Drilling Holes in Walls

Drilling holes in walls is a common task for many DIY jobs. But as many DIY experts will tell you, there are different types of wall and many things that go wrong. This article takes you through the basics so that you can learn without making those mistakes, some of which can be very messy, not to mention expensive.

Often we advise DIY beginners to steer clear of power tools but in the case of drills, power tools are a big improvement on hand drills. As long as you are careful a power drill, particularly a cordless drill, is convenient and can make the drilling process much easier.

Planning and Preparation

Work out how deep and wide your hole needs to be, referring to the length of the item you will be inserting and the wall plug or other fixing you will be putting in. Most wall plugs will tell you the correct drill diameter and depth on the packet. Then mark the depth on the bit you will use for the deep drilling by putting a strip of masking tape around it at the right place.

Before drilling use a detector to check for pipes or electrical cabling in the wall. If the wall is a stud partition, which you can tell by knocking on it to see if it sounds hollow, you may want to locate a stud (a supporting wooden strut in the middle of the wall) to drill into rather than the hollow space (but see below for more details on stud partitions).

Using the Correct Drill Bit

Once you have measured and marked where the holes need to go, select the right drill bit. Generally there are three types of drill bit in common use, for masonry, wood and metal. You might be tempted to reach straight for the masonry drill bit to drill a hole in a wall but sometimes it’s better to use a metal drill bit initially.

This can cut through the paint and plaster covering the stone or brick of a wall leaving a neater hole, then you continue with the masonry bit. As plaster and paint aren’t particularly hard, this won’t damage the metal drill bit.

Drilling the Hole

Then use your marked up masonry drill bit to drill the rest of the hole, stopping when you reach the masking tape that indicates the correct depth. You might find it useful to set the drill to hammer action (if it has this option) if the going gets tough. Check continually while drilling to make sure that you are holding the drill level and at ninety degrees to the wall.

It helps to have a second person watching who can keep an eye on this as it’s hard to see when you’re close up with the drill. Make sure that both of you are wearing eye protection and dust masks though. Once the hole is drilled, tap the wall plug in with a rubber mallet and then screw your fixing in.

Drilling Holes in Stud Partitions

With stud partitions you should either drill into a stud with a wood drill bit (not a masonry bit) or use one of the many proprietary hollow wall fixings that are available from DIY stores. These have a variety of mechanical methods of spreading out behind the plasterboard which spreads the load and prevents the fixing from coming out. Even with these fixings a wood drill bit will be better than a masonry bit for drilling the whole as a masonry bit is likely to tear the plasterboard.

But be careful as these hollow wall fixings cannot take heavy loads so it’s best to drill into a stud for anything other than hanging a picture or mirror.