I just bought my first house and I am trying to update some light fixtures in my kitchen. I’m also fairly new to this DIY stuff, so keep that in mind if I’m not using the correct terminology.

When I tried installing the new fixture, I couldn’t get the mount screwed in properly because the junction box blocks the mounting screw from getting in deep. Noting that the junction box is old and damaged, I thought it would be best to just replace the junction box entirely, using an “old work” junction box.

So working the existing junction box, which seems to be made up of particle board, I was able to remove two screws that were bracketed (see the blue arrows) that I thought were holding the box up, but when I attempted to pull the junction box down it wouldn’t give. I then noticed that there are two nails holding the box up as well (see the red arrows), which I can only guess means they are nailed to a joist.

Is there a way to remove this junction box without having to get up in the attic?

Nailed-up junction box

  • Those don't look like nails. It could be attached to a rail the connects between joists, in which case you need to get into the attic. Something like this: hw.menardc.com/main/items/media/RACOI001/ProductLarge/…
    – dandavis
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 3:21
  • It's probably too late to say this for the current job, but the reason the screws didn't fit was probably because they were the wrong size (more technically, approximately the right diameter but the wrong thread pitch) and the first thing you should have looked at was whether you could get replacement screws for the fitting or a fitting suitable for the existing box. Which obviously leaves the question of whether a replacement box will match your chosen light fitting. Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 12:35
  • 2
    The mounting screws for your fixture do not go into the holes marked by blue arrows. Try the holes located in your picture at 12 and 6 o'clock.
    – spuck
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 17:04

2 Answers 2


The two items that you were thinking are nails are in fact almost 100% sure to be rivets. See yollow circles in the below picture.

enter image description here

Picture Source

These rivets secure some type of metal bracket to this phenolic/bakelite box. The bracket is then either nailed to the adjacent ceiling joist or to a rail that bridges between two joists. Trying to remove this box without entering the area above (if that is even possible) will usually require opening up the ceiling drywall or plaster leading to a much bigger repair job.

It would not be advisable to replace this box with an old work type box that is just secured to the edges of the ceiling drywall. Such box would never been up to handling the installation of a ceiling fan/light fixture. Ceiling lights often get replaced with heavy fixtures like that even if it is not you doing it right now.

Here is a picture of the type of box that you likely have there. The rivets and metal bracket are readily obvious.

enter image description here

Picture Source

Here is yet another almost similar phenolic electrical box with a different style metal bracket riveted to it:

enter image description here

Picture Source

  • Thank you so much Michael! Very informative and I’m just going to have to buck up and head up to the attic!
    – DIY Rosie
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 5:14
  • 1
    @DIYRosie, if you are dead set on replacing the box, you could try drilling out the rivets and and trying to remove the backing plate once the receptacle is gone. If you were simply removing it and not replacing it, this would work fine to leave as small a hole as possible to patch over later. However, you'll still likely have to tear out things or get to the attic to do the rest of the replacement. Also note that removing the rivets likely prevents you from reusing it as it probably no longer meets code, even if you replace the rivets. Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 17:57

This looks like a common ceiling receptacle box. Why are you trying to replace it? If all your doing is installing a ceiling light fixture the box in the picture appears perfectly adeqate. Most new fixtures will have a mounting plate that gets attached to the box by mounting screws which connect to the box via the screw holes at the top and bottom of the box as shown in the picture. The mounting plate will then have two mounting screws to hold the fixture.
If the mounting screws are not going in deep enough you may not be inserting them properly or in the correct spot. Also the box doesn't appear in the picture to be damaged. If your goal here is to simply mount a new fixture you may be doing a lot of unnecessary work.
You might want to drill a hole in the bracket you have or buy another bracket. Unversal mounting brackets for lights are available at most home stores.
enter image description here

  • Thank you HoneyDo! It won’t let me add a picture so that I could show you, but the bracket holes and the junction box holes don’t line up to add the screws on the bracket because of the mounting screws. The plastic of the junction box gets in the way. It’s quite frustrating, as I’ve replaced the same light fixture in my previous apartment.
    – DIY Rosie
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 5:31
  • If the mounting plate holes don't line up you may have to improvise such as drilling a hole in the plate but it'll be easier than replacing the box. If the light and plate is an offbeat brand you could have the same problem with another JB. If you change out the JB your next light could have a conventional plate and then you're back where you started.
    – HoneyDo
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 16:55
  • This works if the replacement fixture is about the same size and weight of the original fixture, but anything significantly heavier, like a ceiling fan, may require something else to attach to, up to and including replacing the box. Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 17:53
  • The OPs question concerns hanging a light fixture. If at a later date a fan is hung then the box needs to be upgraded to a fan-rated JB.
    – HoneyDo
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 18:04

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