How to drill a brick wall without cracking it

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

The most common reason to drill a brick wall is probably to screw something to it like a batten, molding, hook or bracket for example.

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

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 good idea!
  • A pencil to mark the position of the hole (masking tape can help in some instances)
  • A Drill: You can drill holes in bricks with a cordless battery drill or a corded power drill depending on the size of the hole and the power of your drill
  • A hammer
  • Drill bits (more on these below)
  • Rawl plugs, if screwing something to the brickwork 
  • Screws and screwdriver bits

Masonry (brickwork) drill bits are very different to metal or wood drill bits

You can't use wood or metal drilling bits for masonry, you need specific masonry drill bits.

They are excellent for drilling bricks, blocks, mortar (cement), concrete and some tiles. They are available with a normal round shank like in the picture to the right that can fit in a standard chuck as well as a quick release drill chuck.

If you have an SDS masonry drill you will need specially designed masnory drill bits for SDS chucks.

Generally when using masonry bits you will drill with a hammer action though 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 fix to.

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 hammer 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 drill bits here so check that page out first and come back if you need to.

Masonry drill bit for bricks, blocks and concrete

What is the best type of drill to drill a brick wall with?

There are four types of drill you could use:

  • Battery drill - for small holes up to around 25mm, a powerful cordless battery hammerdrill/driver could be sufficient 
  • Battery Hammer-drill - a powerful battery powered hammer drill designed specifically for larger holes
  • Power hammer-drill - 110v power drill with rotary and hammer actions
  • Rotary hammer-drill - very powerful drill for large core holes in masonry and concrete

Drilling tip - don't go too deep!

Some drills have a depth stop attachment but you can drill a hole in a brick wall to the correct depth for your plugs and screws by putting some masking tape on the drill bit 5-10mm longer than the length of the screw.

Stop drilling when the tape is reached. This will prevent the plug diving into the hole and getting lost which can happen if you drill too deep.

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.

Drilling a brick wall and fixing to it using plastic rawl plugs

Unlike timber that is soft(ish), pliable and whereby you can simply drill a pilot hole to wind a screw straight into it, masonry materials are too hard and dense for that (there are some exceptions we'll get into later). In most instances in order to screw something to a brickwork wall you will need to use Rawl plugs as well.

Colour coded by size, Rawl plugs come in;

  • Yellow: Drill a 5mm hole and use screws 4g - 8g in size
  • Red: Drill a 6mm hole and use screws 6g - 10g
  • Blue: Drill a 7mm hole and use screws 10g - 14g
  • Brown: Drill a 8mm hole and use screws 14g - 18g

For general carpentry work, you will most commonly use red and brown Rawl plugs with 8g - 10g screws that have Pozi-2 screw heads. You can buy assorted boxes of Rawl plugs.

  1. First, drill a brick slowly and with the hammer action turned on if your drill has the feature. don't push too hard - let the drill and drill bit do the work. If the bit gets too hot it will burn and become dull (blunt)
  2. Once the depth is reached, keep the drill bit spinning and move the drill backwards and forwards. This will help clear any excess dust and debris out of the hole that will stop the plug going in and gripping the walls of the cavity
  3. Insert the correct size Rawl plug into the hole so it finishes flush with the wall (not disappearing inside)
  4. Offer the timber up or whatever it is you are fixing to the wall. Insert the screw and using a slow speed tighten the screw
  5. The Rawl plug should expand inside the masonry wall gripping the cavity and you should feel the screw tightening as you go

Rawl plugs like these ones 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.

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.

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) 

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