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We just moved into a home built around the 1950s. The walls appear to be plaster (all brick exterior). The home has been recently remodeled/upgraded but there are a few things we want to do like hang floating shelves, anchor bookcases in my toddler's room, etc.

We went by the local hardware store and asked about screws/anchors. They hold use to drill holes and then use concrete screws. Well, everytime we do that (using the drill bit provided to us at the hardware store), the screws simply come out of the wall and we're left with gritty dust on the floor and the holes get bigger and uglier.

We've tried this twice now, any ideas on what's going on? What can we do? Thanks!
 

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Are the walls hollow? What you use in the wall depends on the weight hanging on it. You need to take into consideration the weight of the shelf and what's going on it,
Ron
 

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We just moved into a home built around the 1950s. The walls appear to be plaster (all brick exterior). The home has been recently remodeled/upgraded but there are a few things we want to do like hang floating shelves, anchor bookcases in my toddler's room, etc.

We went by the local hardware store and asked about screws/anchors. They hold use to drill holes and then use concrete screws. Well, everytime we do that (using the drill bit provided to us at the hardware store), the screws simply come out of the wall and we're left with gritty dust on the floor and the holes get bigger and uglier.

We've tried this twice now, any ideas on what's going on? What can we do? Thanks!
Although it was not the best and most approved way of building a "lathed plaster" wall, most plastered interior walls during that era were built by nailing onto the wall studs, strips of wood called "lath strips", perpendicular to those studs. These horizontal strips were usually spaced anywhere from one foot to 16" apart. To these strips, hard fiber boards were often fastened. Usually about 1/2" to 5/8" thick.

Fastened to that flat surface was often an extruded wire sheet of screening that the plaster was "wiped" into for holding strength. (But not always... sometimes the plaster was applied directly to the fiber board.) Then, when that base coat of plaster set up, they proceeded to trowel on the decorative finished coats of plaster.

Now, sometimes the hard fiber board was omitted, and a paper-backed wire sheet was stapled directly to the lath strips. An even cheaper method was sometimes used. The lath strips would be left out altogether, and the paper-backed wire sheets would just be attached right to the studs. Yes, sometimes the wire didn't even have a paper backing...... not necessarily a bad thing, but it took skill to properly apply plaster to non-backed wire lath, and a lot of plaster could be wasted.

If you got lucky, and they did the job right, (for those days), there will be no wire, and the lath strips will be almost solidly covering the walls. Very easy to find screw purchase this way. But it sounds like your walls might not have been treated to the full, solid lath strip method.

So... you can see that what you want to do is to try and locate either the lath strips (if they are there) or the studs (they WILL be there). If you screw into these wooden parts, your assembly probably won't pull out.

You can locate these pieces of wood by drilling sample holes with a very small diameter masonry drill bit till you feel comfortable that you are actually drilling into some solid wood.... you should see wood shavings coming out as the drill bit turns.

It's a bit of a PITA to locate the necessary wood backers this way, but it's about the only way to do it. Otherwise, you're just drilling into crumbly plaster which will simply continue to wallow out as you are now experiencing.
 

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Willie T, along these lines- -I was hired to be do the actual work for some homeowners in a very small S. Ga. town who had bought a home that was built in 1921. In the process of all this work there was a wall to be taken out to enlarge a room. This was done with an architect's approval/design. I had worked with plaster walls before and expected to find the wooden lath behind the plaster but there was only the wire nailed to the wall studs (which were true cut 2 x 4's). I checked this out and there was very little plaster within the two sides of this wall and very little "oozing" out between the wire screening, these guys were good. NOW, I had an exterior wall to demo the plaster only due to damaged/cracked plaster and it turned out that this one had the wooden lath placed onto the "true cut" 2 x 6 exterior wall studs. But again very little plaster lost in the process. I often wish I could go back in time to learn how these guys did this type of work. David
 

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Willie T, along these lines- -I was hired to be do the actual work for some homeowners in a very small S. Ga. town who had bought a home that was built in 1921. In the process of all this work there was a wall to be taken out to enlarge a room. This was done with an architect's approval/design. I had worked with plaster walls before and expected to find the wooden lath behind the plaster but there was only the wire nailed to the wall studs (which were true cut 2 x 4's). I checked this out and there was very little plaster within the two sides of this wall and very little "oozing" out between the wire screening, these guys were good. NOW, I had an exterior wall to demo the plaster only due to damaged/cracked plaster and it turned out that this one had the wooden lath placed onto the "true cut" 2 x 6 exterior wall studs. But again very little plaster lost in the process. I often wish I could go back in time to learn how these guys did this type of work. David
David,
I've also been quite interested in many of the old time techniques. One thing I have learned is that the "scratch coat" contained fillers that helped keep the weeping "keys" dripping through the spaces in the lath connected to the coat on the surface of the lath wood. Sort of like the way the Israelites made bricks for the Egyptians... and were so severely hampered when their captors demanded they increase their brick quotas without the benefit of any filler at all. The Israelites used straw, but almost anything could be used.

Early plasterers actually used horsehair. Smart thinking, because just plain old wet plaster would tend to drip off the inside of the lath wall strips without that filler to bind both sides together. Of course upward diagonal sweeping with a practiced light and sensitive touch helped too.
 

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We just moved into a home built around the 1950s. The walls appear to be plaster (all brick exterior). The home has been recently remodeled/upgraded but there are a few things we want to do like hang floating shelves, anchor bookcases in my toddler's room, etc.

We went by the local hardware store and asked about screws/anchors. They hold use to drill holes and then use concrete screws. Well, everytime we do that (using the drill bit provided to us at the hardware store), the screws simply come out of the wall and we're left with gritty dust on the floor and the holes get bigger and uglier.

We've tried this twice now, any ideas on what's going on? What can we do? Thanks!
If you want to mount something on a wall, in a certain place, and find that its hollow in that place, toggle anchors may be used!
Toggle anchors have folding wings that pop out when the anchor is inserted.
A hole is made that is large enough to accommodate the anchor and wings. The wings are folded in, and its pushed into the hole. Once the wings are inside they open up and the anchor is impossible to remove!
 
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