hanging items on 1925 plaster & lathe walls

cr8onjayDecember 19, 2007

I just bought an old 2-story stucco home that was built in 1925. I'm at the point where I want to start hanging pictures, shelves, etc. I know that I'm working with plaster and lathe (stucco walls on the interior) and don't want to end up with a crumbling mess.

Do I need to use wall anchors? If so, which kind? How do I install them??

Please bear with me . . . I just bought my first power drill and I'm scared to death that I'm going to do more damage than good.

Thanks in advance!

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Well, I've had no problem hanging light weight artwork on old plaster walls using a nail through one of those nail picture hanging brackets. I did find that the 1920's stucco walls in one room are hard as concrete and I had a lot of trouble--nails just wouldn't go in! Thus I had to use a drill with a smaller bit to first carefully drill a hole, and then I was able to hammer a nail through the picture hanging bracket into the pre-drilled hole. We haven't put up heavier pictures or shelving yet, but I'm assuming you'd want to locate studs first and then proceed in some manner to hang from the studs. Hopefully someone will jump in who knows more about that.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2007 at 2:31PM
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I never use nails--all that pounding cracks plaster!

I use screws, usually drywall screws, to hang things on my walls.

Carla in Sac

    Bookmark   December 19, 2007 at 9:15PM
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Drywall screws for us, too. Never nails for the reason sautesmom mentions.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2007 at 10:29PM
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The point is well taken, and sounds like a good alternative. Nevertheless, I don't have to 'pound' to get a nail into plaster; I tap it and it's fine.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2007 at 1:31AM
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I swear by a brand of picture hangers called Ook. I get them at my local Ace Hardware. I bit different that the standard as the nails are all hardened blue steel which seems to penetrate the plaster better w/o having to pound. I only use them in the rooms without a picture rail.


    Bookmark   December 20, 2007 at 10:46AM
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Pre-drill the hole for the nail.
It ruins the drill bits pretty quickly, but a set of wire gauge (numbered bits) will have a size suitable for the nail.
You want just a little smaller.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2007 at 11:01PM
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I have the same wall const. Depends on what you're hanging.

I've hung huge elfa shelving with plaster anchors and 2" screws, and even lag bolts that go into the space behind the lathe. Plaster is incredibly strong; our utility room shelves probably have 500 pounds of stuff on them and they're suspended from 6 lag bolts.

For things like pot racks etc., i used smaller plaster anchors. If I'm lucky, I'll hit the lathe, too. I've never been able to accurately locate the studs.

For pictures and lighter things, I've had pretty good luck just tapping the hangers in. There's a special kind (perhaps the Oooks mentione above) that has coated nails with knurled heads to (in theory) avoid cracking.

Still, for anything over 10 lbs., I'd use an anchor. Oh, and for drill bits, you need a specialized plaster bit. It will dull ordinary bits in a minute. Pre-drilling is always a good idea. for the little hangers you could use a 5/64ths bit.

For deep holes that go through the plaster and lathing, you may need one type of bit to get through the plaster and another to get through the wood lathe.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2007 at 7:33PM
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I would never rely on just plaster to hold any significant load.
It has a rather nasty habit of suddenly cracking and letting things fall.
Molly bolts can help spread the load out for more moderate weights.
Very heavy items should be fastened into the stud using at least 3 inch screws (since there is around 3/4 to 1 inch of plaster before you even get to the stud).

Any carbide tipped masonry bit will go through plaster like butter and last a long time.
The problem is they are often difficult to find in sizes below about 1/8 inch.
A plain old steel twist bit (even the cruddy soft Chinese drill bits) will for a while before the edge is shot.
They are so cheap it is almost not worth buying the carbide unless you have a number of holes to drill.
Having a 1/4 inch masonry bit for molly bolts and plastic anchors might be worth the trouble.

I have used plain old common nails (8d works well) in a drilled hole (drill slightly downward) for many years for typical light weight pictures (anything up to about 10-15 pounds).
Heavier pictures get a pair of molly bolts (be sure to get some long enough for plaster), while mirrors get fasteners into the studs.
Mirrors and other heavy objects may require a ledger strip (1x2) fastened to the studs and then hanging fasteners into the wood if the studs are not aligned at the correct location.
Note that if you use two anchors for a heavy item that is also using wire the anchors do NOT have to be centered correctly behind the object.

1 Like    Bookmark   December 24, 2007 at 10:20AM
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My plaster and lathe are older than yours :) but I have been really lucky with just using small nails and tapping in lightly for lightweight items (includes most pictures/frames and some shelves) being hung. We have never had any luck to find a stud. For some reason, I don't think they were quite as precise on placing studs back in the 1800s! For items that have definitely needed a stud, we have either gone into the basement or the attic and looked up (or down) through the unfinished area to measure exactly where the studs are. Plastic anchors have been basically useless on our plaster. On really heavy items, we have used the toggle type anchors.

We do have a few walls that have been replaced with drywall and I actually prefer the plaster walls to hang things on! Drywall just feels so soft to me!!

    Bookmark   December 24, 2007 at 12:55PM
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I have used nails tapped lightly into my plaster walls - for light pictures and artwork. I haven't hung anything heavy like a mirror. I read somewhere to use masking tape prior to tapping the nail in. So I tear 2 pieces of masking tape about 1.5 inches in length and place them crossing one another to make an X, then tap the nail into the middle of the X. Next I carefully remove the tape from the wall. The tape keeps tiny bits of plaster from crumbling around the nail hole and the hole and surrounding area are indeed neat and clean.

Also - for all wall types - I saw this on one of the hgtv shows: to easily find the hook on the picture hook once on the wall, place a straw on the hook. Then take the picture wire and place it behind the straw until it reaches the hook and then remove the straw. Soooo much easier than trying to use your hand blindly behind the picture you are trying to hang to find the hook!

    Bookmark   December 26, 2007 at 1:13AM
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Our home was built in 1947 and has plaster board walls.
What is the best way to hang drapery rods?

    Bookmark   July 24, 2011 at 12:05PM
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For light pictures, I use carpet tacks--only bent one or two, and not destroyed my plaster or lath.

Aqmodra: attach the brackets to the window casings. There is going to be a stud behind the casing extending from floor to ceiling to frame the window...could screw into that above the casing.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2011 at 1:55PM
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What do you thnk "plaster board walls. "


It is a name for the trademarked 'Drywall' gypsum.

Do you have 2 coat plaster? It uses gypsum boards as the base.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2011 at 1:56PM
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I didn't know what plaster walls were when I bought my 1923 home ten years ago. I tried to hammer a nail into the wall for a picture, and it bounced and hit me in the face. I called my dad and said, "Dad, my walls are made of concrete." LOL

I use a tiny drill bit and then screws. If the spot is sandy or crumbly when I drill it, I use the plastic anchors with the screws. So far so good.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2013 at 3:56PM
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I second (or third) the Ooks recommendation. Besides the composition of the nails, they are very sharp, so they don't batter the plaster to get in, they cut through it. I have hung a heavy mirror with, I think, three of the 30-lb rated Ooks. Maybe overkill, but nine teeny weeny holes compared to a chunk of plaster ripped out when the one or two nails are pulled free seemed a good bargain to me! It's still there, 8 years later.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2013 at 8:27AM
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All plaster walls are not constructed the same way, so it helps to figure out exactly what you have. Plaster over wood lathe has a wood strips as backing, while plaster over rock lathe has an early version of gypsum board (drywall) as backing for the plaster. There are also houses that used wire mesh as backing for the plaster.

I have plaster over rock lathe and I've found that predrilling for anchors helps prevent cracks in the hard plaster final coat. If I don't predrill I will get cracks around the hole that go farther than I want.

I have also been installing new outlets and I always make the first cuts about 1/2" inside the final cut line just in case the plaster cracks around the cut. If you use any type of moly bolt or electrical old work box that has tabs or wings behind the wall, you need to adjust for the extra thickeness of plaster. Many of these fasteners assume a wall is no thicker than standard 5/8" drywall, while my plaster walls are up to about 1" thick.

If the wall breaks more than I need and I need to fix it, the dry plaster repair mix works fine. However, its short working time (not more than about 12 minutes, by the label) means you need to mix small quantities.

Working with plaster requires techniques you develop with experimentation, so just start somewhere that is not as visible and begin learning.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2013 at 8:16AM
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