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Putting up shelving on plaster walls


I am trying to add a few shelving units that anchor with regular wood screws on my walls. The problem is that there are no studs to anchor the screws. The wall (as far as I know) is just plaster material. Does anyone know the best way to anchor a shelf that will take considerable weight with these types of walls, if I have no wood under the wall to anchor with?

There has to be wood (or metal or brick) somewhere in the wall. And if you don't mount the shelves to that they'll collapse when you put significant weight on them, taking a chunk of the wall with them.

Somewhere inside that wall, you'll find this,

probably this,


or this:

That's what you HAVE TO attach it to if the shelf is going to hold any real weight.

There are various fasteners designed specifically for each type, and once you figure out which one you have, find the studs (if applicable) by tapping on the wall or using a magnetic detector, and use the proper hardware for mounting it, you'll have a safe weight-bearing shelf.
I agree, but there is no way to tell. I used a magnetic stud finder and nothing came up. I am renting the place so I would have to tear the wall apart to actually see -- which is not feasible at this point.
It could be a plaster and lath wall. Lath is just a substrate of edge butted thin wood strips to form a solid wall that gets a layers of chicken wire and plaster to give the final paintable surface.

There is a stud at the ends of walls and next to windows. Measure multiples of 16inches from where a stud should be to about where you want the bracket and pound in a small nail at least 2inches long and see if you hit a stud. If the last bit of the nail goes in real easy, you missed it. Move over an inch and try it again. Keep going till you find the stud. After your done put a dap of spackle in the test holes.
Sweet, thanks!
Also be aware that the 16" on center rule doesn't always apply...though its the most commonly used. The house I'm in now is around 55 years old, the interior walls are all at 24" on center while the exterior walls are at 12" on center. A different measurement is sometimes used at a homeowners request...I helped build a house a couple years ago in which every wall was 12" on center....why they wanted that...I have no clue.

Stud finders are nice...but if they are lath and plaster walls they don't always work to well.
If you are in Northern America and can hear neighbors talking, then it should be studded wall. Try to drill a thinnest hole in place of possible stud location, and see what comes on the drill bit, after 1.5 cm (1/2").

If you are in Europe or can't hear neighbors talking, the chance is that this is a brick or iron concrete. You may try to drill in any place, start with smallest bit again and see resistance of material. You will need a masonry drill, it will become dull very soon. Pain in the neck to drill anyway. Hardware stores have special screws with plastic push-outs. In old times you could insert piece of a soft wood in slightly oversized hole, and use any strong enough long screw.

Hope that helps.

Trial holes can be covered by plaster or sparkling compound ($2 small can) or by a toothpaste.
[quote="Crinoid"]Try to drill a thinnest hole in place of possible stud location, and see what comes on the drill bit, after 1.5 cm (1/2").[quote]

YES! drill a hole with a very small drill (1/16" or smaller) to test for stud (at least 1" deep, less could be just the lath strips). BEWARE, in old time lath and plaster walls, stud spacing may not be uniform. Also when you do find the studs, pre-drill holes in plaster. Screws or nails can break plaster up.

Also you should check with the person you are renting from to make sure it is OK. Damaging a lath and plastered wall is not easy or inexpensive to repair.
One more hint.
Once you find the studs take 2 or 3 one-by-fours and screw them into the studs horizontally across your wall. One near the top, one near the bottom and a third in the middle if you want.
Once you have those boards securely attached you can attach your shelving to the boards wherever you like.
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