How to drill a brick wall without cracking it

Follow these tips for drilling neat holes and screwing things into brickwork and masonry walls

There are lots of reasons to drill a brick wall. Often because you want to screw something to the wall like a batten, molding, hook, bracket or to hang a picture/clock or fix a flat screen TV to the wall for example.

Or you may need to drill a larger hole in a brick wall for a cable, a pipe or a vent to pass through it.

There are dozens of different types of wall plugs and anchors available depending on how heavy the item you are screwing to the wall will be. Most will have a guide on the packaging to help determine what is strong enough, if in doubt go slightly more heavy duty rather than less..  

Whatever size of hole you need to drill through brickwork or masonry and whether you have a hammer drill or want to drill through brick without a hammer drill (sometimes that's better anyway) I'll explain all of the do's and don'ts so you get the job done right, easily and safely. 

Tools you might need depending on the size of the hole you want to drill and what the hole is for:

  • Eye protection is a very good idea! You don't have to spend too much on good looking glasses
  • A pencil to mark the position of the hole (masking tape can help in some instances)
  • A Drill (more in a moment on the best type of drill for holes in brick walls)
  • A hammer 
  • Drill bits (more on the best types of drill bits for drilling brick below)
  • Rawl plugs or anchors, if screwing something to the brickwork 
  • Screws and screwdriver bits

Step 1: Make sure there are no pipes, cables or anything else you might hit before drilling a hole in a brick wall

Never drill directly above or below a plug socket in case there are cables.

Check there are no pipes as well, if unsure use a pipe & electrical cable detector to be safe.

Step 2: Choose the right drill bit for drilling holes in brick walls

Masonry (brick-work) drill bits are very different to metal or wood drill bits

You can never use wood or metal drilling bits to drill holes in masonry, you must use specific masonry drill bits designed for masonry.

Masonry bits are excellent for drilling bricks, Thermalite or concrete blocks, mortar (cement), concrete and some tiles as well.

Masonry drill bits are available with a normal round shank like in the picture to the right (I like Carbide tipped Dewalt masonry bits) that can fit in a standard keyed or key-less drill chuck that most people would own.

If you have an SDS masonry hammer drill you will need specially designed masonry drill bits for SDS chucks (Makita SDS drill bits are pretty good).

Generally when using masonry bits you will drill with a hammer action although this isn't always necessary and sometimes better to avoid.

If the brick or block you are drilling is particularly brittle, using a hammer action can actually just shatter & annihilate the material making it impossible to get a strong fixing into.

If you keep drilling holes but your Rawl plugs aren't biting (the plugs spin in the hole) then this may well be the reason. Try again without the hammer action on, a slightly smaller drill bit and go much slower to see if that helps.

I won't go any further here as there is much more information on choosing the best drill bits here so check that page out first and come back if you need to.

Masonry drill bit for bricks, blocks and concrete

Step 3: decide which is the best drill to drill a brick wall with

There are four main types of drill you could use to drill a brick wall with:

  • Cordless battery powered drill - for small holes up to around 25mm, a powerful cordless battery drill/driver could be sufficient. You don't always need the hammer action if you have good quality drill bits (I love my Dewalt Combi hammer drill driver)
  • Cordless Hammer-drill - a powerful battery powered hammer drill designed specifically for larger holes
  • Mains powered hammer-drill - 240v or 110v power drill with rotary and hammer actions
  • Rotary hammer-drill - very powerful drill for large core holes in masonry and concrete

The best drill will depend on the size of hole you need to drill and the density of the material. The bigger the hole, the more powerful a drill you will need.

I find a battery hammer drill is adequate for drilling a few 4-8mm holes and a normal shank drill bit is OK as well.

If I have a lot of holes to drill and they are 6mm+ I will use my 110v power hammer drill with an SDS bit which is a bit heavier but much faster and more efficient to drill multiple holes in brick work with.

I only use a rotary hammer drill for much larger applications and very rarely for carpentry itself.

Step 4: Choose the right size drill bit for the hole or Rawl plugs

Unlike timber that is generally soft(ish), pliable and whereby sometimes you don't even need to drill a pilot hole before you screw into it, masonry materials are too hard and dense for that (there are some exceptions we'll get into later) and you'll need to drill a brick hole first.

In most instances in order to screw something to a brickwork wall you will need to use Rawl plugs as well and therefore need to choose the correct drill bit for the rawl plug size you are using:

Colour coded by size, Rawl plugs come in; (Always double check the packaging on your plugs)

  • Yellow: Drill a 5mm hole and use screws 3.4mm-5mm in size
  • Red: Drill a 6mm hole and use screws 3.5mm - 5mm
  • Blue: Drill a 7mm hole and use screws 10g - 14g
  • Brown: Drill a 7mm hole and use screws 4-6mm

For general carpentry work, you will most commonly use red and brown Rawl plugs with 6g - 18g screws that have Pozi-2 screw heads. You can buy assorted boxes of Rawl plugs.

It is really easy to increase the size of a hole in masonry with a larger drill bit. So if in doubt drill a brick hole with a smaller drill bit first then increase if needed.

Step 5: How to drill a brick wall step by step

Once you have marked the position of the hole and have chosen the correct drill and drill bit, you are ready to get drilling into the brick wall. 

If the surface of the wall is smooth, to prevent the drill bit from wandering you can either use a hammer and nail punch to whack a point into the plaster or brick work for the drill bit to locate into, or start with a smaller drill bit first that is easier to control.

If your drill has different speed settings, for soft masonry use the slowest setting and don't turn on the hammer action - rotary only.

If the material is very dense and hard, opt for a faster speed and turn on the hammer action as well.

Ideally you want to use the slowest possible speed that will get the job done

When you drill a brick wall with a masonry/hammer drill set the clutch (torque) low so that it will kick in and stop the drill. Adjust this higher as needed, but it is there to stop the drill spinning if the bit gets jammed. Without it, people have broken their wrists because the drill bit gets stuck and the drill keeps spinning.. 

  1. First, start to drill a brick slowly and don't push too hard - let the drill and drill bit do the work. This is important because if the drill bit gets too hot it will burn and become dull (blunt).
  2. Once you have the hole started and it can't wander off, pick up a bit of speed and move the drill bit straight back and forth in order to clear the dust and debris out of the hole so the flutes of the drill bit don't get clogged up 
  3. Once the desired depth is reached, again keep the drill bit spinning and move the drill backwards and forwards to clear any excess dust and debris out of the hole that will stop the plug going in and gripping the walls of the cavity
  4. Insert the correct size Rawl plug into the hole so it finishes flush with the wall (not disappearing inside)
  5. Repeat for each hole you need to drill in the brick wall
  6. Offer the timber up or whatever it is you are fixing to the wall 
  7. Insert the screw and using a slow speed with a battery drill/driver tighten the screw until it bites 
  8. The Rawl plug should expand inside the masonry wall gripping the cavity and you should feel the screw tightening as you go

Drilling tip - Don't drill the hole too deep!

Some drills have a depth stop attachment you can set to stop the drill once you get to a certain depth.

You can drill a hole in a brick wall to the correct depth for your plugs and screws without a depth stop by putting some masking tape on the masonry drill bit. Hold the rawl plug next to the drill bit and tape round it 5-10mm longer than the plug.

If you stop drilling when the tape is reached, this will prevent the plug diving too deep into the hole and getting lost when you try and screw into it.

If you do happen to drill the hole too deep, you may need to put two Rawl plugs in before your screw will grip inside the hole.

Some Rawl plugs have anti-rotation 'wings' to help prevent spinning in the hole too and therefore grip better.

When the holes get bigger and the fixings need to be stronger as you are fixing something heavy to the wall, more heavy duty wall anchors are needed instead.

Step 6: How to drill a brick wall for larger holes and fixings

When you need a strong fixing in brick work walls or concrete, heavy duty wall anchors work in a similar way but can take much heavier loads.

Examples might include fixing a TV to the wall or even a staircase. Generally for applications like these I will choose a Fischer Fixings of some sort. They are available in various lengths and sizes to suit different applications and are seriously strong.

Drilling a hole in a brick wall for these fixings is the same as above but for larger holes I am almost always using my SDS hammer drill with SDS drill bits which is designed specifically for this type of work. It is a heavy duty hammer action drill that can far better withstand the stresses of large masonry and brickwork holes.

You may need to use a smaller drill bit initially to drill a pilot hole and then move on to a larger one instead of trying to bore the whole amount in one go.

Step 7: How to drill large holes in brick walls for things like pipes & vents

To drill a brick for larger holes still, you may need to consider a core bit. Similar to a hole-saw that you would use for timber, core drills are diamond tipped tubular drill bits that cut round the edge of a hole rather than boring right through it. This means they cut the least amount of material to get the hole drilled.

Core drills are more suitable for drilling hole in masonry for pipes or large cables to pass through and are therefore more often used by plumbers and electricians.

Kits are available with the most common hole saw sizes you'd need to drill a brick wall for pipes or cables.

  1. To use a core drill for drilling large holes, always ensure the drill has the clutch set low and that the side handle is attached - and that you are holding onto it
  2. First drill a pilot hole for the core drills centering bit with a normal masonry drill bit. This will ensure the drill is only powering the core bit through the hole rather than doing both. You can also drill that from both sides if possible to ensure you will come out in the right spot
  3. At first, use the slowest speed your drill has and make sure the bit is spinning before it touches the wall
  4. Carefully bore the hole and be really carefully to make sure the drill and bit stay straight. If the angle changes and the bit 'bites' in the hole instead of cutting it will stop and try to spin the drill instead (having the side handle gripped and clutch set low will help prevent this from happening) 

What's next?

Click here for help drilling into wood

Click here for tips on drilling pilot holes

Or click here to go back to the main drilling page

How do you drill holes in brick walls? Use the comments box below;