Tile Bit vs Masonry Bit (Key Differences): Which Bit for Drilling Ceramic Tiles?

Drilling into masonry and tile is more challenging than drilling into metal or wood. This requires special equipment, including masonry and tile drill bits.

Both masonry drill bits and tile bits usually have carbide cutting tips. But there are a couple of unique features that differentiate between these two cutting tools.

Tile drill bit vs masonry bit

Difference Between Tile and Masonry Drill Bits

While masonry drill bits can be used on tiles, provided you use the correct setting, tile drill bits aren’t suited to masonry applications.

The main difference between masonry and tile drill bits is the shape of the shaft and tip.

Difference between a Tile Drill bit and Masonry a Drill bit

Masonry or concrete drill bits have carbide tip at the end of a spiral grooved shaft made of soft steel. The helical grooves allow dust and debris to be removed from the holes during the drilling process. Masonry drill bit is equipped with a durable carbide cutting tip that is brazed onto the steel shaft and has the shape of a traditional drill bit.

Tile drill bits, in contrast, have a smooth shaft and arrow-shaped tip.

Masonry Bit Tile Drill Bit
Chisel edge carbide cutting tip Spear or arrowhead cutting edges
Shaft with spiral grooves Straight shaft
Use with hammer drill or rotary hammer Drill without percussion (No hammering)
Possible to drill deep holes. Generally, limited to shallow holes.

Since masonry drill bits are meant for use with hammer action, they tend to be more hard-wearing than tile drill bits, which are meant for gentler drilling.

Now. let’s take a detailed look at these drill bits.

Masonry Drill Bits

Masonry drill bits are used to drill into masonry features, like block, brick, concrete, and quarry tiles. This is a tough application, and a hard-wearing drill bit is essential. For this reason, masonry drill bits are usually tipped with tungsten carbide bonded to a spiraled steel shaft similar to a twist drill bit.

What Does a Masonry Drill Bit Look Like?

The concrete drill bit looks similar to a regular twist drill bit with a carbide cutting tip brazed on a steel shaft. Smaller diameter bits have round shanks, while larger bits come with an SDS shank.

Shape of a Masonry Drill bit

Some of the older masonry drill bits are “durium tipped.” This means that the cutting edges of the drill bits are made of Durium, which is a silicon bronze alloy. While durium is highly durable, tungsten carbide is cheaper and has replaced the former.

In most applications, you would use a masonry drill bit combined with a power drill set to hammer action. This may not work well if you use a cheap, low-quality drill bit since low-quality drill bits often shatter under the force of the hammer. Always check the quality of the drill bit before drilling.

Require Hammer Drill

Regular cordless drills do not have the hammer mode. You need a hammer drill that can rotate the drill bit and deliver blows simultaneously.

The hammer action on the drill pounds the drill bit into the masonry, pulverizing the material in contact with the drill bit. That is why so much dust is generated during drilling, and the hammer action is so effective on hard material. The drill bit works away from the material in the drill hole through brute force.

It is possible to drill concrete without a hammer drill, but it takes a lot of time and effort.

What if you do not have a power tool? In theory, drilling in masonry applications can be done without a power drill. Here, a hand brace is necessary, and the drilling operation will be a hell of a job for the operator. In practice, it will be nearly impossible to do any serious masonry drilling without the help of power tools.

It is always best to use high-quality masonry drill bits and a hammer drill or rotary hammer in masonry applications.

Use Low Speed

When drilling into hard materials, as in masonry applications, friction between the workpiece and the drill bit is likely to cause considerable heat build-up on the drill bit. To prevent the drill bit from overheating, set the drill to a low drilling speed and frequently withdraw the drill bit to remove dust.

Even though they are hard-wearing, masonry drill bits are prone to dull with frequent use. Luckily, tungsten carbide-tipped drill bits are easily sharpened using a bench grinder or a drill sharpener.

Tungsten carbide tipped masonry drill bits are typically available in sizes ranging from ¼” (5mm) to 1½” (40mm). They can be used with a rounded section shank, which fits a conventional drill chuck, or an SDS-type drill bit. An SDS (Slotted Drive System) drill bit has slots along the shank, preventing it from slipping in the chuck. This creates a stronger connection to the drill; thus, it tightens less during use.

Tile Drill Bits

Tile drill bits, also known as Spear Head bits, are meant for drilling glass and ceramic tiles. This drill bit looks different from the traditional drill bit since it has a straight, grooveless shaft and an arrowhead tip. The cutting tip is typically made of tungsten carbide, a high-wear, durable alloy.

Tile drill bits are best used with power drills at a low speed, although they can be used in a hand drill too.

Diamond-tipped drill bits are also suitable for drilling glass and ceramic tiles. These have a stubbed tip coated with diamond grit. Since diamond is harder than carbide, they tend to work better, especially on porcelain and glass tiles which could crack easily. Unfortunately, they are expensive and the diamond grit wears away over time; thus, the drill bit has a limited lifespan.

Use Coolant

When drilling glass, it’s best to use a lubricant like turpentine or water.

The friction between the drill bit and the glass will likely cause immense heat build-up, which could crack or melt the glass. Using a lubricant reduces friction and thus minimizes the heat build-up.

Using cooling water during drilling further decreases the heat build-up. If the workpiece becomes excessively hot during drilling, stop drilling and allow the workpiece to cool down before continuing.

Use Diamond Bits for Porcelain

Porcelain tiles are typically harder than glass and ceramic tiles; thus, the Spear Head drill bit isn’t suitable for this application. Porcelain tiles require a diamond-tipped drill bit.

Tape Trick

A common challenge when drilling smooth surfaces, like ceramic tiles and glass, is that the drill bit wanders, especially when initiating the hole. The spear-point design of the cutting edges helps to reduce the walking effect, although you may still experience it.

To prevent this, stick some PVC insulating tape or painter’s tape on the tile at the drilling position. This allows the drill bit to bite onto the tile without interfering with drilling operations.

Resharpen or Replace?

Tile bits quickly become dull with regular use. Can you sharpen a tile bit?

Unfortunately, they aren’t easy to sharpen due to its complex spear head shaped profile and must often be replaced rather than sharpened. This makes tile bits more expensive to use than masonry bits.

FAQ: Concrete and Tile Drilling

Can you use a masonry drill bit on tiles?

You can, if you stick to a low-speed setting and turn off the hammer action. If you use the hammer when drilling tiles, you will most likely shatter the tile, thus ruining the workpiece. Since masonry drill bit tips aren’t as sharp as tile drill bits, the bit tends to walk on the tile. This could cause inaccurate hole position or unsightly marks on your workpiece. Remedy this by sticking some PVC adhesive tape onto the surface before drilling.

Can you use a metal drill bit on tile?

General-purpose metal drill bits that are made of high-carbon or high-speed steel (HSS) are not suitable for tiles.

Tiles are hard to penetrate when drilling. The drill bit’s tip should be hard and sharp enough to penetrate the tile and work gently enough not to crack the tile. Diamond-coated or carbide-tipped drill bits are best for drilling through tiles. If your metal drill bit meets these requirements, which means it is a carbide bit, you might be able to drill into tile if you use a low-speed setting and work gently.

How about titanium and cobalt drill bits?

Regular metal drill bits, including titanium and cobalt bits, are not suitable for drilling tiles.

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are extremely hard, and regular drill bits will not work. You could crack the tile or damage your drill bit if you attempt this.
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Drilling Wood with Masonry Bit

Though this is not recommended, you could use masonry drill bits to drill through wood. Here, the resulting hole will be rougher than when using a wood drill bit, and the drilling operation would be far slower. Masonry drill bits act through brute force, while timber drill bits cut away at the wood like a chisel.