Indoor Maintenance

Getting the hang of it

Next time someone asks how they're hanging, tell 'em by an expanding plastic anchor. This is the first in a series of Frequently Asked Question (FAQs) that will run from time to time and deal with the questions Frentz and Sons field, and the answers, too.

Mike Frentz says the customer FAQ topping his list is how to hang something on a plaster wall. This is not a stupid question, particularly when dealing with plaster walls, the subject of today's FAQ.

Toggle Bolt
for dry wall and wet plaster

EZ Anchor & Phillips
Installation Bit - for dry wall only

Standard Plastic Anchor
for dry wall

Expand-it Anchor
for wet plaster only

Plastic Toggle Anchor
for wet plaster and dry wall

Molly Anchor
for dry wall and wet plaster
(the longer one is for wet plaster)

"That's the first thing I ask - wet plaster or dry wall," Mike says. "Wet plaster is a solid material that doesn't give and will take pressure from an anchor that expands inside the plaster itself."

He was comparing plaster to dry wall, which really can't use an anchor that expands inside the drywall itself. Dry wall can be a whole different story and will be covered in an upcoming article.

You can tell if you have plaster walls a couple different ways. First, by the age of your home. If it was built prior to around 1960, it probably has plaster walls. Even that breaks down into two categories: Homes built between 1900 and about 1935 have plaster walls on a wood lath - a series of horizontal boards put up that, taken by themselves, would look like Venetian blinds with spaces between each blind.

Homes built from about 1935 to 1960 have plaster over metal or hardbord lath. The second way to find out what sort of walls you have is to remove the access panel to the bathtub plumbing and just take a look -- you'll see the difference instantly.

Plaster walls work by applying wet plaster to either surface and forcing the plaster through the open spaces, so it honeycombs the wall and grips. "Otherwise it would be like spreading wet plaster on a plywood board. - it might last for 5 years before peeling off. With wood lath or metal lath it's on there," Mike says.

The secret to hanging something properly on a plaster wall rests with the type of anchor used.

Anchors come in many different varieties. The thing you want to do is take advantage of the strength of plaster, which Mike notes is similar in many ways to wet cement when it's going on, sink the anchor inside the wall itself. (With drywall, Mike says it's usually best to get an anchor that goes right through the wall and offers support from the other side by expanding to an open position.)

A toggle bolt is an anchor with a small set of metal wings. The wings fold, and are spring loaded. Which open when passed through the opening.

You insert the anchor into the wall, and once inside the wings expand and give the screw something to grip on to.

The Toggle Bolt is a good example of this. Another good example of a plaster wall anchor is called the Expand-It Anchor.

Basically, it's a plastic sleeve. After drilling a hole, you put the Expand-It Anchor into the wall, and turn the screw into the anchor. "The screw just makes it fatter - it stays right where you put it," Mike says.

Molly anchor - the shorter one is for dry wall, the longer for plaster walls. The Molly is basically a screw with a metal sleeve. When the screw is turned, the sleeve splits at the far end, forming wings to grip the wall.

Drilling the hole for any kind of anchor in a plaster wall requires a little special care. "If you're drilling in plaster with a carbide tipped drill and the drill bit hits the wood lath, it won't drill through it - instead, it will push the lath away from the plaster." Without the lath for support, the plaster just cracks away and falls leaving no support.

So this doesn't happen, drill part of the way through with a carbide bit, then switch to a high speed steel bit to continue through the wood lath.