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How to Cut and Drill Through Tile

How to Cut and Drill Through Tile

Cutting and drilling tile doesn’t have to be a big production if you have the right equipment and know how. A few general guidelines can put you on the path to both cutting and drilling tile with expertise.

Whether you are installing fixtures in a bathroom or kitchen, placing tiles in a kitchen or bathroom or installing tile on a floor, there are procedures that can make those processes a whole lot easier. Here are a few ideas on how to deal with drilling holes in tile and cutting tile in different capacities.

How do I drill a small hole in tile?

Even when drilling a small hole in tile, a drill that can accommodate a carbide-tipped masonry bit, or a diamond tipped bit is necessary, as regular drill bits will not be able to pass through the hardened glaze of most tiles. Whatever size hole that is required needs to be matched with the right masonry bit to drill an approximate hole efficiently. The steps to follow in drilling a small hole involve:

  • Cleaning the tile surface to be drilled

  • Choosing the correct drill bit type and size (carbide or diamond tipped)

  • Using safety glasses (for any possible flying debris and tile dust)

  • Marking the drilling site with masking tape for protection and less chance of slippage and other damage (X marks the spot)

  • Tapping the drill bit in carefully with a hammer to create an indentation or initial starting point

  • Using the drill and drill bit to go through the tile hole slowly. A low speed setting should be used with low to moderate pressure. Avoid going too fast and pushing too hard, which can cause cracks and splits

  • Lubricating the area to be drilled with water to avoid friction and heat buildup and possible scorching and tile breakage.

  • Penetrating any backing behind the tile, which can be done with a regular drill bit, but it should still be completed in a deliberately slow manner to avoid any damage to sheet rock or framing wood that sits behind the tile

How do I drill a large hole in tile?

Larger holes are usually drilled in tile with hole saws that have edges that consist of carbide grit. Hole saws can be expensive, so there are other methods that will work, as self-help methods do exist.

A do-it-yourself option for drilling a large hole in tile would be to determine the size of hole that is needed and make an outline of it on the tile. Draw it with a permanent marker, or specialized grease pencil. Once the outline is in place, take a quarter inch (1/4) masonry bit that has a carbide tip and drill a number of spaced holes or indentations that surround the circle. In order to go through the glazing part of the tile, use a cold chisel. Then, use a hammer to slightly tap the tile along the holes that have been made with the bit.

With care, tap within the inside of the marked outline. The process could take several minutes for the tile to break free and expose the hole. The hole will likely be rough but it can be hidden with a decorative cover plate. This same technique can be used as well to make both rectangular and square cuts on tile.

How do I prevent the tile from cracking/breaking?

In order to prevent tile breakage or cracking, use masking tape to protect the surface where drilling is going to take place and slippage could occur. Place the masking tape over the area in question. Position the tape in the pattern of an X or cross and continue with drilling directly through the tape. The tape will serve as a reinforcement against slippage of the bit and will help to prevent cracking or breaking of the tile.

A grinding feeling will happen as the bit goes through the glazing on the tile. Continue to drill through the tile and on into the sheet rock or any other backing materials. Be more gentle when approaching the different layers so the hole that is left in the sheet rock or backing material is able to receive any type of fastener.

How do I cut tile for installation?

Whether you are dealing with the installation of new tile around a bathtub, kitchen backsplash or on a floor, more than likely if the tile job requires end pieces or pieces that have to be fit in a specific place, measuring and cutting those pieces will be necessary.

Larger tiles will require more advanced equipment to cut, but smaller ceramic tiles can be sized by hand using a few tools. The most uncomplicated do-it-yourself, manual way, to cut a piece of tile without the use of an actual tile cutter would involve:

  • Marking the tile where the cut is needed

  • Using a square tool on the tile piece and placing it at a slight distance from the original marking

  • Using a glass cutter to graze the tile on the marked cut line

  • Placing the tile piece on a flat and solid area

  • Taking a metal clothes hanger and placing it under the tile and adjusting it to the cut line on the tile

  • Applying pressure on either side of the tile to break it along the cut line

  • Smoothing the finished cut line by rubbing it against the edge of concrete or other material that will help smooth it

What equipment is needed to cut thicker and larger tiles?

Depending on whether you are simply sizing or preparing tile to place it in a particular location of a kitchen or bathroom, or whether you are actually installing it after it has been cut to size, there are several pieces of equipment that would be necessary to complete both phases, which include:

  • Tile wet saw – for loose tiles ready to be measured, cut and installed

  • Angle grinder (diamond blade) – for making square or box style cuts or for cutting into large areas of tile that already exist

  • Hole saw with the appropriate guiding bit – for making circular cuts around plumbing and other areas

  • Tape measure

  • Safety glasses

  • Dust mask

  • Drill

Whether you’re cutting tile for installation or cutting and drilling through it for placement of plumbing, fixtures and other related items, the right equipment and guidelines are necessary to get the job done. Visit your local Doug Ashy store to pick up supplies for your next DIY project – we’ll help you achieve beautiful results and get it done safely and efficiently.


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