How to Hang a Heavy Picture

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  • Transcript

    LESLIE: It’s not unusual to hit a wall, so to speak, somewhere between actually framing a picture and then putting it on the wall.

    TOM: That’s right. Hanging pictures can be daunting, especially if they’re heavy. But no matter what surface you’re drilling into, there’s a tried-and-true way to secure your wall hanging safely. Here to tell us more is This Old House general contractor Tom Silva.

    How to hang a pictureHey, Tom.

    TOM SILVA: Hi, guys. Nice to be here.

    TOM: Thanks for hanging around with us. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

    TOM SILVA: Oh, that’s a good one, Tom.

    TOM: There’s so many different types of walls out there, from exposed brick to traditional drywall to surfaces that are covered in tile. How does the material drive what you actually use to hang the picture?

    TOM SILVA: Well, the fastener, as you may think, is probably the most important part when you want to hang a picture. You don’t want that picture falling down. So you’ve got to think about whether it’s going to be a nail, whether it’s going to be a screw, a toggle, a moggle, a molly or whatever you want to call it.

    TOM: Right.

    TOM SILVA: It’s got to be able to hang the picture that you want.

    TOM: Now there’s always a difference between where you want the picture and where the picture ends up. (inaudible at 0:18:55)

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, that’s right.

    TOM: Any tricks of the trade for getting that picture aligned properly?

    TOM SILVA: Well, eyeballing it is pretty good if you have an eye for it.

    TOM: Right.

    TOM SILVA: But most people don’t. So, marking it with a level, positioning them on the wall with first having a couple people hold them, say, “Do I like them there? Is it too high, too low?” But you’ve got to get them right and then you’ve got to then figure out the distance from the cable or the hook to the pin that you want to put on the wall.

    TOM: Maybe even mark it off with painter’s tape or something like that.

    TOM SILVA: Painter’s tape is a great way to do it.

    TOM: Now, let’s talk about some of the fastening options. The easiest, of course, would be if you’re dealing with drywall unless the picture is very heavy, correct?

    TOM SILVA: Right. If you’re dealing with drywall, you can use a small brad, like a 1-inch brad, and just put in on a 40-, 45-degree angle and drop the picture on that. Now, if you need something heavier, they have the plastic inserts that you drill a hole and you drive it into the wall. And then you put your screw into that and leave it sticking out so your picture will hang on that.

    TOM: And that actually expands a little bit and holds it towards the wall?

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. As the screw goes in, it drives in. They also have a plastic or a metal one that you can screw into the wall. It actually screws into the drywall and then the screw goes into the – in center of that. And so that’s another way to …

    TOM: Have you seen this fastener called the Monkey Hook, where it pushes like a hook and it pushes the wall and it ends behind it and grabs it?

    TOM SILVA: It’s a fine wire.

    TOM: Yeah.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, yeah.

    TOM: Yeah. (inaudible at 0:26:08)

    TOM SILVA: It works pretty good. I tried it with a paper clip. It didn’t work.

    TOM: Now, what about plaster? You work on lots of old houses. Plaster is obviously very delicate, especially as the older it gets it starts to separate from the lath that’s behind it. How would you approach the project differently if it was a plaster wall?

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, the old horsehair-and-lath plaster.

    TOM: Yeah.

    TOM SILVA: It is brittle, you’re right.

    Well, sometimes, if you’re lucky and the picture is small enough, you can try – take a small drill bit and drill a hole where you think you want to put the hanger. And with a – if you can hit a lath, you may be able to use a small enough screw. But you want to pre-drill it, because you don’t want to split the lath.

    TOM: Because the lath is wood, so you’re actually grabbing a little piece of wood behind the plaster.

    TOM SILVA: Right. And the lath is a ¼- to 3/8-inch thick, so it’s strong enough for a picture, unless you’ve got a heavy picture.

    TOM: Yeah.

    TOM SILVA: And then you’ve got to think about a fastener that’s going to go through the wall and grab behind the lath. That would be some type of a …

    TOM: Mirror or something like that, maybe?

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. A heavy mirror, obviously.

    TOM: Yeah.

    TOM SILVA: They have expanding anchors and also hollow-wall anchors that are good for those, too.

    TOM: Sometimes, you absolutely, positively have to just find that stud, correct?

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. I mean if you’ve got a valuable picture or a big mirror with a wonderful frame on it, you want to make sure that sucker’s not coming down.

    TOM: Now what about masonry, if you happen to have the need to drill into brick or stone? How would you approach that?

    TOM SILVA: Well, masonry anchors, they have all kinds of masonry anchors that you could attach to. Let’s face it: we attach structure to masonry walls.

    TOM: Right.

    TOM SILVA: So they have them light-duty, small-duty. And you can go to your home center and pick out – you could spend an hour there just trying to find a fastener that will do it. But they’re all labeled for what they are good for: drywall, masonry. You don’t need anything too big.

    TOM: I’ve seen these masonry screws. They come, actually, with a drill bit included in the package so you know just what to use.

    TOM SILVA: Yep. Yeah, they’re great. They’re great.

    TOM: Let’s talk about really heavy objects. Molly bolts. They kind of combine the ease of the expansion of the plastic anchor with a lot more strength, correct?

    TOM SILVA: A molly bolt is like a spring-loaded system that when you drill a hole, you pop this – the molly bolt through the hole with the screw on it. Pop it in, the spring will open up inside the wall. You pull back on it and then you can tighten it right in. They also have one that’s on a plastic strip.

    TOM: Right.

    TOM SILVA: That’s a molly and it’s called a “snap tie.” If you drill the same hole, you pull it in, you pull back on the snap tie, then screw it in. They’re pretty quick. I like them.

    TOM: Well, clearly there’s a fastener for every project. You’ve got to pick the right one and we can do that now with your help. Thank you so much, Tom Silva, from TV’s This Old House.

    TOM SILVA: Always nice to be here.

    LESLIE: Alright. Catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit

    TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you on PBS by The Home Depot. More saving, more doing.

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