What's the best way to temporarily hang shelves in plaster?
July 15, 2010 11:46 AM   Subscribe

Can I install kitchen shelves on a plaster wall that won't cause damage and can be removed when I move out?

My boyfriend and I are moving in together. We found a great rental apartment with a huge kitchen, but limited storage. I've wanted to install floating shelves above the stove and countertops for easy access to spices, oils, and other cooking gear, but I didn't realize before we moved in that the wall in question is plaster.

The house is brick, was made in the 1920s, and the wall is an exterior wall. I don't know if the wall is lath and plaster or not, only that on the first attempt to put in a screw there was nothing but dust and no grip. The walls sound hollow. internet research is giving me spotty results -- is all "plaster" nowadays really "drywall"? Are we only screwed if it's lath and plaster? Drywall anchors seem to be the best bet -- but we may need heavy duty ones and I can't carve out a huge hole in the wall as the shelves have to be temporary since we're renting.

Oh, and the kitchen has a drop ceiling, so we can't suspend anything from that!

So -- IS there a way I can install much-needed storage on plaster walls without making them permanent?
posted by breccia to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ladder shelves are strong, and don't need to be installed, you just take them with you.
posted by mmf at 11:59 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's lots of options, but all of them require screwing something into the wall. Are you asking for a solution that doesn't require this?
posted by electroboy at 11:59 AM on July 15, 2010

Ladder shelves.
posted by dfriedman at 12:01 PM on July 15, 2010

Also, if it's an exterior wall, they may have plastered directly over the brick, in which case you'd need something like this. You could still spackle and paint over the holes after you remove them.
posted by electroboy at 12:03 PM on July 15, 2010

I don't mind screwing, but I want to avoid the serious drywall anchors, like molly bolts, that expand inside and are essentially permanent once installed.

I'm just not sure that a tiny plastic expansion anchor can hold up a 3' long shelf and everything it's holding up.
posted by breccia at 12:04 PM on July 15, 2010

If the wall is hollow, toggle bolts aren't going to do any more damage, or be any more permanent, then any other kind of screw. Once your done with them they can just be pushed in and dropped into the wall for the archeologists to find, and the hole patched; they may be better because the hole is smaller. However, I don't think they would work well on plaster and lath, I've never dared try.

If free standing shelves and ladder shelves aren't practical, you might look for shelves hung from the ceiling.
posted by Some1 at 12:18 PM on July 15, 2010

posted by luvcraft at 12:20 PM on July 15, 2010

You can get drywall mounts that look like short, white wine cork-sized screws.

The bigger mounts support a fair amount of weight and can be unscrewed afterwards and filled in with drywall spackle.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:21 PM on July 15, 2010

oops, posted before I finished my thought. I recommend you do the bamboo skewer thing, and then you can just patch the (small) holes with painter's putty when you move out.
posted by luvcraft at 12:23 PM on July 15, 2010

I don't see why you would object to one kind of anchor and not another -- they're all about equal when it comes time to move out: unscrew bolt, push in/let drop remaining part, spackle and sand hole, collect deposit.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:56 PM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've used the huge drywall anchors in several apartments and just spackle the holes before I move out (usually requires 2-3 coats). As long as you're making a small hole, you might as well be making a 1/4" hole for the anchor. Either way you'll have to spackle before you leave.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:49 PM on July 15, 2010

Toggle bolts work fine on plaster-and-lath, or at least they did for me. You have to be careful with the drilling, though, to be sure you drill through both plaster and lath instead of drilling through the plaster and then pushing the lath away from the back. Take it slow with a sharp bit, and/or start with a small bit and work up to the full size.

You're right that the plastic expansion anchor is not up to the task [or at least I wouldn't trust it to be, either].

There is a fixed ceiling above the drop ceiling, so you could go through the drop ceiling and suspend the shelves from the real ceiling.

Or, use some brackets to spread the load out a bit so it's not just one row of anchors taking the strain.
posted by chazlarson at 6:49 PM on July 15, 2010

Putting a piece of tape over the area to be drilled helps prevent cracking in plaster.
posted by electroboy at 7:37 PM on July 15, 2010

Unless the wall was done after around 1945 it's most likely going to be plaster on lathe.

When putting up shelves it's better to secure them to the wall studs, regardless of whether it's drywall board or plaster. That way you're not putting so much pulling stress onto the wall surface itself. A stud finder tool works well for this, but you'll want a better quality one for old plaster walls.

For old plaster walls your best bet is usually toggle bolts; the ones with the spring loaded butterfly-like clips. Those require a slightly larger hole for inserting the clip but when you're done you just pull the screw and refill the hole. Molly bolts (the kind that expand) are much more difficult to remove later. The plastic expansion inserts are usually a total waste of time, just skip them entirely. The large thread screw anchors will be useless on a plaster wall.

Finally, if there's no space behind the plaster and the outside wall then you'll have to consider using masonry screws, with pre-drilled holes.
posted by wkearney99 at 9:28 PM on July 15, 2010

I know it's not the proper way to do it, but I've hung many shelves on old plaster walls just using coarse-threaded drywall screws and making sure to hit a stud somewhere along the line. And pilot holes are your friend.
posted by thejanna at 5:34 AM on July 16, 2010

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