The secret to successfully hanging anything on a wall is knowing what’s beneath your paint, tiles or wallpaper.
How your wall is constructed affects how you drill into the wall, what wall fasteners you should choose, and how much weight they can hold.
This guide covers the various fastening systems and the drill bits you’ll need so you can feel confident hanging anything in your home.
Here are the main types of walls you may encounter in your home and what drill bits to use for each type.
Plasterboard is the typical substrate (underlying material) used in modern homes, but can also be found in older homes too. Plasterboard sheeting is hollow and fixed to timber or steel framing. This gives you a wall with timber or steel studs (uprights) that are generally 450mm apart centre-to-centre with voids in-between. Plasterboard walls have the lowest weight-bearing capacity unless you are fixing to the studs.
Use a regular drill bit to drill through plasterboard. Ensure it’s the right size for your anchor and no longer than necessary. Don’t push too hard or you may push into the wall and damage it or drill through the wall on the other side.
Masonry can include a double-brick wall where both the internal and external skins of the home are brick, concrete block construction or solid concrete. Masonry walls can carry the greatest load.
Masonry requires a suitable masonry bit and you will likely need to use your drill on the hammer setting. With most masonry wall anchors, drilling the correct-sized hole is essential otherwise the anchor will spin inside the hole and doesn’t grab securely.
There are other lining types such as the popular VJ panelling boards, which have a similar load capacity to plasterboard. You’ll likely encounter Villaboard in a bathroom or laundry. This water-resistant fibre cement sheeting is often tiled over and can carry a medium load.
For fibre cement sheeting, a masonry bit will work best as fibre cement will quickly blunt a regular drill bit.
Tiled areas are considered the most complex surface to hang anything from due to the care required in drilling and then installing the fasteners. Loads should be kept light and care must be taken when tightening anchors. Excess loads or uneven pressure can crack tiles.
You will need a suitable tile bit to get through the tile and then switch to a masonry bit of the same size to carefully get through the fibre cement sheeting. When drilling tile, run your drill slowly and keep the bit cutting area lubricated with water. Do not run your drill on the hammer setting.
Consider the weight of your load and its use when selecting wall anchors. Is it “static” like a hung picture or “active” like a toilet roll holder?
Here are some of the options you can use for different wall types and uses.
Nylon or metal screw-in anchors are the easiest and neatest to install. They have a pointy end with an oversized screw thread and a flat head which serves as both the point you apply a screwdriver and where you insert the final hanging screw or hook. There’s no pre-drilling required as you can tap the pointy end in to get it started and then simply screw all the way in until flush with the wall surface. These are ideal for picture hanging or for other items that won’t be disturbed much once hung or mounted.
Spring or butterfly toggles have a long screw and a set of pop-out wings attached to a nut. This arrangement is wound almost to the end of the screw, just a few millimetres short of coming off. The wings are folded back and inserted into the wall where they then pop out. As you wind in the screw, the wings will hold onto the back of the wall. They require a reasonably large hole to allow the wings to be pushed through and you’ll need to make sure to add a hook or thread the screws through brackets before screwing in. Once fitted, removing these anchors from the wall will cause the winged nut to fall down into the cavity. Toggles can be screwed in firmly, which makes their ideal use for situations where the hung or mounted item is being frequently pulled or bumped, such as a towel rail.
A gravity toggle is like a spring toggle except it only has one wing. Rather than being spring-loaded, the wing will drop down with gravity once you start winding the screw in. Use in similar situations to spring toggles.
Expanding metal or plastic toggles come in a variety of types. These toggles will flatten out or expand as the screw is tightened and will firmly grab the back of the wallboard. Most are only intended for light-duty fixing and are a good general-purpose option. Metal types can carry comparable loads to spring toggles. Some plastic toggles are suitable for both hollow walls and masonry.
Screw toggles have the same basic form as a metal screw anchor but are longer and have a special toggle wing that will pop out and sit flat across the back of the wallboard when the screw is wound in. They are the most versatile of the wall anchors and are suitable for any use. They have the highest load capacity for hollow walls.
The most secure type of wall anchor for hollow walls is one that is attached to the stud framing inside the wall. If you are hanging a wall mount for a TV, then it is essential that you screw to the stud frame.
Studs can usually be located by tapping with your knuckle along the wall surface – voids will sound hollow, while the stud will sound dull. A more reliable method is to use an electronic stud finder.
When attaching to a stud you can use any conventional type of screw with no additional anchors required, matching the screw size to the load. If your house is steel-framed make sure you use suitable metal screws. Remember too that you need to allow an extra 10mm in length for the plasterboard. If you were screwing directly into timber, a 30mm screw may be of adequate length but you lose 10mm of grab to the plasterboard. Select screws that are at least 10mm longer than would normally be required.
Wall plugs are an easy, cost-effective, reliable and robust way to hang all sorts of objects. Plugs are the traditional method of attaching to any masonry substrate. A hole is drilled in the wall, the plug is inserted and then a screw goes into the plug. These plugs are colour-coded by size. Use a 5mm masonry bit for white, 6mm for red, green is 7mm and blue is 8mm. The larger the plug, the larger the gauge of screw it can accommodate, and the larger the screw, the heavier the load.
Sleeve anchors are often known by the brand name DynaBolt. Available in a huge range of sizes and styles, sleeve anchors can support extremely heavy loads. They are a bolt and nut (some have screw heads or eye-hooks) with a flared end and split sleeve over the bolt shaft. As the nut is tightened, the flared end opens up the split sleeve and locks firmly in the hole. They can be conspicuous once fitted so they’re best used in locations where they can be concealed. Sleeve anchors can crack hollow-core bricks or even concrete when used close to the edge due to their expansion. In such situations where a heavy-carrying capacity is needed, use screw bolts or masonry screws instead.
Screw bolts and masonry screw wall anchors look like a combination between a chunky screw and a bolt and can support heavy loads. They are screwed in and cut a thread into the substrate. They can be safely used in a more diverse range of substrates and situations than sleeve anchors.
Universal anchors expand and grab when used in masonry and flare out like an expanding toggle when used in a hollow wall, bunching up behind the board. These versatile anchors can be useful in multi-layered substrates such as a tiled wall. The carrying capacity varies with the substrate.
When drilling into a wall, keep the following in mind:
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