Make 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!
Here’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.
The 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.
The 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.
Now 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.
When 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.
One 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.
The 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.