Anchors away! Make shelf bracket secure
Travis Johnson, Martin's Hardware
Q:I want to put up some bookshelves. What's the best way to secure them to my wall?
A: Before you start, it's important to know what kind of walls you have. Sheetrock, plaster, and block all require different anchoring techniques, and there isn't a shelf that will hold if it isn't anchored right. Also, if you're a student or a renter, you might want to consider freestanding shelves. To prevent damaging or marking up walls, you can just stack some cinder blocks and run shelving boards across.
One of the more popular shelving options is slotted shelf bracket holders. These are good because you can adjust the shelves after you've secured the brackets to the wall. They're not as visually pleasing as other options, but they are very strong because the brackets disperse the load. If you want to place shelves above something, like a TV or mantel, I suggest using L-shaped standing shelf brackets. These aren't as strong as shelf bracket holders, but they are more unobtrusive.
With sheetrock it's best to use ribbed plastic anchors to set your screws in. You'll need to drill your holes first, and then drive the anchors in. You can also use E-Z anchors, which I highly recommend because you don't have to set the holes– you just screw them right into the wall. Just make sure you put them in deep enough.
If you hit a stud, that's a bonus. You can skip using anchors altogether and just use wood screws to secure the brackets into the stud. If you can locate studs with a magnetic stud finder, and your shelves happens to line up with the studs, that's another bonus. Brackets secured into studs are going to be much stronger than brackets screwed into sheetrock.
Of course there are other anchoring options. Hollow wall anchors and mushroom toggle bolts may be more secure than plastic anchors, but they tend to leave a big hole in the wall and are best used on plaster walls.
Plaster walls, especially if they are old, can be brittle, so it's important to be careful when anchoring your screws. Also, check first to see if your plaster is set on laths (strips of wood) or block. If it is, it's best to use mushroom toggle bolts because the holes in the wall are going to be big and messy. Mushroom toggle bolts have two arms that spring out to the side after you've inserted them into the wall, making it impossible to remove with out cutting a big hole in the wall. For this reason, it's important to be sure about where these anchors are going to go before you start setting the holes.
For plaster walls on block, or plain block walls, just use Tapcon masonry screws. They have a special type of thread so you don't have to worry about setting holes. Just screw them directly into the block.
Of course, before you secure your brackets, make sure they 're plum and level. You'll also want to ask yourself again if they're in the right place, because moving them could be a real hassle.
Lastly, be realistic about what you want your shelves to hold. Even the most securely anchored shelves will come crashing down if you overburden them.
PHOTO BY DAVE MCNAIR