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Installing drywall fasteners

It doesn't take an earthquake to bring a gallery of family photos, a collection of heirloom dishes or a mirror crashing to the ground. Often damage to such objects results from the wrong type or improperly installed wall fasteners. Damage usually can be avoided by using the proper fastener.

The secret is the anchor. A molly bolt or hollow wall expansion anchor is just one of an assortment of fasteners that can be used when hanging heavy objects onto drywall where no stud or solid framing exists.

Choose the right anchor for the job. An anchor is rated according to the load it will be required to carry. The anchor for a 1-pound picture is significantly less complex than that required for a 50-pound antique mirror.

A picture hanger a metal J-hook with a small nail through the top of it is best suited for small, light objects like pictures and decorative wall hangings. The back face of the hook is placed flat against the face of the wall and the nail is driven down at an angle for added support. As with most hangers and anchors, picture hangers come in a variety of sizes to accommodate the object being hung.

Adhesive hangers are an inexpensive and simple choice for small, light objects. Unfortunately they may work loose over time, and can damage the paint and drywall when removed.

Heavy objects such as large pictures, mirrors, decorative shelves and towel bars, should be anchored with a more substantial fastener. Hollow wall expansion anchors, toggle bolts, plastic toggles, plastic and metal screw-in anchors, metal drive-in anchors and plastic or fiber expansion hangers are designed for residential use. Each of these will do the job if properly installed.

The hollow wall expansion anchor or "molly bolt" has been the favorite for do-it-yourselfers over the years. However, its popularity is waning due to the more modern, easy-to-install screw-in and drive-in anchors that cause less damage when removed.

Drive-in and screw-in anchors are reliable and simple to install. They can be removed with a minimum of damage. All that is needed is a bit of spackle and some touch-up paint.

The only tools needed for a drive-in anchor are a hammer and a screwdriver to attach the screw that holds the object. The same is true for the screw-in anchor. A light tapping starts the anchor's sharp point into the wallboard and a cordless screwdriver will "take her home."

Toggle bolts are much stronger than most of the other hangers and slightly more complicated to install. You'll need to drill a pilot hole that is a hair larger than the largest point of the spring-loaded wings. Compress the wings, insert the assembled bolt through the hole and tighten it down.

Plastic toggles, like metal ones, require a pilot hole. The plastic toggle has wings that open in the wall when a screw is inserted. Metal toggles tend to be stronger and result in less damage when removed.

One of our favorites is the plastic spread anchor or lag shield. This is a cylinder or cone-shaped piece of perforated plastic that works on the friction principle. Like most of the other anchors, plastic ones come in a variety of sizes to accommodate the load.

As with the toggle bolts, the plastic anchor requires a pilot hole in this case slightly smaller than the anchor. Tap the plastic sleeve snugly into the hole with a hammer. The appropriately sized screw inserted into the anchor will cause it to expand for a tight fit. The plastic anchors are simple to remove and can be easily patched.

Fiber anchors work similarly to plastic ones. They, too, are easy to install and repair.


James Carey and Morris Carey are nationally recognized experts on home building and renovation.

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