What Kind of Wall Anchor Should I Use?

Patent illustration for the Molly bolt.

Fine Woodworking has a phenomenal article by Mario Rodriguez that, next to the meaning of life, unlocks the second greatest philosophical conundrum of all time, “what kind of wall anchor should I use?” If, like us, you live in an old house with lath and plaster walls you’ve likely made a mess at one point or had something just plain fall of the wall. By all means, if you can, get thee some picture rail. But, if that’s not an option, take a look at Rodriguez’s article for all your wall anchor needs, whatever kind of wall you’re dealing with.

I’d like to highlight two of the suggested anchors in that Fine Woodworking article for those of us in the lath and plaster tribe. One I’ve already blogged about, is the pull toggle pictured above. It’s not perfect as sometimes the plastic snaps prematurely, but I’ve used this bit of hardware to hang heavy stuff successfully, such as flat screen TVs.

Though I haven’t tried this type of wall anchor I’m intrigued with another anchor that Rodriquez mentions, the Molly bolt. The patent goes back to the 1930s so there’s nothing new about this particular flavor of wall anchor. Rodriguez suggests that it will work in lath and plaster and there’s even a new tool to make installation easier if you’ve got a lot of them to put in.

And a tip on using either of these two hollow wall anchors: they won’t work if you hit a stud or fire block. If I’m not sure if there’s a piece of solid wood behind where I’m drilling, and in an old lath and plaster wall it’s often hard to tell, I drill a tiny pilot hole to see if I hit solid wood behind the lath. If I do I can just use a regular old screw. If the wall is hollow I can get a bigger drill bit and use either of the two wall anchors in this post. Remember to make sure you have the correct drill bit size for the wall anchor you’re using or you’ll have one of those multiple trips to the hardware store sort of day.

Rodriguez’s article reminds me of a pledge I’ve made to myself of trying to understand the design and use of the fastener I need before venturing into the most confusing and confounding aisle of the hardware store, that place where all the bolts, anchors, screws and nails are kept.

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  1. To avoid drilling into a wall stud, tap the wall lightly with your knuckle. Sweep your tapping to the left and right, and listen to the change in tone. Hollow areas will resonate more. Areas close to a stud will sound more deadened.

    Then follow up with a neodymium magnet on a string. Drag the magnet across the area and watch the magnet closely. You will see a distinctive shudder as the powerful magnet reacts to the presence of a metal fastener. Since the lath behind the plaster is most certainly attached to a stud with iron nails, you can zero on the exact location.

  2. Thank you for this great information. As a wander in the “most confusing and confounding aisle of the hardware store,” I need that.
    I will now nominate myself for the hardware dummy of the year award. Several years ago, I found a great vintage birdcage at a yard sale. I cleaned it up and decided to hang it from the ceiling in the front room. I went to the hardware store and bought some sort of wall anchor (I think the last type featured in your post). I drilled a small hole in the ceiling (drywall), installed the wall anchor, and hung the birdcage. I was quite pleased with my work, until the birdcage came crashing down, barely missing my head.
    Lesson learned: Wall anchor does not equal ceiling anchor. I should have realized that:( I got a helpful lecture from a more knowledgeable friend.

  3. The SnapToggles are the “real deal.” I have used the to install heavy-ish mirrors in bathrooms with odd ball stud spacing. The great thing is that the plastic portion keeps the anchor tight while fooling around with the screw depth.

    I have yet to hang a television as the examples on the packaging detail since most large screen televisions cross several studs anymore.

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