How to Install Drywall Anchors - 2017 Guide

How to Install Drywall Anchors – 2018 Guide

With a thin, relatively breakable material like sheetrock, you’re going to want anchors if you intend to hang anything much heavier than a post-it. While you might be able to get away with a screw here and there, you’ll find that the force exerted on it has a tendency to break over time which will leave you with both an unsightly hole and your favorite decoration on the ground.

Using drywall anchors is a simple process, but it bears taking a closer look at in order to avoid many of the common pitfalls which are associated with them.

Harry , Homethods Author


What You’ll Need

You’re not going to need a whole bunch of specialized equipment in order to use drywall anchors. If you’re any kind of home handyman, you’ll rapidly find that you have most of it in your garage or shed anyways.

You’ll need the following:

  • Drywall anchors
  • A screw gun
  • A hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • A level
  • Small framing nails
  • Optional: A carpenter’s pencil

Once you’ve gathered your equipment together, you’ll need to clear the area a little bit in order get ready for the installation process.

Make sure you get anchors that are suitable to the task at hand. Not all of them are created equal, and a little bit of extra research before grabbing the first ones that come to mind is an investment you definitely won’t regret.

Prepping the Location

Step 1

Find the area where you want to hang your frame, picture, mirror, or whatever. Once you’ve found the desired area measure the front surface of your intended decoration to make sure it fits. Then we can get started on the fun stuff.

Check the hanging type of the decoration, whether it’s brackets or a wire. Brackets will tend to hold things better, but wires are much more forgiving when it comes to placement.

For wire hanging, if the object is over twenty-four inches wide or so, you’ll want to place two anchors equidistant from the edges of the wires in order to keep things level the majority of the time.

For instance, if your picture frame’s backing is 36”, you’ll want to place two anchors both 2” inwards from the interior of the frame.

 For brackets be precise. There is nothing more frustrating than a bracketed shelf which has been placed perfectly, except for the last bracket being ¼” or less off and preventing you from hanging it.

Once you’ve got this figured out, you’ll be making the marks for where you want to put the anchors. Remember the old carpenter’s saying: measure twice, cut once.

Measure from both the roof and the floor to the height that you’ll want the anchor at. Make sure to account for any drop you’ll experience with the hanging type, many of them will have a large hole for the screw to fit in but will slide down ¼ to ½ an inch afterward.

Mark the first hole at the appropriate height with your carpenter’s pencil. Make an X, the center should be the precise location you want to place it.

Some people will muck about with a level here for quite a while in order to see if they can get the perfect level. Others will use a carpenter’s square, which will require marking the wall.

These two methods, while valid, also allow for a large level of human error. Instead of bothering with that, we recommend driving a small framing nail in the center of the X. This should be tiny, paneling nails are preferred, the smaller the better as it will allow for more precision.

The only caveat is that they should be long enough to allow you to pass the level over the exposed shaft without having to rest on the head. If that’s not possible, don’t worry too much about it, the heads of paneling nails are tiny and your correction will need to be less than 1/32” in most cases.

If you do this properly, though, you can measure over and make your horizontal line with no further difficulty. Remove the paneling nails, and you’re ready to put the anchors themselves in.

Placing the Anchors

Step 2

Be precise. You do not want to re-do this. One disadvantage of using anchors as opposed to screws is that you’re going to end up with a big enough hole in the wall that if you were close, but not close enough you won’t get a second chance.

Again, be precise.

If your anchor is self-tapping, you’re going to be in a good spot now. If not, you’ll need to take a look at the box and figure out how big of a hole to drill. Most quality brands will have some instructions here, otherwise, you may have to wing it.

If improvising on the drilled hole, start small, see if it fits, and then go up incrementally. You can always take a bit more off, but you can’t put it back and if the hole is too large you’re not going to be a happy camper at the end of the day.

It might seem obvious to most of us, but keep the drill perfectly horizontal as you go in. The goal is to drill a channel that’s absolutely perpendicular to the surface of the drywall itself. Any deviation over a degree or two is going to result in trouble in just a moment.

After this, you’ll find that you have a couple of different types of anchor to choose from and each has their own peculiarities.

Self-expanding anchors are the most straightforward. Get the appropriate sized hole, stick it in the hole. If it’s a bit tight, and it should be in most cases, tap it carefully in with a hammer or rubber mallet.

While some would advise against using a hammer here, we find that people have a tendency to just bash away with a rubber mallet since the damage to the wall will be minimal. This can damage the anchor. You’re not trying to drive a nail into a two by four here, if minimal tapping doesn’t get it in, widen the hole by the smallest increment possible and try again.

Self-screwing anchors make the whole thing extremely simple. Simply drill a tiny hole in the correct location, then place a machine screw that’s sized appropriately through the center. You don’t actually need to drill the hole, but we recommend it since it’ll give you the perfect guide hole.

If you’re not looking for much penetration, you can even break off the expanding tip and use a slightly wider pre-drilled hole to get things going. Screw it in, screw the screw in, and you’re done.

Molly bolts are a combination of self-expanding screws with the strength of metal. They’re a rather cool little piece of engineering and strongly recommended if you can afford to lay down the money for them.

Drill a hole the size of the molly and insert the anchor. Tap it with a hammer if necessary. Many manufacturers claim that you can just drive them in with a hammer, but this has two major disadvantages: the first is that, well, it often doesn’t work properly. The second is that it can be less precise.

After the anchor is inserted, turn the screw in the anchor clockwise a couple of times, just enough that the molly pulls tight against the wall. Don’t pull too much or you’ll degrade the drywall and be left with a loose molly bolt in the wall, which definitely isn’t what you’re going for.

Then you can pack the screw off and use it as an anchor.

Miscellaneous Tips

  • Measure your drywall before you pick anchors. The easiest way to do this is to open a light switch or outlet panel on the same wall and just measure the depth with a ruler or tape measure. This will ensure that you have the right depth of anchor, otherwise, you may have to buy more and who wants to deal with that mess? Also, make sure that anything in a bathroom is green board if it’s not then make a mental note of it and replace the wall when time and finances allow for it.
  • Installation of anchors should be easy, if you’re having to bash away then you’ve done something wrong and you need to go back and get a bigger hole. If you’re intent on using a hammer, then always purchase more anchors than you need.
    Check the weight rating before you purchase them. If things get too heavy and you’re going to end up with a broken decoration and a patch job in the near future. Be safe and try to go a bit overboard and you’ll be fine.


Drywall anchors will save you a lot of time, frustration, and effort as long as you’re careful about installing them. You don’t need to be a pro to do it, all you need is a little bit of time and the ability to use some simple tools. If you’ve been precise through the whole process, you now have a permanent solution that will allow you to hang whatever you may wish, within reason, and you can take pride in a job well done.