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Drilling Porcelain Tiles - The Ultimate Guide

By Neil Hale, Market Development Manager, BuyBrandTools.Com - Revised July 2012

The installation of porcelain tile is becoming an increasingly regular task for the modern day tiler. Customers desire the look of natural stone, but require the extra durability that porcelain tiles offer. With porcelain tiles being non-porous (impervious to water) and virtually maintenance free, they are the perfect solution for the progressively popular wet-room styled bathrooms.

With porcelain being one of the most popular choices of tile material available, and with the trend for porcelain tile set to continue, tilers have had to adapt their working methods and tools to be able to cater for the demands of their clients. Until recently, a large number of tile fixers have shied away from installing and drilling porcelain tiles due its perceived difficulty.

However, drilling holes in porcelain tile is not difficult! Using the correct methods and the best tools for the job, it is possible to achieve perfect cuts in a matter of seconds.

Choosing the Best Value Drills - Which best describes your Needs?

1) I need to drill a few small holes in tiles in my bathroom...

Rubi Easy Gres DIY tile drill bits

Choose: Rubi Easy Gres kits include a diamond drill bit, guide and water cooling for just 7.99!


2) I'm doing a one-off job in a bathroom or kitchen and need a kit for popular hole sizes, without breaking the bank! ...

365 Drills porcelain tile drill bit kits

Choose: 365 Drills Bathroom Fitters Kit has everything you need for under 40!


3) I'm a professional, wanting to drill fixing holes in hard tiles, with easy start-up...

Armeg carbide tile drill bits

Choose: Armeg carbide drill bits cut 15-25 holes in tough porcelain and don't slip!


4) I'm a professional, drilling holes in tiles regularly and I want the longest life, lowest cost-per-cut solution available!

Armeg diamond core drill bits

Choose: Armeg diamond cores cut hundreds of holes in even grade 5 porcelain, they won't let you down!


Recommended Equipment for Drilling Porcelain Tiles Professionally

Identifying the Size of Hole to be Drilled

The first step is to correctly identify the size of hole to be drilled. This is very important, as the diameter of the hole to be cut dictates the method that you will use to drill into the tile.

The majority of holes that are 10mm and under in diameter will be drilled with the tile already fixed to the wall. Conversely, the majority of holes over 10mm in diameter will be drilled into the tile before the tile has been fixed.

When drilling holes that are 13mm or larger in diameter, make sure that the tile to be drilled is placed in a tray that will collect the waste water that is produced. Ensure that scrap tiles or another similar material is placed under the tile that is being drilled. This will help to halt the progress of the drill once it has finished drilling through the tile.

Before drilling porcelain tiles, ensure that you are wearing the correct safety equipment, including safety glasses or goggles. Ensure that you are using a residual current device (RCD) to help prevent electric shock.

Drilling Small Diameter Holes (10mm or Smaller) with Diamond Cores

  1. Mark the centre of the hole to be drilled into the tile by using a marker or a sticky drive pad.
  2. Attach the appropriate diamond core bit to the electric drill and ensure that there is a constant supply of cold water that is being directly aimed at the diamond core i.e. by using water cooling equipment.
    Note regarding water cooling...
    It is important to ensure that there is a constant supply of cold water directed at the drill bit in order to keep the diamond core cool and to help remove any debris that may have built up whilst drilling the tile. It is not advisable to try and cool the diamond drill bit by using a hand held aspirator or drilling through a wet sponge. These methods will not keep the drill bits cool enough, and will drastically shorten the life of the drill bit.
  3. Ensure that the drill is in "normal" mode and set the drill to between 1000 and 1500 rpm. If you have marked the tile with a marker it is best to drill into the tile using a method called "leaning in". "Leaning in" ensures that the drill will not slip and wander off centre as you begin to drill into the tile.
    How to "lean in"... (see video below)
    To "lean in", simply start the drill at an angle, as soon as the drill bit has started to cut the tile, slowly bring the drill into a vertical position. Ensure that sufficient pressure is being applied (tile dust should be evident in cooling water) and rotate slowly until you have cut the perfect hole. As you finish the hole, you will notice that the tone of the drill will change.
    Using sticky drive pads... (see video below)
    If you use a sticky drive pad, it is unnecessary to use the "leaning in" method. Simply start the drill in a vertical position and the sticky pad will ensure that the drill does not slip. Once you have finished drilling the tile, simply peel off the sticky drive pad.



  4. Because the majority of small diameter holes will be cut into tiles already fixed to the wall, it will be necessary to drill a fixing hole behind the tile. Replace the diamond core with the appropriately sized masonry drill bit and set the drill to "hammer" mode. Use a slow speed for drilling into hard materials to ensure that the tip doesn't overheat. Ensure that the drill bit is frequently withdrawn in order to stop a build up of dust.

Drilling Small Diameter Holes (10mm or Smaller) with Carbide Bits

  1. Firstly, mark where the hole will be drilled, on the tile, using a marker.
  2. Attach a carbide drill bit to your drill. Ensure that there is a constant supply of cold water that is being directly aimed at the selected drill bit i.e. by using water cooling equipment.
    Note regarding water cooling...
    It is important to ensure that there is a constant supply of cold water, in order to keep the drill bit cool and to help remove any debris that may have built up whilst drilling the tile. It is not advisable to try and cool the drill bit by using an aspirator or drilling through a wet sponge, these methods will not keep the drill bit cool enough, and the drill bit will burn out.
  3. Set the electric drill to between 700 and 900 rpm. Make sure that the drill is in "normal" mode.
  4. Push the carbide drill bit gently into where you have marked the tile until you hear a cracking sound. Start drilling from a vertical position with sufficient pressure and don't stop until you hear a change in the tone of the drill. As soon as you hear the change in the tone, begin to ease off. See video below.



  5. Because the majority of small diameter holes will be cut into tiles already fixed to the wall, it will be necessary to drill a fixing hole behind the tile. Replace the carbide drill bit with the appropriately sized masonry drill bit and set the drill to "hammer" mode. Use a slow speed for drilling into hard materials to ensure that the tip doesn't overheat. Ensure that the drill bit is frequently withdrawn in order to stop a build up of dust.

Drilling Large Diameter Holes (13mm or Larger) with Diamond Cores

  1. In order to cut holes that are 13mm or larger in diameter, it is necessary to first drill a pilot hole. The pilot hole will act as a locator for a large diamond core and will help you to drill a perfect hole in porcelain tile.
  2. Attach an 8mm carbide drill bit or 8mm diamond bit to your drill. Follow the instructions given above for either "Drilling Small Diameter Holes (10mm or Smaller) with Diamond Cores" or "Drilling Small Diameter Holes (10mm or Smaller) with Carbide Bits", depending on whether you are using diamond cores or carbide drill bits. Leave out the final step in either case as you won't be drilling a fixing hole behind the tile.
  3. Now that the pilot hole has been cut, it is possible to drill the main (large) hole. Attach the appropriate diamond core and ensure that there is a constant supply of cold water (see water cooling information in the previous sections of this article).
  4. Diamond cores that are larger than 13mm will require an adaptor with pilot pin that locates into the pilot hole that has been cut previously, to ensure the perfect hole will be made.
  5. Starting the drill vertically, begin to drill in a circular motion with sufficient pressure until the tone of the drill changes. Drilling porcelain tiles should take seconds not minutes. If it is taking you minutes, it is likely that you are not applying enough pressure or that you are using an incorrect setting on the power tool. See video below.




  6. © 2012 BuyBrandTools.com

    Please feel free to print this article for your own use or to provide a link to it from your website but don't reproduce this article in any other way without the author's permission.
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