Installing a beautiful backsplash tile can greatly enhance the look of your kitchen or bathroom. However, you may find yourself needing to drill into the tile after it’s been mounted on the wall for various reasons – to mount a fixture like a towel bar, install a shelf bracket, or hang art or a mirror. Drilling into tile can seem daunting, but it’s doable with the right tools, patience, and technique.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through all the steps and considerations for safely and successfully drilling into backsplash tile without damaging the surrounding tiles. We’ll cover how to choose the right drill bits, what speed to use, how to prevent cracking and chipping, as well as tips for drilling into porcelain, ceramic, glass, and natural stone tiles.
By the end, you’ll have the confidence to drill the holes you need while keeping your backsplash looking flawless. Let’s get started!
Assess the Tile Material
The first step is to identify what type of material your backsplash tile is made of. The tile material determines the drill bit type and technique you’ll need to use. Here are some of the most common backsplash tile materials:
Ceramic or Porcelain Tile
Ceramic and porcelain tiles are very common in backsplashes. They are hard, dense, and brittle. Special diamond-grit drill bits are required to drill into ceramic and porcelain tiles. Low speeds are best to avoid cracking and chipping.
Natural Stone Tile
Slate, marble, granite, and travertine are popular natural stone tiles for backsplashes. They vary in hardness – for example, granite is very hard while travertine is softer and more porous. Start with a carbide-tipped masonry bit then switch to a diamond-grit bit for smooth drilling. Use a low speed.
Glass tiles make beautiful backsplashes but require extra care when drilling to avoid shattering. Use diamond-grit bits at low speeds with gentle pressure. Copiously lubricating the drill hole is a must for glass tiles.
Small mosaic tiles can be tricky to drill through. Make sure the drill bit penetrates all the way through the tile thickness. For mosaics on a mesh backing, remove a whole sheet before drilling. Be especially cautious with mosaic glass tiles.
So inspect your tiles closely and determine what type of material you’re working with before choosing drill bits and techniques. This will maximize success and minimize tile damage.
Choose the Right Drill Bit
Having the correct drill bit type and size for the tile material is crucial for clean and precise holes. Using the wrong bit can lead to cracking, chipping, or breaking the tile. Here are the best drill bit options for common backsplash tiles:
Ceramic/Porcelain Tile Drill Bits
Special diamond-grit drill bits are required for glazed ceramic and porcelain tiles. Carbide bits can chip the brittle tile material. Both hollow core and solid core diamond bits will work. Match the bit diameter to the size of your desired hole.
Masonry Drill Bits for Natural Stone
For sedimentary stones like slate, limestone, and travertine, start with a carbide-tipped masonry bit to abrade the top glaze, then switch to a diamond-grit bit to power through the stone. Granite and marble are harder – begin with a diamond bit.
Glass & Tile Drill Bits for Glass Tile
Diamond-grit glass and tile bits are ideal for drilling into glass backsplash tiles. Ensure the bit is designed specifically for glass to avoid cracking. Lubricating is key.
Metal Hole Saw for Large Holes
If drilling a larger hole (over 1/4 inch), use a diamond-grit hole saw for ceramics and glass or a carbide grit hole saw for stone tiles. Apply steady, even pressure when cutting the hole.
So choose drill bits designed for your tile’s specific material. Proper bits minimize the risk of fracturing strong glazed tiles like porcelain or shattering delicate glass tiles.
Use Proper Backing
Drilling into tile requires accessing the backside where the drill bit will exit. Ensure you have a way to drill completely through the tile. Options include:
Remove the Tile
For small mosaics or other removable tiles, take out the whole sheet before drilling so you can access the back.
Detach from Wall
Carefully detach larger intact tiles from the wall or countertop before drilling to allow backside access. This may require heat from a hairdryer or chemical tile stripper.
Clamp a thick piece of scrap wood directly behind where you’ll drill so the bit can exit into it. Plywood works best.
Ideally, aim to provide at least 1-2 inches of solid wood backing for the drill bit to bore into as it penetrates the tile. This prevents cracking or flaking on the tile’s back surface.
Set Proper Drill Speed
Controlling the speed of your drill is vital when drilling into tile to avoid damage. Here are recommended speeds based on tile material:
- Ceramic/Porcelain Tile: 800-1200 RPM
- Natural Stone Tile: 400-800 RPM
- Glass Tile: 400-600 RPM
In general, start at a low speed and gradually increase only as needed to penetrate the tile. Excessive high speeds can cause cracking, chipping, or shattering.
If drilling a large hole over 1/4 inch, make sure to use a hole saw accessory bit and keep the speed under 150 RPM. For mosaics, use a low 100-150 RPM speed.
Adjusting tool speed helps control contact between the tile and drill bit, preventing overheating or sudden impact force. Be sure to consult your tool’s manual for its optimal speed range.
Applying a water or oil-based lubricant while drilling into tile reduces friction and heat. This prevents cracking and chipping. Here’s when to lubricate:
Water for Ceramic, Porcelain, and Stone
Constantly spritz water onto the drill point when boring into ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone tiles. The water cools the bit and tiles.
Oil for Glass
Coat the drill bit and glass tile surface with oil as you work to abrade and lubricate the hole. Vegetable, coconut, or mineral oils work well.
Cream for Multiple Holes
Rub a creamy lubricating gel around hole locations before drilling several holes into ceramic or porcelain tiles. Reapply as needed.
The proper lubrication works alongside the right drill speed to keep tiles intact. Drilling dry risks excessive heat and tile damage.
Use Gentle Pressure
Applying steady yet gentle pressure is key when drilling into tile. Aggressive pressing can cause cracks or chips even with the correct drill bit. Here are some tips:
- Let the drill do the work – don’t force it.
- Gradually increase pressure as the bit contacts the tile.
- Ease back if you see cracks forming.
- For deep holes, periodically back the bit out to clear dust.
- Keep even pressure as the bit exits the tile.
Patience allows efficient drilling into tile without exerting excess pressure. Ease off if you see cracks. For wall tiles, brace against a stud to stabilize your body position.
Account for Tile Thickness
Selecting a drill bit depth longer than the tile thickness ensures clean pass-through holes. Here are some tile thickness estimates:
- Ceramic wall tile = 1/4 inch
- Porcelain floor tile = 1/2 inch
- Natural stone tile = 1/2 to 1 inch
- Glass tile = 1/4 inch
Test an individual tile’s depth with a caliper if unsure. For thick natural stone tiles, you may need an extended masonry drill bit.
Aim for at least 1/16 inch longer than the tile thickness. This prevents getting stalled partway through and reduces backside chipping.
Drill Perpendicular Holes
Drilling straight into the tile at a 90 degree perpendicular angle yields the cleanest holes with least risk of cracking. Here are some tips:
- Use a drill press for precise perpendicular holes.
- Mark the desired hole location on the tile before mounting it.
- Use a level to ensure your drill is vertical for wall tiles.
- Clamp the tile securely to your work surface.
- Apply even pressure straight into the tile as you drill.
Maintaining a perpendicular drilling angle prevents the bit from wandering and keeps stress focused for clean results. Take your time to position both tile and drill properly before boring holes.
Clean Your Holes
Once your holes are drilled into the tile, take a moment to clean them up for a professional finish:
- Rinse away any lubricating oil or water.
- File the entrance and exit holes smooth with an abrasive stick.
- Carefully sand any chipped areas on wall tile edges.
- Sweep away all tile dust and debris.
- Wipe off any residue with a clean, damp cloth.
- If desired, place masking tape over the holes during installation to avoid grout plugging them.
Thorough cleaning removes drilling debris and softens rough tile edges around holes for a neat appearance. Take it slow and finish holes properly for quality results.
How to Drill Into Specific Tile Materials
Now that we’ve covered the general process, here are some specialized tips for drilling clean holes into porcelain, ceramic, natural stone, glass, and mosaic tiles.
How to Drill Into Porcelain Tile
Porcelain tiles are very dense and prone to cracking unless proper technique is used:
- Mark holes before installation using masking tape dots.
- Use a diamond-grit tile bit with hollow core. Lubricate constantly with water.
- Drill at 800-1000 RPM with light pressure until the initial hole forms, then gradually increase pressure.
- Drill very slowly through the tile thickness, backing the bit out periodically to clear dust.
- Provide a wood backer board support so the bit can exit cleanly through the backside.
How to Drill into Ceramic Tile
Follow these steps for drilling decorative glazed ceramic wall tiles:
- Use a new diamond-grit bit suitable for ceramics. Old bits can slip.
- Run drill at 800-1200 RPM speed with light pressure and frequent water lubrication.
- Drill at an angle if tiling a vertical wall to avoid slipping. Brace yourself firmly.
- Allow the bit to cut slowly and evenly without forcing. Be patient.
- Place plywood backing behind the tile and continue with same gentle pressure as the bit exits.
How to Drill Into Natural Stone Tile
Follow this process for drilling into marble, slate, and other natural stone:
- Start with a carbide-tipped masonry bit to abrade the glazed tile surface.
- Switch to a diamond-core bit once into the stone. Keep RPM under 800.
- Lubricate with water and use moderate pressure. Ease off if cracking occurs.
- For thick granite tiles, start at an angle before straightening bit to avoid skipping across the surface.
- For softer sedimentary stones, provide a wood backer for clean exit holes.
How to Drill into Glass Tile
Special care must be taken when drilling into glass backsplash tiles:
- Select a diamond-grit bit specifically made for glass. Lubricate constantly with oil.
- Maintain a very low RPM around 400-600. Gravity feed the bit.
- Start with almost imperceptible pressure, gradually increasing once a starter hole forms.
- Drill very slowly and gently until the bit just pierces the backside, then stop applying pressure.
- Avoid drilling near glass tile edges or cracked tiles. The pressure required causes further cracking.
How to Drill Into Mosaic Tiles
Drilling into small mosaic tiles has its own challenges:
- If possible, remove the entire mosaic sheet first before drilling.
- Use a carbide-tipped bit for stone mosaic or diamond-grit bit for glass mosaic.
- Run the drill at low speed, around 100 RPM.
- Carefully drill perpendicular holes without applying force on the delicate mosaic.
- For wall mosaics, ensure the bit penetrates completely through the mortar into open space.
- Sweep away all dust between nearby mosaic tiles to avoid scratches.
Drilling into tile requires safe habits to avoid injury:
- Wear eye protection – bits can shatter tile shards at high speeds.
- Use respiratory protection from tile dust.
- Never drill into tiles already mounted over electrical boxes.
- Ensure tiles are fully set and bonded before drilling into wall tiles.
- Work slowly and carefully. Rushed drilling risks hand slips or tile cracks.
- Unplug the drill when changing accessory bits.
- Allow hot drill bits to fully cool to avoid burns.
Follow these precautions along with the drilling best practices and you can safely modify your backsplash tile as needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you drill into already installed backsplash tile?
Yes, it is possible to drill into already mounted backsplash tiles with proper care. Ensure you have adequate backing behind the tile and use a bit long enough to fully penetrate the tile thickness. Drill slowly and gently to avoid cracking tile along the edges.
What size drill bit do I need for backsplash tile?
Select a carbide or diamond-grit drill bit that matches the diameter of your desired hole size. Most backsplash fixtures require smaller screws and holes under 1/4 inch. Have a range of small drill bit sizes on hand.
Do I need a special drill for tile?
A regular power drill is suitable, just be sure to set the torque clutch and speed appropriately low for ceramic tiles. A variable speed drill provides the most control. For frequent tile drilling, a drill press can help achieve straight perpendicular holes.
How do I smooth rough edges around tile holes?
Use a small file or sanding stick to smooth any rough tile edges around drilled holes. Brick or metal files work well for ceramic and porcelain tiles. Be very gentle with glass tiles edges. Always sweep away all drilling debris.
How can I prevent cracking when drilling tiles?
Cracking is avoided by using the proper tile bit at slow speed with gentle pressure and adequate water lubrication. Ensure the tile is securely supported and start holes very slowly. Periodically withdraw the bit to clear dust. Cracking usually occurs from using the wrong drill bit or pushing too hard and fast.
Drilling into backsplash tiles allows you to mount fixtures directly into your beautiful new wall tiles. With the right diamond-grit or carbide drill bits, adjustable drill speeds, and using lubrication, you can add holes without damaging surrounding tiles. Be sure to assess your tile’s material, thickness, and mounting first. Allow the drill to work slowly with gentle pressure guided by a perpendicular angle. If carefully following the process for your tile type, you can enjoy a flawless backsplash with fully functional mounting holes. Just take it slow and don’t force the drill. With some patience and the proper techniques, you’ll have that stylish backsplash accessorized in no time.