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A cold thrill of fear still runs through me when I prepare to drill holes in a new part of the house. It brings back memories of my disastrous early DIY attempts in our first house, a 1920s bungalow. The project was shelving installation. I carefully marked out where the holes should go, got my cordless drill in position and - CRUNCH! Instead of cutting through the wall, the drill bit spun and screeched. Instead of a clean hole, I got a big, dusty crater. Oops. I knew I'd done something wrong...but what?! Friends, it was my first close encounter with a masonry wall.

So how does the amateur DIY'er know what material a wall is constructed from? Simple. Drills go through drywall easily and smoothly. You'll get just a little dust come out of the hole. If you hit wood, it's a little tougher to drill through and you might see some shavings. That means you've struck a beam. (Hopefully, on purpose!) But if the drill spins and screeches as described above (and you've checked that the bit is securely locked in position), you likely have masonry walls. This is most common in older houses like our old 20s bungalow and our current 1948-constructed bungalow.

If you have problems drilling masonry, put down the drill and back away. Don't keep trying to drill your holes (like I did) because you may get whole chunks of the masonry start to crumble away (gulp, like I did). Eeek! Here's what you do: put away the regular drywall or wood screws. They are no use here. Go to the hardware store and get some screw-in drywall anchors. While you're there, replace your cheapo standard drill bit (yes, the one that came free with the drill) with a titanium one. With any luck, it should then be smooth sailing. Good luck!

  • Jared

    Better yet, you should get yourself a masonry bit set - and for those really heavy hangings, use masonry lag bolts. They work just like drywall anchors, but they're metal and expand into the walls of the hole you drilled. Be sure to check the stress tolerances on the lag bolts you buy - on the package, it should indicate the amount of force downwards and the amount outwards it can handle.

  • Blair

    Definitely get a masonry bit that is appropriate to the anchor being used,Tapcon, and the like come with a recommended bit in kits.

    Also, if you are drilling into a drywall wall, and hit wood, it will be a stud.

  • Diane Rixon

    Guys, you are right. I guess I was assuming beginner DIY'ers like myself would not need a whole masonry bit set.... Thanks!

  • unjust

    you can buy single bits, and for the beginner DIYer it's the best bet. unless you're using drill bits on a regular basis you'll probably only use a few standard sizes, and picking up a 1/4" masonry bit and a few masonry anchors should be well under 10$

    n.b. a masonry bit will not clear out as well as a wood or metal twist so you'll want to push, back out to clear it out, and repeat. masonry bits are intended to be used with a hammer drill, but steady pressure with a good drill driver will work fine.

    screw in drywall anchors won't hold well in masonry. they're designed to bite into the gypsum of drywall, not be compressed in masonry. get masonry anchors, even if you're only holding up a small picture frame, there's no sense in having it fall out and have to open the hole wider later on. for small things, adhesive hangers may be more sensible anyway.

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