How to hang art on your walls

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Q: How do you hang a piece of art correctly so that it doesn’t fall apart? Not with the command strips, I guess?

A: Don’t automatically rule out 3M’s Command Strips, which are designed for easy, damage-free removal. They can be a good solution, but only if your work is relatively light. Command canvas hangers, ledges and hangers can hold approximately five to eight pounds, depending on the product.

Command Large Picture Hanging Strips hold up to 16 pounds when using four pairs; however, 3M states that the frame cannot exceed 24 by 36 inches and the wall cannot be bricked, covered with wallpaper or fabric, or textured. The company also warns not to use these hangers for valuable or irreplaceable items or for hanging artwork above a bed, which involves some chance of the pieces not staying in place.

If you don’t want to create holes in your walls, this risk may seem acceptable. Reduce the weight of your pieces by choosing lighter framing materials, such as hollow metal rather than thick wood or plexiglass rather than glass. The website usaoncanvas.com has a tool that asks for the dimensions and then calculates the weight of the structural components.

While it’s not essential to avoid making small holes in your walls, you have many other options, depending on the type of wall: a drywall or lath and plaster over wood studs or metal, or one made of concrete or masonry. You can never go wrong attaching artwork where there are studs, but it is also possible to hang heavy artwork where there are no studs if you use fasteners designed for the weight of the work and the frame.

Most homes built since 1950 have wood studs covered in drywall, which is basically gypsum powder compressed between two layers of paper. Paper gives the material most of its strength. To hang heavy artwork, you need a system that applies pressure to the paper and not just tries to grab the drywall.

The simplest style, which you can nail on, has a hook with a bracket that presses against the wall and a design that directs the nail at an angle, so it resists gravity pull-out. OOK hangers of this type support 10 or 30 pounds; you get six or eight in a pack, depending on the weight limit.

Similar OOK hangers rated for 50 or 100 pounds are the same price per pack but must be attached to dowels to achieve weight rating, as do many other hangers in this category. To locate studs covered in drywall, tap the wall to hear where a hollow sound turns into a thud or use a stud finder. Readings on lath and plaster can be misleading, so if that’s what you have, look for nails in baseboards, which should point to studs, or for electrical outlets, which usually have a stud next to them.

Once you locate one or two uprights, measure to find the others; they are usually spaced 16 or 24 inches center to center. To confirm the location of a stud, drill a small hole in the plaster just above the baseboard, where it won’t be very visible.

If the studs aren’t where you want to hang your artwork and they’re too heavy for angled nail hangers that don’t attach to the studs, one option is a hanger designed to lean against the drywall of front and back. Hillman, which owns OOK, makes such a postless picture hanger that can hold up to 200 pounds ($6.48 on Amazon). The hanger has a flat washer and tab that fits through a hole in the drywall and bends upward to apply pressure to the back.

To hang heavy artwork between posts, install an anchor in drywall or plaster and screw the bracket of your choice to the anchor. Self-tapping metal or plastic drywall anchors have large, relatively coarse threads on the outside, allowing them to grip reasonably well, even in crumbly drywall. Since the anchors are self-tapping, you usually don’t even need to pre-drill, although a ⅛-inch-diameter starter hole is helpful if you’re going through thick paint or wallpaper.

Screw the anchor into the wall until the face is flush with the wall, then screw a smaller screw (included in the package) through a hook to hold your art, and tighten this screw in the center of the wall. ‘anchor. The anchor will flare out behind the drywall, locking the anchor in place. One example, the EZ Ancor Twist-N-Lock Anchor ($1.98 for four to Home deposit), can hold illustrations up to 75 lbs. EZ Ancor Drywall Toggle Anchors ($2.98 for two to Home deposit) are also self-tapping but can hold up to 100 pounds, as the outer shell is metal and the pressing part on the back of the drywall is larger.

For particularly heavy loads or for fixing to lath and plaster walls, use real toggle bolts, which have a center bolt and wings that fold back to pass through a hole in the wall and swing open to press firmly against the back of the drywall or slats.

Installing toggle bolts can be frustrating though; if you don’t remove the head of the bolt so that the wings press against the back of the drywall when you tighten the bolt, the wings just spin behind the wall. The bolt head is hard to hold, so thread the bolt through a picture hook first, then remove the hook from the wall while you tighten the bolt.

For masonry, pre-drill holes and use anchors with plastic sleeves, which press against the brick or block and hold a central screw in place. Toggle bolts are another option for hollow concrete block walls; however, get bolts that are long enough to hold the fenders down until they are deep enough inside the block to open.

With any anchor or toggle bolt, you can double the capacity by installing two anchors and running the picture wire over both. EZ Ancor recommends spacing them two feet apart on drywall.

There are also attachments for special situations. Interlocking strips known as French cleats are ideal for hanging open-backed artwork without hanging hardware. You attach a piece to the wall and the mating piece to the frame, then lower the frame piece into a lip on the wall section. Metal cleats, such as the OOK French Cleat Picture Hanging Kit, come with coarse-thread screws that work in drywall. If you opt for wooden battens, use an appropriate type of anchor to secure the wall panel to your wall.

A problem at home? Send your questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live, and try to include a photo.

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