You can find a variety of ceramic containers at most thrift stores, garage sales and outlet stores. Many of them can be used as decorative planters. And they will work fine indoors, as long as you do not over water them. Try using them as planters outdoors on your deck or patio and there is a good chance that rain will drown your plants. Generally, plants do not like soggy roots. Except for a few succulents, most plants will not survive long without good drainage.
So how can you take advantage of cool looking ceramic pots, vases, bowls, candy dishes, punch bowls or whatever if they have no way to drain excess water? The answer is to drill your own drainage holes.
We’ve been drilling our own drainage holes in ceramic, clay and glass containers for several years. Here are a few tips showing you how you put a drain hole in all of those nice containers and not break them.
We have tried several styles of concrete, tile, cement and glass bits. (And, no, we don’t use the twist drill or spade bit, as shown in this photo. Those are for our metal and foam/plastic containers.)Notice the diamond tip hole saw that I have chucked up in the drill. It is a Hitachi 3/8 diamond core bit. It’s worked well for a few years. But, I wanted a little bit larger hole for this round of drilling. So, today, we are using a brand spanking new Lenox 5/8 diamond hole saw.You hear both terms (core bits and hole saws) for bits like these. They bore a ring in the bottom and leave a core intact.
Here are a few tips for drilling your own drainage holes.
Make sure that you keep water on the surface and on the bit. This is a must for keeping the bit cool and effective. This day I was fortunate to have a bunch of containers that had recessed bottoms. A little bit of water from a watering can every now and then worked well. On flat bottom pieces, I dribble a garden hose continuously A garden helper to hold the hose is really handy for this method.
A variable speed drill helps you to maintain control of the drilling angle and speed. Cordless drills take a bit longer but offer more control. Corded drills offer a lot of power, but can be a hassle around garden hoses. (That old electricity and water thing……..again.) I chose the cordless for this project.
Get the cooling water set up. Then start the drill at a low speed. Lay the bit at a low angle where you want the edge of the hole to be located. Increase the drill speed while maintaining the same position on the pot. (The bit will want to dance around.)
When you feel a groove beginning to bore into the surface, slowly raise the angle of the drill. Slowly but surely you will bore a larger and larger arc into the bottom. When you are completely vertical with your drill, that arc will be a circle and you will be on your way to drilling a drainage hole.
Ease up when you know that you are close to breaking through the bottom. Too much force at that point can lead to cracked and broken pots.
The trick is to be patient and let the bit do the work. Do not try to power your way thru the bottom by putting all of your weight on the drill. Keep the bit cool, apply reasonable pressure and let those diamonds do their job.
After doing lots of these, we have found that the hardness or softness of the containers being drilled varies from one extreme to the other. Some are quick and easy. Some seem to take forever. Is the next one going to be a long boring drilling process. Or will it be a “Ok, here we go….Surprise….we’re done…that was easy!”
This is most of the collection that we did in one afternoon. All of these were either hand-me-downs, yard sale finds, discount and outlet store deals or gifts. None of them could be used outside for lack of drainage holes. After a good washing, we can use them on the deck, the patio, by the front door or strategically place them throughout the garden.
So, if you find your self with a bunch a really cool looking containers that you would love to use as planters, consider drilling your own drainage holes. Did you notice the large cereal bowls (great for cacti) and the coffee cups (succulents love these)?
Dave and Trish
Hi. I just tried to drill a hole in a ceramic glazed pot using a diamond tipped saw hole drill bit. I wore the diamond tipping off 2 drill bits and barely made a dent in the pot; needless to say, no success with drilling a hole.
I’m wondering if I used poor quality drill bits (they were pretty cheap: 10 drill bits for 12 dollars). Does the drill bit you recommend maintains its drilling ability for more than drilling in one pot?
Also wondering if my drill isn’t spinning quickly enough? It’s a Black & Decker.
Thanks for your help in problem solving what went wrong
Thanks for asking.
The Lenox 5/8 diamond hole saw that we use costs anywhere between 20 to 25 dollars. You have to ask yourself how 10 bits for 12 dollars can possibly be as good as one name brand bit to 20+ dollars. Also, make sure that you have bought a bit that looks like the Lenox picture in our post. There are hole saws that are made for cutting holes in doors, walls and floors. They usually have a smaller drill bit protruding from the center, used to start the pilot hole. Those bits will not work as well as the “core” bit style. The Lenox has thicker walls and doesn’t require a pilot bit.
Our Lenox bit did all of the pots in the article in one day. The bit is still fine.
As for your drill, Black and Decker makes several drills so I can’t speak to your particular one. However, high speed is not the goal. Slow and steady (with lots of cooling water) is what works best. A variable speed drill is a must, be it cordless or corded.
I hope this helps you to understand the article better.
I need a clear picture of the bit of the drill to use in pottery pot. All pic has bit in pot. No clear pic. I have one that hs round with creaces in it.
The Lenox Bit that I use is the 4th picture in the post.
Here is a link to the one that I bought at Lowes.
Lenox 5/8 diamond hole saw
You can see a closeup photo here.
Thanks for asking.
Great working!!!! Another excellent way to keep dirt from flying through the holes in your container is to put a coffee filter on the inside. I’ve done that a lot, and it operates great. No gems.
I’ve read where several folks have used coffee filters. I’ll need to try this soon as I have some plants that I want to put on glass shelves and the dirt coming out the drain hole would really mess up the tidiness of the display. Thanks for the tip!
Hi Dave. Another great way to keep dirt from escaping through the holes in your pot is to put a coffee filter over the inside. I’ve done that a lot and it works great. No stones.
I’ve had a few friends use the same method. It’s a great idea that I must try soon.
Thanks for the tip! 🙂
Do multiple coffee filters in pot bottoms. They degrade pretty quickly and pill bugs love them. I still like to use them
Hi , can you recommend the brand and the model for the cordless drill ? Thanks.
Years ago, I started with Ryobi brand 18v cordless tools because, at that time, they were the only company to also offer outdoor garden attachments like string trimmers, blowers and cultivators. I’ve had good luck with all their tools.
These days, most all of the major brands make good drills. It has become more of a budget thing than a quality decision. I would stay away from the off-brands because battery replacement might become an issue down the road.
Thanks for asking, good luck and enjoy!
Thanks for the thumbs up!
A great post that you published.
Dave what is the best way to increase the size of a drainage hole in a ceramic pot.
Sorry for the delay…away from the site for a long weekend.
I’ve never tried to open up an existing hole on a ceramic pot. However, I would think that, with care, one could use a larger core bit. You could also use a dremel tool stone to grind the hole larger. I think a medium to course round file might work as well. Not knowing how small the hole is to begin with makes it a little more difficult to be more specific.
I hope this helps. Good luck and please let us know how successful your were. Thanks for asking!
Thank you I have just successfully drilled my first hole ….
Congratulations!!! Thanks for sharing your success with us.
One down and how many to go?
Remember, be patient or one will surprise you and crack.
Hi Dave, I have a terracotta bird bath. Would I have to drill a hole in it to plant succulents or could I get away with some gravel instead for drainage as I’m a little bit scared to attempt drilling a hole Thanks, Claire
Although I always dry to provide some bit of drainage for all of my potted plants, I have gardening friends who use shallow containers all the time without drainage holes for their succulent plants. Their plant do quite well. I think it comes down to how much water sits in the dish. Wide shallow containers, like your bird bath, will always evaporate water more quickly than narrow deep pots.(More surface area for evaporation). The gravel will give you a good base for the roots and as long as the plants aren’t swimming in a pool all of the time, I think you should be fine using your bird bath as is…..and simply forget your stress about drilling drainage holes.
If you are still curious about the idea of drilling some holes for the sake of learning how to do it, find yourself another container to experiment with and have some fun learning the method! Maybe your “scared” fears will evaporate, just like the water, and you’ll feel more confidant about drilling even more drainage holes in some of your favorite containers.
Thanks for the question, good luck and…..be brave. 🙂
Can this be used on concrete bowls?
Depends……… If the concrete was fairly thin and I already had a diamond tip bit, I would probably try. However, if the concrete is thick, you would probably want to buy a good quality concrete bit. The concept is the same. The correct bit for the job, plenty of patience and, in concrete’s case, water for cooling.
I hope this helps.
Good Luck and thanks for asking your question.
Hi Dave, thx for all the great advice! I have a black cast aluminum 2 tiered water fountain that I want to repurpose into a succulent planter but I cannot find any info on how to drill holes into it. Can this be done?
Drilling holes in cast aluminum isn’t much different than drilling any soft metal. A sharp standard metal drilling drill bit should work. A titanium bit would be even better. You might try using a center punch first to keep the bit from walking. Then start with a small hole as a pilot hole for drilling a larger hole. As far as lubricant to keep things cool, a little WD-40 will work in a pinch. Be sure that your fountain is secure and cannot move around on you. As with all of these type of projects, start with sharp bits, take your time and keep things cool.
Good Luck, and please let me know how it turns out.
Thanks for asking.
Thank you Dave, I didn’t realize the cast aluminum was a soft metal. I will definitly let you know how it turns out.
Your are quite welcome.
I’m looking forward to your results.
It makes sense that many people would want to re-purpose unique ceramic containers as plant pots. There can be a lot of different colors and shapes that fit your style and landscape. However, as you mentioned, they might not always be designed as plant pots. I like your tip about making sure that you use water to help cool and lubricate the bit while you are drilling through ceramics. I’ll have to keep that in mind if I want to do the same thing in the future.
Yes, there is a whole world full of items that can be used to dress up the garden. Planters can become garden art, improving the looks of even the simplest plant.
As for the cooling water, the fun of the project can quickly disappear when one over heats the bit, turning the tip blue and dull. Patience is the key to having a successful day of “playing” in the garden.
By the way…..I like your website store.
Thanks for the comment!
Hi I have a teapot. Would the diamond drill bit work with an awkward shape?
I have a quick question. I have a tea pot. Its a very awkward shape. Would the same process work on it as its not a standard pot shape?
I don’t believe that the shape should have much of an impact. The key is to make it stable after you turn it upside down to drill the bottom. I picture it being a bit wobbly. You might try burying it upside down and 3/4 of the way down in a larger pot or bucket of dirt or sand. Sand would be much less messy when the cooling for the diamond bit starts flowing.
Best of luck……please let us know how it turns out……and THANKS!
Great info. Thx!
What about first putting down masking or painters tape to help prevent slippage?
And, what about gently tapping with a pointy nosed punch or hardened (concrete) nail to remove glaze (prior to drilling)?
I saw these tips on a video about cutting through tile, but I wonder if they would make the job easier on potential planters?
I am new to tools (!) and learning more with each project.
I drilled a few things, trying to turn them into pots for plants; I think my bit was a masonry one – some materials I could get through, others no! I can’t wait to try again – after a visit to the hardware store!
I’ve tried taping over the future hole a couple of times, but the tape generally came loose and spun around before I could get the hole started. A really sticky tape might work better. Of course, getting the tape wet probably didn’t help the tape much. 🙂
As far as chipping the bottom to remove glaze. I’ll leave that decision up to you.
Personally, I trust patience and the proper bit more than me tapping on the bottom of a pot. That can get scary fast. Older pots can be more fragile than you might think.
Make that visit to your hardware store, pour a cup of patience and enjoy the results.
Thanks for commenting!
Can I use a glass and tile drill bit (the arrowhead shaped one) to drill a hole into a ceramic mug? Everything online suggests I should get the diamond head bit instead… Thanks!
The diamond bit makes the job a bit easier. However, we have used the “arrowhead” ones as well. We didn’t get quite as clean of cut and the bit wanted to chip out the edges of the hole a little, but what the heck…..it’s the bottom of the pot.
Give it a try. Just remember to follow our suggestions to go slow and keep things cool with water.
Thanks for asking.
Thanks! I used it and it worked exactly like you said, a little chipping but all in all it was OK since I had that drill bit on hand. Thanks for your help!
You are quite welcome. Glad we could help. And, happy to know that it worked well for you.
Thanks for the feedback!
line bottom of planter with garden fabric for weed prevention. this will prevent clogged holes and soil loss.
Thanks for the great tip! I can confirm that we’ve done that and it works well.
That’s what I do with all my pots. Keeps the soil in and doesn’t degrade very quickly at all.
Another confirmation of success. Thanks Cathy!
Thanks for the good info. . I have some really pretty pots that I have been wanting to put something in for years. They are about the size of the ones you show on this page. My question is do I only need to drill 1 hole or do I need more than that? I am assuming once I get it drilled to put some pea gravel in the bottom to help with drainage? Thanks so much and have a great day!!
Thanks for the question. I would stick with one hole per pot. I always consider myself lucky if I can drill the hole and not break the pot. I’ve had a one or two crack across the bottom during the process, but never break beyond the ability to use the pot. If you are concerned about drainage, try adding a little cactus mix to you regular potting soil. On some of our smaller pots, I use straight cactus mix. That give plenty of drainage.
Thanks and good luck!
Thanks! Bought the Lenox diamond hole saw ($24 at Lowes), followed your directions and it worked perfectly on my ceramic planter. ????
Thanks for posting your feedback!
The best tool for the job always make the project more enjoyable.
Now you can start looking around for more cool containers to convert into pots.
Thanks for the tip!
Thanks for the great instructions. I used the diamond bit on a pretty glazed chinese style pot and your tips worked great!
Great! So glad we could help. It’s nice that you took the time to let us know. Thanks!
Thank you for the info. I actually drilled the hole before I went looking on the web – with a hand drill and a bit for drilling concrete. I didn’t know to add water. But I went slowly and everything turned out fine. I drilled through an earthenware pot glazed inside and out. But I started to wonder about what happens when the unsealed clay in the hole shaft meets up with the water when the plant is watered. You don’t mention any procedure so am I to assume it is not an issue??
Unfortunately, I cannot tell you if unsealed part from the hole would be a problem. We’ve never experienced any problems with any of our DIY drilled pots (sealed, bare clay, sealed inside, sealed outside, etc.). We have chipped, scratched, and sometime cracked clay pots that survive not being completely sealed. Thank you for raising a very good question. Has anyone else had any problems with home drilled drainage holes?
Your article was very helpful I finally drilled into of one of my clay pots but I used a normal drill bit.I think the kind you’d use for wood or a wall I’m not sure. But due to that the holes I drilled are small. I drilled three so far into the pot to compensate for their size, but I am worried that they will get blocked by the soil. Is there anyway I can enlarge the those holes that I already drilled as I cant get a masonry drill bit…
Thanks for asking. You might try finding a cone shaped grinding stone for a dremel tool. It would still chuck up in your drill.
I believe that I have had ones that were made for glass and ceramics. Most any cone shaped stone bit would be worth a try. I’ve even been known to take round files and chuck them up in a drill to enlarge holes in various materials.
Good luck and please tell us how it turns out for you.
Some clay is not vitrified (sealed or completely hardened) Therefore it will absorb some water when it is exposed. This becomes a problem when there is extreme heat (Think oven or dishwasher) or extreme cold (freezing outdoor weather) The water or moisture in the clay well expand and contract at a different rate than the glazed section and cause small crackles or crack and break. So if you are not baking your plants, or leaving them out over freezing weather you should be fine!!
This is so true. We haven’t had any crack from the heat, but there have been a few losses during the colder winters.
Thanks, Cathy, for this good information.
hi ive never done this b4,?&comment on a site!! ty 4 the great info on drilling the holes in ceramic pots!! my grandson,a bloomin gardener,&i went out&bought the drill bit,soooo excited to do it!!! How do i,or can i drill a hole in a terracotta pot please?! it is tall and i was using it as a spoon holder but i think would look good as a pot!! thank you for your time!! gayle
Yes, terracotta should be no problem. I hope you and your grandson have a great time. And thanks for commenting.
@ Dave,Trish and any one else who can answer this question for me. Hi everyone my name is Sally and I have 2 planters like The green planter you called “Two Dollar Planter for Bonsai or Cacti” but they are clear glass and what I wanted to know is can these also have holes drilled into them if so where can I find the right Drill Bit, what size should I use and what would be the average coast for this type of Drill Bit or should I just try another way. Any and all suggestions are welcome. Thanks in advance Sally
Thanks for writing.
Glass can be intimidating. But the same principles remain as with ceramic pots. Go slow, apply light even pressure and keep the bit wet. A 3/8 or 1/2 bit like the Hitachi that we used works fine. The key is the diamond tip. Plan on spending the better part of a twenty to get a good bit.
Have fun……….Good Luck!
Great post. We had a couple of cheap stainless pots that burned on the bottom any time we used them… now they are… you guessed it… pots.
One thing that also worked for me on touchy items like ceramic and glass: using a little hand-cranked drill. Not good for big holes, but little ones worked well without cracking.
The collection you have certainly looks a lot cooler than boring store-bought pots – and it’s certainly a lot cheaper to re-cycle cast offs and thrift store finds.
I love having stainless pots. We came into an old stainless teapot last year. It even came with an beat up spider plant inside. Almost dead from neglect, a little water and the spider grew back to full size, sending out pups to hang over the sides of the pot. You can’t buy that kind of coolness at the store.
To add to the collection to be drilled, last weekend, I found a plastic bin full of those large oversize coffee cups in all sorts of colors and designs. They were supposed to go out for our garage sale, (you know…clean out, don’t bring in) but I couldn’t do it. Then again, I can’t throw out plants either.
Thanks for sharing the tip about the hand drill……great safe idea!
AND……thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts.:)
Excellent info! I have often wondered how to drill a hole in some planter that would have been perfect if only it had drainage. I did not know you have to keep the drill bit cool with water. But it makes sense, because I do know one has to use a wet saw to keep things cool when cutting ceramic or porcelain tile.
The keys are patience and water. Patience to let the tools do their job. And water? Well, it can make for a sad short day if you burn up the bit before getting the 1st hole drilled. Thanks for the thumbs up!
What a cool collection of pots you’ve got. Thanks for the great how-to!
Thanks for the comment and the compliment. I noticed this weekend that we have already gathered enough to do another round of drilling. Colorful pots are so much nicer than using plain black nursery pots for everything.