My objective is to hang a ceiling fan. I'm in a house built in the 1930s. I have an old pancake box that looks like it's 3.25 inches in diameter instead of 4. I decided that, although it's old, it's connected directly to some wood member and won't budge. So I'd prefer to just use it for the fan.

Unfortunately, one of the screw holes for a fixture is missing. So then I thought I should replace it after all since I can't mount a ceiling fan bracket with only 1 screw that's off center.

A couple issues I'm running into:

  1. It's some kind of plaster ceiling and sort of cemented in. I'll have to chip away at it to get this one out and fit in a newer 4" box. I don't really know how to handle plaster properly / don't have tools beyond a drywall saw.
  2. It looks like it's nailed in as well? I've seen other posts saying this could be rivets onto something. Maybe? But I was able to loosen one of them a hammer. Then the hammer started chipping.

Is there something I can do to salvage this pancake box and somehow fasten a fan to it even though it only has one (bent) mounting hole? Maybe fasten to it some other way? Directly into the wood?

Or if I need to replace it, is there any way to do that from below? I have access to the attic, but it's in a spot that is tough to get to and covered in cellulose insulation.

Red - Nails

Blue - Wood screw holes (screw removed as I attempted to get the box out)

Green - single mounting screw hole (the one across from it is missing) pancake box

Edit(1): Wanted to go through the pancake box as Jim suggested, but the holes wouldn't line up with the fan bracket.

Not proud of this, but I got a 4in cross bar kit at Home Depot that's rated to hold a light fixture of up to 35 pounds. It connects to the crow foot via an 1/8in nipple. Mounted the fan bracket to that + one screw directly to the box (shown in green below). Officially not to code, but my fan is 18 pounds. Hoping that the crows foot / cross bar and nails / screw direct to the box will hold that 18 pounds plus additional weight while the fan is in motion.

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  • 2
    Is mounting the fan bracket directly to studs (through the plaster) an option? Jun 19, 2021 at 23:06
  • fixture stud crows foot - but I'm not entirely sure how/if you're supposed to hang a fan off of a hickey.
    – Mazura
    Jun 19, 2021 at 23:19
  • Well, thank god I took the time to google the thing you took out and put back in... ;) - some screws and washers in those slots wouldn't hurt; drill holes in the two KOs that are below the stud, as far from center as you can get.
    – Mazura
    Jun 21, 2021 at 0:01
  • What is the mfgr of this fan? Does this fan come with long wood screws designed to go deep into a ceiling joist? Jun 21, 2021 at 1:15
  • It is not clear to me how you have attached the crossbar to the pancake box. If you have improvised, then you don't really know how it will perform. Jun 21, 2021 at 1:32

3 Answers 3


You can not safely hang a fan on this box, but you can hang a fan through this box, or beside it. The fan hardware in the new Hunter fans I have installed came with two long wood screws designed to screw through holes in the pancake box into a ceiling joist.

  • Thanks. This seems like the best / most correct option. But because of the box dimensions / locations of those holes, I couldn't get the holes to line up with the openings in the ceiling fan's bracket. They're too close to the center. Fan instructions mention drilling a hole. Would you drill new holes through the box?
    – EastLake
    Jun 20, 2021 at 6:24
  • Yes. Drill new holes in the metal box large enough for the screws to pass through without engaging the threads. Then drill through those holes with a smaller diameter drill to make "pilot" holes for the long wood screws which come with the fan. I always use wax or silicone grease thread lubricant to make driving the screws easier. Jun 20, 2021 at 18:46

Your wiring is known as Knob and Tube which probably has an insulation mainly made of tar and cloth. Without examining your house I personally would not trust that circuit with a fan load. Also the fan has vibration associated with it so one screw is an accident waiting to happen. My guess is that box is nailed to a 2x piece of wood. My recommendation would be to replace the box with a new 4" that is rated for fan duty and rewire it to the switch. If that is fed with K&T wire it all the way back to the breaker (fuse) box.

  • K&T insulation is rubber under that cloth braid, not tar, btw Jun 20, 2021 at 1:14
  • 1
    Thanks for the reply. Hmm, I haven't had anyone tell me that K&T isn't up for a task. For replacing the box... I'd like to. I bought a replacement box, but I'm not sure how to overcome the obstacles I mentioned. It seems like it will be a huge mess to replace.
    – EastLake
    Jun 20, 2021 at 6:30
  • So that's what K&T looks like. It's not that it isn't up to a task, it's just an automatic 'strike one' on can-o-worms territory, so we're already on strike two of improperly hanging a fan.
    – Mazura
    Jun 21, 2021 at 0:08
  • 1
    I can only go on experience and most K&T houses had no more then four circuits, many with less, and a few with 1. The wire was generally AWG #14, rated at a max of 15 Amps. Not being able to see what you have I can only suggest you not use it.
    – Gil
    Jun 22, 2021 at 1:54

I always drill two holes to mount the ceiling fan bracket and use self drilling screws to hold the bracket up there tight. It works fine unless you have a nipple that you can't get off that's in the way.

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