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I just moved in to a new apartment, in a very old house. The landlord mentioned that it is over 100 years old. The walls are plaster, which means (to the best of my knowledge) that there is lath beneath the plaster.

On most of the walls, I've been able to hang things without much trouble. My stud finder has a little trouble on lath, but I've been able to get by, mostly because I'm not hanging lots of heavy stuff.

However, I've run into a problem on one wall. It is an exterior wall. My stud finder fails completely here. The picture I'm hanging is heavy, but not terribly heavy, so in the absence of a stud location, I figured I would be fine if I could get a relatively deep nail in or some sort of anchor and screw.

However, when I drove a nail in, it hits something very hard, and the nail will not go any deeper. It gets less than an inch into the wall, probably closer to 0.5". The plaster is very crumbly, and I don't trust the plaster to hold the picture I want to hang with such shallow penetration.

What can I do? What am I hitting behind this wall, and what is the right way to hang something here?

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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Given that it's an exterior wall you've probably hit brick.

This would explain both why you've not found a stud - there aren't any, and why the nail only goes in 1/2" - 1" - you've hit the bricks.

Given that the plaster is crumbling, the simplest solution would be to drill a hole with a masonry drill and use a screw (or screw hook).

If you want to hang a lot of things on this wall then it might be a better idea to install some sort of rail - either a traditional picture rail or a more modern alternative and hang the pictures etc. off that.

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If you're on a stud, you're likely hitting one of two things: another nail or a safety plate. If it's a nail, you can move an inch away and have no issues. If it's a safety plate, I'd go at least 3" away, if not more, since behind the plate is an electrical wire or pipe (gas or plumbing).

Note that higher end stud finders include AC and metal detection to avoid this hazard.

Edit: In the case that you don't have studs, then you probably have a cement, cinder block, or brick wall behind the plaster. To get a nail in there, you'll need to install a masonry anchor, just like you need in your other question.

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Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot to mention that on this particular wall I couldn't find a stud at all. I will edit my question to clarify this. –  Colin K Jun 9 '11 at 19:09
    
@Colin just because you can't find a stud, it doesn't mean it's not there. You still could have hit one (though I find the odds of hitting a nail remote) –  Joel Coehoorn Jun 10 '11 at 4:40
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I suggest you try the Command (tm) picture hangers or hooks from 3M. We have some of the hooks in our house, and the adhesive is powerful enough to hold up full Christmas stockings on the fireplace mantel without having to drill or nail any holes. We also have some hooks to hold bathrobes on the inside of our closet door. Recently, I pulled a robe off with enough force to break the rather sturdy hook, and the adhesive part didn't budge. On the other hand, if you actually want the adhesive to come off, it's extremely easy to do so. The stuff is like magic, and it's actually an improvement over nailed or screwed picture hangers no matter what your wall is made of. Here's a link:

http://www.command.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/NACommand/Command/Products/Catalog/?N=5584766+5924736+3294857497&rt=r3

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