How to: drill like a pro

Drilling is not really any more difficult or any more dangerous than any other DIY task, but it’s the one part of home maintenance that scares many people enough to have them avoid it. You can probably spot friends of yours who suffer from this affliction. They’re the ones with the parts for bookshelves sitting around and the ones with large prints sitting framed and unhung on the living room floor. These jobs only require a couple of screws to be put in the wall for them to be complete, but fear of a drilling disaster prevents a lot of people from getting on with jobs.


In many cases those who don’t want to handle a drill will call out a tradesperson (tradesman/tradeswoman) to sort out the problem. This is a good solution if you really don’t trust your DIY skills, but most of us could hold money back for the bigger jobs if we were to overcome our fear of drilling.

The first, and probably most justified, fear of drill novices is that of electricity, pipes and other hazards that sit below the surface of the walls they are drilling into. The obvious thing here is to avoid any part of the wall that is likely to contain wires, pipes and services. So, if you’re going to drill then don’t do so just above electricity outlets or light switches. Wires will almost definitely run through this area, so they should be avoided.

If you’re working in a modern home then the chances are you won’t hit anything with some shallow drilling, as regulations mean that wires have to be sunk deeper into walls now and anything reachable shielded by the electrician, to stop instances like that from happening. If you have an older home or older electrics then you still need to watch out for wires and you should also be aware of water or heating pipes.


Image source: Russ Hendricks

If you want to drill across the wall or are still worried where those wires and pipes may be hiding then the best thing to do is to invest in a stud finder or another device that can detect the presence of wires, pipes or other metal in the walls. This is a simple device that acts like a mini metal detector, beeping when you swipe it over any areas that you should avoid. Of course, if you want to be really safe then you can switch off the power at the consumer box as you drill (assuming you are using a cordless drill).

Your stud finder should also come in handy here for finding the right piece of wall to drill into. Obviously you’ll want to hit something solid if you’re drilling in a hole for screws to support a shelf.

The other main worry that drilling beginners have is about ruining the wall, tearing up the plaster or making holes where there should not be holes. This can be easily avoided if you take time to prepare. You can knock in a small nail or use a smaller drill bit to make a guide or pilot hole, so that your drill doesn’t run wild across the wall as you attempt to go in.

woman drilling

Drill in a little at a time and use the depth gauge if your drill has one. Remember that you will need different styles of rawlplugs depending on whether the wall and what you are drilling into is solid or simply plasterboard.

Try not to hesitate or snatch at the control as you drill. A nice smooth action should give you a perfect drill hole. And remember, there is always filler for those little mistakes!

If DIY’s not your strong point and you’d rather get a tradesperson in to be safe, post your job and up to three tradespeople will get in touch to help.

Iain Aitch

Iain is a London-based writer who works as a journalist for a number of newspapers and magazines. He has also written two books, one of which is a hilarious lexicon about Britishness – Iain is a Brit through and through!

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