Should I Drill Brick or Mortar? (How-To Without Damage)


A question a lot of people don’t think about until they’re just about to drill into a brick wall is, which part should I drill into? Is it best to drill into the brick or is it best to drill into the mortar?

Brick is the best choice if it’s in good condition. Brick is a lot stronger than mortar and can hold heavy objects such as televisions. Mortar should only be drilled if the brick is too fragile and therefore susceptible to cracking. Unfortunately, mortar will only ever hold lightweight items securely.

But wait! What about shattering the brickwork? You’re right, that’s definitely an issue. Let’s look in more detail.

Conflicting opinions

You’ll read conflicting opinions on whether to drill into brick or mortar. The fact is, there’s no one set answer as there are a few factors to take into consideration (sorry).

Brick is definitely the better choice for heavy objects as it’s a stronger material than mortar. Brick is very strong and capable of supporting large items such as televisions, large paintings, or hanging baskets.

Whether brick can handle being drilled into without cracking mainly comes down to the brick’s age and condition. Drilling a deep hole is problematic for fragile bricks as it weakens the bricks’ integrity. Adding expansion-style anchors will further increase the stress and can result in cracking. Cracking bricks when drilling can also be due to poor technique which we’ll look at later.

If your bricks contain chips, flakes, cracks or spalling (“erosion”), then it’s best to avoid it or seek advice from a qualified builder. Also, inspect for water and fire damage too.

Trust your instinct. If you think the brickwork isn’t up to it, then chances are it isn’t. If the brickwork is looking in good shape overall, then, with the correct technique, you’re good to go. It’s not as risky as people will have you believe.

Why avoid drilling mortar?

Its strength is its weakness. You want to avoid drilling mortar as it just can’t take the weight that brick can. You won’t be able to drill large holes due to the diameter of the mortar joint either, so you’re limited to the hole size you can make. Drilling too large a hole in the mortar will result in it working loose and crumbling.

People often confuse mortar with cement or concrete. Concrete is a material all of its own; however, mortar is just a “glue”. It’s a lot softer than brick. If you’re hanging on mortar, it’ll need to be something lightweight. To prevent accidents, you should only hang lightweight items weighing no more than 2kg (4lbs).

When is it better to drill into mortar?

Consider drilling into mortar only if the brickwork really isn’t up to the job.

If what you’re hanging truly is lightweight, then, by all means, drill into the mortar joint. The added benefit is that drilling into mortar is a lot easier because of its softness.

Patching up mortar is easier than brick. Something to consider if you drill in the wrong spot or you think you’ll remove the item at a later date. Patching holes in mortar is easy with a tube of mortar repair, but filling holes in brick and trying to match the colour is a lot more difficult.

What type of drill do I need for brick?

The most suitable drill is a hammer drill. Corded is better, but a good quality cordless one will also work. Ensure it has a large capacity battery and that it’s fully charged for maximum power.

Hammer drills make light work of drilling into brick, and it’s definitely the tool of choice if you’re going to be making several large holes.

If you suspect that the brick is a little fragile, proceed with caution. Disable the hammer function to avoid putting too much stress too quickly on the brickwork.

If you don’t own a hammer drill, consider hiring one if you think it’s going to be a one-off job. Hire prices are around £15 ($18) for a day’s use.

What type of drill bit for brick?

There is only one choice: a carbide-tipped masonry bit. Don’t use a multi-purpose drill bit, and never use a wood or metal drill bit.

You’ll be inserting wall plugs after drilling, so make sure not to drill too deep. Refer to the wall plug’s instructions for correct hole depth.

Some drills are equipped with a depth-stop attachment. If yours doesn’t have this feature, measure the desired depth against the drill bit and wrap several layers of masking tape around the bit to mark the point at which you want to stop drilling any further.

If you do drill too deep, you may need to insert more than one wall plug.

Again, consider hiring drill bits as a set can be quite costly if you don’t think they’ll ever be used again. Carbide-tipped masonry bits are around £3 ($4) each to hire.

Can I use a regular drill for brick?

A regular drill is able to drill into brick if you’re drilling small holes. Ensure you use a carbide-tipped masonry bit. It can even be advisable to drill with a regular drill if the brick is fragile. Drilling brick with a regular drill is a lot more laborious, however, and only best for making one or two holes.

Pilot holes: a must when drilling brick

Although a lot of people don’t bother with pilot holes when drilling wood, brick is an entirely different matter. Unlike brick, softwoods are a lot less dense and can normally take being drilled into directly.

Remember: a piece of wood is a lot more easily replaced, but your lovely brick wall isn’t. Don’t take the risk of cracking the brickwork through laziness.

You’ll need a smaller drill bit for the pilot holes and perhaps an automatic centre punch, too. Automatic centre punches create a dimple so that you can insert the drill bit, avoiding slippage when starting your pilot hole.

Automatic entre punches eliminate the need for a hammer because of their internal spring mechanism. Just pull on the spring to create your mark. A good centre punch can be found at your local hardware store for as little as £5 ($6).

Start off slowly when drilling a pilot hole, varying your pressure until the bit bites into the brick. Once the drill bit bites and you’re making entry, pick up your speed and keep the pressure on at all times.

Avoid poor technique: how to drill brick without damage

Shattering the brickwork through poor technique is definitely a real concern and something you need to take into consideration. Learn how to drill into brick without cracking it by following these tips:

  • Ensure you drill perpendicular to the wall. Drilling at an angle will cause issues with mounting alignment, and will compromise the brick’s integrity when it’s put under stress hanging your item later on.
  • Make smaller pilot holes first. Once you’ve started the hole, pick up the speed and pressure. Move the drill bit in and out (back and forth) to remove the debris so that the drill flutes don’t get clogged.
  • Repeat the process once you’ve finished drilling the hole too. Remove as much debris as possible by keeping the drill bit spinning and moving it in and out several times. A can of compressed air will further remove any remaining debris, greatly improving the holding power of anchors and screws.
  • If the drill only has one speed setting, drill in short bursts to avoid overheating the drill bit.

A word of caution

Do not drill above or below plug sockets to avoid hitting a wire. Also, check for pipes. If you’re unsure, you can buy a pipe and live-wire detector for around £19 ($23) on Amazon.

Check the load capacity of your wall plugs or anchors. If unsure, better to use one that’s too strong than too weak for the item you’re hanging.

Can you hang something on a brick wall without drilling?

Lightweight items only.

  • Brick clip fasteners. These clamp onto bricks with recessed mortar and are great for pictures or mirrors.
  • Picture-hanging strips. These strips are also good for pictures and mirrors. Make sure to check the packet’s weight load restrictions beforehand. These strips attach themselves to the wall and don’t leave any adhesive residue behind.
  • Poster putty. This is a great option for truly lightweight items such as posters or small pictures.
  • VELCRO Brand Industrial Strength Fasteners. Perfect for outdoor use.

Oh, by the way

A word of warning before you start: you’re going to make a lot of mess drilling into brick. Get a dustpan and brush at the ready. Consider making a simple DIY dust-catcherOpens in a new tab. by taping a brown paper bag to the wall.

If someone is there to help, get them to hold up a vacuum to the drill with a dustpan underneath to catch what the vacuum doesn’t.

Graham Walsh

I want to share everything I know about power tools in order to help you. Whether you're a home enthusiast or an industry professional, I have the information that you need.

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