Drilling into brick is tough work. Whether it’s a decorative brick veneer inside a house, modular bricks on the outside of a suburban home, or concrete blocks in a foundation, these materials are meant to last. But what if you need to hang a picture, attach a downspout, or install a light fixture? This guide will help.
Can You Drill into Brick?
Compared to wood, drywall, and vinyl siding, drilling through brick might seem impossible. Traditional methods using a multi-purpose or brad-point drill bit simply do not work. But is it possible? Absolutely.
Brick is not impenetrable. With the right tools, the proper technique, and a bit of know-how, drilling into brick is relatively straightforward.
Tools and Materials
- Permanent marker
- Tape measure
- Bubble level
- Masonry drill bits
- Power drill (with a hammer function, if possible, but not necessary)
- Safety glasses
- Dust mask
- Small shop vac
- Dustpan and broom
How to Drill into Brick
If you’re hanging a picture, mounting a TV, or attaching a fixture to a brick surface, the following tips will ensure you’re able to get the job done.
Brick vs. Mortar
In only rare instances would you have to consider whether to drill into bricks versus mortar, the much softer material that sits between them. As a general rule, unless you’re hanging something very light (just a pound or two), always drill into brick. Mortar doesn’t have the strength to hold much weight, and it deteriorates much faster than brick.
Step 1: Measure and mark where you want to drill
The first step to drilling into brick is to mark the location. You’ll probably want to use a tape measure to find the center of the wall, the proper height, or the correct spacing between objects.
Use a permanent marker to make your marks on the brick, being sure that the marks aren’t near the brick’s edges. Drilling near the edges can cause the brick to split and crumble. Make sure to stay more than an inch from any edge.
If you have to drill two or more holes, you may need to use a bubble level to ensure they’re level or plumb.
Step 2: Find your desired depth
- Install the appropriate drill bit for your needs and tighten it down. For most tasks, you likely won’t have to drill the entire length of the bit. If you’re using a concrete anchor kit or masonry screws, refer to the packaging to determine the drilling depth.
- Some hammer drills come with stops that prevent the user from drilling past a certain depth. If your drill has a stop, set it so that the measurement between the tip of the bit and the end of the stop matches your desired depth. If you don’t have a stop, you can measure and mark the drill bit with the permanent marker at your desired depth
- Alternatively, wrap some painter’s tape around the bit at that point to provide a guide.
Step 3: Start drilling
- Donning your safety glasses, mask, and earplugs (hammer drills are loud), set your drill to its highest speed and the hammer setting (if so equipped).
- Placing the tip of the drill bit on the mark, give the back of the drill a tap or two with the palm of your hand. This tap allows the tip of the bit to dig into the brick just enough to stay centered on the mark while drilling.
- Holding the drill perpendicular to the wall, slowly squeeze the trigger and put pressure on the drill so it can dig in.
- As the drill bit begins to penetrate, you can increase the speed. Every 10 seconds or so, remove the spinning drill slightly to remove the brick dust clogging the hole.
- Continue the cycle of drilling and removing the bit until you’ve hit your adjustable stop or the permanent marker/painter’s tape on the drill bit.
Step 4: Vacuum the hole and floor
Most modular bricks aren’t hollow, so the brick dust often sits in the hole. That dust can obstruct an anchor or screw, so you need to remove it before attaching anything to the brick.
Use the hose and crevice nozzle attachment on a running shop vac to remove the dust.
Since you already have the vacuum out, this is a good time to sweep and clean the floor. (Wait until you’re done before mopping so the floor isn’t wet while you’re working.)
Step 5: Hang or attach your item
- If you’re hanging something on the wall, now is the time to use the hardware that came with the item, or an anchor or masonry screw kit.
- You can either drive this hardware using a drill with a driver bit attached, a screwdriver (this can be tough on the forearms), or a socket and ratchet in the case of hex head masonry screws.
- Once you’re done, be sure to vacuum and then mop any brick dust up off finished floors. Brick dust is rather abrasive and can scratch hardwood or tile.
How to Drill Through Brick
On occasion, you may need to drill all the way through brick to run a water pipe, anchor, or electrical wiring. The steps are similar to drilling into the brick, except that you won’t use a stop and you’ll probably need a larger drill bit.
Steps for Drilling Through Brick
- Whenever possible, start on the side that will be visible when the project is completed, as there’s a chance you’ll break the backside of the brick as you drill through it.
- Starting with a smaller masonry bit and following the steps outlined above, drill a pilot hole through the brick.
- Repeat this process several times, each time using the next largest drill bit until the hole is the appropriate size. Bigger holes, such as those required for large-diameter drainpipes, will require a core drill or a large rotary hammer drill, tools best handled by professionals.
Following these steps will enable you to hang shelving, pictures, and other decorative items on your brick surfaces. You’ll also be able to attach downspouts or run electrical wiring for exterior lighting and outlets. It’s simply a matter of having the right tools and a bit of knowledge.