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How to Drill into Tile: a Complete Guide

Drilling into tile, necessary for hanging towel bars, shelves, or plumbing fixtures, can be challenging due to the brittle and slippery nature of tile. However, with the right approach and tools, it’s a manageable task.

Table of Contents

Preparation

Knowing whether you have porcelain or ceramic tile is crucial, as this influences your choice of drill bit. Porcelain tiles are smooth and uniform in color, while ceramic tiles are rougher with just surface glazing. If you need more clarification, consult an expert.

Choose the Right Drill Bit

– Small Holes: Opt for a spiral thread bit.

– Large Holes: A hole saw is more suitable.

– Material of Bit:

– Carbide tip: Reliable and cost-effective for general drilling.

– Diamond tip: Offers high performance and durability, especially suitable for tough tiles like porcelain.

Using an inappropriate drill bit can lead to cracking the tile or damaging the drill bit and the drill itself. By correctly identifying your tile type and selecting the appropriate drill bit, you can successfully drill through the tile without causing damage.

Spiral Thread Bit & Hole Saw for Drilling Tile

When drilling into tile, the size of the hole dictates whether to use a spiral thread bit or a hole saw.

Spiral Thread Bit

– Use for Holes: Ideal for holes between 1/8-inch and 5/8-inch in diameter.

– Design and Function: Features a solid shank and works by coring out the tile, turning it into powder.

– Typical Applications: Suitable for mounting towel racks, soap dishes, shelves, and toilet paper holders.

Spiral Thread Bit

Hole Saw Bit

– Use for Holes: Best for holes between 3/4-inch and 4 inches in diameter.

– Design and Function: Circular and hollow in the middle, a hole saw cuts the perimeter of the hole while leaving the middle mostly intact but removable.

– Typical Applications: Used for larger installations like shower or bath controls, showerheads, bathtub spouts, and water supply for toilets in tile wall surrounds.

Hole Saw Bit

Diamond-Tip & Carbide-Tip Drill Bits

All-purpose drill bits designed for wood, metal, or plastic are not suitable for tile. For tile drilling, the choice is between carbide-tip and diamond-tip drill bits.

Diamond-Tip Drill Bits

Diamond-Tip Drill Bits

– Strength and Durability: Diamond-tip bits are more robust and last longer than carbide-tip bits.

– Versatility: Ideal for drilling ceramic, porcelain, granite, marble, and glass.

– Cost: Generally more expensive, but preferable for their durability and versatility.

Carbide-Tip Drill Bits

Cost-Effectiveness: Less expensive than diamond-tip bits, making them a good value for infrequent tile drilling.

Suitability: Best for softer materials like ceramic tile.

Comparison: The price of a set of four carbide-tip bits is roughly equivalent to one diamond-tip bit.

Limitation: Not suitable for harder materials like porcelain, glass, and stone, which require diamond-tip bits.

Tip for Drilling:

– Opt for a rotary drill rather than a hammer drill. Hammer drills, with their pounding action, might crack the tile, which is especially important to avoid when working with delicate materials. If you only have a hammer drill, ensure that it’s set to the rotary mode to prevent any damage to the tile during drilling.

– Equip the drill with its control handle when using a hole saw to drill a hole in tile. This prevents injury to your hands and wrists. Always wear safety glasses and a dust mask when drilling into tile.

Tools & Equipment Required

  • Safety glasses
  • Dust mask
  • Stud finder
  • Rotary drill
  • Carbide- or diamond-tip drill bits
  • Carbide- or diamond-tip hole saw
  • Retractable starter bit (hole saw only)
  • Painter’s tape
  • Freshwater (bottle or sprayer)

How to Drill a Small Hole in Tile

drill into tile 02

Drilling a small hole in the tile requires careful preparation to avoid damaging underlying services and to ensure accuracy.

Step 1: Shut Off Services

– Turn off the power at the electric service panel.

– Tiled walls often have plumbing and electrical lines running through them. If there’s a possibility of pipes behind the walls, especially in showers and tubs, turn off the home’s water main.

Step 2: Find Stud Behind Tile

– Use a stud finder to locate studs behind the wall. The additional layer of tile and mortar can make this more challenging.

– Start with a conventional battery-powered dielectric constant (DC) stud finder, as it might detect fasteners through the tile. If unsuccessful, switch to a rare earth magnet-based stud finder.

– Employ detective work if needed. For instance, in a shower surround that doesn’t reach the ceiling, locate the studs in the upper non-tile portion and follow them down into the tiled area.

Step 3: Add Tape to the Drill Location

– Apply two layers of painter’s tape to the tile where you plan to drill. This helps the drill bit grip and start a depression in the tile without slipping.

– Drill bits can skate or wander on hard, smooth surfaces, even those advertised as no-skate bits. Taping the area is an excellent precautionary measure.

Add Tape to the Drill Location

Step 4: Mark Drill Location

Use a pen or pencil to mark the exact spot where you need to drill directly on the tape you’ve applied.

Step 5: Cover Area Below Tile

Before you start drilling, cover the area below the tile to protect surfaces like shower pans, bathtubs, or countertops from abrasive tile dust. Use sheet plastic and tape it on the floor right below your drilling area.

Tip for Catching Dust:

To catch tile dust during drilling, take about 6 inches of painter’s tape, turn it adhesive-side up, and stick it to the wall just below the drill point. Shape the tape into a slight curve to create a makeshift dust catcher. This setup will help collect the majority of the tile dust as you drill.

Step 6: Start Drilling Slowly

Begin with the drill set to a low speed. Drill through the tape, focusing on maintaining the low speed until you’ve created a shallow dimple in the tile.

Step 7: Increase Drill Speed Gradually

– Slowly increase the drill speed, applying steady pressure but not pressing too hard.

– Stop frequently to allow the drill bit to cool. Use a small amount of water to cool the surface and reduce dust.

Step 8: Complete Hole in Tile

– Keep drilling into the tile until the drill bit completely goes through it.

– When removing the drill bit, do it slowly and carefully to prevent any cracking or scratching of the tile.

Tip

As the drill bit breaks through the tile, be prepared for the drill to thrust forward suddenly. The drill’s chuck might impact the tile. To avoid any damage, ease up on the pressure as you’re about to complete the hole. This precaution helps in maintaining the integrity of the tile while finishing your drilling task.

How to Drill a Large Hole in Tile

Drilling a large hole in a tile requires precision and the right tools. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Drill a Large Hole in Tile

Step 1: Shut Off Services

– Before beginning, turn off electricity and water to avoid accidents.

– Locate any studs or obstructions behind the tile to avoid during drilling.

Step 2: Chuck Hole Saw Into Drill

– Attach the hole saw with a center retractable starter bit to your drill.

– Ensure it’s tightly secured. Some hole saws come with an attached retractable starter bit. In contrast, others require you to attach it separately before chucking it into the drill.

Step 3: Mark Drill Spot With Tape

– Place a small square of tape at the center of the intended hole location.

– Use only a small piece of tape to allow for monitoring the hole saw’s progress on the tile.

Step 4: Press Drill Against Tile

– Position the retractable starter bit of the hole saw on the tape mark and start drilling.

– Continue until the pilot bit catches in the tile and removes the material.

Step 5: Press Hole Saw to Tile

– Keep the starter bit in its hole, and while the drill is rotating, press down until the hole saws teeth contact the tile.

– Increase drill speed; the hole saw should start removing a shallow circle from the tile.

Tip

The drill should be rotating before the hole saw’s teeth make contact with the tile.

Step 6: Stop and Add Water

– Regularly stop drilling, clear away dust, and let the hole saw cool.

– Spray water on the area to control dust and cool the work material.

Step 7: Complete Hole

– Continue drilling with even pressure.

– As with smaller holes, be ready for the drill to fall into the wall cavity at the end. Ease up on the pressure as you near completion.

Tip

Drilling tile for showers or bathtubs is often done before tile installation. Avoid cutting through to a wood or concrete work surface, as this can wear down the hole saw. Instead, drill over an open bucket or on a piece of Styrofoam.

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