Q: My daughter is 21 months old. We need to install fasteners in plaster walls to secure the furniture. Is there an easy way to accomplish this? The house was built in 1910, so we assume it has wood lath under the plaster. Can we find studs in this type of wall?

A: Ah yes, the terrible twos. Kevin remembers them well. Daughter Katie spent most of her time exploring, trying stuff out and pulling it down. There was an occasional mess on the floor when Katie zigged when an older child would have zagged. No major mishaps though.

You are wise to invest some time and money into kid-proofing the house. We presume you’ve already done the basics, such as moving caustic chemicals out of reach and installing child-resistant latches on cabinet doors.

Installing some kind of bracketing device to keep furniture upright is a great idea. It’ll do double duty too: protecting your daughter and keeping the armoire on its feet during an earthquake.

Houses built in the 1910s had interior walls of lath and plaster. Yours is probably no exception. If there hasn’t been a remodel in the intervening 90-plus years, the assumption that the walls are plaster over wooden lath is probably right.

Finding studs in a lath-and-plaster wall can be tough for a couple of reasons. First, while the studs in modern wall systems are equidistant from each other (16 inches on center) to support 8- or 12-foot lengths of wall board, the same can’t necessarily be said for old wall systems, as wood lath requires no such uniformity of application to affix plaster.

To compound the situation, lath-and-plaster walls are more solid than Sheetrock walls, making it difficult to locate studs by tapping on the wall or by using a stud finder.

The good news is that it’s not important to locate studs to secure the furniture. The brackets can be attached to the wall by using one of a number of wall anchors. Our choice would be to use a metal expandable wall anchor. It’s the stoutest and easiest to use.

These anchors work by collapsing and compressing expanded metal straps that are designed to buckle in a specific manner and exert pressure on the back side of the wall when the fastener is tightened down. As the bolt tightens, it compresses the "umbrella" closure.

You will begin by drilling a pilot hole through the plaster and lath. Ironically, the only problem you might have is if you encounter a stud. If that happens, simply abandon the anchor and use a wood screw instead.

To install these anchors:

  • Using the correct size bit, drill a pilot hole.
  • With a hammer, gently tap the anchor, seating it firmly so the tooth prongs bite into the wall.
  • Insert the bolt through the furniture fastener, tighten the bolt and draw the umbrella closure tight up against the back of the wall.
  • Attach the bracket to the furniture you wish to secure.

For pictures and descriptions of this and other wall anchors, go to http://homerepair.about.com/od/interiorhomerepair/ss/wall_fastening.htm.


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