Nailing into a plaster wall to attach shelf supports?

talley_sue_nycAugust 4, 2014

We're changing the shelves inside a closet and I'm dithering about how to attach things to the walls. Mostly because, the previous people just nailed stuff up (long nails). And it held!

So, if that will work, I'm thinking, why get out the drill, and the anchors, etc.?

Especially because one of the shelving solutions I want to put up is those bookcase-style ones w/ the horizontal slots (since there's an alcove that's shaped just like a bookcase, w/ two side walls). And the holes on that are little, so a #6 or #8 screw -just- fits through the hole, and I'd have to be precise in my drilling.

Composition of walls: about 1/2 inch of plaster spread over about 1-1/2 inches of concrete, spread over brick

In the alcove, there were cleats on side walls and along the back; these were just nailed in place. (One wall had to come down for some pipe work; it's now drywall on a framing--so anchors are called for there.)

Those cleats were just nailed in place.

Length of time previous cleats remained securely on the walls: 30 years or more

Amount of weight shelves bore: I don't know, but we crammed them full of toys, boxes of clothes, etc; they'd have cheerfully held books solidly, etc.

Elsewhere, against some walls in this large, long, skinny closet, the previous owners had installed ClosetMaid-type shelving by -nailing- wooden strips (sort of like furring strips) to the plaster walls, and then screwing the shelf brackets/supports into the wooden strip.

They set storage boxes up there (out-of-season clothes, etc.).

They took the shelves and shelf brackets out, but they left the wooden strips in case we wanted to use them. We didn't bother with them. But they weren't pulling away from the wall at all; we couldn't budget them easily; we had to remove them w/ a crowbar (It wasn't that hard, and the nails pulled out without leaving much in the way of damage).

So can *I* just nail those shelf supports in place? Or do I really need to use anchors?

(I'm afraid of not being able to get the anchors in exactly the right spot, bcs the holes are so small, they'll be a bit unforgiving.)

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"Composition of walls: about 1/2 inch of plaster spread over about 1-1/2 inches of concrete, spread over brick "

How does one nail into concrete?

Stop rationalizing. Use screw anchors. Carbide drill. May or not need a hammer drill.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 1:47PM
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Well, I don't know how one does it, but two different sets of owners *DID* it. Quite successfully.

Without drilling, apparently.

And without horrendous difficulty, bcs the nails we pulled out were straight.

And I don't know what the concrete is--it's crumblier than most of the concrete I've seen; the building was built in 1921.

(Given that other people *have* driven nails into the wall, that "stop rationalizing" is pretty snotty.)

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 2:31PM
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What type "nails" did they use? Were they fluted or cut masonry nails?

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 2:51PM
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Oddly enough, they were simply nails. W/ no special tip, or grooves, or anything. Some of the 30yo nails were finishing nails. Again--long, with the extra thickness that comes with some extra length. But nothing else unusual about them at all.

The ones that were newer were basic nails--all relatively thick, and 2 inches long.
The kind of nail I bought to fasten a couple of 2x4s together.
Long, thick, with an ordinary point and a flat head.

Isn't that weird? But it worked, that's what made me wonder if I could get away with it myself.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 3:52PM
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I cannot fathom how they entered into the concrete with blows from a normal hammer personally nor how they held.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 4:27PM
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Ok youins,simmer down and I'll tell you how it can be done. Geeezz,what make's people comment when they don't understand the first thing about the subject,then be rude to top it off?
One way is use a specialized air nailer ( not to be confused with the ever popular framing or finish nailers). For this one time use and to save a lot of money, I suggest a powder charged nailer which uses blank 22 cal ammunition. Both are available at any construction fastener dealer,powder charged is also available in two versions at Home Depot,Lowes and the like.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 10:26PM
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Oh I agree klem, powder activated shots and nails will hold fine I am just stumped as she stated they were ordinary nails, including some finish nails and for the life of me I can't understand how they went in and held in masonry.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 7:06AM
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Oh, I swear to you, they were just smooth-shank common nails. I don't think those people had a power nailer.

The building was built in 1921, so I don't know what sort of "cement" that is--the nails went into it.

I drilled holes for anchors in it at another spot, and I don't remember it being all that terribly hard. But I did use a masonry bit.

Once the nails went in, they held--they only had to hold vertically--it's not like they were being pried out; they were just being pushed down on.

And the nails pulled out well enough w/ the pry bar; it wasn't difficult to get them out, and they slid out well enough without damaging the wall around them by very much (if you tried to pry an anchored screw out, you'd rip the wall to pieces--which is why I always back the screw out and use a needlenose pliers to pull the anchor straight out).

So the nails held OK, but again, they didn't have to hold against an angled force; only against a straight-down force, and the plaster/cement was strong enough to support them.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 11:30AM
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If you can drive common nails, you have supplied inaccuate info, the wall is not cement.

So whatever the wall is why ask the question, only to argue with those who have done similar work, many times over.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 11:44AM
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Well, I don't know what else it would be--It's a different color, and sort of sandy when it's disturbed. I can post a pic of the holes that were left.

It was built in 1921, and I don't know that much about what was used for construction then. Some form of cement is the only thing I could come up with.

I didn't think it was "arguing" to state what had happened in my own closet. But I guess if you're determined to find fault with me, there's not much of a way to make you happy with my posts.

I have no idea how they got those nails in there. And I haven't tried hammering anything into those walls myself (DH will kill me--he's done plastering over the holes already).

Klem, do you really think a power nailer is worth the expense?
And any chance you could provide a link to the type of nailer you're talking about? That's a totally new category for me. I have no clue.
It would need to be able to drive a nail with a head.

And once I drove it in, would it be enough to hold the strips? Nails -did- do that once, but I'm so programmed to think "anchors w/ screws."

I've also been trying to figure out how I could be really accurate with drilling the holes for anchors.
I'm fine w/ drilling holes--I've done it tons of times. I am just worried that I'll end up w/ holes that are just a little bit off, which will be annoying and less secure. These strips have such a small hole for attaching; they're not very forgiving, the way the other things I've installed have been.
I find that my drill always "walks" a bit unless I have a good pilot "dimple," which is hard to get in plaster (and of course, a brad-point drill bit won't last long in plaster).

I suppose I could start with the first anchor, and attach the strip, then use a nail through the next hole to create a dimple to set the drill bit in (it works in wood; plaster's crumblier, though).
Then remove the strip and drill the anchor's hole, then reattach. Though, that's a lot of removing of screws from anchors. That'll weaken the attachment, I think.

Maybe if I just attach once, and then make all the other dimples at once, then remove and drill all of the remaining holes at once.

Any tips for getting anchors precisely positioned would be welcome.

(And I suppose it could be that I'm choosing a shelf standard that's not optimum for the job--but I really don't want to use angled brackets in this alcove; they eat up storage space.)

This post was edited by talley_sue_nyc on Tue, Aug 5, 14 at 12:59

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 12:54PM
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If I understand you correctly, you have two slotted strips on each side of the closet. Into these are clips that hold the shelf.

I think it would be very difficult to get all four level.

I think the easiest solution would be to use the slotted shelf supports that mount to the back wall.

There are also supports that 'hang' off of bar mounted to the back wall.

Both of these solutions are a lot easier to get level.

The Container Store sells Elfa. Home Depot sells similiar systems.

Here is a picture of the upright. Notice the notch in the back. You can buy a bar that mounts on the back wall (easy to get a bar level) and then hang the uprights off the bar.

The uprights have countersunk screw holes if you perfer to attach them to the wall without the 'easy hang bar'.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 1:48PM
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Yeah, I know about those. And I admit those would be easier to get level (and they'd be fewer holes, of course).

But I have some like that elsewhere, and I don't like them much. I especially wanted to avoid them for this space, because this will be deep storage, with boxes or plastic bins, and I was hoping to create little "cubbyholes" that the boxes/bins would just slide right into without a lot of wasted space.

For that kind, the triangular brackets take up vertical space (especially since the depth of that alcove is something like 18", and I need brackets that extend about 3/4 of the depth of the shelf). That'll make the back part of the triangle pretty tall. 3.25 inches, according to ClosetMaid. That would mean I'd lose about 2.75 inches for every shelf I have, since I won't be able to slide the box all the way back.
Considering that the alcove goes way up to the 9.5-foot ceiling, that's about 15 inches of lost storage space--that's a whole shelf. (Plus, I've found that I don't do well if I have short little gaps on top of boxes; we all end up sticking junk in there, and then it's a pain to get the box out. I avoid that like the plague.)

Maybe I'm too picky, or too greedy for every inch of storage, I don't know.

But I was hoping to use the kind with the much-less-obtrusive clips, since I do have the opposite sides that I could work with for them.

I've got a baseboard around the bottom of the alcove, so I'm going to see how level that is; and I was thinking I could just set the bottom of the standards right on that baseboard. (And of course, draw a vertical line using a level, so they're straight up and down.) Sure, that means the bottom-most slots are unusable, but who cares? At least the standards would all start on a level spot, horizontally. Or, level enough--given that it's a closet, and not on display, being off by 1/8 inch really won't kill anything, I don't think.) And the upper section, I can just set the top standard flush with the one below it.

I thought I'd try with the bookcase-style--if the first standard seems too hard, I can always ditch it and switch over to the style you suggest; I won't be out much (I'd probably use those standards some other time, in a bookcase). But I didn't want to give up before I even got started.
Lots of times, it's just a matter of thinking it out, planning carefully, and taking your time. I'm willing to put in a lot more work to get something that's more powerful of a solution for me. (Sometimes that's just because I like the challenge.)

I suppose the other way I could deal with this (my dad suggested) is to get a piece of plywood to line each side of the alcove with, and attach the standards to that w/ nails (and use anchors and construction adhesive to attach the plywood), but that seems sort of convoluted. Plus, it loses me 1.5 inches of space side-to-side on each shelf, LOL! (talk about greedy for every inch!)

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 2:59PM
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Here's how I would do it:

Lightly mark both sides with two vertical (use a level) lines - for the shelf brackets. On the right wall Install the back strip.

Insert a shelf clip. Install a shelf clip in the fornt bracket. Have someone hold the bracket, and put a level on the two shelf clips. Adjust the front until level. Mark the screw holes. Attach the front bracket.

On the left side, put a clip in the rear bracket, and level the two rear brackets - mark the screw holes.

Lastly, level the left front bracket with the rear.

Since it's a small space, you may need scraps of wood to lay across the clips - and use a torpedo level (about 10" - 12" long).

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 4:19PM
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I've got a 24" level (and the alcove is 22.25" wide); I may have to get one shorter (the next shorter one I have is about 8").

And, I may need a longer one, for the side standards, to get them straight up and down. That 24"-er might not be long enough to give me a really good idea of how straight the line is.
I wonder if I can rent a long one. I might be able to borrow a 12" or 18" level, but I don't know anyone who would own the long version.

Is there anything wrong with the idea of checking out the baseboard and pegging off of it?

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 4:52PM
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"Is there anything wrong with the idea of checking out the baseboard and pegging off of it?"

Fine if it's all level - which I highly doubt.

If you don't have all four 'clips' level' - that shelf is going to rock. Depends upon how much. You're probably not going to get it perfect, but you can get close enough to maybe use a note card or two to shim under one of the clips.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 5:25PM
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