Getting the hang of it

There's More to Drywall than Meets the Eye

“I was afraid you were going to ask me that,” said Mike Frentz, when the question came around to, exactly what is drywall? Mike and his brother John agreed that drywall is a sandwich with an exterior of two really thick paper boards, almost like mutant cardboard, holding in this … stuff … on the inside.

“It can flake right off in your hand,” John said of the interior fill. “But the outside is pretty durable.”

Drywall became popular due to its ease of use. Putting up plaster walls is a several-step procedure, plus it takes lots of drying time to complete. Drywall has the advantage of speed –– it can be easily cut, put up and seamed (applying joint compound where two pieces of drywall meet, to help the result look seamless when painted) in less than half the time of plaster.

Explaining the difference between the two helps customers understand why hanging something on a wall made of plaster is different than drywall. The first thing to do is dispel a myth –– that drywall isn’t sturdy.

Mike says customers usually overlook normal picture hooks when they’re looking for something to use to hang a picture or shelf– “they always think they need this miracle hanger.”

But Mike took two Elite (a brand he favors) picture hooks that were rated to hold 75 pounds each, pounded them into the wall of an addition on his home made of drywall, stretched some picture wire between them, and then stood on them.

He weighs 150 pounds. Everything held just fine.

“The key with all of them is that the nail goes in at an angle, and that’s what gives it its strength.” The simplest type is a picture hook with a nail. Then there’s a product called E-Z Hangers, which features a nail with a washer permanently affixed to it for added strength. “Those are good for things like plaques,” Mike says.

The Elite, Mike’s favorite, is made of a heavier metal with a solid steel hardened pin, rather than a nail, which has an extremely sharp point. “These are so sharp you can actually push them right into drywall. I have. And when it’s time to take it out, if you’re moving or painting, I’ve pulled it out with my fingertips. You don’t even need a hammer,” Mike added.

Frentz and Sons also sells mounting tape, such as the type made by 3M, but it’s made to hang light things. “The picture hangers we were talking about can carry anywhere from 5 to 75 pounds each. The tape is alright, but I wouldn’t put more than 2 pounds of weight on it.”

Hanging something on drywall that weighs more than 75 pounds effectively moves you out of the picture hanger category and gives you two options: Use something like a Molly Anchor or a toggle and a Molly Hook (pictured at right), or find the stud behind the wall and use that as your anchor.

This Molly Anchor/Hook combination is made to drive through the wall, where the spanners will expand as you tighten down the screw. Then, rather than placing the weight of the object on the screw, you place it on the hanger, which gives extra support.

“But the ultimate way to do it is just to find the stud” and drive into that, Mike says. Years ago, the tool used for this featured a free-floating magnet. You moved the tool along the wall and when you dragged it over a nail, the magnet indicated the nail’s location thus the stud. But that was just the trouble – the nails were in a stud, all right, but not necessarily in the center of it.

Today’s stud sensor is a sonar device. Frentz and Sons carries two versions. The first uses sonar to measure the depth of the wall. “As you move it along the wall and it comes across something with greater depth, you know you’ve hit a stud,” Mike says. The thing to do then is find both edges of the stud; from there, it’s easy to ascertain where the center of the stud is, which is where you want to drive the screw into.

The second type is a much more versatile model called a Videoscanner that detects not only studs, but reinforcing rods, joists, pipes and conduit that could carry electrical wiring.

“This is more expensive, but it’s good to know where these things are, too,” Mike adds.