How to Drill into Tile?

While a mason and a plumber mainly install your tiles and bathroom accessories, a DIY modification is sometimes needed. Drilling into tiles is not difficult, but they are prone to cracks and breakages; this can sometimes destroy the project and be a nasty headache.

How to drill into a tile? The answer is pretty simple: Identify the type of tile (Natural stone, Ceramic, Porcelain), wear proper safety gear, select the appropriate drill bit (Carbide or Diamond tipped drill bit ) and other tools, and then measure and mark the area with masking tape. To keep the drill steady, use a drill guide. Keeping the speed low, applying minimal pressure and the drill bits cold ( using water spray), drill straight into the tile. For accurate depth, Mark the bits with tape.

Tile cracks and/or chips when drilled inappropriately. This can ruin your hard work and can hurt your pocket pretty bad. Once the tile cracks, it can follow the course and prone the adjacent tiles to breakage. This article is intended to avoid those sillymistakes that can prove havoc.

Method to Drill into Tile

Tiles can be drilled using a cordless or wired drill. Both have their pros and cons; I personally prefer cordless drills because they are easy to handle and manipulate. Overall, both have the same results.

Items that are needed for the operation are listed below,

  1. Cordless or Wired drill
  2. Safety gear (goggles, gloves, dust mask)
  3. Appropriate drill bits
  4. Masking tape
  5. Pencil
  6. Measuring tape
  7. Drill guide (If you prefer using it)
  8. Water spray or a sponge

I have adopted a stepwise comprehensive approach for the ease of the reader. It is important to go through this carefully before you attempt to drill your tiles.

Step 1. Safety

Before you embark on a DIY project, your safety must be your top priority. Use goggles, gloves, and a dust mask. There can be flying pieces of tiles that can severely damage your eyes or hands; moreover, the dust can be a nuisance.

Personal Safety Equipment

Step 2. Accurately Identifying Your Tile type

To know better about how to drill into tile, you first must know about the different types. This is important because every tile has distinctive features, which impacts the way we drill into them. Below I will briefly discuss major types:

Type of Tiles

Type of Tiles

A. Ceramic Tiles

Low price and durability make them ideal for a variety of applications. They are porous and have higher water absorption capability; this makes for a borderline hardness level. Glazed ceramic tiles are more sturdy and thus can withstand more stress. A Carbide-tipped drill bit can easily take on the job.

B. Porcelain Tiles

Porcelain tiles are made out of clay baked at higher temperatures. They contain a higher concentration of silica and quartz. Porcelain tiles are more durable and resilient than ceramic tiles; hence drilling them with an ordinary drill bit is difficult. They should be drilled using Diamond drill bits.

C. Glass Tiles

Glass tiles are more water-resistant, second to none. However, they are not as hard as ceramic tiles; their glistening color and absorption resilience make them an ideal choice for installation in washrooms. They are better to be drilled with Diamond bits.

D. Natural Stone Tiles

They include marble and granite. They are elegant, beautiful, and can sustain environmental stress. They are expensive and can be difficult to maintain. They can be drilled through Carbide or Diamond drill bit but better to be drilled with later.

3. Selecting Appropriate Drill Bit

Not only the type of drill bit is important, but its size is also important. It is preferable to start with a smaller diameter bit and then move to a larger bit. Carbide-tipped drill bits will do the job for other types of tiles, but porcelain is preferably drilled using diamond-coated bits.

Diamond bits long last and has a finer cut. The holes are also better looking, and there is the least danger of chipping. There are lot of bits available online but I prefer following two:

1. Baban 10Pcs Hole Saw Diamond Drill Bit has diamond coated edges and a hollow center. They are ideal for drilling into porcelain, marble, and glass tiles. Size range from 6mm-32mm. It not only drills but also helps remove a complete circular piece. The depth is limited to 1/2 inches.

2. Neiko 00823A Diamond Grit Hole Saw Drill Bit Set contains 5 pieces of varying sizes (5/32” – ½”). They have a side hole for easy dirt/slug removal after drilling. Due to nickel plating, they have a longer life. All good, but they have one downside, and that is its instability. Sometimes it wanders around so that a jig may be needed.

Selecting bit

4. Accurate Measurements

A. Accurate measurement is the cornerstone of drilling into tiles. Tiles are usually very slippery; this creates a poor grip for bits and can jeopardize the whole operation. To avoid this, measure the area using a measuring tape and then use masking tape in a crisscross fashion for marking. The masking tape will prevent the bits from slipping.

Moreover, the thickness of different tiles can vary. It is recommended to keep a record of it. Thickness can be measured at the edge of tiles close to door studs. Once the thickness is known, use masking tape, and mark it on the bit. It will prevent the bit from going too deep ( going too deep into concrete can damage the bit and loosen the tiles).

B. If keeping the drill steady is difficult, opt for a wood jig or drill guide. A wooden jig can be made using simple cardboard and a drill. Drill into the cardboard a hole with a diameter equivalent to the intended hole in the tile.

  1. Hawk QUIX Drill Guide is an excellent product available on amazon. The best thing about this jig is its stability due to the suction mechanism.
  2. DRILAX Drill Bit Hole Saw Guide is also an excellent product with a hole for coolant. It also comes with a suction cup and is also a reliable and affordable product.

5. Adjusting the Drill Speed

Keeping the drill speed too fast may crack the tile on the other side, slow speed prone the bits to wander around. It is therefore recommended to keep the speed between 700-900 RPM. Once you reach the concrete, adjust accordingly (this is the time to speed up the drill).

6. Drill into Tile

Once the speed is adjusted, secure the drill bit and start to drill into the tile. Tiles are mostly glazed, so they are very slippery. Try to hold the drill with two hands. Keep one hand over the handle and the other over the shaft. Don’t panic and refrain from applying pressure. Let the bit carve its way down the tile.

7. Intermittent Cooling

Due to high frictional force, the bits tend to become really hot. This has a bad impact on the performance and longevity of the bit.

Unlike carbide-tipped bits (they immediately fail to work once heated), diamond bits keep working in the heat, but this can seriously affect diamonds’ lives.

To cool down the bits you can use any of the following methods:

  1. Using a sponge soaked in water and dribbling water drops over the bit can help dissipate the heat. Although this is an effective method but needs help from a 2nd person, the simultaneous holding of drill and sponge is challenging.
  2. Spraying water in the drilling hole intermittently can also lower the temperature. This does not require assistance from a second person but has the downside of periodic breaks ( you have to stop the drill for spraying water).
  3. Using drilling oil or Coolant is another method for highly effective cooling. However, this very effective but is recommended for professionals due to cost. You can use any drilling oil or any fluid containing ammonia (windshield cleaner, car coolant).
Coolant Spray

8. Changing the Bit

Once you have gone through the tile depth and reached the undersurface, this is time to change the bit to suit the layer sitting beneath the tiles. This layer can be wood (wood bits), concrete (masonry bits), or a cement backer board (standard twist bits).

Precautions When Drilling into Tiles

  1. Never use the hammering feature when drilling into tiles. It will shatter them into pieces.
  2. Always use personal protective equipment when working on drill machines.
  3. Never apply excessive pressure. It can prone tiles to cracks.
  4. Always keep drill speed medium and constant
  5. Never allow bits to overheat.
  6. The job can be tiresome, so always take intermittent breaks; this reduces the chances of errors.
  7. Take a professional help, if required.

Is it easy to drill into tiles?

Yes! It is easy to drill into tiles but can be tricky for a beginner. All you have to do is to practice before attempting to drill into tiles. It requires special drill bits (Carbide or Diamond tipped) and a few skills to master this art. But once you have done it, it’s not that difficult.

How can I tell if my tile is ceramic or porcelain?

The following features will help you identify it:
1. On touch, porcelain has a smoother finish than ceramic tiles
2. By looking at the edge of tiles, you will know if it is ceramic or porcelain. A ceramic tile is glazed on the surface in contrast; porcelain is mostly not glazed (some are glazed, but the clay’s body beneath will be of the same color).
3. Ceramic tiles will have chips in the glaze, whereas porcelain will have a consistent hue.