How To: Drill Into Brick
Drilling into brick is not as difficult as you think. Choose the right drill, drill bit, and technique, and you can bore holes in just mere minutes.
Decorative brick adds warmth and beauty to your home, but its tough surface shouldn’t deter you from hanging your artwork, curio cabinet, shelving, or a heavy flat-panel TV. You don’t even have to call in a professional to mount them! You just need the tools and the right technique for how to drill into brick.
Typically, all it takes is an ordinary drill to bore a few small 1″-deep holes (each a ¼-inch in diameter or less). Just buy a carbide-tipped masonry bit from your local hardware or home center and follow the steps below. However, if you’re mounting heavier objects that require multiple larger and deeper holes, don’t even think about using your own drill—it will take too long and you’ll burn up the motor. Instead, head to a home improvement store’s tool rental center for something heavy-duty.
Larger holes are much easier to make with a hammer drill, which is a power drill that bores holes into brick and concrete using rapid hammer-like blows. These drills cost about $25 for four hours, but they get the job done in a fraction of the time and with far less physical effort. Look for an option that has a stop guide attachment, multiple speeds, and an auxiliary side handle. If it’s an option, consider renting carbide masonry bits instead of buying while you’re at it. Rental bits run around $4 each (as opposed to upwards of $25 each to purchase), and you’ll need two for larger holes: a smaller bit for drilling a pilot hole and one that’s the recommended size to finish the job.
Where to Drill: Brick vs. Mortar
As you position the object on the wall and lay out the required holes, your next decision will be whether to drill into the brick itself or the mortar. You’ll find lots of conflicting opinions on which method is better, but the correct answer really depends on a number of factors: the type and age of the brick, the depth and diameter of the holes, the type of anchor you use, and the weight you’re placing on the fasteners.
Brick usually holds better and supports more weight than mortar. However, if you have old, fragile brick and you’re mounting a heavy object that requires deep holes and expansion-style anchors, drilling into the brick may not be the best choice. Deep holes weaken the brick and expansion anchors can create enough circular stress to crack the brick. If your bricks show signs of cracks or spalling, drill into the mortar instead. That way the anchor’s circular expansion forces push against fully intact bricks.
In addition to weighing which material makes the stronger bond, take a minute to consider how you’ll handle patching and hiding the holes if you drill in the wrong spot or remove the item later on. You can patch mortar holes with a tube of mortar repair, but it’s much harder to match brick color and texture when it comes time to fill those holes.
How to Drill into Brick
STEP 1: Mark the holes where you intend to drill.
Measure and mark the locations of the holes you’ll drill into brick or mortar using a pencil. Then, hold the TV mounting brackets, artwork, shelving unit, or template for whatever it is you intend to hang directly over the marks to double-check the hole locations.
STEP 2: Set up a stop on your drill corresponding to the desired hole depth.
Refer to the product’s instruction sheet for recommended hole depth and set the stop guide on the hammer drill (view example on Amazon). If you’re using a regular drill instead of a hammer drill, wrap several rounds of masking tape on the masonry bit to mark the recommended stopping point in lieu of a stop guide attachment.
STEP 3: Put on protective gear.
Safety first! Equip yourself with goggles, hearing protection, leather gloves, and an N95 respirator. Brick and mortar dust contains crystalline silica, which will be airborne when you start to drill into brick. Inhaling just a small amount is enough to create a health hazard. Wearing an N95 respirator during the entire drilling and cleanup process is critical to preventing serious lung scarring and other damage, as this type of product will filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles.
If you’re using a ladder, make sure it’s level and the legs are on a solid surface. Then get into a position that’ll allow you to apply a significant pushing force to the end of the hammer drill while maintaining your stability.
STEP 4: Position the pilot drill bit perpendicular to the wall and drill on low speed.
Insert the pilot drill bit into the hammer drill. Set the drill on low speed and hold the drill with two hands, one on the pistol grip and the other on the auxiliary handle.
Make sure the drill is level and perfectly perpendicular to the wall. (Drilling at an angle will cause mounting alignment issues and can greatly reduce holding power.)
Start drilling the pilot hole using just enough force to start the drill bit. If the pilot bit starts to “walk” away from the marked location, re-start in the right location.
Vary the pushing force until you find the point where the bit bites into the brick. Then drill the pilot hole to the recommended depth using a steady pushing force.
Tip: If the drill has only one speed, drill in short bursts to prevent overheating the bit.
STEP 5: With a larger masonry bit, drill into the pilot hole created in the previous step.
Swap in the larger bit. Again, check your drill to make sure it’s level and perpendicular, then place the drill bit into the pilot hole and continue drilling to the proper depth.
STEP 6: Use compressed air to clear out the drilled hole.
Remove all traces of brick or mortar dust from the hole using compressed air. Leaving dust in the hole will reduce the holding power of the wall anchors and screws you insert.
STEP 7: Install the wall anchor.
Insert wall anchors designed to support the full weight of the item, and mount the wall hanging or exterior fixture with screws.
STEP 8: Carefully clean up the work area.
With your eye protection and respirator still in place, clean up any large mortar or brick chips with a broom and dustpan. Suck up the remaining dust with your shop vacuum fitted with a pre-filter. Or, mop the floor and rinse the mop.
After cleaning up the worksite, remove your shoes outside and use compressed air to blow off the dust. Then wash your clothes and shower to avoid spreading the silica dust through your house.