The Best Drill Bits for Tile of 2023 - Tested by Bob Vila

By Bob Beacham and Glenda Taylor | Updated Jun 15, 2023 12:42 PM

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The Best Drill Bits for Tile of 2023 - Tested by Bob Vila

Drilling holes in tile—to install towel rods in a bathroom renovation, say—can be tricky. There’s always a risk the tile will crack, especially if you use the wrong drill bit. What’s more, attempting to drill tile with a standard steel bit designed for use on wood can cause the bit to overheat, bend, or even break in half. Of course, with the right bit, drilling tile can be nearly as straightforward as drilling wood—and since most tile drill bits and drill-bit sets are fortunately affordable, it makes sense to have the right tool.

However, tile is made from various materials, so it’s crucial to select the right bit for the specific material. To help DIYers and pros alike get great results, we tested some of the best-rated designated tile bits, creating holes in ceramic, porcelain, marble, glass, and stone tiles. As we expected, some performed better on one type of tile than another. Ahead, learn about drilling in different types of tile and find out how the following bits earned a spot on our lineup of the best drill bits for tile.

Over the years, we’ve had plenty of practice drilling tile, so our experience combined with in-depth product research was instrumental in selecting the drill bits for testing. We considered the brand to an extent—DeWalt and Bosch are both top manufacturers of construction tools—but didn’t automatically eliminate drill bits from smaller or niche manufacturers if they featured carbide or diamond tips and were rated well by consumers.

Our actual testing process was straightforward. All of the drill bits were tested using a standard cordless drill. We used masking tape on the tops of some tiles, which can help keep bits from wandering and reduce the risk of the tile chipping during the drilling process. It’s not always necessary, so we didn’t tape all the tiles—for example, the surface of a travertine tile is soft and porous, and most bits will not wander when drilling through travertine. As the manufacturer suggested—or if a bit was struggling to drill through—we added a few drops of water while drilling to help keep the bit from getting too hot and breaking.

We tested the bits by drilling multiple holes, but we only tried them on tile types they were designed for. In short, we did not test a bit made for drilling ceramic or glass tiles on porcelain tiles, which are much harder. Our goal was to determine how well the bits stood up to their intended drilling purposes.

We scored each bit (or bit set) using a rubric throughout the hands-on testing process. The better a drill bit performed, the higher the score. We looked for durability and relatively smooth-edged holes—it’s not unusual to have some slightly ragged edges, however. We did not judge the bits on how long it took to drill through a tile because different types of tile require longer drilling times, and it’s counterproductive to exert strong pressure while drilling as it can cause the bits to break. After drilling an initial 10 holes with each bit, we inspected them for dulling and wear before drilling more holes.

We finished by adding up the scores and using them to determine the best categories for each set of drill bits.

The following drill bits are all suitable for drilling in tile, but some are better suited to one type of tile than another. Each was tested on the type(s) of tile recommended by the manufacturer or seller, but not all the bits we tested earned a spot in this lineup. Find out the pros and cons of each of the following bits and bit sets before selecting the best option for your tile-drilling project.

When folks have a variety of different tile materials to tackle, it can be difficult to pick the best drill-bit set. In our tests, this 10-piece set of masonry drill bits from Owl Tools demonstrated a high level of durability while the spear tips proved to reduce wandering (sliding across the surface of glazed tile before creating a hole). The shanks are made from steel and the bits boast carbide tips for added hardness.

We tested the Owl Tools bits on several types of tile, including marble, travertine stone, shale, glazed ceramic, and glass tiles. We used masking tape on some of the tiles to further reduce the risk of wandering and prevent surface chipping, but we also drilled holes without the benefit of tape, and the Owl Tools bits excelled in both cases. We drilled all the test holes without adding drops of water because the bits were drilling so well dry, we didn’t feel water was needed.

After drilling 10 holes, we checked the bits for wear. The carbide-tipped spears were still sharp, and none of the bits had broken. After 30 more holes in various types of tile, we noticed the bits (we tested one of each size) were starting to drill slower. Upon inspection, we found the spear tips were beginning to wear down—but we still consider that superior performance for drilling about 40 holes in hard tiles.

Another advantage to the Owl Tools set is the number of different-size bits. The set includes 10 bits that range in diameter from ⅛ inch to ½ inch in both 4-inch and 6-inch lengths, making this tile-drilling bit set suitable for drilling a range of hole sizes in several common types of tile.

Get the Owl Tools drill bits for tile at Amazon.

When a project requires only a few holes to be drilled in tile, consider buying a single bit rather than a whole set, such as this Hillman Tapper drill bit in a 3/16-inch diameter and 3½-inch length. (We chose that size to test because 3/16-inchis a fairly standard hole size for installing towel rods and toilet-paper-holder anchors). We drilled holes in marble, travertine, slate, glass, and ceramic tiles with this carbide-tipped spiral bit. We did use masking tape for most of the holes because the bit had a tendency to wander without it. The bit drilled clean holes in ceramic and stone tiles but seemed to struggle on the glass tile, so we added a few drops of water to the hole to help cool the bit and reduce friction (not cooling a hot bit is a primary cause of bit breakage).

After drilling more than 45 holes, the Hillman bit started to slow down, and we could see that the tip was softening and wearing down some. However, we felt its performance and durability were still good under pressure, and the bit never broke. A single-size bit won’t be suitable for all tile-drilling purposes, but it’s more economical to buy just one if only drilling a few holes of the same sizes.

Get the Hillman drill bits for tile at Ace Hardware or Blain’s Farm & Fleet.

Drilling in glass tiles is more straightforward than it might seem—a good carbide-tipped blade is essential, as is using a slow drill speed. The four-piece bit set from Bosch excelled in our glass-drilling tests.

The set comes with bits ranging from ⅛ inch to ⅝ inch in diameter and from 2 inches to 2¼ inches long. Each bit features a spear tip with a sharp point the manufacturer claims will keep the bit from wandering. Unfortunately, we found each one of the bits tended to wander on the glass tiles unless we used masking tape—an easy fix that didn’t detract from the bits’ performance and durability. Wandering is common when drilling through tiles, so everyone should be prepared to use tape.

After 10 holes, we inspected the bits. The largest one showed a slight amount of wear on the edges of the spear blades, while the others looked nearly new. They all went on to drill 30 more holes apiece, but toward the end, they made slower progress, and we had to exert more pressure on the drill. Fortunately, we didn’t have any cracked glass tiles after all the drilling. That’s largely due to the sharpness and durability of the bits, but we also give a little credit to anold computer mouse pad that we placed beneath some of the tiles as we drilled, which absorbed some of the vibrations and may have helped prevent cracking.

While our main objective in testing these bits was to determine their performance on glass, we also tried them afterward on a marble tile and a travertine tile. At this point, the bits were slightly worn down but still drilled through both materials cleanly, albeit slowly.

Get the Bosch drill bits for tile at Amazon (tile-cutting blade included), Ace Hardware, or Overstock.

We’re well aware of the superior quality of many DeWalt power tools and accessories, so it was no surprise that the company’s seven-piece set of masonry drill bits excelled at drilling through tile. The set features bits ranging in diameter from 3/16 inch to ½ inch with lengths ranging from 3 inches to 6 inches. Three of the bits are ¼ inch, which is a commonly used size.

We used the DeWalt bits to drill through travertine, slate, marble, ceramic, and glass tiles. The bits have carbide spiral tips, and we tested them with and without masking tape. They wandered less than we expected, even without tape, but we would suggest taping highly glazed ceramic and glass tiles to be on the safe side.

These proved to be very durable heavy-duty bits: After drilling 10 holes with each, we saw virtually no softening of the blades or dulling. As we drilled an additional 30 holes per bit, we still didn’t notice much slowing down. The deep flutes in the shank quickly removed the powdered tile material as we drilled, and the holes were clean and uniform.

With the largest ½-inch bit, we did crack two glass tiles, but we feel that was primarily due to our wrists and arm muscles becoming fatigued and not holding the drill as stable as we should have. A few days after the original test, we tried again and drilled through glass tiles with no cracking. We feel these DeWalt bits fit the bill for professionals needing durable bits on the job.

Get the DeWalt drill bits for tile at Ace Hardware, The Home Depot, or Lowe’s.

With a growing number of kitchen and bathroom fixtures now supplied in metric sizes, it may be necessary to have an accurate metric drill bit for tile. Imperial (United States) equivalents are close but not always close enough. In the past, we’ve had to guess which Imperial bit or anchor is most comparable to the metric one called for, so we were excited to test these carbide-tipped metric drill bits.

After drilling 10 starter holes, we examined the spearheads of the bits. The two smallest bits showed substantial dulling and wear on the blades, so we set those aside and continued with the other five. None of the other bits made it past 25 additional holes, so we can’t rate the Qwork bits as the most durable of the ones we tested. Perhaps the steel wasn’t quite as high in quality—but we still deem these bits to be a decent option for jobs that require metric bits and fasteners, since those are typically small projects, such as installing a towel bar or a ceramic soap dish. And interestingly, these bits didn’t wander much, not even on un-taped glass, so they earned a point in that department.Consider these as light-duty tile-drilling bits for metric usage.

Get the Qwork drill bits for tile at Amazon.

We had high hopes for both Neiko’s Diamond Hole Saw Bits and Blendx Diamond Drill Bits, but they didn’t live up to our standards. Both of these bit sets are marketed as having diamond dust electroplated on the edges of the bits, and porcelain was listed among the types of tile they would cut through.

Alas, it was not to be. Both the Neiko bits and the Blendx bits cut through ceramic, travertine, and even glass tile, but every bit in both sets pooped out before creating a hole in porcelain tile. Since porcelain is extremely hard, we always tried the bits on softer types of tile before drilling through porcelain—that way, we knew what they would drill as well as what they wouldn’t. None of the Neiko or Blendx bits got more than halfway through porcelain before the diamond dust burned off. And that was even with water droplets added to the holes as we drilled. In short, neither of these products qualifies as being among the best drill bits for hard porcelain tile.

We could still recommend these bits as suitable for drilling through ceramic and glass, but because they failed on porcelain, we had to eliminate them from the competition. One of our testing criteria is ensuring the products we test live up to their marketing hype. It’s not that these are bad bits, but both were advertised as being suitable for porcelain, and neither lived up to that claim.

Many drill bits might appear similar at first glance, but the best drill bits for ceramic tile are very different from the best drill bits for hard porcelain tile, wood, or steel. In addition to selecting the right bit for the type of tile, there are a few other considerations, such as tip shape and whether the tip comes with carbide or diamond-dust coating.

Whether for drilling wood, metal, masonry, or tile, the shanks (stems) of almost all drill bits are made from high-speed steel (HSS). Though a hard-wearing, relatively inexpensive material, HSS can lose its sharpness quickly when drilling hard materials like stone and ceramic tile, so the tip of the bit will be given a coating to make it harder and more durable.

The most common tip coating is tungsten carbide (often just called carbide), which is a combination of tungsten and carbon. Tough and heat-resistant, carbide-tipped bits stay sharp for longer.

A less common coating is the powdered form of industrial diamonds (usually called dust), which is fused to the drill bit via an electroplating process under tremendous heat and pressure.

Diamond bits are among the only ones suitable for drilling into porcelain or quarry tile, both of which are extremely hard. Unfortunately, some diamond bits on the market claim they will drill through porcelain tile, but as we discovered in our hands-on testing, they fail. In other words, not all diamond bits live up to their seller’s claims.

The material tile is made of will impact drill-bit choice. Fortunately, most drill bits list the types of tile they’re designed for on the package or product description.

The two most common shapes for tile-drilling bits are spear and spiral. Spear tips look like small arrows, and while they have the sharpness needed to create precise holes, their narrow shape makes them less durable and more likely to break. Spiral tips have a flat blade along the top with a little point in the middle that helps the user center the hole. Spiral tips are typically more durable but—depending on the tile—can take longer to complete the hole. In general, spear tips are better suited to softer tiles, such as travertine, marble, or ceramic, while spiral tips are less likely to break when drilling harder tile materials, including quartz and granite.

Drill bits are labeled by the diameter of their shanks. The smallest drill bits for tile are usually around ⅛ inch in diameter. The biggest twist drill types are seldom more than ½ inch. When drilling in hard tile, it can be difficult to control large bits (more than ¼ inch) on shiny, glazed surfaces, so it’s common practice to first drill a small “pilot” hole and then follow up using the larger bit.

For holes larger than ½ inch in diameter, a hole saw (or hollow core bit) is often recommended. A hole saw bit features a circular ring of HSS, usually with a diamond-coated edge. Hole saws can be large enough to allow for the fitting of plumbing pipes, for example. However, some have limited depth, so it’s crucial to check the dimensions before purchase.

If only one or two holes are required for a particular job, buying a single drill bit can be an economical option. However, depending on the bit type, an individual bit can cost several dollars. If drilling tile is likely to be an ongoing task, a drill-bit set may be a smart investment. A set typically includes several bits in various sizes.

When drilling through tile, it’s best to go slowly and use only light pressure on the drill bit. Don’t try to force the bit through—let the drill and the bit do all the work. If you still have questions about selecting and using the best drill bits for tile, keep reading for answers to some commonly asked questions.

Using the right drill bit is critical. Standard drill bits will not cut through the tiles; attempting to do so is likely to cause cracked tiles and broken bits. Use masking tape to mark the position of the hole, which 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 a drill’s hammer action until you are through the tile.

Diamond-tipped drill bits are recommended for porcelain. The bits can get very hot, so dipping them in water occasionally, or spraying the area while working, will keep them cool and help them cut more effectively.

A carbide-tipped drill bit is usually recommended, although a diamond-tipped one will also do a good job. To attach a fixture, such as a towel bar, to a tile wall, it’s always necessary to drill a hole first, after which the drill can be fitted with a screwdriver bit for installing a fastener in the wall.

You can, but the grout is a relatively soft material, and the drill bit can easily wander. For 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 from 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 usually wear glasses, put goggles on over them. A lightweight dust mask is also a good idea.

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The Best Drill Bits for Tile of 2023 - Tested by Bob Vila

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