How to Drill Materials

Tips for drilling holes in wood, masonry, glass, mirrors, porcelain tiles and more

On this page find out how to drill:

  • Wood
  • Masonry (brick, block, stone and concrete)
  • Ceramic and porcelain tiles
  • Glass and mirrors
  • Metal
  • Marble
  • Granite
  • Drill bits get hot! I've burnt myself a few times, be careful after drilling not to touch them!

    There are lots of different materials carpenters come across every day and the methods and tools for how to drill each one effectively varies quite a lot. Cordless and power drills are so handy I use two most of the time and you can pretty much drill anything with them. On this page there are tips on how to drill pretty much all of the normal materials you'll come across on site. There are so many options and bits to choose from that it's worth buying a large set like the Dewalt one I have below if you are going to be drilling quite often. It's hard to buy that many bits individually for the price of a complete set and they're in one box too, which means less to carry!

    How to Drill Wood

    There are quite a few different ways to drill wood, depending on the depth and size of the hole you want. I keep a set of Dewalt brad point bits for drilling smaller holes up to about 7-8mm.

    I have both auger bits and flat/spade wood bits for drilling larger holes like when drilling door latches and locks for eg. Auger bits are easier to drill straight holes with flat bits are less likely to split the timber you are drilling.

    And I keep a decent set of hole saws for even larger holes still.

    When drilling straight through a material, like when fitting a door handle for example set out the position and bore into the material from both sides. This will create a cleaner more accurate hole and prevent breaking the back of the material out if you drill all the way through in one go. When making the second hole there will come a point where the threaded screw tip has nothing to bite into anymore. Here, you need to apply more pressure but be in control and hold the drill firmly with both hands so it doesn't come flying out the back and thus splitting the material out badly.

    If you are drilling a thin material or can't drill from both sides then if possible clamp some waste timber to the back or down on the floor then the material on top of that before drilling all the way through. This will help control the drill better when it comes through the material and ensure a clean exit hole.

    Use a slow gear and both hands on the drill for large holes and if your cordless has a side handle use that too. Adjust the torque setting so the clutch will kick in if the drill tries to snatch or if the bit bites you can risk hurting or even breaking your wrist!

    Always keep the torque set low if you are unsure and then adjust it upwards as and when you need to.

    How to Drill Masonry (Brick, block and concrete)

    Drilling small holes in masonry

    Special tungsten carbide tipped masonry bits are available for drilling brick, blocks stone and concrete, and are used primarily with a hammer action drill.

    Select the same size drill bit as the Rawl plug or other masonry fixing you are using (i.e. 5 - 5.5mm for red plugs). Always use sharp bits to help avoid burning your drill out.

    If fixing into Thermalite or soft brick it is often better not to use the hammer action, which can sometimes shatter the brick meaning the plug will just spin when you try and screw into it. If the plug does just spin, remove the screw and push another plug in or select a smaller bit for the next holes.

    Masonry bits don't drill wood very well so when screwing timber to brick or block walls for example use a wood or HSS bit to drill pilot holes first where you need them. A drill and countersink bit saves time in this situation too, if the screw-heads need sinking below the surface of the timber to be filled.

    Once the timber is drilled hold it in place and with a power or cordless drill on hammer action bore into the masonry. Use a medium to fast speed and push with reasonable force, but not so hard that the drill will struggle. Ultimately, the drill bit does the work, not pushing on it as hard as you can.

    Slide the spinning bit backward and forwards a little as well to help clear the loose debris from the hole.

    Only go into the masonry as deep as you need to, put some tape round the bit to mark the required depth if need be.

    How to drill ceramic and porcelain tiles

    When drilling ceramic tiles you can sometimes get away with using a masonry bit, but don't set the drill to hammer action you'll shatter the tile!

    Some ceramic tiles are too hard to drill with a masonry bit and porcelain tiles in particular are so hard you'll just burn a masonry bit out in seconds. Diamond or tungsten carbide tip bits are essential in these cases and are available from places like Screwfix specifically for drilling tiles and these are obviously much more efficient and will last longer. Most need to be water cooled during use.

    Use a slow speed to prevent overheating and burning the bit out.

    Put a masking tape 'x' where you want to drill so you can easily mark where you want to drill. It also helps prevent the bit from slipping during the start.

    Other ways to prevent slipping are to either use a sharp glass cutting bit to initially begin the hole before changing bits or get a piece of scrap timber about 300mm long. Drill a hole in about 20mm from the end, the same size as the TCT tile cutting bit. Now use the timber like a handle to control the bit with one hand while holding the drill with the other.

    How to drill glass and mirrors

    You need special drill bits for glass or for large holes use diamond instead. I generally use diamond hole saws for anything over 9mm or for thick glass.

    Either mark the glass with a marker pen or use masking tape to make marking it easier.

    Don't push too hard because you'll either break the glass or burn and ruin the drill bit.
    Lubricate the bit and the hole with water, oil or both to help keep the bit from burning and also to help clear debris from the hole.

    How to Drill Metal

    For metal I use high speed steel (HSS) bits.

    If you are drilling an unusually large hole in steel use oil or water to lubricate the bit and prevent it getting too hot. Also, start with smaller bits and build up to the eventual size required.

    How to drill marble or granite tiles

    The special drill bit I use for small holes in slate, marble and granite has a diamond sharpened carbide tip.

    When drilling marble the trickiest part is getting the bit started without it slipping across the surface. Either put tape on the tile or use a marker pen to accurately mark the tile before drilling.

    Then, drilling very slowly start turning the bit to create a starter hole. Once the hole is established a little more speed and pressure can be applied, but don't press too hard - let the bit do the work. Water can be applied to keep the bit cool and prevent it from burning.

    Click here to see more of the drill bits and sizes I use.


    How to drill related pages

    Most common drill sizes I use

    Finish carpentry fixings

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