How To Drill Into Brick

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It can be pretty common to have brick exposed on the outside of your house, but it is becoming more and more common to see exposed brick on inside walls as well. Regardless of which part of the house the wall is, if you want to hang something on it you need to know how to drill into brick. Thumbtacks or nails just will not work in most circumstances with this surface.

How To Drill Into Brick

Brick is an interesting material because it is not as hard as granite stones, but is still very strong. Because of its chemical composition, it is fairly easy to drill under the right circumstances. You just need to be sure to have the right type of tools for the job.

Cordless drill on the pavement
  1. Mark the holes to be drilled. You can create a template on butcher or other paper and tape that to the wall if it will help.
  2. Double-check the holes. If you are drilling into brick, patching it and re-drilling will be a very difficult task.
  3. Lay down sheeting or a towel. You will want to catch all debris you can without damaging your flooring.
  4. Set up your stop guide attachment. If you have mounting instructions, check those for the depth you should drill to. If you do not, just drill to the depth of the screw or anchor.
  5. Use tape if you do not have a stop guide. If you do not have a stop guide attachment, wrap masking or painter’s tape around the drill at the depth you want to stop drilling.
  6. Attach a small drill bit for the pilot hole. If the final hole you want to drill is 1/4 inch or under, go ahead and drill with that diameter bit. Otherwise, start with a small bit (such as 1/8 inch) as a pilot hole.
  7. Make sure the drill bit is perpendicular to the wall. Angles will not hold as strong, and the pulling forces of the anchor may crack the brick or mortar.
  8. Begin drilling at low speed. If you can go through the brick at low speed, keep it that way. If the bit heats up from drilling at high RPMs you may need to take breaks to cool off the bit.
  9. Push with variable force. You may need to push fairly hard to get the bit to bite. 
  10. Stop at the measured depth. Be careful not to push beyond the depth you wish to drill.
  11. Switch to the larger bit and set your depth. Align the larger bit in the center of the previous hole, and drill to the correct depth.
  12. Blow the dust out of the hole with compressed air or an air pump
  13. Clean the area. Use a mop to prevent spreading more airborne particles
  14. Clean yourself. Remove shoes outside and blow the dust off of them, and put your clothes immediately in the washer.

What Type of Drill

If you only need to drill a shallow and narrow hole in the brick, you will probably find that a standard home drill, even a cordless one, may be able to do the job as long as it is fully charged. Holes larger than an inch deep or 1/4 inch in diameter, however, should be drilled using a stronger tool.

A hammer drill is the best choice for most types of masonry drilling, and brick is considered masonry. This special type of drill does not only spin, but also has a pounding motion that helps break down materials like brick, stone, and mortar.

If you do not have a hammer drill handy, they can normally be rented from your local hardware store. Or, read out guide on drilling into brick without a hammer drill.

Drill

Hammer Drill Features to Look For

  • Multiple speeds – You may find that slower speeds work better with brick, while faster speeds work better with mortar.
  • Stop guide attachment – This will help you to drill only to the required depth of your mounting equipment.
  • Side handle – You will need additional pressure toward the drilling point with a hammer drill because of the specific action. Light pressure will only make it bounce against the surface you are trying to drill.

You will need specialized masonry bits. Small masonry bits that you would use with a standard drill are relatively inexpensive, but larger diameter ones used with a hammer drill can start to get out of most people’s pricing range for only drilling one or two holes. See if you can rent bits as well – you will need two: one for the pilot hole and one for the final needed diameter.

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Do not confuse a hammer drill with an impact driver! Impact drivers add additional force for applying fasteners, but they are not suitable for drilling into brick. The force comes from the side, which can create oblong holes in the material instead of round holes.

Bonus: Learn how to cut your brick with an angle grinder.

Safety Equipment and Procedures

Drilling through brick creates a lot of dust and debris that you should protect yourself from. The chunks coming out of drilled brick may not only hurt you by impact, but the dust coming out of drilled brick may also damage your lungs.

One of the primary components of brick is sand, which is normally made up of quartz. When pulverized (or drilled in this case), this releases airborne crystalline silica into the surrounding area. When breathed, it may cause scarring of the lungs that is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to heal.

Be sure to wear the proper protective gear, and handle the area and your clothes accordingly after the job is complete.

You will need:

  • Eye protection – Chunks of brick can fly out at pretty spectacular speeds.
  • Ear protection – Optional. Consider that when drilling a lot of holes through brick with high powered tools, some auditory damage is possible.
  • Heavy gloves – Optional. Consider that your hands will be very close to the area that is flinging chunks of brick out of the wall.
  • Respirator – This is very important. A dust mask that is properly fitted can protect you from the silica dust, but an N95 respirator or similar level of protection is highly recommended.
  • Proper cleanup after drilling – Your shoes and clothes will have collected dust. Take your shoes off outside and blow them off with compressed air, and throw your clothes directly in the washing machine. The goal is to keep dangerous particles out of the air inside our homes.
Preparing to drill into brick

Drill Into Brick or Mortar

When looking at a brick wall you will notice thick lines between bricks, normally gray, that are made of a different material. This is called mortar and creates the bonding and structure between bricks in a wall, fireplace, or other structure. This can be an option when looking for where to drill your hole in the brick wall.

In general, brick is more stable and will hold mounting better for heavy objects. However, old brick can be unstable and may have cracks that are signs the brick may disintegrate after drilling. Always check bricks very carefully for any signs of cracking or other deterioration that may signal the possibility of the brick not holding up to drilling.

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Mortar, on the other hand, may not hold as much weight on its own but is more stable overall. It can also be very easily patched with a tube of mortar repair which will cure in about an hour if you drilled in the wrong spot. If you find that the brick in the wall is old and seems like it may not hold the weight, the mortar will definitely hold larger diameter anchors, since it will be using bricks on two sides in addition to the anchor.

In summary:

  • Brick can hold heavy items more securely.
  • Old brick can crack.
  • Mortar is generally more stable.
  • Mortar is easier to patch.
  • Inspect the brick. If you see any visible signs of cracking or other signs of wear you should choose to drill into the mortar instead of brick.

Other Considerations for Drilling Into Brick

When you need to install something like a flat-screen TV, or a window box on an exposed brick wall, be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions. Pay very close attention to the diameter of the holes that need to be drilled, as well as the depth of the holes. If the holes are drilled too deeply, you may end up going through the brick.

Framed artwork and other lighter decorations can often be hung with only a masonry anchor screw. These specialized screws are meant to bite into the material they are screwed into, and when properly inserted can hold a fairly large amount of weight. Just be sure to drill the correct sized hole so that the threads can make a strong connection with the brick.

Conclusion

Brick is a beautiful surface to have both inside and outside the house and we hate to have to drill holes in it, but sometimes it is necessary. Be sure to take all possible precautions to protect yourself when drilling into brick, and especially keep the airborne particles in mind. Remember to stay confident, drill straight, and only drill as deeply as you need to.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.