How to Drill Into Tile Without Breaking It
Your tiled wall is finished and ready for accents, but mounting those requires drilling through the tile. Before you break into that smooth surface, you need to know how to drill the necessary holes without cracking and ruining any of the tile and wasting your hard work. So where do you start?
Step 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 this task instead.
Carbide-tipped masonry drill bits are probably the most widely known for drilling into tile. They are designed for breaking through rock-hard surfaces, and with patience and care can be used effectively for this without causing the tile to break or crack.
Diamond-tipped drill bits are even more durable and are recommended by many for boring through hard tile surfaces. They may be more expensive, but they will not burn out as easily as masonry bits.
Step 2 - Breaking Ground
The most difficult part of drilling into tile without ruining it is getting through the hardened, glazed outer surface. Tiles are made to be strong to withstand a lot of abuse, but the characteristics that make them durable home products also render them resistant to drilling.
Even starting is not easy because the bit tends to skip around on the top surface rather than bite into the tile, but there are a few "tricks of the trade" you can employ.
Begin by making 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 hole is not misplaced, then start your drill bit into the tape. The tape gives the bit the necessary 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 slick surface. Be careful not to scratch into an area that will be leave visible, unsightly marks on your tile.
A reusable way to keep the drill bit in place and avoid 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.
Step 3 - Boring Through
Once the bit is started, the rest is a matter of patiently boring through the tile until you break through. Hard tiles can take some time. Start drilling slowly on low speed. Gradually increase the speed as appropriate, but understand that drilling tile is not a question of speed, rather persistence. Apply constant, firm pressure, but not too much or you will break through the tile rather than drilling into it.
The tip of the drill bit should be kept lubricated to keep from overheating, wearing down, or breaking. Water is the safest way to lubricate and cool the drill bit as you go. Devise a hose system to deliver a constant trickle of water over the bit, or spray as you go with water. An extra set of hands is useful here, but 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 the 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.
Step 4 - The Backside
Once you are through the tile itself, the pressure is off. The rest of the project should be smooth drilling to push through the wall board or mounting surface. Decrease the speed and pressure or switch to a regular drill bit to finish the hole through the wall board. Avoid crashing through wall board surfaces, or the back side of the wall will be blown apart and will not hold wall anchors.
Once you're through, insert the 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 it. Instead, the board behind the tile should be relied on for anchoring.
Step 5 - Finish
Your hole is now complete and ready for hanging items. With your first tile-drilling experience over, subsequent attempts should only get easier using the knowledge you have gleaned from this project. With patience, persistence, and a little luck, hopefully you won't need to read on to find out how to remove and replace a broken tile.