Why Can Drilling In Brick Be So Difficult?
Bricks are incredibly durable and designed to be longer lasting than most other walling materials such as wood or drywall. That said, although brick is the strongest point of a wall, if you want to anchor something to it, you can risk damaging that pleasing aesthetic quality. Plus, older or more fragile bricks are more prone to shatter at the surface when you begin drilling. Boring into brick differs from wood due to the material being much stronger and more dense. Hence, it’s important to get the drill and bit selection right — to save both physical effort on your part and wear and tear on your beloved tools.
The Best Drill for Brick
Although there is no such dedicated tool as a brick drill, the type of task you’re carrying out will dictate the best format of drill to choose. For smaller jobs, such as hanging a corner shelf, a regular drill/driver would be more than adequate for softer materials, like wood. And when combined with a masonry bit for brick, a standard drill is fine for making those smaller — up to 0.125-inch — holes needed for light jobs. When you plan on larger projects where you need serious depth for your anchor points, you’ll need something more powerful — a hammer drill for brick. These bad boys of the drill world offer dual actions for the best way to drill into brick. They employ a hammering action, which pulverizes the hard surface while a drilling action clears away the debris and dust. Failure to use this when drilling that hole may result in either damage to the tool or not being able to complete the job. For the complete lowdown, take a look at my hammer drills guide, which includes both corded and cordless hammer drills.
The Best Drill for Brick
Just as important as the drill you choose to drill into brick or mortar is which brick drill bit you opt to use. Obviously, with it being a harder stone-like material, you will need a masonry bit for brick. The difference between a masonry and a standard steel bit is the carbide tungsten tip. This provides a sharper cutting edge — enabling you to drill more precise holes without fear of cracking the brickwork. For a complete guide to different drill bits and their uses, check out my 101 on the different types of drill bits.
Safety Tips for Drilling in Brick
Any tips for drilling in brick wouldn’t be complete without a few words on safety and the gear you should wear:
- Safety goggles — shield your eyes from potential flying brick dust or mortar.
- Ear defenders.
- Gloves — safeguard your hands from brick scuff.
- Mask — prevents you from breathing in those dust particles.
- Steel capped boots — guard your feet from falling debris that may accidentally break loose.
How To Drill in Brick — What You Will Need
With the correct drill for the job chosen and your best brick drill bit — there are just a few more items you’ll need before taking on your brick drilling project.
- Hammer drill.
- Suitable masonry bits.
- Nail punch.
- Extension cable (if the drill isn’t cordless).
- Tape measure.
- Masking tape.
- Bubble level or plumb line.
- Safety gear.
- Can of compressed air.
- Permanent or chalkboard marker.
- Vacuum or dust extractor attachment.
- Wall anchor/s.
- Damp cloth or sponge.
- Brush and dustpan.
How To Drill a Hole in Brick — Step by Step Instructions
Okay, down to business and let’s start making some holes. I know you’re all chomping at the bit to have a go — that pun never gets old!
Preparing the Area To Drill into Brick
- Ensure your work area is hazard-free. If you’re using a ladder, make sure it’s on a steady and secure surface with no potential for slippages mid drilling.
- Check the area for any pipes or wiring that could be hidden in the wall — you can use a DIY metal detector to ensure your route is obstacle-free.
- Use a tape measure to pinpoint where you want your holes. Mark the positions with your permanent or chalk marker. Some shelving units, flat-screen TVs, or curio-cabinets may even include a template that you can hang over the soon-to-be holes to double-check their positions.
- If you have two or more holes to drill, use a bubble level or plumb line to ensure they’re level.
- Cover each dot marked with a cross of masking tape. This not only adds traction while drilling, but also prevents the brick surface from cracking, especially with older or more fragile bricks.
- On smoother brickwork, use a nail punch to create an indentation on the surface, it will prevent the drill from wandering.
Setting up Your Drill for Drilling in Brick
- Choose which drill bit you intend to start with. Note: when boring large holes, you may need to start with a smaller bit to make a slight indent before moving up to a larger bit.
- Ensure the drill bit is securely fastened into the drill chuck. There’s little point in marking the position of the holes so accurately if the bit is going to move as soon as you power up.
- Refer to your owner’s manual for a guide to the suggested depth of various materials, and set the drill stop on your hammer drill.
- Without a depth stop? Wrap masking tape around the stop point for a makeshift version.
- If you’re using a corded drill with an extension lead, first check it has a suitable amp rating for your drill. Also, ensure the snake-like length doesn’t provide a tripping hazard.
- For a cordless drill, make sure the power cell is fully charged. Drilling through brick can be a lengthy process and zap even the most powerful of batteries.
Starting To Drill — How To Drill a Hole in Brick
- Don your protective safety gear before you start.
- Ensure the area you intend to drill is well ventilated. If indoors, open as many windows and doors as possible to reduce any build-up of that pesky silica dust.
- Time to get down to business — drilling holes in brick! How do you drill a hole in brick? The answer to that is VERY slowly!
- Hold your drill at 90 degrees to the surface you intend to drill. The drill should be perfectly level. If you should vary the angle, it may reduce the drilling power and cause alignment issues.
- Always hold the drill with two hands, one on the pistol-style grip and the other on any auxiliary handle/grip it may have. If it doesn’t have a side handle, secure the drill at the back of the unit for extra stability.
- Set your drill to the lowest speed. If your drill doesn’t offer multiple settings, drill in several short bursts. This will reduce the risk of overheating.
- Start by drilling the indent or pilot hole applying just enough force to start penetrating the surface. If the drill should wander from your target, stop and reposition the bit on the correct point.
- Use a slow but varying push force until you find that bite point where the bit breaks through the brick surface. Now, continue drilling with a steady pushing action until you reach the recommended depth.
- Once your pilot hole is complete, swap to a larger masonry bit. Check the drill is still perfectly level to the wall, and continue drilling to the required depth.
- Clean all traces of dust from the hole with compressed air to ensure a stronger anchor point.
- Install the wall anchors that will fully support the weight of whatever item you’re installing.
- Before taking off your safety gear, including your respirator, clean up any larger chunks of mortar or brick chips with a brush and dustpan. Use a vacuum or dust extractor attachment to suck up any remaining debris and dust or mop the floor. Rinse the mop afterward.
- Remove your shoes outdoors and use compressed air again to clean off any brick dust. Washing your clothes straight after and having a shower will also prevent spreading any silica dust throughout your home.
- Finally, stand back and admire your handiwork — and all without the need for calling in a pro.
How To Drill a Hole in Brick FAQs
Q: Can I Drill Into Brick With a Regular Drill?You can. However, ensure you use a masonry bit and take regular breaks to avoid overheating either the bit or the drill’s motor.
Q: Should I Drill Into Brick or Mortar?The answer depends on several factors — the type and age of the brick, the depth and diameter of the holes, the anchors you’re using, and the weight of the item you’re hanging. Brick will generally hold better and support more weight than the mortar. But older or more fragile bricks can also split when heavier items are hung or attached. Deeper holes can weaken the bricks, and in this case, it’s advisable to drill into the mortar instead. In this way, the anchor’s circular expansion will push against intact bricks.
Q: Can a Cordless Drill Go Through Brick?
Yes. Thanks to modern technology, many cordless drills are capable of such feats. I would suggest an 18-volt machine, like the Makita XPH07Z hammer drill. With a brushless motor, it won’t overheat on those more strenuous and time-consuming brick drilling projects.
Q: Why Won’t My Drill Go Through Brick?The most common reason is that the rotation of the bit is set wrong. For a forward direction, the drill should rotate clockwise. If set counter-clockwise, the drill will struggle to break through the brick. Locate the switch to change the rotation direction. Other reasons your drill may struggle include a dull bit, a dying battery cell (if cordless), or metal plates or studs in the wall may hamper hole drilling.
Q: Do I Need a Special Drill Bit for Brick?Yes. You’ll need to use a masonry bit. Although not solely designed for brick, a bit with a tungsten carbide tip will provide more cutting power. Robust and reliable, you can use these bits with both standard drills and hammer drills. For extreme jobs where the brickwork may be more dense, an SDS masonry bit combined with a rotary hammer drill is worthwhile.
Q: How Do You Drill Into Brick Without It Cracking?Here are three top tips for drilling in brick without cracking it:
- Drill slowly.
- Begin with a smaller pilot hole before moving to a larger masonry bit.
- Ensure you hold the drill at 90 degrees.