How do I install a shelf on poorly-installed drywall?
August 16, 2007 5:27 PM   Subscribe

How do I anchor a heavy-load shelf to a drywall/plaster wall? The trick: there are no studs and a brick wall is directly behind the ~1"-2" thick wall.

I have two angle brackets (like here) on which I'm suspending an ~4-foot shelf that will come out about 1 foot from the wall. I previously used plastic drywall anchors with big screws in them. The entire shelf fell out today (the anchors slipped out of the holes) and so I'd like something stronger. But what? The stronger metal drywall anchors depend on a gap behind the wall so they can "catch" the back of the wall. I've just got brick and no studs to provide something stronger to hold onto. Our house is from the 1920s and whomever did renovation did it terribly. I'm thinking I could add L-brackets on the top of the shelf to provide extra support, but I'd still like something stronger attaching the actual brackets to the wall.
posted by Braeog to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
can you get a drill and a masonry drill bit, and some 5 inch screws. if the screws go into the brick a couple of inches, that should do it.
posted by Flood at 5:35 PM on August 16, 2007

You're going to have to drill into the brick and use masonry anchors.
posted by beagle at 5:38 PM on August 16, 2007

Masonry anchors are the way to go. Use a ceramic bit and a conventional drill to drill the holes.

Avoid masonry nails and tapcons (the blue screws that go directly into concrete). They won't hold well in most bricks. Also, don't use a hammerdrill for the holes, it can damage the mortar.
posted by bonehead at 5:43 PM on August 16, 2007

A) Your wall is probably plaster, not drywall. Plaster can be applied right onto bricks, while drywall is more of something you nail onto framing. If it were actually drywall, you'd most likely have furring between the brick wall and the drywall and you could actually use a drywall anchor. But, I could be wrong and they might have glued drywall to your bricks. I've seen weirder stuff.
B) As others have said, masonry anchors, probably of the "expansion bolt" type are the way to go. There are also toggle bolt masonry anchors meant for concrete block walls, but you don't want those. You also don't want 2-part epoxy anchors.
posted by LionIndex at 5:49 PM on August 16, 2007

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority recommends securing heavy objects into concrete by using glue to secure a screw anchor. But it didn't turn out too well for them.
posted by teaperson at 6:27 PM on August 16, 2007

I've got actual drywall (not plaster) laid directly over brick in my apartment, and it doesn't have any "furring" or anything that can be used to hold screws :(

I wish i'd read beagle's link before i tried to use masonry anchors. maybe my bike rack wouldn't have fallen out of the wall. Ah well.
posted by dkg at 6:29 PM on August 16, 2007

A non toggle Sure Wall drywall anchor will hold 20 pounds in tension and 65lbs in shear. If that isn't enough, and because you aren't worried about needing a stud, a third or fourth bracket will reduce the load per bracket.
posted by Mitheral at 10:13 PM on August 16, 2007

Concrete anchors are an awesome excuse to use a hammer drill. I don't have nearly enough of those now that I don't live in a warehouse.

(this means I nth the concrete anchor suggestion)
posted by flaterik at 10:33 PM on August 16, 2007

The trouble with regular shelf brackets is that they make the shelf load appear as tension on the mounting screws, which pulls them out of the drywall. Anchors help but only so much.

With a longer vertical shelf track, you can turn the weight into mostly shear load, which won't pull the screws out. Just get a few pieces of shelf track from the home improvement store, and a few brackets on which to support your shelf. Make sure they're plumb and even with each other, and you should be all set.
posted by Myself at 4:28 AM on August 17, 2007

You DON'T want to use a hammer drill with brick! Most brick and mortar is brittle enough to crack with a hammer drill. You won't secure the anchor and you will damage your wall.
posted by bonehead at 6:31 AM on August 17, 2007

I, too, have had problems with screw-type anchors pulling out. I have conventional modern construction, interior walls with studs and drywall. In your case, I agree with everyone else and say that if you've got the brick back there, you might as well use it. Take care to select a fastener that can handle the exerted forces caused by having 1-2" exposed with a load on the end (that is, it's more vulnerable to snapping/breaking).

Question for people: are the toggle anchors much better at resisting pullout than the screw-type in drywall? 'Cause I'm personally having horrible results with the screw type.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:03 AM on August 17, 2007

RTT: I don't have much experience with it but generally I'd go with toggle-type for a heavier load, if I couldn't screw directly into a stud. Especially if the load is not completely static, like a picture. The problem with screw-in is that by its nature, the drywall plaster just crumbles, it doesn't grip a crew the way wood does. Then, if your load gets jostled (like a towel rack, bike rack, or the like), eventually all the loose plaster just comes out with the screw. With a toggle, it's intact drywall that's resisting the load, rather than crumbled, compressed drywall.
posted by beagle at 10:21 AM on August 17, 2007

For drywall, I really like the SureWall product Mitheral links to above. I've used it very sucessfully several times. They are much easier to install than toggle or butterfly systems and cheaper too.

Given than the original poster quite possibly has plaster rather than drywall, I don't think they'd be a good solution in their case, but for true drywall, the SureWalls work really well.
posted by bonehead at 10:38 AM on August 17, 2007

RTT: beagle and bonehead pretty much nail it (heh) as far as anchoring into the actual drywall, but things would work much better for you if you could actually just find a stud for your attachments.
posted by LionIndex at 11:18 AM on August 17, 2007

The wizardry of the sure wall anchor is it compresses the disturbed gyproc between the two paper layers. So you don't get the crumbly gyproc problem that beagle refers to.
posted by Mitheral at 5:22 PM on August 17, 2007

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