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Drilling Ceramic Tile

Drilling Ceramic Tile

Drilling ceramic tiles isn't really that big a deal as it may seem at first. The following article will not only tell you about drilling ceramic wall tiles safely, but also about the proper drill bits that you must invest in, to maintain the beautiful look of your house.
Ankana Dey Choudhury
Last Updated: Mar 9, 2018
Computer Aided Cutting Machine
I do not know how many of you will identify with me when I say that somehow I love electric drills. As a kid, I loved watching electricians and other work men drill through walls and floors while working around my house. Don't ask me why, I really do not know why. But, in spite of my love for drilling, one thing that I was really skeptical about was drilling the glazed ceramic tiles of my freshly renovated bathroom. Forget the exorbitant installation cost, the thought of scratching or cracking even one of those glazed beauties made me think a lot before drilling. But, as a bathroom must have a towel holder, a few racks, and definitely a toilet paper holder, I finally succumbed. What I realized at the end of it all, is that you just need to follow some basic rules, and your job will be done smoothly, sans cracks, scratches, or untoward heartbreaks. So, let us see some of the things that you must keep in mind before actually starting out to drill ceramic tiles.

Equipment and Drill Bits Required

The Drill
To begin with, please bore it into your head that if you are drilling holes in ceramic tiles, then it must NEVER be done with a hammer drill. As I said earlier, ceramic tiles are very delicate and the rapid, rhythmic, and incessantly thumping vibrations of a hammer drill will definitely and unavoidably crack your tile. Use a hammer drill only when you are trying to bore into concrete or bricks. Instead, use a power drill that has a speed regulator or trigger, that allows you to lower the speed to at least a hundred to two hundred rotations per minute. Even those portable power drills that run on battery will work fine for this purpose.

The Drill Bits
Now you will have to buy a specific type of drill bit for ceramic tiles, since commonly used twist-drill bits will not be able to penetrate the hard silica coating of the tile. Buy actuated carbide-tipped masonry drill bits, which are tailor-made for drilling through ceramic tiles, and can probe into even grade 5 tiles. Drilling a hole into a porcelain tile needs a diamond-tipped drill bit, as the silica content in porcelain is pretty high, making the material nearly impenetrable. Diamond tips are exorbitant, but can be used to drill through glass as well.

The Oil
Available at most plumbing ware outlets, fresh cutting oil is very important when you plan on drilling into ceramic tiles with a carbide-tipped drill bit. It is the same oil which professional plumbers employ to cool dies used for threading pipes. Since your drill bit will experience an immense amount of friction, it will heat up and take on a crimson hue. You need to cool it down, and you can do this by dipping your bit into this oil every 20 seconds. Some people recommend using water as well, but cases of complaints of bit tips breaking has been reported when water is used. Remember, you must dip your bit in the oil and then wipe off the lubricant with a cotton cloth so that you do not smear either the tile or the grout inside.

Masking or Duct Tape
The sheeny silica surface of ceramic tiles makes them slippery. It is quite possible that as you begin to drill the tile, the drill bit skids on the polished tile surface, resulting in the ugliest tile abrasion ever. Removing ceramic tiles and replacing them is far more cumbersome than drilling holes into them, and so in order to prevent such a predicament, you can employ some masking or duct tape effectively. Just, cut two 2" long strips off the tape and paste in one on top of the other in the form of an 'X' right on top of the spot that you have chosen for drilling. Now, all you need to do is take a pen and mark the epicenter of the hole on top of the tape so that you know the correct location where your hole needs to be.

Drilling Holes in Ceramic Tiles

Now comes the actual drilling part.
  • Start at a slow rate, and after a bit you will notice the appearance of a tiny conical hole. Your grip should be firm on the drill but refrain from applying too much pressure, as then you will end up shattering the tile altogether, rather than boring through it.
  • Increase the speed and a little bit of pressure as you break through the hard silica and make it through to the clay part.
  • When you know that the tile has been drilled through, and now the surface or sheet rock on which the tile has been mounted has to be drilled, remove the carbide-tipped bit, and put on a normal masonry twist-drill or a wood drill, or whatever drill bit is suitable for your wall surface. Lower your speed to not damage this surface as well.
  • Now, you can infix your plastic anchor into the hole snugly. The anchor must be securely fitted into the back wall for optimum support. Also, take care to see that only an unthreaded screw is used for the portion of the anchor that sits on the ceramic tile. Using a threaded screw may create cracks in the tile.
Drilling Large Holes in Ceramic Tiles

Even though carbide-tipped bits can be used to make large holes (up to 3") in ceramic tiles, they cost approximately USD 40 to 50. So, try the following method.
  • Use a bangle or a larger circular stencil to mark the outline of the hole you want to drill.
  • Next, fix a ΒΌ" carbide-tipped bit onto your electric power drill, and make holes very close to each other, all along the perimeter, to have an exact circular set of holes, resembling a round perforation.
  • Now, take a ball-peen hammer and tap lightly within the holed perimeter of the circle and in a few minutes, the circular ceramic tile center will fall off.
You may also use a hacksaw fitted with a carbide rod saw blade but that requires employing tile support, either manual or with a clamp, and is generally more cumbersome as the ceramic tile may crack if you aren't quite used to the process. The finish, however, is much smoother.

Remember, you will need some patience to bore through ceramic tiles, so do not power through the tile with all your might. Drilling ceramic tiles is really about using the correct equipment, employing the correct technique, and persevering.