Hanging items on your walls can be a challenge if you don’t know where the studs are. While you can sink a nail in plain drywall, the sheetrock will eventually tear and pull if the weight is too much.
Worse, the nail that you choose to use may allow whatever you hung up to slide off if the nail is a finishing nail and has no head to speak of.
How Much Weight Can A Nail In Drywall Hold?
On average, a nail in hollow or unsupported drywall can only hold up to 5 pounds. The amount of weight a nail can support in drywall can be greatly increased with the use of a drywall anchor or nailing into a stud.
Once you put a nail in hollow or unsupported drywall, this will quickly turn from a single hole into a tall slot. As you put more weight on the nail, it will pull down on the hanging side and dig a trench in the back of the sheetrock.
If you don’t have a stud finder or need to hang something between studs, don’t hang anything more than 5 pounds. If you need to hang something heavier, use a wall anchor. Plain drywall has very little staying power.
Benefits of Wall Anchors
Screw In Wall Anchors
Wall anchors come in multiple formats. If you can find the screw in wall anchors and your drill offers variable speeds, you will functionally create a much bigger but much more stable hole than the hole created by a nail.
Basic screw in type wall anchors can hold around 50 pounds.
Do make sure to turn down the torque on your drill. If you use too much torque, you can break these off inside the wall. Metal wall anchors are also a nice option if you need to hang something fairly heavy.
Take care to put in the anchor to the point of snugness; if you overtighten this you can strip out the drywall and create a big, dusty, messy hole.
Once the screw in anchor is in the wall, you will need to put another screw inside the anchor. Take your time and sink this final screw slowly; it can be nearly impossible to back this screw out if you sink it too deeply into the anchor.
Hammer In Wall Anchors
Hammer in wall anchors offer extra grip inside the sheetrock; some of these feature a split that will expand inside the wall when you get it nailed in. Once these are in place, you will need to put in the appropriate screw.
Make sure you use the screws that came with the anchors. Avoid putting too much pressure on these anchors; you can either put too much torque on the screw and twist the anchor out or you can push the anchor through the wall.
Toggle Wall Anchors
Toggle wall anchors are often used for hooks. If at all possible, hang your hooks on a stud or mount the hooks on a board and mount the board on studs. If you have to put a hook in hollow drywall,
- drill a hole in the sheetrock that is large enough for the toggle hardware to fit through
- screw the hook on to the receiving end by several threads; you don’t want this pulling off
- slide the toggle into the hole until the flange opens
- pull the hook toward you to get the flanges on the toggle against the sheetrock
- with this resistance in place, screw the hook tight to the drywall
Toggle wall anchors can hold up to 150 pounds.
The big risk when using a toggle wall anchor is managing the weight of the hardware inside the wall. You may be tempted to hold the bolt in place with a needle nose plier or some similar tool. Don’t do this! You can bend the threads and make it impossible to tighten the hook close to the sheetrock.
Get a Stud Finder
Putting a lot of pressure on hollow drywall is not a good idea over the long term. Even with heavy duty hardware, you will eventually drag down on the hardware to the point that the hardware will loosen up and you’ll have to fix the hole.
If you need to hang something particularly heavy that is more than 16 inches wide, put up several hangers.
My experience in trying to hang a very heavy antique maple mirror actually took 2 each 10 penny nails at 3.5 inches long. This turned out to be sturdy enough that I could actually hook the hanging wire on just one side while I hoisted the other side of the mirror on the second nail.
Heavy duty nails with large heads can hold very heavy hanging items; do your best to angle the nails from the top down into the wall to let gravity help you hold the hanging wire close to the wall.
If you’re hanging a shelf that is less than 16 inches wide, get at least one side on a stud and use a heavy duty wall anchor on the other side.
Fixing Drywall When the Nail Fails
Tiny nail holes are pretty quick to fix. If you put bigger anchors and end up tearing them out, you can use patching mesh to cover the hole and fill the mix with quick-drying sheetrock mud.
This project is not terribly involved but it will take time. Ultimately you need to get enough mud in the mesh to sand smooth all the way across the patch.
Give yourself plenty of drying time; loading new mud on a damp patch will cause a crack that you’ll never get filled up.