The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How to hang artwork so it doesn’t come crashing down

(iStock)
Comment

Q: How do I properly hang artwork so it doesn’t come crashing down? Not with Command strips, I assume?

A: Don’t automatically rule out 3M’s Command strips, which are designed for easy, damage-free removal. They can be a good solution, but only if your artwork is relatively lightweight. The Command picture hangers, picture ledges and canvas picture hangers can hold about five to eight pounds, depending on the product.

Large Command picture-hanging strips support up to 16 pounds if you use four pairs of them; however, 3M says the frame cannot exceed 24 by 36 inches, and the wall cannot be brick, covered with wallpaper or fabric, or textured. The company also warns not to use these hangers for valuable or irreplaceable items or to hang artwork over a bed, which implies some chance the pieces won’t stay up.

If you don’t want to create holes in your walls, that risk might seem acceptably low. Keep the weight of your pieces down by choosing lighter framing materials, such as hollow metal rather than thick wood or plexiglass rather than glass. The website usaoncanvas.com has a tool that asks for dimensions, then calculates the weight of framing components.

If it’s not critical to avoid making small holes in your walls, you have many other options, depending on the kind of wall: one that’s made of drywall or lath and plaster over wood or metal studs, or one that’s made of concrete or masonry. You can never go wrong by fastening artwork where studs are underneath.

The simplest picture hangers, such as the conventional picture hooks made by OOK, just nail on. (Pre-drill if you have lath-and-plaster walls.) These hangers have a hook with a backing that presses against the wall and a design that directs the nail at an angle, so it resists being pulled out by gravity. They come with ratings to carry 10 to 100 pounds and start at about $1 at Home Depot for a package of as many as eight, depending on the weight rating.

Keep in mind that ratings for these and many other hangers are measured when the nail goes into a stud. The hangers will hold less in drywall alone, but how much less is left for you to guess.

To locate studs covered by drywall, tap on the wall to hear where a hollow sound changes to a thud, or use a stud finder. Readings on lath and plaster can be misleading, though, so if that’s what you have, look for nails in baseboards, which should point to studs, or for electrical outlets, which usually have a stud alongside.

Once you locate one or two studs, measure to find the others; they are typically spaced 16 or 24 inches from centerline to centerline. To confirm a stud location, drill a tiny hole into plaster just above the baseboard, where it won’t be very noticeable.

If studs aren’t where you want to hang your artwork, one option is a hanger designed to press against the drywall from the front and the back. Hillman, which owns OOK, makes a no-stud picture hanger of this type that’s rated to hold up to 200 pounds ($6.48 on Amazon). The hanger has a flat washer and a tab that fits through a hole in the drywall and bends upward to apply pressure on the back.

Another option is 3M’s claw drywall picture hanger, which comes in designs rated to carry 15, 25 or 45 pounds ($4.18 to $5.37 at Home Depot). The “claws” are prongs designed for pressing into drywall with hand pressure alone, no stud required.

To hang heavy art between studs, install an anchor in drywall or plaster and screw your choice of picture hanger to the anchor. Self-tapping drywall anchors made of metal or plastic have big, relatively coarse threads on the outside, which allows them to grip reasonably well, even in crumbly gypsum. Because the anchors are self-tapping, you usually don’t even need to pre-drill, although a ⅛-inch-diameter starter hole helps if you’re going through thick paint or wallpaper.

Screw the anchor into the wall until the face is flush with the wall, then thread a smaller screw (included in the package) through a hook to hold your art, and tighten that screw into the center of the anchor. The anchor will flare out behind the drywall, locking the anchor in place. One example, the E-Z Ancor Twist-N-Lock anchor ($1.98 for four at Home Depot), holds artwork up to 75 pounds. E-Z Ancor drywall toggle anchors ($2.98 for two at Home Depot) are also self-tapping but can carry up to 100 pounds, because the outer shell is metal and the part that puts pressure on the back of the drywall is bigger.

For especially heavy loads, or for fastening onto lath-and-plaster walls, use true toggle bolts, which have a center bolt and wings that fold down to get through a hole in the wall and that open to press tightly against the back of the drywall or lath.

Installing toggle bolts can be frustrating, though; if you don’t pull out the bolt head so the wings press against the back of the drywall as you tighten the bolt, the wings just spin behind the wall. The bolt head is hard to hold on to, so thread the bolt through a picture hook first, then pull the hook out from the wall while you tighten the bolt.

For masonry, pre-drill holes and use anchors that have plastic sleeves, which press against the brick or block and hold a center screw in place. Toggle bolts are another option for walls made of hollow concrete blocks; however, get bolts that are long enough to hold the folded wings until they are deep enough inside the block to spring open.

With any anchor or toggle bolt, you can double the capacity by installing two anchors and running the picture wire over both of them. E-Z Ancor recommends spacing them two feet apart on drywall.

There are also fasteners for specialty situations. Interlocking strips known as French cleats are ideal for hanging artwork that has an open back, without hanging hardware. You attach one piece to the wall and the mating piece to the frame, then lower the frame piece into a lip on the wall section. Metal cleats, such as the OOK French cleat picture-hanging kit ($11.68 at Home Depot), come with coarse-thread screws that work in drywall. If you opt for wooden cleats, use an appropriate type of anchor to fasten the wall section to your wall.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

Loading...