When it comes to hanging things on your walls, adhesives can only do so much. If you need to securely display framed artwork or install wall-mounted shelves, you’ll probably have to do a little drilling. Here’s how to do it as safely as possible.
Consider the material
First, you’ll want to figure out what your walls are made of: Drywall, lath and plaster, brick, plywood, wood or plastic paneling, concrete, or some combination thereof. Google what kind of drill bits and mounting hardware work best for that material so you know what you’re getting into.
Figure out what’s behind it
This is the hard part. You probably already know a thing or two about finding wall studs, but it’s equally important to locate pipes and wires so you can avoid drilling into them. It’s not an exact science, but with the right technique, you can at least make some educated guesses.
Wires are supposed to run up and down a wall in a straight line, directly into a socket, with each socket on its own circuit. The same is true for pipes: they’re supposed to run in straight lines into and out of water fixtures, either horizontally or vertically. Using these guidelines, you can eliminate the riskiest areas and go from there. To see what this method looks like in action, check out this detailed how-to video from the Gosforth Handyman YouTube channel:
But it’s not quite that simple. As StackExchange user Ken noted in a 2018 post on the subject, sockets are often “daisy chained” to one another, with wires running horizontally or even diagonally between them: “[Y]ou never know how those wires were stretched across the space … unless you physically saw them before the dry wall was fastened.”
Theoretically, a stud finder that can also detect pipes and wires would be super helpful, but it may just cause more confusion. The reviews on this reasonably affordable Bosch multi-scanner are all either Works great if you read the manual, five stars or I read the manual and this thing still thinks studs are wires; would give it a zero if I could. The same goes for the Walabot, a scanner that attaches to your smartphone — reviews suggest that it works on thin drywall, but that’s kind of it.
Assume the worst and drill accordingly
Building codes exist for very good reasons, but that doesn’t mean everyone follows them. The only guaranteed way to see what’s in a wall is to fuck around — that is, drill a hole — and find out.
This means you’ll have to work very carefully. The Gosforth Handyman video recommends using a blunt drill bit so you won’t do too much damage if you do hit something. Go slowly, and if it feels like you’re drilling into something you shouldn’t be, stop and take a look. If nothing else, you’ll learn exactly what’s inside the wall so you can drill elsewhere.