Proper wall anchor for a solid plaster wall?

(Not really about tools, unless you consider wall anchors a tool.)

My condo dates from the mid 50’s, and has interior partitions that seem to be made of solid plaster about 3 inches thick. I drilled a hole for a cable about 5 inches above the floor, and encountered no lath, no masonry, no studs, no cavity, just solid white powder all the way through. There is no paper facing. There is paint, then hard white stuff.

I want to secure some tall bookshelves to a wall so it doesn’t fall over. What kind of anchors should I use? I suppose I could put a bolt entirely through the wall, but that would be unsightly on the other side.


I’m not the most experienced to comment since I’ve got limited regional and condo experience. What Bit did you drill with? I Think A Standard Bit in a non-hammer Drill Would Have decent Resistance If It Was Solid Plaster. If it’s solid i would say it’s concrete. (Or previous homeowner special who knows what.) 5" From floor Could Just Be Lots Of Debris In Wall cavity, I Would Suggest Going up higher, Maybe 3’ or at your actual height, And doing s series of small,Easily Patchable , Like 1/8"-1/4" Test holes in a pattern to Try And find lathe(if it’s plaster) Probably 3 Holes At 3/4-1" Apart vertically Also Maybe 1-2’ Over another Set. Just away from potential electrical or plumbing and limit drill depth to about an inch.
If you do need to anchor through whole wall you can put a wall mounted coat rack or shelf on the other side or hang a picture or painting over bolts. Even if it is solid plaster there should still be some structural element you could fasten to. The only way there isn’t is if it’s solid concrete in which case that’s easy

You probably have plaster over what was called Rock Lath. This was used in the timeframe that your condo was built.
It is a solid gypsum board that has perforations in it - so when the first coat of plaster was applied it oozed out the back forming mushroom-shaped anchors - sort of like the “keys” that formed when wet plaster was applied to wooden lath, You likely still have studs spaced more (16 inch OC) or less conventionally. For the most secure anchoring - you might want to find 2 or more studs. Bookcases can be problematic - because they can exert forces on the anchor both in shear (downward along the wall) and perpendicular to the wall (pull out). The forces that would tend to pull the anchor out - are the most difficult to deal with. If the bookcases are closed at the back - maybe a French Cleat affixed to the bookcase and to the studs would do.

Thanks for the reply! I used a standard high-speed twist drill bit for wood/metal. It is definitely not concrete, which would have even more resistance than plaster. And there was no sand or aggregate in the dust, nor any debris. Smooth white powder, like chalk.

Thanks for the suggestions about putting a rack or shelf on the other side. The room configuration makes that a little doubtful, but I will think about it.

Thanks for the info about rock lath. I still don’t believe I have any studs. For one thing, the entire wall is only three inches thick. I have have tapped it all over, and can detect no cavities. I’ll try a stud detector though.

The bookshelves are freestanding, and are braced laterally. So there wouldn’t be any load on the anchors. As I said, they are there simply to prevent them from tipping forward if I accidentally pull on them or something. The little kit from IKEA has a bit of nylon strap that you are supposed to attach to the bookshelf and screw into the wall. I just don’t want to damage this crazy wall.

Sounds like you could install the bookshelf and drill for the wall mount. It the material is too soft nothing will be a strong hold. Does the wall seem to be stable? If it is at least as hard as Sheetrock you could probably use an anchor like these:

They can work well in hollow wall and solid masonry.

Certainly it has some sort of frame and ideally you could anchor into the frame with a multimaterial fastener/screw.

If it is hollow there are better hollow wall anchors that will expand within the cavity in different ways. If it is solid you could use screw in masonry anchors.

Manufacturers provide anchor tethers for things like bookcases , dressers and other furniture that can tip over because there are an inordinate number of accidents - even child fatalities each year due to tip overs. If you have small children - or ones visit you - I’d highly recommend you finding some structure to which you can attach the anchor. A child climbing on the bookcase - will pull out that Powers screw - and other hollow wall anchors.

In related situations, when we’d do a remodeling job on a bathroom - we’d highly recommend adding 3/4 inch plywood behind the Densshield or other tile backer board - even if grab-bars were not being installed. That way the home owner - at some later date - would have an easy time retrofitting the bath with ant size grab bar in any orientation and place desired.

Thanks for the reply. The wall is utterly stable, and as I said, is solid plaster and not hollow.

I’ll look at those anchors. My worry is that they are designed for hollow walls or masonry, and my wall is neither. I wonder if it would crack and split the solid plaster, but maybe I could try it in an unobtrusive place.

Thanks, fred. I agree completely on the need to secure the bookshelves somehow, which is why I am looking for an appropriate wall anchor. Sadly, there is no structure to secure the shelves to, other than the wall itself.

That layer of plywood sounds like a good idea, and if I ever remodel this place, I’ll consider it.

I think I am going to go with drilling through the wall, using thin bolts, washers and nuts on this side, and t-nuts on the other side (to handle force in either direction.) The t-nuts will protrude slightly, but if they are painted it shouldn’t be too bad.

There are also those knock-down hex-drive bolts with super-wide heads used for particleboard furniture, but they are expensive and I believe metric.

How about anchoring to where the wall meets the ceiling?
Is there any structure there that you could drive a screw-eye into to tie a thin cable to the top of the bookcase?

Hm, that’s a thought. I could try drilling some holes up there. There might be some kind of header I could use.

I suppose I could drill directly into the ceiling too, but it is 50-year old reinforced concrete. It is probably harder than an old baguette.

I’d agree with Fred. Use the 5" bolts/screws to a stud or the lathe at minimum. The gypsum substrate alone doesn’t seem to have mechanical strength to resist a forcecible pull with wall anchors.
If there is absolutely no wood substrate and the gypsum is adequately hard/stable you might consider a epoxy glue-in anchoring system. This is the method used in our sport rock climbing community. Here is a link with information on the materials and anchors:

Brilliant. The epoxy system seems designed for a situation very similar application to mine (soft stone.) The hole is big, but that’s true of most anchors. I might just use a screw eye, since the threads would create a mechanical lock. The load, if ever there is one, would pull straight out from the wall.

Wow, you climbers have relied on some really sketchy setups!


In case it is helpful at all, I’ll post what I ended up doing. The bookshelves are floorstanding but quite tall, standing about 4 inches below the ceiling. I just set them up then, screwed a piece of 1x2 to the side of each bookshelf close to the wall, snugged up tight to the ceiling. Then I tightened the adjustable feet to make sure it was tight. With books filling the bookshelves, you can’t see the 1x2s.

So the bookshelves are essentially wedged into place against the ceiling. They cannot fall over, unless the sides collapse catastrophically (they are open, ladder-like assemblies predrilled for shelf supports. IKEA Ivar, if you are interested.)

But like most things IKEA, these are made with the minimum structure required, and while they don’t lean or rack, they do bow from side to side a little. So to control that, and to add an additional level of protection, I stuck a 2x4 to the wall using six large 3M Command adhesive strips, and then bolted the shelf uprights to the 2x4. Rock solid, and no vibration.

Command strips are removable, even after years of use. Each large strip can handle about 5 pounds in shear, so I figure they can handle more tension perpendicular to the surface. Anyway, the forces as it begins to fall would be very small. Again, the shelves came with a little piece of nylon strap that you are supposed to screw into the wall with a single cheapo anchor, and that is supposed to be sufficient.

So, no anchors!