How to Cut Holes in Tile for Shower Fixtures

Things You’ll Need

Measuring the Hole

  • Marker or grease pencil
  • Straight edge
  • Tile
  • The pipe or fitting

Making a Hole with a Drill Bit, Chisel, and Hammer

  • 0.25 inches (0.64 cm) masonry drill bit
  • Tape
  • Drill
  • Nail set, optional
  • Cold chisel, optional
  • Hammer

Cutting a Hole with a Coping Saw

  • Masonry drill bit
  • Drill
  • Tape
  • Coping saw
  • Ceramic blade for coping saw

Step 4: Drill the Hole

Drilling through the tile surface requires patience. As mentioned before, tile surfaces are stubborn and can be pretty resistant to drilling. Therefore, it might take a while to penetrate the surface of the tile. Start drilling at low speed and progress slowly. You may think high speed will give you more merit only to discover that it’s heating up your bit faster and damaging. If you rush through this process, your tile surface can get damaged violently. Apply constant pressure, but not too much. Otherwise, your tile surface can get broken.


How To Cut A Hole In Tile

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Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Let’s talk about how to actually cut the tile. When it comes to straight cuts, it’s pretty simple. But when it comes to holes, things get quite complicated. A hole cutter is your best option.

A hole cutter can cut perfectly round holes in tile in seconds. You choose your size and cut the hole just like it’s a hole punch. Only it normally uses a drill to cut these holes, which you probably already have on hand. 

How To Cut A Hole In Tile With A Hole Saw Kit

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The first thing you should do is measure the object you need to tile around. This is most often a showerhead or nozzle. But it can be plumbing or something else entirely. You need to measure it and make a copy of that shape on cardboard.

Then, you can start testing out the hole saw heads that you have. Find the one that is the closest in size, giving a tile bit extra room. After you choose a bit, it’s time to start cutting the tiles to fit.

If you only have one tile to cut, like if the hole is near the center of a tile, then you will drill straight through. But a better way to prevent breaks is to have two tiles cover the hole. If they meet in the middle, it’s easier to cut without breaking it.

You will need to lay something under the tile to steady it and protect the floor, drill bit, and the tile itself. This acts as a cushion for all three. Drywall does a great job of this. Then, putting a knee or hand on the tile, start drilling. 

Push quite hard to keep the drill and tile steady and it should drill through in less than a second. That’s all there is to it. The hardest part aside from that is making sure the measurements are all correct and in place. 

How do I drill a large hole in tile?

Larger holes are usually drilled in tile with hole saws that have edges that consist of carbide grit. Hole saws can be expensive, so there are other methods that will work, as self-help methods do exist.

A do-it-yourself option for drilling a large hole in tile would be to determine the size of hole that is needed and make an outline of it on the tile. Draw it with a permanent marker, or specialized grease pencil. Once the outline is in place, take a quarter inch (1/4) masonry bit that has a carbide tip and drill a number of spaced holes or indentations that surround the circle. In order to go through the glazing part of the tile, use a cold chisel. Then, use a hammer to slightly tap the tile along the holes that have been made with the bit.

With care, tap within the inside of the marked outline. The process could take several minutes for the tile to break free and expose the hole. The hole will likely be rough but it can be hidden with a decorative cover plate. This same technique can be used as well to make both rectangular and square cuts on tile.

How to Drill a Large Hole in Tile Without a Hole Saw

But what if you need to bore a 2-inch hole for a plumbing stubout? Contractors typically use expensive hole saws with carbide-grit cutting edges, but there is another way.

  • Draw the hole outline on the tile with a felt-tip pen or grease pencil.
  • Use a ¼-inch masonry bit to drill a series of closely-spaced holes around the circle. Then take a hammer and very lightly tap the tile along the ring of holes.
  • Tap inside the outline and be patient, as it could take a couple of minutes before the center of the hole breaks free. The hole edge will be rough, but you can hide it with a decorative escutcheon plate.

This drill-and-tap technique can also be used to make a square or rectangular cutouts in tile.

How To Drill Into Tile Without Cracking It — Your Essential Tools

Before we get down to the method of how do you cut a hole in ceramic tile — your primary consideration should be having the right tools for the job.

Cutting a Hole for Pipes

Cutting a hole in the center of a porcelain tile to accommodate a pipe, faucet or shower valve must happen before you install the tile. A diamond core drill, along with a diamond guiding bit, will make the cut through the porcelain, says This Old House. Clamp the tile to a work surface to keep it from shifting as you drill. Dip the guiding bit in cooling oil and set it in the center of the area you want to cut. Twist the drill back and forth a few times to help it begin to cut into the porcelain. Drill straight down until both the guiding bit and the core drill have passed through the tile.

Step 6: Change the Bit as soon as You Reach the Wall

You have already drilled through the tile surface without damage, so you are kind of out of the wood now. All you have to do now is to drill through the wall to mount the accents. Choose the right kind of drill for penetrating the wall, and don’t blow through the wall. Otherwise, the anchor cannot properly hold the accents, and they may get loose. Always remember. Slow and steady wins the race; in this case, dig a hole through the tile surface.

Types Of Tile To Learn How To Cut A Hole In Tile

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The type of tile that you choose matters.  Especially if you have to cut that tile, which you will have to in most cases unless your room or shower is just the right size. Tiles come in all sizes, with most of them being square or with a 2:1 ratio. 

Tile Materials

There are many different materials of tiles. The two most common being porcelain and ceramic. It can be hard to choose between tile materials if you don’t know the pros and cons of each. Here are a few pointers to help you out. 

  • Ceramic – ceramic tile is probably the most common tile in America. It is durable, easy-to-clean, and can be put in any room. It also comes in both glazed and unglazed, so check both options out. 
  • Glass – glass tile is perfect for areas that can be difficult to clean as it won’t stain. But it is easy to break so it isn’t great for children who tend to drop things or are rough around the tile.
  • Porcelain – porcelain tile is also very popular. It is similar to ceramic only it is made to look like natural materials like stone. It is more difficult to install than ceramic but is generally about the same all-around.
  • Cement – cement tile isn’t very popular and is more like cement pavers than tiles. They require a lot of upkeep but can be highly customizable. So it is a middle-ground tile that is only for certain users.
  • Marble – marble is gorgeous but expensive. That’s kind of a given. Natural marble only comes in certain patterns as well. Although you can get both ceramic and porcelain tile that looks like marble, only is cheaper.
  • Granite – on countertops, granite is high-end. But in tiling, it is a cheaper alternative to some of the nicer tile options. It’s still pretty great, and natural, but the final result doesn’t look as fancy as marble.
  • Limestone – limestone looks unique and is a natural stone. However, it is porous and isn’t great in moist areas. It will need heavily sealed regularly to last very long at all. This is why it isn’t very popular.
  • Metal – metal is a relatively new material for tile. While it is durable in many cases, it can also dent fairly easily. Use it with caution to have some of the most beautiful and modern tile around.
  • Resin – resin tile isn’t the most durable tile, but it is the most highly customizable. If you have a resin 3D printer, you can even print your very own tiles in your custom design and lay them yourself.

Steps for Drilling Through Tile

Step 1: Figure out what kind of tile you have

In general, there are three kinds of tile:

  • Glazed ceramic tile is the most common, what you’ll find in almost every older home, and the easiest to drill through.
  • Glass tile is used more as an accent and has only been around for 15 years or so.
  • Porcelain tile looks a lot like regular ceramic tile, but it’s much harder.

Step 2: Have the right bit for ceramic tile

Standard drill bits don’t work on tile, but not to worry. Ceramic tile can be drilled with a carbide bit, while glass and porcelain call for a diamond-tipped bit.

While that sounds expensive, a ¼ inch diamond tipped tip costs under $20, and a carbide bit of the same size can be had for less than $10. When in doubt, buy the diamond bit. It will drill any type of tile.

Step 3: Layout the wall for success

They say to measure twice and cut once, but given the consequences of drilling a hole in a tile wall in the wrong place, it’s a good idea to measure three times and drill once.

Read More About Ceramic Tile: Maintaining Ceramic Tile How to Cut Tile How to Set Tile Smoothing Out Rough Tiles

  • First, adhere masking tape to the wall in the area where you’ll drill. It’s easier to accurately mark the hole location on tape than on tile.
  • For accessories such as towel bars with two mounting brackets, use a level to make sure both sets of holes align.
  • Try to locate the hardware close to the center of the tile – the edges crack more easily.

Step 4: Drill slowly

  • The tape not only makes it easier to mark the wall but also helps to keep the drill bit from skidding when starting the hole.
  • Go slowly, particularly at first, to make sure the hole ends up where you want it.
  • Once the hole is started, you can increase the drill speed, but don’t run it at full speed.
  • Steady pressure and a medium speed will drill the hole without overheating and damaging the drill bit.

Step 5: Speed up at the end

  • You’ll feel a change in resistance when the bit gets through the tile. Now you can speed the drill up while backing off the pressure. This will extend the hole into the drywall or backer board with minimal damage.
  • Once you’re done drilling, push the anchors in place, screw the hardware home, and vacuum up the small amount of dust.

What equipment is needed to cut thicker and larger tiles?

Depending on whether you are simply sizing or preparing tile to place it in a particular location of a kitchen or bathroom, or whether you are actually installing it after it has been cut to size, there are several pieces of equipment that would be necessary to complete both phases, which include:

  • Tile wet saw – for loose tiles ready to be measured, cut and installed
  • Angle grinder (diamond blade) – for making square or box style cuts or for cutting into large areas of tile that already exist
  • Hole saw with the appropriate guiding bit – for making circular cuts around plumbing and other areas
  • Tape measure
  • Safety glasses
  • Dust mask
  • Drill

Whether you’re cutting tile for installation or cutting and drilling through it for placement of plumbing, fixtures and other related items, the right equipment and guidelines are necessary to get the job done. Visit your local Doug Ashy store to pick up supplies for your next DIY project – we’ll help you achieve beautiful results and get it done safely and efficiently.


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