Making Fixings In The Home

One of the commonest jobs around the house is making fixings, usually to walls, to carry such things as cupboards, shelves and so on. The type of wall dictates the fixing method used. There is a wide range of fixing devices to choose from.

Fixings into solid walls

The old fashioned fibre wallplug has now been largely superseded by the plastic variety. These have expanding ridges and teeth to grip the sides of the hole into which they are inserted when a screw is driven into them. Some are preformed, and have a lip which keeps the plug at the mouth of over-deep holes; others are cut to length from longer pieces, and should fill the entire depth of the hole. There are several sizes, and it is important for a firm fixing that a hole of the recommended size for the plug is drilled in the wall, and that a screw of the recommended gauge and length is used.

Wallplugs are suitable for fixings into all types of solid wall, and will carry quite heavy loads, provided they are set into solid brick or blockwork and not into the mortar joints between. The colour of the drill dust will indicate whether you have hit solid masonry or not. It is also important to ensure that a wallplug is long enough to reach through thick plaster into the masonry beneath.

Where you have to make a fixing into an existing hole that has become enlarged, plastic fillers can be used instead. These are formed into a plug and rammed well into the hole, which should be undercut if possible to prevent the plug from pulling out. The screw to be used for the fixing is then turned into the moist filler to cut its own thread; it is tightened fully when the filler has hardened.

For heavy-duty fixings, expanding anchors with metal wings should be used instead of wallplugs. These come complete with a machine screw, bolt, or threaded hook or eye, and when this is tightened the anchor expands to grip the sides of the hole.

Fixings into partitions

Where you are faced with making a fixing into a plasterboard wall or a modern hollow-core door, you have to adopt a different method. There are many proprietary fixings designed for use in these situations; all work on the principle of spreading the load over the inner face of the board.

Gravity toggles have swivel toggles which drop to the vertical position when inserted through a hole in the panel. Spring toggles each have two spring-loaded wings which open after the toggle is inserted. With both of these types, the toggle is lost in the cavity

Masonry nails

These are specially hardened nails used for such jobs as fixing battens, picture rails, skirting boards and the like. They can be driven direct into masonry with a heavy hammer, and grip by compacting finely crushed material round their shanks as they penetrate. They come in a range of thicknesses and lengths, and are very difficult to remove once in place. Wear goggles when using these nails.

Drilling holes in walls

Beware of hidden pipes or cables when drilling holes in walls. Never drill vertically above or below an electrical fitting as this is where the cable is most likely to be. A cheap electronic detector is available which will indicate the presence of hidden metal objects such as pipes and wiring conduits. It also detects live wires.

You need special masonry drills for making holes in walls. For most drilling, 8mm to 12mm drills are ideal, although you may need larger sizes to fix expanding anchors. They should be used at slow speeds in a two-speed electric drill. For drilling very hard masonry and concrete, a rotary percussion drill can make life easier by hammering and breaking up the masonry.

Make sure that holes are drilled at right angles to the wall surface, and that the drill does not wander and produce a conical hole; an attachment for electric drill can help to prevent these problems. Allow the drill to cool occasionally, and keep it turning as you withdraw it to prevent it jamming.

If the machine screw is withdrawn. Nylon types with a captive toggle are available; these neatly avoid this problem. With all three types, you must have sufficient clearance in the cavity to allow the toggle to operate.

An alternative is the collapsible anchor, made of metal, plastic or rubber. In this case tightening the screw collapses the anchor back against the inner face of the panel, so providing a firm fixing. In this type the anchor stays in place if the screw is removed.

On a partition wall, none of these devices will support a heavy load such as a wall cupboard or a bookshelf. These should be screwed direct to the timber uprights, which can be located by making trial borings into the wall. Where the fixing cannot be made into the uprights, a batten should be screwed across adjacent uprights to form a firm ground for the final fixing.

Fixed brackets

When there are no end walls on which to fix the shelf bearers, the shelves have to be supported on brackets. For simple storage the brackets need be only plain and strong, but where shelves are to be used in a living area for display purposes there are better looking types available.

The plain brackets are usually pressed steel with a central fold to form a strengthening rib. These brackets are usually either black or grey finish, but some may be found that are enamelled in white or colours. Wrought iron brackets are decorative and are made in various patterns finished in white or black. Simple flat steel angle brackets which are unpainted and have no strengthening rib can be used for light shelves, although they are really intended for use in strengthening the corners of boxes and other frameworks.

Brackets may be fixed directly to the wall or they can be fixed to wooden uprights secured to the wall. If it is a partition wall of timber and plasterboard you will be able to screw the brackets directly into the wooden uprights. They will be about 400mm centre to centre. Screwing directly to walls which have to be drilled and plugged is not so easy as the drill may move from the place where it was started. To help overcome this, drill one hole and fit a plug in it. Then screw the bracket in place and drill the other holes through the bracket screw holes.

With masonry walls it is easier to fix wooden uprights than to try to fix the brackets directly to the wall. The top of the upright can butt up to the top shelf and with careful planning the fixing screws can be hidden by the brackets. If the wall can be drilled without the bit wandering, you can make the holes in the timber first and use them to mark the positions on the wall.

The alternative is to plumb the timber upright in the required position and then mark each side. Drill and plug the wall, then hold the upright against the plugs so that their positions can ,be marked on the wood. Square the line across the face of the

upright and then measure the position of each plug from the pencil line on the wall. Measure this distance from the edge of the upright to make a mark for the centre of the screw hole.

Screw all the uprights in place and then fix the brackets on each end upright. A string-line can then be used to bring all the intermediate brackets into line. If the span is too great for levelling from one end to the other, level an intermediate bracket first and then carry on to the end. The string-line is then used in the same way. The shelves should be ready for immediate use and serve to enhance the room and create more space.