How do you drill plaster?

How do you drill plaster? - Fix It Cape Town

Drilling into plaster can be a daunting task for many homeowners and DIY enthusiasts. Plaster is a delicate material that requires special care when it comes to making holes. Whether you want to hang a picture frame, install a shelf, or mount a TV, understanding the right techniques and tools for drilling into plaster is essential. In this article, we will guide you through the process, addressing common challenges and providing helpful tips to ensure a successful outcome.

Preparation is Key

Before you start drilling into plaster, it is crucial to prepare the area properly. Taking the necessary steps will help minimize any potential damage to the plaster and ensure a clean and secure hole. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Research: Understand the structure of the wall. Determine if it is a solid or lath and plaster wall. Lath and plaster walls consist of wooden laths covered with multiple layers of plaster. Solid plaster walls are made from a single layer of plaster over a backing material such as drywall or masonry.
  • Locate Studs or Anchors: Use a stud finder or knock on the wall to identify studs or anchors. Drilling into these stable areas will provide better support for heavy objects.
  • Gather Tools: Prepare the necessary tools for the job, including a drill, appropriate drill bits (preferably masonry bits), a tape measure, a pencil, a level, a dust mask, safety goggles, and a vacuum cleaner.

Drilling Techniques for Plaster

Now that you have prepared the area, it’s time to start drilling. Here are some techniques to consider when drilling into plaster:

  1. Mark the Spot: Measure and mark the exact location where you want to drill using a pencil. Ensure your markings are level, especially if you’re installing multiple fixtures.
  2. Start with a Pilot Hole: To avoid cracking or chipping the plaster, start with a small pilot hole. Use a drill bit slightly smaller than the size of the final hole you require. Apply gentle pressure while drilling and maintain a consistent speed.
  3. Drill at a Low Speed: Use a low-speed setting on your drill to avoid spinning too fast. High speeds can generate excess heat and friction, potentially damaging the plaster. Patience is key when drilling into plaster.
  4. Avoid Hammer Drills: Unless you are drilling into masonry behind the plaster, avoid using hammer drills. They apply excessive force that can cause the plaster to crack or crumble. Regular drills with sharp masonry bits are sufficient for drilling into plaster.
  5. Clean as You Go: To minimize the amount of dust generated during drilling, have a vacuum cleaner nearby. Attach its hose close to the drilling area to suck up the debris. Wear a dust mask and safety goggles to protect yourself.
  6. Use a Backing Board: If you are concerned about the plaster crumbling around the hole, place a small piece of scrap wood or a backing board against the plaster while drilling. This will help support the plaster and reduce the risk of damage.

Common Challenges and Solutions

Drilling into plaster can come with a set of challenges. However, with the right approach, you can overcome these obstacles. Here are some common issues you may encounter and their solutions:

  • Cracked Plaster: If the plaster develops cracks during drilling, stop immediately and assess the situation. Fill the crack with spackling paste or joint compound, and allow it to dry completely. Sand the area gently before attempting to drill again.
  • Stubborn Nails or Screws: If you encounter an old nail or screw while drilling, it might be challenging to get the bit through. You can try using pliers to remove the obstacle or using a larger drill bit to go around it.
  • Hitting an Obstruction: If you encounter an unexpected obstruction while drilling, stop immediately. It could be a pipe, wire, or another object behind the plaster. Consult a professional to avoid causing any damage or to find a suitable solution.
  • Plaster Dust: Dust is an inevitable byproduct of drilling into plaster. To minimize its spread, use a vacuum cleaner, wear a dust mask, and consider putting a drop cloth or plastic sheet below the drilling area.


Q: Can I use regular drill bits to drill into plaster?

A: While regular drill bits can work, it is advisable to use masonry bits specifically designed for drilling into plaster and masonry. Masonry bits have a specialized tip that allows for more effective drilling and reduces the risk of damaging the plaster.

Q: Should I use anchors when drilling into plaster?

A: Anchors can be useful when drilling into plaster, especially if you’re hanging heavier objects. Anchors provide additional support and help distribute the weight evenly. However, it’s essential to select the right type of anchors based on the weight of the object you’re hanging.

Q: How do I patch small holes in plaster?

A: Small holes in plaster can be easily patched with spackling paste or joint compound. Apply the compound to the hole using a putty knife, ensuring it is level with the surrounding surface. Allow it to dry before sanding and painting over the patch.


Drilling into plaster may seem like a daunting task, but with the right preparation and technique, you can achieve great results. Remember to gather the necessary tools, prepare the area, and take your time when drilling. Stay mindful of potential challenges and how to overcome them. By following the guidelines provided in this article, you’ll be able to confidently drill into plaster and complete your home improvement projects successfully.

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