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How to Use Drywall Anchors—and the Best Ones for the Job

No stud to fasten to? No problem.

drywall anchors
Trevor Raab

When you want to fasten something to a wall but aren’t able to put the screw into a wall stud, you need to know how to use a drywall anchor. This little gadget allows you to support a load from the drywall itself, no stud necessary. So your first stop will be a well-stocked hardware store to pick up some anchors. The problem there is that the selection of drywall anchors is downright bewildering. Many look alike and have similar weight ratings. And the fact is that many are so similar that they are, essentially, interchangeable.

But with a little information, picking the right drywall anchor is simple. Here’s a primer on what you need to cut through the selection haze and know how to properly use the drywall anchor you’re getting.

The Best Drywall Anchors


    How to Select an Anchor

    Thankfully, choosing and applying the right anchor is a pretty simple four-step process.

    Step 1: Consider the anchor’s weight rating.

    All anchors have a weight rating based on the manufacturer’s installation of its product in an engineering lab in a given thickness of drywall, say 1⁄2 inch thick. With this test criteria or that established by an outside testing agency, the anchor arrives at a weight-bearing capacity that is useful as a guide.

    For any anchor used in a critical mounting application (say a large wall-hung cabinet that could fall and injure somebody), make your calculations based on one fourth of the stated weight-bearing capacity of the anchor. Also note that some manufacturers provide both vertical weight-bearing capacity (known as its shear strength) and pull out values 90 degrees to the wall surface.

    In most cases, the number listed on the front of the anchor’s package is the shear strength rating of the anchor as tested in 1⁄2-inch drywall. Always carefully read the product specs and contact the manufacturer’s customer service department if you have questions.

    Step 2: Evaluate the load.

    Pushing, pulling, widely cycling temperatures, vibration, and high humidity are several of the forces that can cause a hollow-wall fastener to loosen. A static load is one that stays still, and it requires fewer anchors to guarantee that it stays put. For example, drywall anchors experience a static load when they attach something like a book shelf with a couple of framed pictures on it. The anchors used to attach a towel bar in a bathroom experience dynamic loading: changing temperature and humidity, pushing, and pulling as people remove and replace the towel.

    If the load is static, use any hollow-wall anchor rated for the weight you’re hanging (see the caveat above for critical loads). If the load is dynamic, proceed to Steps 3 and 4.

    Step 3: Use clamping force to fasten dynamic loads.

    There are three common forms of drywall anchor: those that support by cutting into the drywall, those that support with mild clamping power supplied by a wedging action in and behind the drywall, and those that support with high clamping force on the front and back of the drywall. That last kind is called a toggle bolt, in one form or another. The greater the dynamic load, the more clamping force you need. Use a toggle bolt for these applications.

    Step 4: Increase the safety factor.

    When determining what drywall anchor to use and how many, always assume the worst case. Employ one or more of these techniques to increase the safety, which is not a bad idea for fastening any load (static or dynamic), but it’s particularly important in fastening dynamic loads.

    • Use more than one anchor.
      If one anchor is strong enough to handle a load, installing two doubles the reliability of that fastening job. Sure, installing multiple anchors requires more accuracy. But we explain how to do that at the end of this article.
    • Distribute the anchors.
      If possible, distribute the anchors in a pattern that offsets the load area on each of them. A V-shaped pattern of three anchors (with an anchor placed at the tips of the V and at the apex) will resist a greater variety of forces than three anchors placed in a line. This is true generally but especially so when fastening for dynamic loads.
    • Use metal.
      Use metal anchors and toggle bolts (instead of plastic) for applications where what you’re hanging is heavy, where the load is dynamic, or both.

      Scroll down for info on how to use some of the best and most cost-effective anchors. Continue after those for a step-by-step tutorial on how to do a dead-on and dust-free anchor installation.


      —TAP-IN INSTALLATION—

      Hillman 376263 Sharkie Drywall Anchor

      Weight rating in 1⁄2-in. drywall: 40 lb | Ease of installation: Easy | Appropriate for: Static loads such as small shelves, mirrors, pictures

      Staff
      Hillman 376263 Drywall Anchor
      Hillman amazon.com
      $6.55

      • Simple to use
      • Inexpensive

      Installation: To avoid damage, press the anchor into the hole in the wall cavity or tap it with the end of a plastic screwdriver handle. The fastener’s wings expand on the inside surface of the drywall, providing moderate clamping power.

      hillman group 376263 drywall anchor
      The two jaws of the anchor spread apart, forming a wedge behind the drywall.
      Staff


      —MAKES ITS OWN HOLE—

      ITW EZ Anchor 11364 Drywall Anchor

      Weight rating in 1⁄2-in. drywall: 75 lb | Ease of installation: Very easy | Appropriate for: Static loads such as book shelves, large pictures, and mirrors

      Staff
      ITW 11364 EZ Anchor
      ITW walmart.com
      $15.31

      • Threads directly into drywall

      Installation: Place the end of the anchor into the mark, then screw it the rest of the way into the wall.


      —WORKS IN MANY MATERIALS—

      Hillman DuoPower 376473 Drywall Anchor

      Weight rating in 1⁄2-in. drywall: 55 lb | Ease of installation: Easy | Appropriate for: Static loads such as book shelves, large pictures, and mirrors

      Hillman DuoPower 376473 Drywall Anchor
      Hillman amazon.com
      $7.78

      • Grips drywall and other materials, like brick

      Installation: To avoid damaging the anchor, press it into the hole in the wall cavity or tap it with end of a plastic screwdriver handle. Its wings expand behind the drywall providing moderate clamping power. An added benefit of this fastener is that you can also use it in plaster, brick, concrete, and concrete block.


      —BUDGET DRYWALL FASTENING—

      Blue Hawk 21-9567 Drywall Anchor

      Weight rating in 1⁄2-in. drywall: 30 lb | Ease of installation: Easy | Appropriate for: Light static loads, such as small shelves and mirrors

      Staff
      Blue Hawk Standard Drywall Anchor 21-9567
      Blue Hawk lowes.com
      $2.98

      • Inexpensive
      • Very easy to use
      • Suitable for small, light loads

      • Not particularly strong

      Installation: Tap or press the anchor into the hole in the drywall and drive the screw to make the wings expand inside the wall to provide the wedging action.


      —THREADS IN AND WEDGES—

      EZ Anchor 11353 Drywall Anchor

      Weight rating in 1⁄2-in. drywall: 50 lb | Ease of installation: Very easy | Appropriate for: Static loads such as book shelves, mirrors

      Staff
      E-Z Ancor 11353 Drywall Anchor
      E-Z Ancor lowes.com
      $2.28

      • Only tool necessary for installation is a screwdriver

      Installation: Thread the anchor into the drywall using a Phillips screwdriver or a screwdriver bit in a drill.


      —SIMPLIFIED TOGGLE INSTALLATION—

      Zip Toggle 376324 Drywall Anchor

      Weight rating in 1⁄2-in. drywall: 70 lb | Ease of installation: Very easy | Appropriate for: Static loads such as book shelves, mirrors and for moderate dynamic loads such as small wall-mounted cabinets with a drawer or door

      Staff
      Zip Toggle 376234 Drywall Anchor
      Zip Toggle amazon.com
      $6.95

      • Can be hammered directly into drywall or pushed into a hole

      Installation: Thread the anchor into drywall using a Phillips screwdriver or a screwdriver bit in a drill. Then tighten the screw until the toggle wing pivots back and pulls firmly against the back of the drywall.


      —FOLD-OUT TOGGLE STRENGTH—

      Toggler 50525 Drywall Anchor

      Weight rating in 1⁄2-in. drywall: 143 lb | Ease of installation: Easy | Appropriate for: Static heavy static loads such as large shelves, big mirrors, racks, small wall cabinets

      Staff
      Toggler 50525 Drywall Anchor
      Toggler amazon.com
      $10.35

      • Strong for a plastic anchor

      Installation: Fold down the anchor’s wings, then press it into the hole and insert the plastic key packaged with the fasteners to ensure that the wings fold out. If they don’t, the anchor will still grip, but its holding power now comes from a wedging action and not a toggle.


      —TRIED-AND-TRUE TOGGLE BOLT—

      Blue Hawk 1⁄4-In. 7164 Drywall Anchor

      Weight rating in 1⁄2-in. drywall: 70 lb | Ease of installation: Difficult | Appropriate for: Heavy static loads such as large shelves, big mirrors, racks, small wall cabinets and moderate dynamic loads such as cabinets with small doors and drawers

      Staff
      Blue Hawk Toggle Bolt 7164 Drywall Anchor
      Blue Hawk lowes.com
      $2.98

      • Strong

      • Requires a large entry hole
      • Must be threaded into object it is fastening before installing in the wall

      Installation: Run the bolt and the washer through the object to be fastened (such as a mounting fixture, bracket, or cabinet). Then fold down the anchor’s wings and press it through the hole into the wall (or ceiling) cavity, allowing the wings to open. Once it’s in, pull back on the bolt so that the toggle wings grip the back of the drywall before screwing the bolt through toggle wings until tight. Note that you must consider the bolt’s length and the depth of wall or ceiling cavity to ensure that bolt does not bottom out before being fully tight. If you’re fixing a dynamic load, use a removable thread-locking compound on the bolt to prevent it loosening due to vibration.


      —SPIDER-LEG TOGGLE MECHANISM—

      Hillman 41304 Drywall Anchor

      Weight rating in 1⁄2-in. drywall: 70 lb | Ease of installation: Easy | Appropriate for: Static loads such as large book shelves, large pictures, and large mirrors; can also fasten moderate dynamic loads such as supporting wood and metal hangers for clothing and garage gear such as hoses, yard tools

      Staff
      Hillman 41304 Drywall Anchor
      Hillman amazon.com
      $14.94
      $11.66 (22% off)

      • Installs easily

      Installation: Tap or press the anchor into the hole in the drywall until the prongs in the flange bite in. Then tighten the screw to draw the metal ribs back against the back of the drywall, providing clamping force.

      drywall anchors
      The Hillman drywall anchor’s legs spread out as you screw the bolt through it. The anchor reaches its full weight-bearing capacity once the legs are fully extended and the bolt is tight.
      Staff

      —BEST TOGGLE EVER INVENTED—

      Hillman Pull Toggle 41984 Drywall Anchor

      Weight rating in 1⁄2-in. drywall: 155 lb | Ease of installation: Very easy | Appropriate for: Static loads such as large book shelves, large pictures, and large mirrors, small to moderate cabinets with dynamic loads such as a door or drawer

      Staff
      Hillman 41984 Drywall Anchor
      Hillman The Home Depot
      $14.50

      • Easiest toggle to use toggle
      • Bolt can be removed and reinstalled without losing toggle

      Installation: Feed the anchor into the drywall hole and seat the plastic collar’s flange on the hole’s rim. Pull back on the plastic zip-tie strap, pulling the toggle wing against the back of the wall surface. When the strap is tight, snap it off. Turn the screw through the plastic collar into the threaded hole in the toggle. Note that this device allows you to remove the screw without the toggle falling into the wall cavity.


      Dead-On Drywall Anchors

      Aligning the hole in the object you’re hanging with the hole in the drywall anchor is easy. Here we show the whole alignment process in ten steps.

      There are two important takeaways. First, don’t use a drill bit to make the hole in the drywall. Use an awl instead. It’s accurate and essentially creates no dust. Second, use the object you’re hanging to help guide the awl to make a perfect on-center hole. If you’re mounting an object with pre-drilled holes, simply use the holes in the object to guide the awl to make the mark.

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