How To Drill Into Brick – A Step-by-Step Guide

How To Drill Into Brick

There are many reasons why a homeowner would need to drill into a brick wall. Some homes are completely constructed of brick as part of the building's main structural design. Other homes may feature a brick façade. This is when other load bearing walls, posts, or beams are behind the beautiful brick veneer. Today, interior brick walls are more common in homes. This interior design style is truly a throwback to the late 1900s. Therefore, your century homes will likely feature exposed brick walls.

Modern design principles use exposed brick or mortar walls in basements, the kitchen, family room, or surrounding the fireplace. But, even when you don't think your home has brick walls, when you begin a DIY project you may find hidden brick walls behind drywall. So, here we discuss how you can safely drill into brick, what tools you will need, any special prep you need to do, and what type of fasteners you should consider for hanging artwork or wall shelving, mounting a large mirror, or installing a heavy flat-panel TV. 

Masonry walls vs brick and mortar walls

Masonry walls vs brick and mortar walls

It bears mentioning that when you look at products or instructions for drilling into brick wall, you may find the term masonry used often. For clarification, solid masonry construction usually refers to the structural brick elements of a home or other structure. These walls are transferring dead loads such as the weight of the home and furnishing to the structural foundation. Structural masonry walls are also designed to carry the projected live loads that may occur from people moving about in the home, snow accumulation, and seismic activity.

Decorative brick and mortar walls or brick veneer walls serve as back-up walls that are in addition to other structural elements like wood or steel framing, concrete or CMU (concrete masonry units). Before you drill into brick and mortar walls, you need to decide if you will be drilling directly into the brick or into the mortar. Mortar is the workable paste that was used to bind the brick blocks as the mason built the walls. It hardens to completely fill gaps and seal any irregularities in the bricks/

Deciding where to drill

Deciding where to drill

The main difference with the term masonry walls is that it can refer to brick, stone, bagged concrete, or block concrete walls. You can certainly drill into structural, masonry walls. For our purposes here, we will discuss drilling into brick walls, composed of brick and mortar that may be structural or simply an interior or exterior brick veneer.

After you've located a general area in a brick wall where you will be drilling, next you'll need to decide if you want to drill directly into the brick or drill into the mortar between the bricks. Consider the age of the brick wall, the type of brick, and how deep and how big the drilled hole will be. The size of the hole will often depend on the size and type of anchor you will use - which in turn depends on the weight of the item you will be hanging.

Brick will hold more weight than mortar. But, if the brick is fragile due to age, then consider drilling into the mortar especially if the items deep holes, or if you choose to use non-expanding anchors.

Mortar will be easier to drill through and unlike brick, you can easily patch a mortar hole if you change your mind. Since mortar cannot hold as much weight as brick, only use this option for lighter weight objects - and instead of using expansion anchors which will push against the intact bricks, use a plastic screw anchor instead. 

Inspect your brick walls and the mortar for flaws and spalling that can be found in old brick, or brick walls exposed to moisture and/or recurring freeze/thaw cycles. Choose the best option for the weight of the object and the sturdiness and condition of the brick and mortar before drilling.

Safety and equipment considerations

Safety and equipment considerations

We have discussed brick veneer walls for a good reason. These walls are purely decorative and there may be pipes, ductwork, or cables behind these types of brick walls. So, make sure you know what's behind a veneer wall before you drill.

And, if there are electrical sockets or light switches mounted in the brick wall, never drill directly above or below these electrical components to avoid striking a cable with your drill bit or fastener.

When using any power tools, eye protection like safety glasses is a must. Avoid disaster when drilling by making sure you are familiar with all power tools. When it comes to a brick wall, it is a good idea to use heavy-duty components and a heavy-duty drill set. Here is a list of items to have on hand before you start your DIY project:

  • Safety goggles, dust mask, and work gloves
  • Pencil, measuring stick, and level for accurate positioning
  • Power drill and drill bits suitable for the wall material and hole size
  • Hammer, screws, screwdriver bits
  • Anchor screws - plastic or Rawl plugs

There are so different types of wall plugs and anchor screws, so do your research to choose the best anchor for the weight of the item, the condition of the wall, and the size and depth of the holes you will be drilling.

Choosing the right drill and drill bit

Tungsten carbide drill bits

If you're going to drill into brick, don't depend on the drill bits you have in your home toolbox. These are likely designed for drilling into wood or metal. You should use a tungsten carbide masonry drill bit that is strong enough to power through brick and concrete. A masonry drill bit with a tungsten carbide tip is better at penetrating hard surfaces and will make your drilling much easier.

When compared to steel, tungsten carbide tools stay sharper longer and maintains their strength even as the drill bit gets hotter. Also, when you use the best masonry drill bit, you may be able to use your battery-powered, hammer drill, especially for drilling small holes that are under 1/2 inch diameter. Using a cordless drill means you'll have to bear down with some weight and effort to glide through brick.

Cordless or AC-powered Hammer drill

A hammer drill (or impact drill) is typically the drill of choice for use on brick walls. Powered by either 240v or 110v power these drills use both rotary and hammer actions to simultaneously bore and thrust into hard materials. With a hammer drill, drilling into brick will be faster, and it takes less effort on your part. Start by marking your drilling location with a pencil for the anchor screw and always begin with a pilot hole.

When using a hammer drill, it is not necessary to bear down on the drilling operation with all your weight. You may want to occasionally withdraw the bit to remove dust build-up. And remember to always unplug the drill when changing drill bits.

How to drill into brick wall

Now that you have selected the proper drill and drill bits, and you have all safety equipment in place, you can begin drilling into the brick wall. Here are the 5 steps to take for a hassle-free DIY experience.

1. Choose the right size anchor screw and drill bit

The size of your holes or your anchor screws will determine the correct size drill bit to use. Consider the type of anchor screw you'll be using - conical, ribbed, or lead sleeve which is best for anchoring into brick, mortar, concrete, stone, or plaster. Lead screw anchors are constructed of plastic and are available in standard sizes from 3/16 inch up to 3/8 inch.  Always check the load capacity of your anchor screws to make sure they can hold the weight of the object you will be hanging.

If you use Raw anchor plugs, they are color coded by size to make selecting the right anchor screw easier. This makes it easy to match the size of your drilled hole to the screw size.

  • Yellow: Drill a 5mm hole and use screws 6, 8, or10 ga (34 mm plug length)
  • Red: Drill a 6mm hole and use screws 6, 8, or 10 ga  (22 mm plug length)
  • Blue: Drill a 7mm hole and use screws 10 - 14 ga (44mm plug length)
  • Brown: Drill a 7mm hole and use screws 10, 12, 14 ga (40 mm plug length)

Always check the manufacturers' packaging to verify these dimensions before buying. When it comes to drilling holes for anchor plugs, always err on drilling a hole too small initially. It's easy enough to make a hole larger, but if the drilled hole is too large for your anchor screws, you'll have to purchase a larger set.

2. Mark the hole locations and drill pilot holes

Lay measuring tap and pencil a location for each hole using two dimensions - x and y, or vertically from the floor and horizontally from set benchmark. Make sure each hole in a set of holes are level to each other on the wall.

Put on your safety gear such as safety goggles, a dust mask, and gloves. Lay a covering over furnishing for protection from flying dust and debris. Begin by drilling a small pilot hole using a masonry bit that is much smaller than your final drill bit. Double check for location and levelness before proceeding.

3. Drill to the desired depth for your anchor screws

Use your hammer drill at each pilot hole to drill the right size holes to the correct depth according to your anchor screws. The pilot hole will keep your drill from wandering off-point. Start drilling slowly then pick up more speed as you move the drill straight back and forth into the brick wall.

This also helps to clear the drill bit and the hole of dust and debris and prevents the drill from becoming clogged up. If the drill does get stuck, simply put it in reverse to back out the drill bit from the hole.

4. Insert anchor screws into holes

Once your mounting holes are drilled, insert the pointed end of the anchor screws into the hole. Use a hammer to gently tap the anchor into the hole until it is flush or receding into the brick surface. If the hole is too small, don't force the anchor. You'll simply end up destroying it. Remove the anchor and use your drill to slightly increase the hole size.

5. Mount your hanging hardware

Now that you have your holes drilled into the brick and you have anchor screws properly inserted into each hole, you can now mount hardware that will hold whatever object you will be hanging. You should have no problem as long as the brick wall is structurally sound and the anchors you've chosen are rated to hold weights above what you will be hanging. 

As an alternative, check at your local hardware store for brick hangers or brick clips that can be used to hang lightweight objects like pictures, mirrors and other objects on walls without drilling into the brick.