Installing a backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and protection to your kitchen walls. However, you may need to drill through the backsplash tiles at some point for installing mounts, fixtures, or shelves. Drilling through tile can seem daunting, but it’s quite straightforward with the right tools and techniques.
What You’ll Need
- Tile drill bit – Use a carbide-tipped drill bit made specifically for drilling through ceramic tiles. The diamond grit edge helps grind through the tile smoothly.
- Hammer drill – A hammer drill provides pounding action in addition to drill rotation, allowing the drill bit to punch through the tough tile surface. Alternatively, you can try using a standard power drill on a slow setting.
- Eye protection – Wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from flying tile shards and debris.
- Marking tool – Use a pencil or marker to indicate the points where you need to drill.
- Spray bottle with water – The water helps keep the tile drill bit cool during drilling and prevents fine tile dust from becoming airborne.
- Rags – Have some rags or paper towels handy to wipe away tile dust and debris.
- Vacuum – Use a shop vacuum to contain and collect tile dust as you work.
How to Drill Into Tile Without Cracking It
Drilling into tile risks cracking or chipping if not done carefully. Follow these tips for clean and precise holes:
Mark Your Holes
Use a permanent marker to indicate the exact spots where you want the holes drilled. If making holes for mounts, hold the mounts in position before marking.
Start with Pilot Holes
Drill shallow pilot holes using a smaller drill bit first. This creates a guide for the tile drill bit to follow, preventing slippage that can cause cracks.
Drill at an Angle
Hold the drill at a 45-degree angle to the tile rather than straight on. This helps direct drill pressure and friction to one side of the hole for a cleaner exit hole.
Take It Slow
Drill slowly and steadily while applying firm pressure. Let the tile drill bit do the work rather than forcing it through quickly. Slow progress helps prevent overheating and cracking.
Lubricate the Tile Bit
Use a spray bottle to regularly spritz the tile drill bit and tile surface with water as you drill. The water lubricates the bit, cools the tile, and minimizes dust.
Back Out Periodically
Every so often, back the tile drill bit out of the hole to clear away debris. This prevents binding and overheating of the bit.
Finish from the Front
When the drill bit penetrates close to the rear of the tile, finish drilling from the front side. This prevents chip out on the visible tile face.
Follow these detailed steps for smooth drilling through backsplash tiles:
Step 1 – Mark the Holes
Use a marker or pencil to indicate precisely where you want the holes drilled. If possible, hold mounts in place and mark from the backside to hide marks later.
Step 2 – Attach a Tile Drill Bit
Select a tile drill bit between 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch in diameter depending on your needs. Attach it securely in the chuck of a hammer drill or standard power drill.
Step 3 – Prepare Your Work Area
Clear the immediate area and lay down drop cloths to contain dust and debris. Have a vacuum ready to collect tile shards and dust. Put on safety goggles.
Step 4 – Drill Pilot Holes
Drill shallow pilot holes at each mark using a smaller masonry drill bit such as 1/8 inch. Pilot holes prevent skidding of the tile bit.
Step 5 – Drill at an Angle
Position the tile drill bit at a 45-degree angle to the tile surface. Apply firm, steady pressure as you drill slowly through the tile.
Step 6 – Lubricate and Cool
Use a spray bottle to regularly spritz the tile drill bit and tile surface with water as you drill. This cools the bit and tile while limiting dust.
Step 7 – Back Out Periodically
Every 30 seconds or so, back the drill bit partially out of the hole to clear debris and prevent binding. Then continue drilling forward.
Step 8 – Finish from the Front
When nearing the backside, finish drilling from the front to avoid chip out on the visible tile face.
Step 9 – Smooth the Edges
Use a file or sandpaper to smooth any rough tile edges around the freshly drilled holes. Vacuum up all debris when finished.
Tips for Drilling Tile Successfully
- Use painter’s tape around the drilling point to prevent surface cracks and chips.
- For larger holes, step up the tile drill bit size gradually rather than starting with the widest bit.
- If using a standard drill, set it to the hammer drill setting or slowest speed to avoid cracking the tile.
- For metal tiles like tin or stainless steel, use a carbide grit hole saw drill bit.
- Apply firm pressure but don’t force the tile drill bit. Let it work its way smoothly through the tile.
- For tile walls with a substrate like cement board behind, drill just until the tile is penetrated then finish from the rear.
Troubleshooting Drilling Issues
Tile cracking: Too much pressure applied or drill speed too fast.
Tile chipping: Not using a pilot hole or finishing drill from rear of tile.
Tile drill bit skipping: Insufficient pressure or bit is worn.
Tile drill bit binding: Not clearing away debris or lubricating.
Uneven hole edges: Drill bit is dull or worn.
FAQs About Drilling Tile
What size drill bit do I need for tile?
For most backsplash tiles, a 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch tile drill bit is ideal. Match the size to the fixtures or anchors you’ll be installing.
Can I use a regular drill bit for tile?
You can try using a standard twist drill bit, but it likely won’t last long or produce clean results. Investing in good quality tile drill bits saves time and frustration.
What speed should I drill tile?
Drill tiles slowly, between 800-2000 RPM for best control. Hammer drills on a medium speed setting usually work well.
How do I stop my tile drill bit from skipping?
Apply steady, firm pressure and use a pilot hole to guide the bit. Skippping usually means the bit is worn out or you’re drilling too quickly.
Why does my tile keep cracking when drilling?
Easing up on pressure and drilling speed is key to prevent cracks. Also be sure to drill at an angle rather than perpendicular to the tile. Use painter’s tape over the drilling point.
How do I get smooth holes in tile?
Regularly backing the tile drill bit out of the hole to clear debris prevents binding. Finishing the hole by drilling from the front side also improves hole edges. Use a file to smooth rough edges after drilling.
Drilling smooth, clean holes in backsplash tile is straightforward with the proper tile drill bits and techniques. The key things to remember are using a hammer drill at an angle with moderate speed and pressure. Maintain a lubricated drill bit while periodically clearing away debris. Pilot holes prevent cracking and finishing from the front gives attractive results. With some care and patience, you can drill perfect holes for installing fixtures and mounts in your kitchen backsplash tile.