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I have just moved into an old apartment in Brooklyn. The landlord has warned us that all the walls are plaster with wood framing. I have not dealt with this type of wall before. I would like to hang pictures (both small and large) as well as a fold away table that would weigh about 40 lbs. I have heard Plaster walls crack easily.

The Table top will be a modified version of an Ikea Vika table. I will be adding swing out legs, so as to support it when it is in the folded out position.

What considerations do I need to make with mounting these things to the walls, so to avoid cracked plaster, as well as the walls falling down?

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Possible duplicate of this question and answers –  bib Feb 19 '13 at 12:40
    
What is under the plaster (wood framing, concrete, block, etc.)? –  Tester101 Feb 19 '13 at 13:42
    
I believe its wood framed. I assume I would need to anchor to the studs. –  Simianspaceman Feb 19 '13 at 13:58
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Also, @bib the walls are plaster, not plasterboard. my question is more of a general one. Is there some method of bracing or reinforcement that I need to use? Anchor wood planks to the wall first then attach nails and hinges to those... that type of thing. –  Simianspaceman Feb 19 '13 at 14:04
    
Good answer below. For serious weight, find the studs. For lighter weight, the same general rules apply as to plasterboard. Plaster structure is stronger (becasue of the lathe), but more prone to cracks. The only real difference is you have to go deeper, through both plaster and lathe. –  bib Feb 19 '13 at 23:34
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Your task is to find the studs..

Electronic versions of stud finders abound, plaster is difficult for most of them. I have a 1/2 dozen of them.. I keep hoping. The problem with plaster is the lath used to support it. The lath can be a variety of materials: wood strips, metal mesh and even pasterboard. All of these materials are attached to the studs and THEN the plaster is coated over the lath. Two newer scanners aimed at professional use Milwalkee scanner Bosch scanner . They both will detect electrical wires and some pipe, but you are on your own for proper interpretation.

One technique is to verify stud location is via drilling a short depth (not more than an inch to verify a stud)

Drilling in plaster: masonry bits or ceramic tile bits are the best to use to cut through the plaster with fewer cracks. Driving nails is a plea for cracks. The drill diameter should match the screw diameter, to not place stress on the plaster. The actual screw holding will be done by the stud.

Once a stud is located, wood screws should be imbedded 1/2" or more, depending on the weight. The earlier comment regarding a "buffer" board spanning the area is a good one, especially if the place you want to attach is between studs.

Finally, patching small cracks is not hard, use Durabond setting joint compound to mimic plaster.

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Thank you for a concise answer! As far as this "buffer board", am I only anchoring it to the studs or will I be attaching it to the plaster with wall anchors for additional support? –  Simianspaceman Feb 19 '13 at 15:34
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@Simianspaceman - Make sure that the backer board spans more than one stud and screw it securely to the studs. Select the board thickness suitable to the additional mounting hardware that you may be using. One thing to do before mounting up a board is to check the fit to the wall before drilling holes and tightening the screws. If the plaster wall bows out between the studs it will have a high possibility of cracking when you tighten down the backer board over the bump. –  Michael Karas Feb 19 '13 at 15:59
    
I tend to use 1x pine (that is 1x2, 1x3, 1x4 etc) for utility, appearance, paintability and relative strength. @Michael Karas makes a good point about wall curves. The use of tapered shims at any low spots (between the board and the wall) will reduce the 'wrenching' effect. I like to glue and tack shims in place (I use 18 Ga brads) –  HerrBag Feb 20 '13 at 17:30
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