Attach something to a wall
If a mate is a dead weight, the last thing you want is to give him an air of permanence. But if a mirror is a dead weight, you have to give it an air of permanence — or it’ll fall off the wall.
Methods of attaching objects to walls are directly related to the object’s weight and size and the amount of pressure it’ll be subject to.
Posters are light-weight paper and can be attached with re-usable mastic (see 'Glues and adhesives' ) or drawing pins, but anything slightly heavier, such as small pictures or mirrors, should be attached to a wall with a picture hook and tack/s, which help spread the load against the wall.
Tacks are set at an angle to the wall, and the length of the hooks provides extra strength.
Heavier objects, or objects that are likely to be subject to pressure or pulling, such as towel rails or toilet-roll holders, should be attached through the plasterboard or drywall into the timber framing behind the wall (see ‘Finding a wall stud’, below). If there is no solid timber behind the wall at the point where you want to attach the object, a suitable anchor should be used (see ‘How to install/remove wall anchors’ and 'Toggle anchors').
To attach something really heavy, which could cause damage if it fell off, for example shelves, cupboards, a heavily-framed mirror or a hand rail, which must support bodyweight — it is essential to connect it directly to the strongest parts of the wall with fasteners strong enough for the job. Bear in mind, too, that heavy objects can move in earthquakes.
Take the measurements and an assessment of the weight of the object with you and ask advice from your hardware merchant or a builder. Remember that the weight of the shelf or cupboard must also include the weight of the contents or objects in/on them!
Finding a wall stud
Finding a stud behind a plasterboard or drywall wall can be as tricky as finding a stud in a local bar.
A wall stud is part of the solid timber forming the house framing, onto which the wallboards are nailed, screwed and/or glued. Of course the studs are hidden under the plasterboard, so when you come to attach something to the wall there is no one fail-safe method of finding them other than buying yourself an electronic stud finder. This works by measuring the wall’s density, creating a beeping sound, or lighting up, when it comes against something more solid. It‘ll help you find the exact edges of the stud.
A much cheaper version is a magnetic stud finder, which indicates where nails are located. A wee knob in the centre of the device jerks in excitement when it passes above a nail. By moving the finder vertically up and down after one nail is located , you can determine whether or not there are other nails there also, which indicate the stud position. These finders work well in old houses, but they can send you right off the scent if they happen to locate some other metal fitting behind the wall. They are also of little use in some modern homes if the wall panels have been glued on.
Three less technical and less expensive methods of finding studs are wall-tapping; side-lighting (to expose key clues); and measurement. You could use all or a combination of these methods.
Because there is a cavity in the wall between the studs, when you tap along the wall with your knuckles, the side of your fist, or a hammer, you’ll probably hear differences in sound. As the tapping approaches a stud, the wall sounds less hollow, moving into a dull thud at the stud. As you pass the stud, the wall will sound hollow again.
By holding a torch or a bedside lamp (without its shade) at a sharp angle to the wall, dents, indentations or nail heads could show up. There might even be a shadow outline of a tape joining the plasterboard sheets (plasterboard sheets always join at a stud).
The light might also help you find indentations or nail heads under the paintwork on the skirting board (the wood trim that runs around the bottom of the wall). These should be nailed at the base of the studs.
Stud-spacing standards and measurements have changed regularly over the years, so it isn’t easy to find studs by measurement only. Older houses were framed up using Imperial measurement, usually with a distance of 14, 16 or 18 inches between the centres of the studs. Newer houses are built using 1200-mm-wide standard wall panels, so studs are usually spaced 600 mm or 400 mm apart, from centre to centre.
If you’re trying to locate studs by measurement, don’t start near doors or windows as measurements aren’t standard there. An electric plug is often a good indicator of stud position, as the plug socket is usually attached to one side of a stud.
When you think you have located a stud
Test by drilling a tiny hole in the wall near floor level where the hole won’t be seen. If you strike solid wood, move vertically up the wall to find the point on the stud where you want to attach your object.
Finding a ceiling joist
You’ve just finished constructing a dramatic piece of art and you want to hang it from the ceiling, so you need to find a ceiling joist for maximum strength. Use the same methods as you would to find a wall stud (above).
Standard ceiling joists are at 450 mm centres, but if the roof is held up by trusses, the joist centres will probably be 900 mm apart. If you’re lucky, you might be able to get into the roof cavity through a ceiling manhole to verify the measurements.
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