How do I use picture rails?
May 9, 2008 11:39 PM   Subscribe

Please explain to me step by step how exactly to hang art using picture rails.

I'm not allowed *any* holes in the walls of my apartment. I didn't think this would be a problem since I have picture rails throughout. However, I can't seem to keep anything hung, and I'm stumped as to what I'm doing wrong. All directions I have managed to find so far are simply "Hang molding hook from picture rail. Use wire or decorative cord to hang the picture from the hook." Why then, are my pictures and mirrors crashing to the floor?

I'm using brass molding hooks like these recommended by the landlord, who owns the building. I can't just use nails and patch them when I move because if the landlord were to come in the apartment he would have a fit.

Can anyone give me detailed, step-by-step instructions or point me to a website that does? All I've been able to find on google are instructions on how to install the railing (which I don't need: it's already there) and places trying to sell me the hooks themselves.

Any other suggestions on how I can hang art without making any holes are welcome. I already tried 3M sticky hooks, which also resulted in mirrors crashing to the floor.
posted by Violet Hour to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
What's causing them to fall? Is the hook bending? The cord breaking? The frame failing?
posted by tomble at 11:46 PM on May 9, 2008

I don't know why your stuff's falling off the walls, because it sure sounds like you're doing it right. Most pictures/etc. in my house are hung from the molding... you hang the brass hook on the picture rail, and hang the frame's wires on the hook. Obviously you need longer wire than if you you were hanging it from a nail behind the frame. Are your hooks bending? Is your wire breaking from the weight? Are the eye-screws pulling out of the wood of your frames? Is there any evidence for the source of failure? Do you live on a Native American burial ground?
posted by mumkin at 11:50 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't know about a Native American burial ground, but the whole thing--picture, decorative cord, and molding hook--comes crashing down all in one piece. Not immediately, necessarily, but a few minutes after I hang it. The hooks don't look like they're bent, and the screws definitely aren't coming out of the frames and the cord isn't breaking. Is there some way I'm supposed to secure the molding hooks to the picture rail? I thought the whole point was that they just hook on.
posted by Violet Hour at 11:58 PM on May 9, 2008

Hmm, odd. They should just hook right on and stay forever. Is it possible the hooks don't fit the molding properly? Could you put some cushions on the floor, hang a heavy item above them and then observe?

The picture should hang in such a way that it is pulling pretty much straight down on the hook rather than out.
posted by tomble at 12:16 AM on May 10, 2008

Are we all on the same page here? Is the "picture rail" a rather flat mini-shelf that pictures might set on? The molding that will hang onto picture hooks is shaped just like them. In old houses is it usually up by the ceiling.
posted by Cranberry at 12:20 AM on May 10, 2008

Best answer: Here's a picture of how it should sit. The contour of the moulding matches the shape of the hook. If the shapes don't line up you may need to find different hooks.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:36 AM on May 10, 2008

Yeah something is not making sense here. "Picture rail" should have a beveled top to it, so the hook that goes over it really goes over the top of it and stays. The hooks shouldn't be able to just slide off.

If the "picture rail" has a flat top edge, it's not really picture rail; it's just crown/edge molding that someone's tacked up approximately where picture rail should be. It's basically useless if that's the case, at least for your purpose.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:53 AM on May 10, 2008

If it's got a flat top edge it's still a picture rail, kadin2048, you just need different hooks - ones with spikey points!
posted by dance at 1:27 AM on May 10, 2008

Just to check, do you have the wire attached to each side of the frame? I've never been able to use these by hooking them to a wire that has already been stretched across the frame. I've needed to use one wire from the ceiling and two hooks on the frames.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:48 AM on May 10, 2008

I have this same problem with our picture rails, although we are allowed to make holes in the wall. The hooks simply don't match the rail. What are the spikey point hooks you are talking about, Dance?
posted by chelseagirl at 9:44 AM on May 10, 2008

Picture molding is very old school, but made sense in an era before cordless drills and plaster walls...

That said, I've been in one or two apartments which had these and in each case the rails were caked with multiple layers of paint. The layers of paint deform the profile of the molding - it wouldn't surprise me if your hooks were not getting a good foot hold behind the lip of the molding.

If this actually what is happen in your case, I'd try to secure the hooks behind the rail. Potentially you could drill a hole in each hook and then drill a screw behind the rail into the wall or rail. Your land lord wouldn't be any wiser (unless he climbed up on the ladder and looked for himself) but care must be taken not to split the molding.

Personally I'd complain to the landlord. Not allowing a tenet to hang picutres using modern hangers is ridiculous. Home improvement stores carry excellent hook systems specifically for plaster walls which won't crack the plaster and only leave tiny holes. You should buy a few and show them to the landlord.

Further, I seriously doubt it's in your lease, so unless you agreed to this before you signed, I'd say fuck it. Guy is way to anal to be a landlord.
posted by wfrgms at 10:30 AM on May 10, 2008

wfrgms' Home Depot link is broken for me, so I don't know what he means by "modern hangers," but whenever I hang things without using the picture rail, OOK hangers have never failed to satisfy. They really are awesome. It appears that their online catalog is having a bit of an off-day, but you probably want to look for them in your local, independently-owned hardware store anyway.
posted by mumkin at 11:01 AM on May 10, 2008

Best answer: I never had very good luck with the type of hook that your landlord recommended. When I used those hooks, I had to use 2 or 3 per picture I was hanging in order to carry the weight.

I had better luck with some of these, especially the ones like these. I still had to use more than one for larger pictures and I used a 60lb fishing line to attach the hooks to the pictures. If the picture rail has been painted many times, you might want to take a corkscrew or awl and gouge out the layered paint that has accumulated behind the contour of the molding. That should help.
posted by jeanmari at 12:08 PM on May 10, 2008

Here are some photos of picture rails in action.

Tiny Oak Park Bungalow

Bungalow Chronicles
posted by jeanmari at 12:15 PM on May 10, 2008

If it's the kind of picture rail with a flat top, the problem could be that years of painting have caused paint to accumulate up there, making it slope out slightly, shallower, and harder for hooks to bite. Not sure what the solution to that would be ...
posted by intermod at 12:43 PM on May 10, 2008

Not to derail (hee), but in the interest of those wanting picture rails for their contemporary homes, I use this in my studio/gallery where I change out my paintings on a pretty regular basis. Very cool benefit is that paintings can be adjusted vertically with the quick-release hangers.
posted by artdrectr at 5:31 PM on May 10, 2008

Not sure of your location, but try a local hardware store in the older neighborhoods as opposed to the franchise places for different styles of rail hangers. They usually have all kinds of neat things for older homes and can be very helpful with problems such as yours.
posted by JujuB at 7:20 PM on May 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. The molding has been painted over many times, and it seems the hooks just don't fit the picture rail; I'm going to try different hooks.
posted by Violet Hour at 9:34 AM on May 11, 2008

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