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Old 09-05-2016, 05:11 PM   #1
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Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


Hey folks,

Mom is 94 and needs a grab rail in shower. House was built in 1951. Bathroom is original. Thought this would be a no-brainer, but cannot drill through the cement board (assume that's what it is) in the shower!! I broke 3 bits! The bit gets maybe 1/4 inch in then it hits something that feels like cast iron, tip of bit burns/tarnishes blue/black, then the bit breaks. It even sounds like metal if I take the bit and (while drill is not turning) just 'bang' the bit into the hole against whatever it's hitting back there.

I moved the rail thinking maybe I just happen to hit a plate or something, but it doesn't matter where I drill.

Anyone ever run across this or have any idea what this might be, or how I can get a rail in this shower? (I'm her daughter.) Thanks for any guidance!
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Old 09-05-2016, 05:16 PM   #2
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


What type bit and drill are you trying to use?
Been under the house and in the attic to see if there's old cast iron pipes behind that wall?
Located the studs to know where to be drilling?
A home that old likely has old steel mesh behind the plaster.
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Old 09-05-2016, 05:42 PM   #3
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


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What type bit and drill are you trying to use?
First one was gold which I think is for metal, so switched to the old (standard) steel bits my Dad had (he's passed). If I need a specific kind I can buy one. I am sorry I don't know the names and he's had these so long they are in a tool cabinet and not in original packaging. Drill is electric as the battery drill pooped out immed.

Quote:
Been under the house and in the attic to see if there's old cast iron pipes behind that wall?
No, but the plumbing is on the opposite wall (inside the shower), so there shouldn't be any pipes here.

Quote:
Located the studs to know where to be drilling?
Have to place the bar where Mom needs it, not necessarily where the studs are. So bought the Moen Secure Mount System (
) for either or both ends, depending on where they ended up. But as it turned out, I can't even drill through enough to use EITHER method (straight screws into a stud or this other system).

Quote:
A home that old likely has old steel mesh behind the plaster.
Ha! If I take a hammer and just make a hole to see WTH is back there, what material do I use to patch cement wall? Do I have to buy a whole sheet of it like drywall (to cut out a patch), or can I fill the hole with a certain material?

Thanks for your help, appreciate it!

Last edited by Trese; 09-05-2016 at 05:45 PM.
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Old 09-05-2016, 05:47 PM   #4
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


You need masonry bit.
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Old 09-05-2016, 06:05 PM   #5
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


I'd be applying blue tape, marking the spot to drill with a prick punch to break the glaze then using a masonry bit in a hammer drill to drill through the tile, backer board and any old plaster (if that's what's behind there)
What your trying to use is a titanium nitride coated steel drill.
By the time it goes through the tile and backer it's going to be dull.
Push on it to hard when trying to get through that thin metal and it's going to grab and snap off.
This is sort of what I've often seen behind older tiled walls.
https://www.google.com/search?q=stee...oRehjqjduaM%3A
When drilling if you catch a corner of the metal the drill will want to move to the side.
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Old 09-05-2016, 06:05 PM   #6
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


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You need masonry bit.
Looking at pictures of those I can see there are some here, but they aren't the right size for drilling pilot holes, so will have to pick a couple up tomorrow.

Still seems like something more than just getting thru the cement board though, as the bits I am using appear to be doing that.... it's what's behind the cement board that's the problem. But maybe the masonry bits will be able to get thru, so will try that tomorrow.

Thanks for your help.
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Old 09-05-2016, 06:09 PM   #7
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


Quote:
Originally Posted by joecaption View Post
I'd be applying blue tape, marking the spot to drill with a prick punch to break the glaze then using a masonry bit in a hammer drill to drill through the tile, backer board and any old plaster (if that's what's behind there)
What your trying to use is a titanium nitride coated steel drill.
By the time it goes through the tile and backer it's going to be dull.
Push on it to hard when trying to get through that thin metal and it's going to grab and snap off.
This is sort of what I've often seen behind older tiled walls.
https://www.google.com/search?q=stee...oRehjqjduaM%3A
When drilling if you catch a corner of the metal the drill will want to move to the side.
Thank you for this guidance! I will try this tomorrow then report back...

Does it seem kind of impossible to use the Moen system in this case?? I can't see a hole saw being able to get through this!
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Old 09-05-2016, 06:45 PM   #8
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


You never said anything about a hole saw being needed.
I've never used the Moen brand grab handle,
Just because you think there should not be any plumbing behind that wall does not mean it's not there, check before going any further.
Two of my older homes had 4" cast iron vents in odd ball places.
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Old 09-05-2016, 06:57 PM   #9
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


Quote:
Originally Posted by joecaption View Post
You never said anything about a hole saw being needed.
Was in the short installation video.

Quote:
I've never used the Moen brand grab handle,
Just because you think there should not be any plumbing behind that wall does not mean it's not there, check before going any further.
Two of my older homes had 4" cast iron vents in odd ball places.
Thank you. I am not sure how to check for that but I'll try. I guess going up in the attic ... I am not crawling under the house. That's beyond my willingness.
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Old 09-05-2016, 07:37 PM   #10
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


Assuming the masonry bit does the trick, is the recommended method for installing a grab rail in this situation just to get anchor screws? (I really don't think the Moen system will work as I don't want to hassle trying to get thru this with a hole saw.)

EDIT: Actually I don't think anchor screws are a good idea. Not secure enough. Thinking of using this for the Moen install (in the video above). Any comments?

Last edited by Trese; 09-05-2016 at 07:43 PM.
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Old 09-05-2016, 11:24 PM   #11
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


Hi Trese,

There is no cement board behind any tile installation from 1951, it's what's known as mud. There's also no steel that would affect drilling a hole in the method. From the studs out you've got; tarpaper, wire lath, " or thicker of "mud" (mix of sand - cement - lime), bond coat, then the tiles. Google "wire lath" to see, it's mostly air.

You're correct now realizing this Moen installation system is (probably) not for what you've got. It's for hollow walls, where the material is from " to " or so. Your wall is much thicker. What does the instructions say the "max" thickness can be? Another negative is that you have to drill a hole that is 1 ". I suggest you get the appropriate hollow wall anchors that will reach the thickness of your wall. The specific type are call "toggle bolt". These require one hole about " - ⅝" diameter.

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Old 09-06-2016, 06:45 AM   #12
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


I dont see any pictures so i am just guessing here. First, if you can tap on whatever you are hitting and it sounds like metal, i would be very wary of drilling there, since you could be hitting your cast iron stack. Second, does the tile on the walls go all the way to the ceiling, or is there a section of drywall/plaster above the tile? If there is a non-tiled section get a stud finder to tell you where the studs are located and try to attach to the studs. To drill the holes i second the opinion of using a masonry bit in a hammer drill. It will go through like a hot knife through butter.

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Old 09-06-2016, 06:49 AM   #13
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


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I dont see any pictures so i am just guessing here. First, if you can tap on whatever you are hitting and it sounds like metal, i would be very wary of drilling there, since you could be hitting your cast iron stack. Second, does the tile on the walls go all the way to the ceiling, or is there a section of drywall/plaster above the tile? If there is a non-tiled section get a stud finder to tell you where the studs are located and try to attach to the studs. To drill the holes i second the opinion of using a masonry bit in a hammer drill. It will go through like a hot knife through butter.

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I should have added that, if your stud finder funds the studs above the tile, use a level to draw a plumb line down the wall to the area where you want to install the grab bar.

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Old 09-06-2016, 04:21 PM   #14
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


Thanks to everyone, it's done. Problem was as Joe and rjniles said... needed a masonry bit.

(For clarification there is no tile on the shower walls. It's painted cement board and has always been. That's how it was built. The Moen video happens to show a tiled wall, but the kit is for any hollow wall with at least 3.5" air space.)

As soon as Joe and rjniles brought up the masonry bit, I knew that was the problem. Stupidity on my part. I won't forget from now on that cement, brick, stone have their own tools and they are masonry tools.

So picked up a 1/8th masonry drill bit to test the wall, but knowing that was likely the problem, also picked up a Milwaukee Diamond Plus 1 1/4" hole saw and arbor.

Tried the 1/8th bit first and sailed through the first half of the wall, then the second half was a little slower, but did hit air.

No studs were anywhere I needed them, so used the masonry hole saw to install the Moen Secure Mount kit. The wall is 1.5" thick cement. Twice as thick as I expected. But the hole saw did a good job.

I really like this Moen kit. If anyone has elderly parents, the nice thing is that it is like anchor screws on steroids, rated to 300 pounds. Mom is not heavy (170'ish) but if her knees gave out she might need to put all her weight on that bar, so wanted it to be secure. I also like how the flange seals off the hole in the wall with a sticky circular pad, though I used silicone as well. BTW this kit was $11 at Lowes (each, so if you have to use it on both sides of the bar, you need two kits)... but it's much more online.

Anyway, as usual, with the right tools in hand, the job went easy! So thanks again guys. You were a great help and saved the day!!
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Old 09-07-2016, 05:04 PM   #15
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Re: Can't drill thru shower wall for grab rail install


Glad it's working out for you.

I wouldn't use a hammer-drill, at least not until after you're through the tile.

They didn't install cement board in a 1951 house when it wasn't invented until 1975. You must mean plaster wall which of course is how the walls are built.

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