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I have a stable enough lath and plaster wall, which I would like to put a box framed picture on.

Usually with a box frame picture on to a plaster board or dry wall, or even a brick or stone wall, I'd drill two holes, put a baton in, and that would be the hanging point of the picture.

I have a proper (hasn't been touched in 100 years) lath and plaster wall. Thin wooden strips running horizontally, which then has plaster squished over it. If I put a wall anchor (such as this one) will this crack the plaster around the hole as it pushes the wings out?

I could find the vertical stud, but there will only be one (if that) in the middle of the short wall I've got, so will only give me one mounting point.

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There are two factors: Your level of care, and dumb luck.

If the plaster hasn't proven to be particularly crumbly in your home, I'd go ahead and use that type of anchor, or this one:

enter image description here

Some tips:

  • Drill carefully. Don't push too hard and use a high spin rate. You might switch to a fresh bit when you encounter wood. You don't want to blow the lath out the back. The goal is to have a clean bore in undisturbed material.
  • Install gently. Use a screwdriver or set your drill's clutch to a low value. While it takes some force to deploy the anchor, overtightening guarantees failure. Stop when there's just enough tension to do the job.
  • I don't like those but they're close enough to a toggle bolt. Which is what you'd have to switch to when screw-in anchors fail and now there's a giant hole. – Mazura Jan 26 at 0:05
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Lath likes to bend away from your drill as you try to go through it. I've had best luck with brad point drill bits, they're aggressive, and butterfly anchors The hollow wall anchors you are looking at tend to do bad things to plaster. I've 3 shelves put on plaster over lath with 4 butterfly anchors each, holding 60 Lbs or more with no problems after 20 years. The plaster/lath is 100 yr old, so about same as you. They really slathered the stuff on.

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I wouldn't touch the wall.... Hang from wires mounted at ceiling/wall junction. I've seen this before in really old buildings and museum/historical places.

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There are much better anchors than that outmoded one. I would not use that type in any wall, much less a lath and plaster wall.

For a lath and plaster wall consider installing picture molding high on the wall and hanging the picture with a hook and wire(s) from the molding. A 100-year-old lath and plaster wall is not something to put a hole in at eye level without considering alternatives. There is the traditional picture molding and there are modern alternatives. See Google search on picture molding for lath and plaster walls.

  • And how do you attach the picture rail to the wall? – Puffafish Jan 25 at 11:42
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    That type of anchor is one of the best I've used. It has positive deployment and engagement, and the metal-on-metal thread arrangement is pretty reliable. For tough-duty situations where other anchors fail that's what I use. – isherwood Jan 25 at 13:42
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    Dude, those are the absolute best anchors. They are a pain in the ass to mount, unless you have the proper pliers for "unwinding" the wings, and they require quite a large hole to be drilled. But: If you want to hang any sort of weight on the wall, these will handle it. However - for hanging a picture - I'd use a less hassle anchor. – Stian Yttervik Jan 25 at 13:45
  • Where is this? What country or what state if in the US? I am personally acquainted only with US modern 'tract' stud wall construction, but I surmise that picture molding on lath-and-plaster walls would extend over a long enough stretch of wall to be attached at multiple studs, and if the traditional type, would be of strong enough wood, e.g. solid oak, so that it would not sag between studs. Modern metal picture rails would have their own specs and properties. – Jim Stewart Jan 25 at 13:48
  • Isn't plaster subject to crumbling if subjected to too much force over a small area? Our bathroom towel bars were installed in 1970 in drywall with the old metal anchors I panned above and they did not withstand that use. – Jim Stewart Jan 25 at 13:56

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