How to Drill a Hole in Tile

by Roger

How to Drill a Hole in TileMake a hole!!! Ummm, sorry, had a little flashback there for a second. Where was I? Oh yeah, drilling a hole in a tile. When you tile your shower wall you will usually have at least one or two holes that need to be taken out of your tile. This is often a huge pain in the ass and sometimes difficult to do without cracking the tile. So I’m gonna show you how I do it. This will not guarantee that your tile will not crack! It does, however, greatly diminish the possibility. This method works with all ceramics and porcelains as well as natural stones such as granite, marble and travertine.

If at all possible try to lay out your tile so that any pipes or fixtures fall on a grout line. If you can do this you can simply cut a small square out of the edge of it with the wet saw and forgo the whole drillin’ a hole thing. I know, it’s not always possible. In fact it rarely happens in a normal tub surround. So lets drill a hole in that sucker!

Tools needed to drill a hole in tileHere’s what you need: a tile (just seeing if you’re paying attention), drill, hole saw (more on these in a sec) a 2×4 with a hole drilled into one end of it  just a bit larger than the size of your hole saw bit, and a sponge. When you mark your tile for the location of the hole I find it easier to simply mark a cross at the center of the pipe rather than marking every side or drawing a circle where the pipe is located.

Diamond or carbide hole saw bits. The bit that I use is nothing special – I bought it at Home Depot, seriously. It is a 1 1/4″ diamond-carbide bit. You can see it in the photo above. This method works with any size or type of bit. There are, of course, very expensive bits available for this. There really is no need to spend $150 on a bit to drill a hole unless you have special tile – like glass. I think mine was $25 or $30 and I’ve had it for about six months – the same bit.

I do not use the pilot bit in my hole saws! A pilot bit is a smaller bit that looks like a normal drill bit meant to center on your mark and guide the rest of the bit. It is my experience that these crack more tiles than mosaic artists. Some hole saw bits come with them and some don’t. If yours does you can simply remove it by undoing the allen-headed lock screw.

Insert the sponge plug into the drill bitThe first thing you want to do is drill a hole through your sponge. You heard me read that correctly – drill a hole through your sponge with your hole saw bit – you don’t need to wet it first – do it while it’s dry. After you get a hole drilled through your sponge – soak it down really well and throw it at the neighbor’s cat! Or, you know, whatever you want to do with it. Keep the little round plug that you drilled out of it, though.

Bit with sponge plug insertedThe great thing about this sponge plug is it happens to fit inside your hole bit perfectly – imagine that! Soak that plug with water and stuff it inside your bit. This will keep your bit cool as you drill your hole and eliminates the need to stop every few seconds to soak your bit in cool water. You still need to stop every so often and dip it in water just to re-soak the sponge but it really helps keep everything cooled down so you can concentrate on making the hole rather than not burning everything up.

Center the 2x4 over the markNow take your 2×4 with the hole drilled in one end of it and center the hole over your center mark on your tile. The hole in my 2×4 is bigger than yours (nanana!) that’s why it isn’t centered – yours should be centered provided you drilled it just a little larger than your bit.

The reason for the 2×4 (other than as a guide) is to apply even pressure across the tile as you drill into it. The biggest reason for cracked tile is uneven pressure on the tile as you are making the hole. As you drill you are putting considerable pressure on and around the spot you are drilling and barely any on the rest of the tile. The 2×4 equalizes this.

Drilling a hole in tileWhen you place your bit inside the hole to start drilling you want to press down on the 2×4 as you drill. Not so much as to crack the tile, but enough to stabilize the it and apply even pressure to the entire face. Then just start to drill SLOWLY! Always drill slowly – take your time. If you go full-speed it will create undue chatter on the bit and overheat everything.

Let the bit do the work! Do not press down hard on your drill, just gentle, even pressure. Extra pressure on that spot will cause your tile to crack (and, of course, your dog will burst into flames). Just keep enough pressure to keep the bit snugly against the tile while the bit makes the hole. The bit will drill the hole – pressing harder on the drill will not.

Hole half drilledOne of the keys to drilling a hole in tile is keeping everything cooled down. Going too fast causes vibration on the tile and overheats (and ruins) your bit. The sponge plug inside the bit helps tremendously with this. Stop periodically and dip the bit in water to re-soak the sponge.

If you slowly move the handle of the drill from side to side as you drill, rather than simply drilling straight down, it will create a little bit larger circle for your bit as you get deeper into the tile. This will remove a little bit wider groove for the bit to get into and releases some of the pressure as you drill.

Drilled hole in tileThe keys to successfully drilling without cracking the tile are to keep everything cool and eliminate as much vibration and uneven pressure as possible. If you can do that you can drill the hole perfectly every time anywhere in the tile – even very close to the edge. I usually only crack tiles now when I’ve had too much coffee (no such thing) or I’m pissed off. At that point a sponge plug isn’t gonna save me.

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Kelly

Hi Roger,

First of all, thank you for your web site and for answering everyone’s questions.

I am tiling my bathroom in the vintage style of the 1920s-1950s with 4X4 wall tiles. I found some original-in-the-box Stylon bath accessories (soap holder, toilet paper holder, etc.) I’m not sure how to install the towel bar. The two ceramic parts are pretty easy to understand. I need to thinset them into the wall, through the tile. But the set included two, triangular hollow plastic pieces (each about 24″ long) that the towels sit on. There is an aluminium “v-shaped) rod inside each one. Question: Do the two pieces fit together to make one long 48″ bar? I worry that it won’t be strong enough when put together that way.

I assume that whether I put both together or just use one, I will have to insert the triangular towel holder into the ends and mud the ends in with that piece in place. Correct?

Thank you.
Kelly

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Kelly

Oops. I just realized that I actually have four brackets, which leads me to believe that the rods are not meant to go together. Please ignore that question.

As to installing the brackets, I think I have to assemble the rod into the brackets and then mud both brackets into the wall at the same time. Am I on the right track?

Thanks
Kelly

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Roger

Okay. :D You can install one bracket, then insert the rod as you install the second.

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Roger

Hi Kelly,

They can either be put together to make one big one, cut one or both to get whatever size you want, or just keep the second as a spare. I prefer the latter. While they do work when put together two or three wet towels hung on it (full four-foot length) makes it sag and could cause the ends to pull out. Yes, you need to have the rod in when you place the second bracket. If you end up using the spare at any point you need to install it without the aluminum rod, you can bend the acrylic enough to get it into the brackets.

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Dan

HI Roger… I used this tip successfully to drill into regular tile… many thanks.
I now have a couple question about
• drilling into 1″ marble… it’s a counter top that I’ve been able to cut (also successfully) to dimension but now need to bore through to make room for the sink drain pipe… any suggestions?
• polishing this same marble… I’ve been looking at Dry Polishing packages with grits from 50 thru 3000… and a variable speed grinder/polisher so as to polish at lower speeds than my current angle grinder will go… or is there another way you would suggest?

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Roger

Hi Dan,

Going through marble is easier than going through porcelain or ceramic. It’s done the same way. The dry polishing kits work very well, but you’ll NEVER match the factory polish. That’s normal, just be aware of it.

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Dan

glad to hear that about something being easier than procelain!

and it’s no problem with the not so pro finish though as the sinks themselves are petrified wood and while the inside is very polished the outside is very rustic looking. should be a smooth transition as a result

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Ron

How can I locate a stud in an outer wall I’ve put 1/4″ 2×4 travertine tile over? A standard (read cheap) stud finder has insufficient sensitivity. Are there deeper reading stud finders? Wall thumping doesn’t do the job either. Your help would be mort appreciated.

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Roger

Hey Ron,

I don’t know of any stud finders (short of the $600 ultrasound ones) that will find a stud in a tiled wall. If you have a corner which is the outside corner of the house or a supporting wall you can measure over from it, studs are normally in 16″ intervals. Short of that it’s a crap shoot.

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Angus

Roger: Thank you for the innovative tip about the sponge. I have a related question. i am working with porcelain and I need to drill holes in the tile to attach fittings to secure the toilet paper holder. The diameter of the hole would be ~1/8″ enough so you can put a screw through. The problem is the porcelain is so tough. The carbide arrow head type drill bit just does not handle it. Please can you recommend an approach.

Angus

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Keven

Roger, I have used your web site and e books to get our new shower done. Now I need to drill holes :( for the shower curtain rod and I don’t want to screw up the whole job. Any suggestions. I couldn’t find any thing on the site for small holes and also what do you use for anchors in ceramic tile.
Thanks

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Roger

Hey Keven,

Go to lowes or home depot and get one of those little drill bits for tile that look like an arrow, the ones with the spade end. I should drill right through it for you. Go slowly to get the hole going. Just the regular plastic anchors should hold it just fine, but any wall anchor will work just fine.

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Keven

Thanks Roger, I didn’t think the hammer drill was a good idea, and now that you tell me what to use I think I have one that came in a Dremel kit that I bought years ago. Thanks again for taking your time to do this, your site answered a lot of questions for me and I passed it on to a friend that’s thinking of redoing his 1950′s cranberry bathroom.

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peggy

Roger, I used your tip for using the sponge with the hole saw- it worked like a champ! Even better than the little round dam that came in the package w/ the hole saw.
I now have to drill the holes for the shower curtain. I have the drill bit you mentioned in your response to Keven. Do I need to do something to cool off the drill bit, or is that not an issue w/ this type of bit. I’m drilling porcelain tile.

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Roger

Hi Peggy,

You can use a spray bottle if you want, it helps. I usually don’t, but they’re disposable for me, so… Spraying water will help a bit. Make sure to go slowly. If you go to fast you can burn the bit – water or not. Take your time.

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Heather

Best. Advice. Ever.

I’m happy I stumbled upon your site and learned this little trick. The dude at Home Depot told me this wouldn’t work. I feel like I’ve earned some street-cred by drilling a perfect hole in my tile. Not sure what street…

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Roger

The dude at Home Depot also wants to sell you mastic for your glass tile shower installation. :D So there’s that…

Drilling a hole in tile successfully is FULL of street cred!!! Just sayin’…

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les

first of all, Hi. and id like thank you for putting up a very informative site. i am not real computer savvy so if this is in the wrong section or something i apologize. i currently have a dilemna i am hoping you can shed some light on. i am doing some remodel work for an investor and he went out gung-ho and picked up 2000 sq. ft of travertine tile without really consulting with me first. now i do not claim to be a tile expert, but i have done my fair share of ceramic installations and some slate tile installs as well. like i said, im no tile god but my tile work always turns out very nice. however i have never dealt with travertine, and i also have never had the pleasure of laying any tile over terrazo, which this house has. i have done alot of research and i think i have a pretty good handle on what im getting into but i would like your opinion/input.

i have not tested the terrazo yet to see if it is an epoxy or concrete base, but of course i would before i started the job, if i get it. this investor has a “buddy” that says its easy, just like ceramic and hell do it for a buck a foot. but thats another story. this investor also is reluctant to take what i percieve to be the correct measures to prep the sub floor. i would like to grind the surface of the terrazo first of course. after this point it is my understanding that epoxy and concrete terrazo require different thinsets and grouts. is this the case and what would you reccomend ?

here are some more questions i have – by the way, in case i didnt mention it, the terrazo has no cracks and seems to be in all around pretty good shape.
#1. how big of a issue is lippage with travertine, and what is the best way to keep it to a mininum ? #2. what is the maximum sub-floor heigth variation ? is it different with travertine than ceramic ? and what would be the best product to use to level any areas that might need it in a travertine over terrazo and also a ravertine over ply sub-floor? is an underlayment like ditra neccesary in this type of situation or just preffered ?

the master bed/bath area is upstairs and has a 3/4″ ply subfloor. according to my research for travertine it needs to have another layer of ply added to gain the required deflection rate and then ditra installed or fracturing is almost a certainty. thoughts ? i am fighting tooth and nail to get this guy to let me do the install the proper way using the appropriate methods of prep work, but so far only half way there. i have talked him into the grinding but the extra layer of ply and ditra upstairs i probably not going to happen. he has even gone so fr a to agre to sign a written contract stateing that i have warned him numerous times of the possible outcome and that i have absolutely no liability whatsoever, even f tiles start cracking and popping up the next dat, but it doesn’t really make me feel any better. if i cant get him on bard with the proper install then ill probably jus wash my hands of the situation and watch with interest as his buddy does the buck a sq. ft. install job. oh, and by the way, in case you havent figured it out yet this is my last ditch attempt at talking some sense into him, and ill probably be printing your reply out to send to him. thanks for all the great articles and info. , Les.
P.S. like i said, not real computer savvy, so if you can it would be great if you could send me a copy of your answer to my email, if not i completely understand and im sure your very busy without having to cater to yayhoos like me..HAHA! im gonna save this page and hopefully ill be able to find it again.

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les

also, sorry about the spelling and punctuation. its very late here, i have had the flu for 3 days now and i only have one contact in and im very tired. again, thanks for listening to my ramble and any info. you can supply. Les

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Roger

Hey Les,

Different terazzo bases do require different setting materials over them. Regardless the terazzo WILL need to be ground to open pores, remove the ‘shiny’ surface (bond breaker to which thinset will not bond) and remove any other inconsistencies. The difficulty with travertine will, as with any other natural stone, depend on the quality of the stone. How consistent it is will determine how easily it will go down and how well it will end up.

The maximum subfloor variation is no more than 1/4″ in ten feet and no more that 1/16″ / foot. The most durable installation over terazzo, in my opinion, is to grind it down, prime the surface and use a self-leveling cement over it. This flattens out your substrate and gives you a suitable bonding surface for tile.

As far as the plywood substrate you absolutely need an additional layer of ply over it as well as a suitable substrate on top of that. It doesn’t have to be ditra, although that’s one of the best choices, but you need something, even cement backerboard. The slc will work there as well, but you still need the additional ply.

Here’s the thing about waivers – they aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. IF anything ever ends up in court the bottom line is YOU are the supposed expert as far as the installation is concerned. That means YOU are responsible for something if it goes wrong because YOU knew better. All the investor was concerned with was his bank account, that’s fine. YOU need to be concerned with the integrity of the installation. If you knew better, and did it anyway, it doesn’t matter how many waivers he signed – you’re responsible for it.

Bottom line – if he doesn’t want to pay you to install the travertine correctly then walk away. No reason to take a job that you’ll need to pay for. If he would rather pay a dollar a foot for installation then that is exactly what he’s going to get – an installation worth a dollar a foot. Let him buy it twice, you don’t need to.

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les

Roger, thanks for the quick response. i agree with you on the liablity issue. im sure ill be using your site frequently now that i have found it. finish carpentry is my main trade, but i also do quite a bit of remodel work and although im a pretty competent tiler i know theres alot of room for improvement and lots more to learn. thanks again, Les

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