How to Fasten a Picture Frame (or Almost Anything Else) to a Wall
When you go to hang something on your wall, you’re worrying about two things; (1) minimizing the number and size of holes in your wall, and (2) being sure whatever you’re hanging doesn’t fall off the wall some day.
What makes it complicated is determining what type of fastener to use, and trying figure out if you really need to find a stud for your fastener or not. So let’s uncomplicate it.
For the most part, you don’t need to find a stud unless you’re hanging something over 50 lbs. (and in some cases things that people are going to be pulling on such as a handrail or grab bar.)
Oops. Missed the Stud
To find a stud, everyone tells you to tap the wall listening for the sound of a stud or to buy a stud finder. These methods work for many people some of the time. That leaves a lot of times you’ve just driven a nail into the wall expecting to find a stud and didn’t.
When that happens, the first thing to get over is your guilt about making little holes in the wall. They fill in easily with spackling, and most are going to be hidden behind what you’re hanging anyway.
With that in mind, you can find your reclusive stud by moving three-quarters of an inch to one side and driving the nail again. If you don’t hit it, alternate sides and continue driving the nail at three-quarter inch intervals until you hit the stud.
To be sure you haven’t pinpointed the edge of the stud instead of the center, drive one more hole three-quarters of an inch further over. If you don’t hit anything, the previous hole is probably centered on the stud. If you do hit the stud again on the second hole, mark the center of the stud between the two holes.
When you’re fastening into studs, favor screws over nails. Screws can be easily removed when needed whereas removing nails from studs later may cause additional wall damage.
Now, when hanging something 50 lbs or lighter, your fastener choice is determined primarily by the item’s weight.
Take for example a small photograph or painting 12 inches by 12 inches or smaller. This often weighs just a few pounds. You can usually get away with a small nail or screw fastened into the wall at a downward angle, as long as it’s not wobbly after you set it. You can also use a picture hanger, which simply adds a strip of metal bent into a hook-shape held by a similar nail.
For those lightweight items, don’t go overboard using plastic wall anchors. You’re just needlessly making larger holes to patch later. Though patching is easy, patches over larger anchor holes tend to be more obvious after painting than patches over smaller nail or screw holes.
Bigger Frames or Heavier Items
If what you’re hanging is 5 to 25 lbs, plastic hollow wall anchors are usually fine. One type requires you to drill a slightly smaller hole in the wall to hammer the anchor into, and one type actually screws itself into ordinary drywall.
If you use the anchor type that requires you to pre-drill a hole, don’t make the hole too large or you’re going to be hanging your picture an inch off in a different direction because the anchor fell out of its hole. The self-drilling type is generally stronger and more fail-safe in installation.
Hint: Once in a while, you’re going to hit a stud where you intended to put your hollow wall anchor. When that happens, forget the anchor and just fasten a screw directly into the stud.
Even Bigger or Heavier
Between 25 and 50 pounds, you should be looking at rated fasteners that advertise how much weight they can hold. Large, self-drilling plastic anchors and some picture-hanging systems are up to the task.
As for the “butterfly” type hollow wall anchors that have a clip that springs open after it’s pushed into the wall, use these if you’re comfortable with them. They require large holes and some care in installation. As an alternative, the self-drilling plastic anchors can usually match them in holding power and are a lot easier and faster to install.
Whether your walls are drywall or plaster will make a small difference in your fastener selection if you’re not anchoring directly into a stud. Plaster walls are often up to an inch thick because they have a thin gypsum board or wood lath backing, while drywall is only one-half to five-eighths inch thick. Though you might get away with a one-inch screw into a stud behind drywall, that short of a screw will never reach the stud through a plaster wall.
Sometimes you might drive a screw into the wood lath plaster backing and think it’s a stud. If you really need to find a stud, don’t be fooled. But a screw fastened to the wood lath usually has better holding power than a screw supported only by plaster or drywall.
Sometimes old plaster is dry and brittle and crumbles when you try to use nails, screws, or plastic anchors. This is when the “butterfly” type hollow wall anchors are best.
Get Over Making Holes
If making extra holes really freaks you (or someone else in your household) out, take a hammer, nail and a little spackling into your closet. Drive a couple of holes where no one will see them, then touch them up with the spackling. If you have light colored walls, you’ll be amazed by how effectively they disappear.
If you have darker accent colors, be prepared to dab a little touch up paint over your spackling. If you use a fine art brush and just hit the spackling with it, it will be barely noticeable and you won’t end up repainting the entire wall.
And that’s what you were really worrying about all along, wasn’t it?