How to drill a hole into ceramic tile?

When drilling a hole into tile, make sure you have the drill going forward and not backward. (Tim Carter)

Q: Tim, how in the heck do you drill a simple hole into ceramic tile? I’ve been trying to do it for the past half-hour and nothing is happening except the drill bit is getting red hot. I just grabbed my husband’s cordless drill and put a bit into it. Is it the drill? I’m trying to install a few plastic anchors and am getting very frustrated. — Charlotte M., Morgan Hill, Calif.

A: Not too long ago I heard a saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” All I have to do is look back in time 45 years to get an idea of the vast depths of my own ignorance about all things having to do with building. You may not know what tools to use when and how to use them simply because you haven’t been exposed to enough challenges yet.

The first thing that comes to mind is the drill bit. You may have grabbed the wrong one. A drill bit used for wood or metal is not going to do much to drill into ceramic tile. You need a special drill bit that’s got a carbide tip.

It’s important to realize not all ceramic tile is the same. It comes in a wide range of hardness. You can run into trouble fast if you’re trying to drill into porcelain tile. This tile is some of the hardest out there because of its high silica content and the high temperatures used to transform the soft clay into the hard tile.

Ceramic tile is often glazed. This glaze is just a very thin layer of glass. A wood or metal drill bit will not penetrate glass. Carbide is harder than glass and it will grind its way through.

Not wanting to assume anything, you also need to make sure the drill is in forward, not reverse. Believe me: I’ve seen people try to drill holes with the drill running backward wondering why nothing is happening.

Another key point is you need to use a slower speed when drilling through ceramic tile. High speeds create too much friction too quickly and elevate the drill tip speed. This can dull the carbide bit.

Do not use a hammer drill setting when drilling tile. This rapid pounding will crack the tile in almost all cases. Keep nice steady pressure on the drill and before you know it, you’ll have created your hole.

Large-diameter holes can be created in ceramic tile using diamond-tipped hole saws. These are quite affordable, and most have adapters to fit your normal drill.

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