Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Installing the Right Picture Hanger

Putting up pictures, mirrors, art, and other wall hangings always goes well, right? You have never gotten frustrated with picture that mysteriously falls, or the plaster blows out, or you put a hole in so many times you can see the next room. Its not always as easy as banging a nail the wall.

Walls are made from many different materials that behave in different ways, so the hanger you use will not be the same. There is plaster and lath, drywall, brick, cement block, or the easy one, wood. You could get lost in the hanging choices, but having a little of each is a good option.

 Wall Molly

Wall molly choices are enough to make your head spin. While I tend to disparage the big box stores, I have to give Home Depot accolades about how to pick the right wall molly on their website. The right wall molly is important, especially if you are talking about heavy objects on masonry or drywall.

 Plaster and LathScreen Shot 2015-08-15 at 8.59.20 AM

Plaster and lath is like no other wall. The reason is the assembly is made from horizontal pieces of thin wood about ¼” apart, spanning from stud to stud. The wall finish is held by wet plaster slumping over lath but if you bounce it enough times it will break and come loose. When you hit a big nail into lath that is between the studs it will never grab, only ruin your plaster. You can use a screw, but if you do not hit the center of the wood lath it can split. I use a brand called Ooks picture hangers, which is a small diameter pin that does blow out the plaster. Try to position the Ook so it only grabs plaster, not the wood lath. The Ooks are designed for different weights by using multiple pins.


Drywall can be equally frustrating. Too big of a nail will blow out the paper and make grabbing impossible. Once this happens you can’t hold anything. Standard picture hangers with a nail can work when put in at the right angle, but too horizontal and it will fall out. This is another good use of the Ook. Wall mollies are great too.

Studs or wood

Finding a stud is your best bet for heavy items. A stud finder works great for drywall but is useless for plaster and lath. I have had some luck searching for nail “bumps” on baseboards and trim (the place where a nail hole was filled) using a flashlight on an angle or using a pen magnet. You can also drill multiple small holes horizontally until your feel resistance, but this only works if multiple holes don’t matter. Once you find the stud, you can use a nail, screw, or whatever kind of hanger without issue.

You can use multiple hangers spaced a few inches apart when you do not want a piece to go out of level. There are also ways to cross the wire back and forth to get a piece rigid.