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I need to drill holes in the bathroom ceramic tiles to hang some accessories. I am using a cordless drill, which is actually an electric gun-shaped screwdriver claiming to act as a drill.

It has no adjustable speed.

I have noticed that after making the marks precisely (with a bubble!) the drill bit will easily, too easily, move while the gun is rotating.

This way, the holes are easily disaligned to their marks and, luckily, it was not a problem until now. I.e. hanging a circular towel hang, it has no straight position.

Now I have to hang a horizontal plastic support which will hold the toiler paper holder, and it has two holes. Again, I can use the bubble-ruler to mark the holes with the pencil.

Any suggestion on how to drill the most precise way? For me (a computer engineer) that's production, so if I make a mistake that will be probably visible forever until I replace the tile.

So far I tried to hold the drilling tip with two fingers (it's not that fast to harm) until the initial hole was digged into the ceramic, then applied two-handed force to continue.

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    Frame challenge: Do you really need to drill holes, or could you use adhesive instead? By drilling a hole you break the water seal, increasing the risk of water damage in the walls.
    – Polygorial
    Jul 16 at 8:14
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    I have experienced bad results with adhesive so far. Mostly every appliance hanged with adhesive collapsed, no matter how strong the tape and how clean the surface. Humidity may be a factor too Jul 16 at 8:45
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    @Polygorial fair point, however, remember that usually (in the US, at least), plastic plugs are put into the hole int the tile then the screw is run into the plastic plug. The plastic plug provides a pretty darn good seal since it's soft and the hole is supposed to be ever so slightly smaller than the plug so it's a tight fit.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 16 at 11:08
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    Can you cheat? Put your holes into the grout between two tiles rather than through a tile?
    – Criggie
    Jul 16 at 11:37
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    Place one or several layers of thick adhesive tape on the tile. That should help a bit with "wandering".
    – Martin
    Jul 16 at 12:56
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Use a small nail set or other hardened metal tool and a hammer to make a tiny chip in the tile glaze. This will entrap the bit tip and allow you to start drilling without walk. It may help to hold the tool at an angle to allow its edge to penetrate the glaze.

Be gentle or you can crack the tile. It doesn't take much of a tap.

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    Tile (of any sort) can be pretty easy to break when hitting it. I'd recommend a couple of practice goes on a spare tile if one is available, to figure out just how gentle the tap needs to be in order to not crack it.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 15 at 16:39
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    Yea I am not digging this technique at all. I don't see how hammering something is more accurate than drilling. Just as much of a chance of movement, maybe more. Also you don't know how big of a chip is going to come off. If you hammer to weakly maybe nothing happens or nail slips. Hammer too hard and chip flake is huge or the tile cracks. I have never seen anyone do this.
    – DMoore
    Jul 15 at 21:08
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    Too much risk of a crack. I'd use just the tip of the carbide bit and give it a twist back and forth by hand with a bit of pressure.
    – J...
    Jul 15 at 21:21
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    @FreeMan - practising on a spare tile won't help. That free tile has no adhesive and isn't supported in the same way as the fixed tiles. So it's far more likely to crack.
    – Tim
    Jul 17 at 7:22
  • Every technique suggested is valid. I used this one successfully. I had to hammer gently with the nail, I had all the time I needed Jul 17 at 8:43
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Pick up a Diamond Drill Bit for porcelain tile. These don't have a tip so you need to start them at a 45 degree angle and slowly move it perpendicular to the tile. Check out YouTube for videos on proper technique. To make sure it doesn't move on you get a thin piece of plywood with a hole drilled in it. Duct tape the plywood to the tile so the hole in the plywood lines up with where you want to drill the hole. Use a spray bottle and keep the bit and tile wet when you drill.

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Put a couple of pieces of masking tape on the wall. Then mark the intended hole location, and carefully make small cut in the masking tape. Also scratch an initial divot into the tile.

Finally, cordless screwdrivers don't have nearly as accurate bearings as high speed drills, nor do they have as precisely machined collet/chucks. So your drill bit might not be spinning straight, in which case you simply won't be able to get perfect repeatable holes.

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I've used a scrap of wood of some thickness enough that when the bit goes through it will be held straight. Drill that at the bench.

Use carpet tape to attach this block to the tile, and drill through the guide hole.

Being tile, you could use whatever strong mounting tape you have handy, and scrape it off when you're done. Point is, it's easy to make a jig without having to buy anything special.

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  • A bit of thick carboard is probably enough, or plywood of any thickness. Jul 18 at 18:15
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I have used a drill guide with a suction cup for this which worked very well. You use just position it over your mark carefully and use the suction cup to stick it to the surrounding tiles. The image below shows what it looks like, it comes with various guide holes to match your drill bit.

suction cup drill guide

https://www.screwfix.com/p/erbauer-diamond-tile-drill-guide/84524

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    I get how this would help but those holes look huge.
    – DMoore
    Jul 15 at 21:09
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    Those holes do look huge, or the guide is very thin. If you don't need the suction cup (which sounds convenient for tile!) then you can get a thicker handheld one like this cheapo model which has served me reasonably well. Just be aware that it can break thin bits if you apply too much off-axis force.
    – A C
    Jul 16 at 1:54
  • The holes are from 6mm-35mm diameter. The guide is pretty thin, it is designed for flat drill bits e.g. diamond bits and just stops them from slipping sideways rather than helping keep the bit straight.
    – Jonathan
    Jul 16 at 10:20
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    This is exactly what you need. I struggled on our tiles until I got one of these. It stops the drill bit from moving when you start. After a few seconds you no longer need it as you have created a depression in the tile that is enough to keep the drill from moving. The pros might not need this, but for us amateurs it really helps. Jul 16 at 15:25
  • I should probably add that this will only work if you have a pretty flat surface to attach the suction cup to. In my case it worked because we have large tiles and the suction cup did not touch any grout. However if you have smaller tiles the suction cup may struggle to get an air tight hold due to the rubber going over grout lines. Jul 29 at 9:12
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I used glass/tile bits when I needed to make holes in my porcelain tiles.

What I found was that bit came to a reasonably sharp point. After aligning the tip of the bit right where I wanted it, I simply pushed the bit into the surface of the tile and it would make a very small, precise divot right where I wanted the hole to be centered. After that, I started drilling very slowly (which your current drill will not allow you to do, I realize), until I'd gotten a bit more of a hole drilled. Once I was confident it wasn't going to wander (just a spin or two), I went to town drilling my hole.

With no variable speed control, I'd imagine that, after making the initial divot, you could physically twist the entire drill to cause the bit to twist. This should enlarge the divot enough to ensure that it won't wander as you start up the drill's motor.

You may want to do a practice hole or two if you have a spare tile.

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I highly recommend getting a better tool (or tools). While conceptually there is no difference between a power screwdriver (which you have) and a real drill, the drill will (if it is any good):

  • Have adjustable speeds. This lets you go slow to get started, speed up to get through a lot of material quickly, slow down when you get to tough parts, etc.
  • Have a much higher top speed. That really makes a big difference. A power drill with a single high speed (which I wouldn't recommend, but hypothetically) would be much more effective than a typical power screwdriver at drilling through most substances.
  • Produce a lot more torque. Meaning on the slow-but-tough parts you'll have a better chance of getting through than with a power screwdriver.

You don't have to spend a lot, though of course budgets vary and many (myself included) don't want to spend much for a one-off. My recommendation is to pick a brand/type of rechargeable tools that you are comfortable with (ideally sold in local store, lots of other tools available that use the same batteries) and get a starter kit - tool + battery + charger. Most brands now have an 18V or 20V group and that's what I'd recommend. You may do OK if you can find a 12V batch at a really good price - but they may not have the power to handle the tough stuff.

There is one more key issue: Regular drill vs. Hammer drill. A typical regular drill just turns a bit - fast, variable speed, forward/reverse. A hammer drill (essentially) bangs that bit back and forth while turning it. Most hammer drills can also function as a regular drill. If you are working exclusively with wood, plastic and metal then a regular drill is all you need. But once you get into brick/block, concrete and similar items, a hammer drill makes a huge difference in productivity. Trust me - I found out the hard way and added a hammer drill to my collection (using same battery I already had for a regular drill). Ceramic tile is a bit of an in-between - with a bit of help getting started (as explained in other answers) a regular drill on high speed with a good sharp bit should do just fine. Actually, for a simple clean small hole in typical ceramic tile, you probably don't want to use hammer mode as it will make the hole (great!) but pretty quickly expand to "crack the rest of the tile to bits" (usually not so great). But a hammer drill with a half-way decent regular drill mode and a half-way decent hammer drill mode would do well as a starter rechargeable tool for general DIY use.

I would consider something like this starter pack from Home Depot:

Ryobi tool/battery pack

Charger, 2 batteries, hammer drill. Not the fanciest/"best", but good enough for typical DIY usage, compatible with plenty of other tools if you want to add more later on, and a lot more powerful than any power screwdriver that I know of.

(I have no connection with Home Depot or Ryobi, just a satisfied customer. You may do better with something else depending on your location.)

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    I have never seen someone hammer drill for tile... Like never. I have been part of over 100 bath remodels... never even seen a hammer drill in the vicinity. This looks like a recipe for cracked tile. At best it is hillbilly overkill.
    – DMoore
    Jul 15 at 21:27
  • @DMoore A while after I wrote it, I realized that for tile specifically it probably doesn't make sense. But it had come to my mind initially because I had a recent situation where I needed to hammer drill (regular drill just didn't do the trick) in the bathroom but it was for the concrete behind/next to tile, and not tile itself (installing towel bar). I'll update a bit. Jul 15 at 21:39
  • A hammerdrill is near perfect for concrete, but tile is quite different. I'd definitely recommend something with adjustable speed though.
    – Mast
    Jul 16 at 6:51
  • @DMoore conversely, I saw, or rather heard, a manager trying to drill through 1/4" steel with a hammer drill when the maintenance guy was on holiday. I'd only worked there a few weeks, but still had to go and tell him what he was doing wrong, because everybody else seemed oblivious (or hated him).
    – SiHa
    Jul 16 at 6:59
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    @DMoore I agree with you. The seller @ LeroyMerlin where I bought the ceramic bit told me never use the hammer function Jul 16 at 7:50
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Start Small get Pilot hole and work your way up.

When the tile is already on the wall and we need precise holes it is the same every time and pretty sure I have answered this.

I use a piece of duct tape over the location the holes need to be and mark the holes on the duct tape.

I then find the very smallest bit I have and try to make it about 1/4" in. So there is basically a solid dimple in tile. I then go up a couple sizes - still way too small - and drill all the way through. I will keep going up a couple of sizes until I get the desired hole size.

And yes if you are doing 2 or even 10 holes you can do each size on each hole. But the small amount of time it takes me to swap bits... I never have any damaged tile and my holes are very accurate. Backing out the smaller bits usually cleans out the hole and by going just a couple sizes the bit doesn't become crowded while cutting.

Why duct tape? I feel like it gives the bit stability. Yes sometimes I get the "string" wrapped on the bit and yes it has residue to clean up after. I feel that its sponginess and thickness protects current tile better and allows me to be more accurate.

And no I do no use a glass or tile bit unless my holes are very large. And if I use these bits I still start with a regular bit and work up to them.

enter image description here

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  • These drill bits look like they're for anything - except ceramics. Is that the point?
    – Tim
    Jul 17 at 7:31
  • @Tim - totally the point. I can't say what works for ceramics that are not installed. But tiles on the wall - we have been doing this for 20 years. The tiles crack because of tension. Starting with the smallest bit and working your way up causes very very little tension on the tile - therefore we never ever have an issue. "Tile Bits"... they are too big. They miss the whole point. And changing out your bit 2-3 times... takes no time at all.
    – DMoore
    Jul 18 at 4:33
  • electrical insulation tape works like duct tape, with no strings attached
    – Caius Jard
    Jul 18 at 13:06
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The drill bits you use are extremely important. Also tiles vary a lot in hardness. Some bits work well on ordinary bathroom ceramic tile, but are frustratingly slow drilling porcelain tile.

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    I tried standard masonry bits (blunt in seconds), and baulked at $30 diamond bits that really need to run wet to avoid the bonding melting. I finally used glass bits -- look like arrow heads, or the Spade suit on playing cards. They only do 2 or 3 holes in porcelain tiles, and like to be wet, but are cheap enough to be disposable, and are sharp enough not to wander at the start of a hole. Jul 15 at 21:08
  • I have had good success with the spade bits on regular bathroom ceramic tiles. With porcelain tile I have used the diamond tipped tubular coring bits. Once the hole was started, I would hold the drill with my right (dominant) hand and squirt water on the bit with my left. Jul 16 at 2:48
  • Using spade bits I first drilled a pilot hole with a 1/8" bit, followed by the 5/16" spade bit reqd for the plastic anchors I was using. This was for grab bars. Looking at my spade bits right now I wonder if spade bits would drill forward with the drill in reverse, turning counter clockwise? Anybody try that? Jul 16 at 3:17

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