Tile backsplashes can add visual interest and protect your walls from water damage in kitchens and bathrooms. But sometimes you may need to drill into them to install accessories like pot racks, shelves, and towel bars. Drilling into tile can seem daunting, but it’s doable with the right tools and techniques. This guide will teach you how to safely and effectively drill into tile backsplashes without damaging the surrounding tiles.
Choose the Right Drill Bit
The type of tile you have will determine what drill bit you need for clean holes without cracking tiles:
Porcelain, Ceramic, or Natural Stone Tiles
Use a carbide-tipped masonry drill bit. The carbide tips are very hard and can grind through the dense tile glaze without cracking it.
A 3/8″ or 1/2″ masonry bit is ideal for drilling shelf/bracket holes. For larger holes, use a ceramic hole saw or tile bit in the needed size.
Use a diamond-grit hole saw made for glass drilling. The diamond abrasive will grind smoothly through glass instead of chipping it.
Lubricate the glass tiles first with a spray-on oil or liquid soap while drilling to prevent overheating.
Titanium-coated drill bits work well on metal tile without leaving burrs. Use cutting oil as lubricant when drilling to keep the metal from overheating.
Mark Your Holes
Carefully measure and mark the hole locations on the tiles with apencil. Use a level to ensure your shelf or bracket holes will be perfectly vertical.
For a neat appearance, align the holes horizontally if drilling several along a row. Double check all measurements before drilling.
Protect Surrounding Tiles
Masking tape around hole locations will prevent the drill from scratching adjacent tiles. Apply several overlapping layers of tape for metal or glass tiles to prevent chip-out damage.
You can also use painter’s tape for a sharp edge, removing it after each hole is drilled. For many holes close together, cover the whole area with taped-down cardboard.
Drill Your Holes
Now you’re ready to drill the marked tile holes:
- Place a piece of scrap wood behind the tile before drilling to prevent blowout on the exit side as the bit goes through.
- Start drilling slowly at a perpendicular angle applying gentle pressure. Let the bit do the work without forcing it.
- If drilling a large hole, work in increments, starting with a smaller centered pilot hole before using larger bits.
- Apply firm pressure when the bit first contacts the tile, then ease up as it cuts through. For glass tiles use lubricant and very light pressure.
- Drill part way into one hole then move to the next to spread out heat buildup. Pause periodically to allow bits to cool.
- Clean out dust and debris from the holes frequently while drilling using a vacuum nozzle or bursts of compressed air.
- Rinse bits in water while drilling to reduce friction and dissipate heat.
Smooth Rough Edges (Optional)
If hole edges feel sharp, use a countersink bit or a grinding stone bit to slightly bevel them. This will smooth rough areas and prevent bracket screws from scratching tile edges.
Install Your Accessories
Once your holes are drilled, wipe away any tile dust and debris. Use a vacuum and damp microfiber cloth to clean thoroughly.
When mounting hardware, apply silicone sealant or caulk around screws to protect holes from moisture. Finally install your brackets, pot racks, hooks, and other accessories into the tile backsplash.
Careful tile drilling allows installing functional fixtures without detracting from your backsplash’s visual impact. With the proper bits and techniques, you can add storage and accessories precisely where you want them.
FAQs About Drilling Into Tile Backsplashes
Many homeowners have additional questions when drilling into tile backsplashes. Here are answers to some of the most common concerns:
What size drill bit do I need for tile?
For most ceramic or porcelain tiles, a carbide-tipped masonry bit ranging from 3/8” to 1/2″ in diameter will work best. Check the accessory you’re installing for its recommended hole size. Use a titanium drill bit for metal tiles.
What speed should I drill tile?
Drill tiles at a low RPM between 600-1200. Going too fast can overheat the tile and cause cracking or chipping. Slow speeds allow the carbide or diamond grit to cut smoothly.
How do I drill holes in tiles without breaking them?
Always use the proper drill bit type for your tile material. Supporting tiles with scrap wood while drilling prevents stress cracks. Maintaining light pressure and frequently clearing dust also avoids damage. Lubricating glass tiles keeps them from shattering.
How do I drill through glass tile?
Use diamond hole saw drill bits made for smooth glass drilling. Copiously lubricate the tile with liquid soap or cutting oil as you drill to prevent overheating. Let the bit do the work with very gentle pressure.
Can you drill through porcelain tile?
Yes, carbide-tipped masonry bits are designed to drill through porcelain. Drill at low RPMs with light pressure. Porcelain is very hard, so drilling may take more time than with ceramic tile. Cooling the bit often in water will help.
What is the best way to drill tile without chipping?
Tape around holes, back tiles with scrap wood, apply light pressure, and use the right drill bit for the tile type. Maintaining a perpendicular angle, clearing dust regularly, and pausing to cool bits will also prevent annoying chips and cracks.
Tips for Drilling Clean, Damage-Free Holes in Tile
Drilling tile can seem daunting, but these tips will ensure clean, chip-free holes every time:
- Always check tile material before choosing the right drill bit type – carbide, diamond grit, or titanium coated.
- Mark holes clearly and double check measurements for accuracy.
- Tape around holes and back tiles with scrap wood for support.
- Let cooled bits do the work using light pressure and low RPMs.
- Frequently stop to clear tile dust and debris from holes.
- Apply water or lubricant to tile and drill bits to reduce friction and dissipate heat.
- If necessary, smooth rough hole edges with a countersink or grinding stone bit.
- Clean up all tile dust. Seal drilled holes before installing accessories.
With care, almost any tile backsplash can be modified with neatly drilled holes for racks, bars, hooks, and other functional fixtures. Just mind the techniques and tile drilling can be fast, easy, and damage-free.
Finding the Right Professional Help
For some tile drilling projects, it’s wise to call in a tile installation pro. Tile professionals have specialized tools and expertise to drill into tile quickly and seamlessly. Here are some things to consider about hiring a tile contractor:
When to Call a Professional
Tile pros should handle:
- Large tile drilling jobs – dozens of holes or making intricate cut-outs.
- Tiles made of natural stone like granite, marble or travertine which fracture easily. Let a pro handle their delicate drilling.
- Situations where there’s no tile spare to practice first drills.
- Drilling into challenging surfaces like rounded or uneven tiles.
- Projects requiring special skill like drilling holes for electrical boxes or plumbing pipes.
Benefits of Hiring a Tile Contractor
Experience – They’ve drilled thousands of tile holes, knowing how to avoid cracks.
Specialized tools – Pros own diamond core bits, specialty saws, hole punches and routers to drill tile and stone cleanly.
Efficiency – Their expertise allows them to complete jobs faster.
Reliability – You can count on a pro getting the work done right the first time.
Insurance – If any tiles do get damaged, licensed contractors have coverage to replace them.
How to Find Qualified Tile Drilling Pros
Look for tile setters or remodelers experienced in specialty drilling work. Check credentials like:
- Tile industry certifications
- Online reviews and reputation
- An established business history
- A portfolio of tile drilling projects
- Liability insurance and licensing
Interview any potential contractors in person and get quotes from a few before you hire. A skilled tile pro can flawlessly handle intricate drilling work saving you time and headaches.
Step-By-Step Guide to Drill Into Tile Backsplash
Below is a step-by-step guide walking you through the entire process of how to safely drill into tile backsplashes:
Step 1: Assess the Tile Type
Examine your tiles closely to identify what material they are made of. Common types include:
- Ceramic – Most common. Brittle but drills well with carbide bits.
- Porcelain – Denser than ceramic. Requires diamond-grit bits.
- Natural stone – Marble, granite, etc. Risk of cracking. Use diamond bits.
- Glass – Prone to chipping without diamond holesaws.
- Metal – Hard but drills cleanly with titanium bits.
Step 2: Select the Right Drill Bit
Once you know your tile type, choose an appropriate drill bit:
- Ceramic, porcelain, natural stone – Use carbide-tipped masonry bits
- Glass backsplashes – Opt for diamond-grit hole saws
- Metal tile – Choose titanium-coated drill bits
Match the bit diameter to the size of the holes needed. Get several step-up sizes for flexibility.
Step 3: Mark Holes and Protect Surrounding Tiles
Use a pencil to mark hole locations based on measurements. Tape around holes with layers of masking or painter’s tape to shield neighboring tiles from scratching.
For many holes close together, cover the whole section with cardboard taped down.
Step 4: Prepare Tile Surface
Clear any dust and debris from tiles using a microfiber cloth and mild cleaner. Set a piece of scrap wood, like a shim or paint stir stick, on the tile behind where holes will be drilled. This will prevent blowout cracks as the bit goes through.
Optionally apply painter’s tape dots to the holes on the exiting side for a neater appearance.
Step 5: Drill Tile Holes
With your drill on a low RPM setting (600-1200), use light pressure to begin grinding the bit into the marked hole, drilling perpendicular to the tile. When the bit contacts the tile, ease off the pressure but keep drilling smoothly.
For glass tiles, spray lubricant while gently drilling. Pause periodically to spray more.
Step 6: Clear Tile Dust
Stop frequently while drilling to vacuum or blow away tile dust with compressed air before it builds up and binds the bit. Re-lubricate glass tiles as needed. Rinse drill bits in water to cool.
Step 7: Smooth any Rough Edges
Examine hole edges for roughness. If needed, use a countersink or grinding stone bit to slightly smooth and bevel any sharp areas. This prevents bracket screws from scraping tiles later on.
Step 8: Clean and Complete Installation
Remove all tile dust and debris from the backsplash. Use a damp microfiber cloth for a final clean. Install your shelf brackets, pot racks, hooks, or other accessories into the finished holes. Caulk around screws for a water tight seal.
Follow these simple steps when you drill into tile backsplashes for smooth, clean results. Patience and the proper drilling techniques will allow you to modify your backsplash precisely how you’d like.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
When drilling into tile backsplashes, it’s easy to make mistakes that lead to permanent damage. Be aware of these common errors and how to prevent them:
Using the Wrong Drill Bit
Picking a bit not suited for your tile material is asking for trouble. Masonry bits for porcelain and ceramic. Diamond grit for glass. Titanium for metal. Using the wrong type almost guarantees cracked tiles.
Rushing the Job
Drilling tile requires patience. Rushing leads to mistakes. Go slowly, letting the bit do the work. If you force or twist the drill, tiles can crack and holes end up uneven. Take your time.
Drilling Without Tile Support
Never drill directly onto a tile without backing. The exiting bit can blow out tile glaze. Always place a scrap wood backer board to support tiles and prevent stress cracks as holes break through.
Not Clearing Dust
Failing to regularly vacuum dust while drilling allows debris to build up and clog bits. Frequently pause to clear the holes using compressed air or a shop vac nozzle. Dust also obscures your view of the work area.
Drilling Tiles Cold
Friction heats up drill bits and tile glaze quickly. Overheating fractures tiles. Cool bits periodically by dipping in water. Avoid variable tile temperatures which expand and contract at different rates causing cracks.
Drilling Holes Too Close Together
Leave plenty of space between holes, at least a couple inches. Crowding holes concentrates stresses and generates excessive heat buildup leading to cracks radiating from holes.
Stay patient, use the proper drill and bits, and keep tiles supported and cooled. Follow these guidelines and your tile backsplash can be modified without damage.
How To Choose the Right Drill Bit for Tiles
Choosing the correct drill bit style and size is critical for drilling clean holes in tile backsplashes. Consider these factors when selecting drill bits for tile materials:
The drill bit must be suited to cutting the tile material without cracking or chipping it:
- Carbide-tipped masonry – For clay-based ceramic, porcelain, and natural stone
- Diamond-grit hole saw – For drilling into glass tiles
- Titanium-coated – Ideal for drilling metal backsplash tiles
Match the bit diameter to the size holes required, allowing some leeway:
- Small holes for anchors, screws, or hooks – 3/16” to 3/8” bits
- Medium holes for towel bars, utensil hooks – 1/2” to 5/8”
- Large holes for shelves, racks, recessed fixtures – 3/4” to 1”+
Longer drill bits, at least 4-6 inches, allow you to drill completely through tile from front to back in one pass. Short bits may require multiple passes and alignment.
Choose between SDS rotary hammer or standard drill shanks. Rotary hammers core through tile fast without blowing out the backside. Standard drills spin bits slower for careful hole drilling.
Stick with reputable drill bit brands like Bosch, Dremel, Milwaukee, Dewalt, etc. Quality bits stay sharp and last many tile jobs. Buy individual bits or full tile bit sets.
With the right style and size drill bit for your tiles, you can drill perfect holes without cracks or other damage. It pays to invest in good carbide, diamond, or titanium drill bits made for tiles.
How To Drill Into Porcelain Tiles Without Chipping
Porcelain tile is very dense and brittle. Without care, your drill can chip, crack, or shatter these tiles. Follow these tips to drill into porcelain safely:
Use a Diamond Drill Bit
Carbide bits can work, but diamond-grit bits are ideal for drilling into porcelain. The diamond abrasives grind cleanly through the hard surface glaze without cracking it.
Drill at Low Speed
Never drill porcelain tile fast. The high RPMs will overheat the tile. Go slowly at 600-1000 RPM to keep friction and temperatures low. Let the diamonds grind gradually.
Maintain Light Pressure
Pressing too hard risks porcelain cracks or cracks. Allow the diamond bit to cut with little pressure. Ease up further as the hole starts.
Cool Bits Frequently
The diamond drilling generates heat that can damage porcelain tiles. Regularly back bits out and rinse them in water to keep them and the tile cool.
Use Tile Backing Support
Always back porcelain tiles with a piece of scrap wood as you drill to prevent stress cracks as holes break through. Plywood works well.
Clear Debris Regularly
Drilling porcelain produces fine dusty debris. Frequently vacuum dust out of holes to avoid buildup clogging the bit. Keep your view of the work area clear.
With care and diamond grit drill bits, you can modify your porcelain backsplash by drilling neat holes for fixtures and accessories without any annoying chips or cracks.
How To Drill Into Marble Tile Without Damage
Natural stone tiles like marble have a delicate composition requiring special care when drilling holes. Follow these guidelines to prevent cracking fragile marble:
Use Diamond Hole Saws
The crystalline structure of marble will shatter if subjected to direct hammer drilling. Diamond hole saw bits grind gradually without shocks.
Lubricate the Tile
Oil or liquid soap lubricates marble drilling, reduce friction, keeps bits cool, and prevent cracking under pressure. Reapply frequently.
Drill at Lowest Speed
Never force or rush drilling into marble. Let diamond edges cut slowly, generally under 600 RPM.
Back Tiles with Wood
Support marble tiles with a sturdy piece of scrap wood as you drill. This stabilizes the thin marble and prevents exit-side blowouts.
With delicate marble, the lightest contact between diamond and stone is best. Keep pressure minimal and let the bit do the work.
Clear Dust Frequently
Marble dust builds up in drill