Q. I am going to install some new grab and towel bars in my bathroom. I have ceramic tile on the walls, and I am having trouble drilling into it. What is the best method to mount things on tile walls?
You can never have too many towel bars in a bathroom. Adding new fixtures and towel bars is typically done when a bathroom is being remodeled. With the baby boomers getting to retirement age, more people are considering installing strategically placed grab bars for safety and convenience.
Attaching anything to ceramic tile walls can present some installation problems, as you have found. Ceramic tile is a manmade material, not natural; therefore, the physical properties of it vary considerably among the various types of tile.
Grab bars have to be attached securely because they are designed to support a person’s weight for safety. Most grab bars include installation hardware and detailed instructions in the packaging. It takes just a quick glance to notice the greater strength of grab bars as compared to towel bars. Be sure that the grab bar mounting screws are located over studs in the wall and they extend into the studs.
Many towel bars are just glued to the ceramic tile wall instead of being screwed in. Special towel bar adhesives are available for this application. Often, a waterproof two-part epoxy adhesive forms a very strong bond with ceramic tile, especially tiles with a rough surface. If the tiles have a glass-like surface, roughen it up a bit where you plan to glue the towel bar.
You may choose to attach the towel bars with screws, but grab bars must be attached with screws for strength. No matter what type of ceramic tile you are attempting to drill through, use a masonry drill bit. If you use a standard high-speed steel bit, it will just spin and may glow red from the heat buildup.
Very glossy wall tiles are likely porcelain tile, which has an extremely hard surface and may or may not be that hard throughout. Some less expensive tiles have a super-hard glossy surface over a softer ceramic tile base. This will be apparent when the drill bit breaks through the hard surface.
A standard carbide-tipped masonry drill bit should be adequate for the job. A diamond-tipped drill lasts longer and drills faster through any type of tile, even porcelain tiles.
Always use a variable-speed drill, and drill at a low speed, about 100 revolutions per minute. A higher speed creates too much heat and can shorten the life of the drill bit. Also, do not put much pressure on the tile. Give the drill bit time to break the hard surface and work its way through the tile.
Never use a hammer drill on tile. The impacts from a hammer drill are great for concrete, but they can chip or break a brittle ceramic tile. Since you cannot use a center punch on hard tile to locate the hole, stick a piece of tape over the spot, and mark the hole location. This also protects the surface from scratches.
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