Drilling tile is something many people try to avoid. There’s always the fear the tile will crack. Replacing a single tile can be an awkward job even when a spare is available. If it isn’t, then you need to purchase a whole box. If it’s a patterned tile, then finding a match can be a real challenge.
Fortunately, with the right drill bit the job can be as easy as drilling wood or masonry. There is plenty of choice, and most drill bit sets are very affordable. However, tile is made from a variety of materials so it’s important to select the right bit for the task. The following article provides a detailed explanation of the differences and also recommends some of the best drill bits for tile available.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Drill Bits for Tile
Many drill bits might appear similar at first glance, but the best drill bit for tile is very different than the best drill bit for wood or steel. There are also a wide variety of materials to consider when choosing the best drill bits for tile.
Whether for drilling wood, metal, masonry, or tile, almost all drill bits are made from high-speed steel (HSS), which is hard-wearing and relatively inexpensive. However, it can lose its sharpness quickly when drilling hard materials like tile, so the tip of the bit is coated in a variety of different materials.
The most common tip coating is tungsten carbide (often just called carbide), a combination of tungsten and carbon. Very hard and heat resistant, these tops stay sharp for longer. Less common is the use of industrial diamonds in powdered form (usually called dust), which are fused to the drill bit under tremendous heat and pressure. They are seldom used for standard twist drills, but mostly for hole saws.
The type of material the tile is made of will have an impact on drill bit choice. Unglazed terra- cotta tiles, popular for rustic decor, are relatively soft. They can be drilled effectively with a standard HSS masonry bit, though a carbide-tipped version will last longer.
Ceramic tiles are perhaps the most common type in use in kitchens and bathrooms. Again, a carbide-tipped masonry drill bit is a good choice. Porcelain is harder, so a diamond-tipped drill bit is recommended. This is also true for stone and glass tiles.
There are exceptions. Some manufacturers have developed more efficient drill bit designs, notably the spear point, that can allow carbide-tipped versions to be used for glass, for example.
If only one or two holes are required for a particular job, buying a single drill bit is often an economical option. However, it depends on the type of bit, as it’s not unusual for them to be several dollars each. If drilling tile is likely to be an ongoing task then buying a drill bit set is certainly worth considering.
The smallest drill bits for tile are usually around 1/8-inch. The biggest twist drill types are seldom more than 1/2-inch, though other designs can be larger. When drilling in tile it can be difficult to control large bits on a shiny, glazed surface, so it’s common practice to make a small “pilot” hole, then follow it up with the desired finished size.
For holes beyond around 1/2-inch in diameter, a hole saw (or hollow core bit) is often recommended. These are a circular ring of HSS, usually with a diamond-coated edge. Hole saws can be large enough to allow for the fitting of plumbing pipe, for example. However, some have limited depth, so it’s important to check dimensions before ordering.
Our Top Picks
It’s now time to put the information above to practical use. The following top picks represent many of the best drill bits for tile on the market. They have been categorized so you can quickly find the type you need.1Photo: amazon.com Check Latest Price
With a variety of different tile materials to tackle, it is difficult to pick a single best drill bit set for the job. In addition to their ease of use, the 10-piece set from Owl Tools offers terrific versatility. They are among the best drill bits for ceramic tile, and a great addition to any DIY tool kit.
Shanks are standard HSS, with tungsten carbide tips. The big advantage with the spear-shape tip is that it offers a fine point that is less prone to wandering than standard masonry bits. The downside is that the thinner metal wears more quickly. This is common with carbide-tipped bits when used for hard ceramic tiles, and even diamond bits wear relatively rapidly. Nevertheless, the Owl Tools set represents excellent value.
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At first glance the masonry drill bits from FNEKER appear very similar to dozens of other budget-friendly drill bit sets. However, they do have a couple of advantages over standard masonry rivals.
One of the frequent problems with ceramic tile drilling is excess heat, and it’s often recommended to spray the area with water. The double-helix flute design of these bits removes waste quickly, so friction (and therefore heat) is minimized. Also, the triangular shank provides flat gripping surfaces for the drill chuck so there’s no chance of the bit slipping.
The FNEKER bits are metric sizes, so while imperial equivalents are quoted, they are not exact. High precision is seldom an issue when drilling tile, but if it is then a different set will be required.
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Diamond-tipped tools are the best drill bits for porcelain tile, and this set from Neiko provides a good range of sizes at a modest cost. They can also cut through ceramic, glass, and granite, making them a versatile option.
Budget bits like these are made with a diamond dust bonded to a steel core. They are very robust, but porcelain is a tough material, so the diamond layer does wear fairly rapidly.
It is best to view these as disposable items that will tackle one or two jobs. Often that’s all people need, and these bits are a cost effective solution for many DIY tile-drilling tasks.
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Most standard drill bits for tile don’t exceed 1/2-inch in diameter. Hole saws are generally used for larger diameters. The challenge with hole saws is they don’t have a central point, so it can be difficult to keep them in one spot; they “walk” across the tile surface. The larger the hole, the more difficult control becomes.
This high-quality bit from Bosch offers an alternative. It has a fine point and precision-ground edges, plus a reinforced head that provides excellent durability. The shank has three flats so it won’t rotate in a drill chuck.
The Bosch GT1000 is designed to drill ceramic and glass, though not porcelain. It is relatively expensive, but less experienced users will appreciate how easy it is to maintain accuracy.
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Anyone who uses drill bits for tile on a regular basis will appreciate this durable 10-piece set from Drilax. In addition to being some of the best drill bits for hard porcelain tile, they’ll also tackle ceramic, granite, glass, quartz, and marble, offering excellent versatility.
The main body is HSS with a rust-resistant nickel plating. The body of the bit is taller than many rivals, allowing for deeper holes when necessary. The high-density foam insert that holds the bits in place in the case also doubles as an invaluable drill guide to help prevent walking. It also provides a useful “well” for water to keep the bits cool, and thus ease cutting ability and extend their working life.
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With many kitchen and bathroom fixtures now supplied in metric sizes, it can be important to have an accurate metric drill bit for tile. Imperial equivalents are close, but sometimes not close enough.
This eight-piece set from QWORK is a very affordable solution. Unlike some sets that include duplicates, each of these drill bits is a different size offering good versatility. The fine point offers good positional control, and the tungsten carbide tip is equally capable of cutting through ceramic tile as well as the brick or masonry wall behind it.
The QWORK bits can also be used in wood or soft metals like aluminum and brass. Shanks on the larger bits have flats that provide extra grip for drill chucks and prevent the bits from slipping.
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Perhaps the most noticeable thing about this BLENDX hole saw set, apart from the bright, rust-resistant nickel finish, is the surprisingly low price. The set comprises 10 different-sized “diamond” bits, and while the metric diameters may not suit everyone, it is a comprehensive collection.
Close inspection reveals that the cutting edges are not actually diamond, but silicon carbide (carborundum). It is still a very hard material, capable of cutting through porcelain as long as it’s well lubricated, but these bits lack the durability of many true diamond rivals.
Nevertheless, the BLENDX drill bit set does have its uses. For those who only need drill bits for tile for a one-off task, remodeling a kitchen or a bathroom for example, they do offer good value.
The Owl Tools drill bits work well in a variety of tile materials, making them a great choice for DIY enthusiasts. However, they struggle with porcelain, as do the drill bits in the budget set from FNEKER, which is otherwise a great value. The diamond-coated Neiko bits are a low-cost solution, though their durability is limited.
How We Chose the Best Drill Bits for Tile
As a keen DIYer who has completely remodeled two homes, I have had plenty of practice drilling tile. That experience, combined with a great deal of product research, informed our choices.
While often with these articles we establish a fixed set of selection criteria, in this case what was important was to choose quality solutions to a variety of different drilling challenges.
Brand reputation plays less of a part here than with things like power tools because many of the top drill-bit makers are not household names. Nevertheless, quality and durability are key components, and the feedback of actual users played a part in our decisions. As always, value for money was also considered.
The sections above explored how the best drill bits for tile are constructed and offer top examples of those currently available. In researching this article, a number of questions cropped up regularly. In the event you still have unanswered questions about selecting the best drill bits for tile, keep reading.
Using the right drill bit is key. Standard drill bits will not cut through the surface, which leads to too much pressure being applied, cracking the tile. Use masking tape to mark the position of the hole. This will also provide initial grip for the bit. Hold the drill firmly and apply slow, steady pressure. If you also need to drill the masonry or concrete behind the tile, do not use the hammer action until you are through the tile.
Diamond-tipped drill bits are recommended for porcelain. The bit can get hot, so dipping it in water occasionally, or spraying the area while working, will keep it cool and help it cut more effectively.
The technique is described in the question above about how to drill tiles without cracking them. A carbide-tipped drill bit is usually recommended, although a diamond-tipped one will also do a good job.
You can, but the grout is a relatively soft surface and the drill bit can easily wander. If you need accuracy, drilling through tile is usually preferred.
Porcelain has a finer texture, but it can be difficult to tell the difference if the tiles are already on a wall. Ceramic tile usually has a glazed top layer that is a different color to the core, which may show at the edge. Porcelain is usually the same color throughout.
Whatever you are drilling, you should wear suitable eye protection. If you typically wear glasses, wear goggles over them. A lightweight dust mask is also a good idea.