hire a professional tile expert for this job. Professionals have the experience and tools necessary to ensure the holes are drilled accurately and cleanly, saving you potential headaches and costly mistakes.
In conclusion, drilling into tile surfaces might seem daunting, but with the right tools, knowledge, and safety precautions, you can successfully complete your DIY projects without damaging the tile. Whether it’s a small hole for hanging fixtures or a larger hole for plumbing, this comprehensive guide equips you with the information you need to drill into tile surfaces effectively and efficiently.