Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Using Wall Anchors: How and Why

So I'm sure that at one point in time, all of you have gone to the hardware store to pick up a pack of screws, or bought a shelf to hang on the wall, and with it came a pack of screws & the same number of little plastic parts - like these:

Personal Photo
And I'm sure that some of you thought "What in the world are these plastic things?" - I know that I did the first time that I saw them. Well, those little plastic things are the magic that is the "Wall Anchor" and they have a very distinct purpose.  They help to ANCHOR whatever it is that you are hanging, to the wall.  Being the proud owner of a 90-year old house with extremely brittle, plaster walls, I have come to love these little devices & I'll tell you why. 

Say you want to hang a very heavy picture from your wall.  In a house built in the last 50 years, you would probably get out your stud finder, find the closest stud, hammer in a nail or drill in a screw & hang your picture.  However, using a stud finder in an old home is much more difficult.  Metal lath, differing thicknesses of plaster & unconventional stud spacing, will really confuse a stud finder - so most of the time, our stud finder is used only to hold up in front of Matt.  It makes him smile when it turns red and beeps :).

So, if you can't find a stud, or it just so happens, that where you want to hang this picture is in a spot where there is no stud, you can use a wall anchor!  We have used literally dozens of these all over our house & they have worked like a charm. 

When we moved into our house, I wanted to hang our brooms up in the hall outside of our kitchen - to get them out of the kitchen and off the floor.  The first thing I tried to do, was simply hammer a couple finishing nails into the wall to hang the very lightweight brooms from.  I picked one up, tapped it a few times, and it disappeared into the wall.  I moved over an inch and I tried it again, thinking I hit the head a little too hard.  Again, the nail disappeared into the wall.  So I got out a much larger nail, thinking that I would hit something easier with this, moved over another inch or so, and hammered it into the wall.  Well this is what that experiment looked like:

Personal Photo
Do you know what that is?  That is two small and one large hole where the nails literally went through all of the plaster.  If you look VERY closely at the big hole on the left, you can still see the head of the large nail sticking out from inside the plaster.  This is one of the things that can happen if you try to nail or screw into plaster, and even drywall without using an anchor.  Another thing that can happen, is that because the nail is not "attached" to anything, it will hang down with the weight of whatever is hanging from it, and could potentially make more damage to the wall, should the nail or screw pull out of the wall.
Well I have decided that what we will do, is to spackle over those holes, put in wall anchors & leave the screws sticking out from the wall.  We will use the screws to hold the brooms instead of these useless nails.

Wall anchors are very easy to install.  You want to drill a hole in the wall that is almost exactly the same diameter as the anchor.  This takes a little bit of practice to selecte the right size drill bit.  You don't want the hole to be too big, or else the anchor will have room to move, and it will defeat the purpose.  You want to have to tap the anchor into the hole, so that it is tight in the wall.  Always start the hole smaller than you think, you can always make it bigger, but you can't make it smaller!  Try pushing the anchor into the hole you have created.  If there is so much resistance that the plastic starts to splay, stop and make the hole just slightly bigger.  Once you can get the anchor about halfway into the wall, tap on the end with a hammer to get it the rest of the way into the wall.

Once you have the anchor in the hole, it is ready to be used.  You can now attach what you are hanging with the screw, just be sure to aim for that anchor!  The screw will grab onto the ends of the plastic that are inside the wall and will splay the plastic anchor out behind the wall, almost in a cross shape, along the back side of the plaster or drywall.  This is so that the anchor can use the leverage of the back of the wall, to hold up what you are hanging from it.

It's that easy & extremely helpful.  However if you are hanging something extremely heavy and/or breakable, you will want to take the time to locate the stud to attach it too.  These anchors are strong, but I would play it safe with any valuables.  I will have you know though, that they have been holding up an entire rack of clothes in our closet for three years now!

Have you used wall anchors?  How have they worked for you?

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