Is spackle sturdy enough to hold a screw?

This is, no doubt, one of the more idiotic questions asked on these boards, but when it comes to home improvement/repair, I am indeed an idiot.

Scenario: Just got a place and went to put up curtain rods. After screwing in the fixtures (to hold the curtain rod), I realized that the screws were still turning - it was just drywall, no beam for the screws to latch into (I know, my first mistake was not getting a stud-finder). Anyway, I thought I’d try a wall anchor in place of the screw, which would have been a good idea except the anchor hit a beam farther back, meaning the first screws I’d tried simply hadn’t been long enough. So the anchor started going in crooked once it hit the beam. I took it out, but now there’s a huge anchor hole where I need a small screw hole (heh). My question: If I fill the hole with spackle, will that be sufficiently strong to allow me to re-insert the screw into the sam spot, or will I have to drill new holes (which I’d rather not, since we painted the walls and I don’t have any more paint to cover the spackled area, but the fixture will fit over it if I can use the same holes)? I’m probably not making this clear, but any help will be tremendously appreciated.

If you put the curtain rod up, will it cover the hole?

If so, what you want are some toggle bolts. They’re what you should have used in the first place. Basically, you thread the screw through your curtain rod fitting, then through the toggle bolt. You collapse the wings of the toggle bolt and push it through the hole. When it goes through, the wings snap open again. Then you tighten the screw, which pulls the now-open toggle bolt wings against the back of the drywall. This is a very strong mounting method.

Plastic drywall anchors are useless for anything but hanging pictures. Never use them in a place where there’s a force that pulls the screw away from the wall - they’ll eventually just pull out. Toggle bolts or metal screw-in anchors are the only solution for things like curtain rods, towel holders, and the like. Often, because you have no leeway over where they are positioned you are forced to go into the drywall without a stud. That’s when you use the toggle bolts. If you can, try to position at least one end so that there’s a stud behind the screws, then support the other end with the toggle bolts.

Whoever built our house put in all our towel holders and toilet paper holders with drywall anchors. And ALL of them failed and pulled out of the wall over time. I just took the last one down today, removed the loose drywall achors and replaced them with toggle bolts.

If you don’t have a stud finder, you can often spot where the stud is by shining a light down the wall (put the light close to the wall so it sweeps across the surface). Doing this will highlight any imperfections - inluding dimples where nails or screws are holding the drywall to the stud.

You can also figure out the position of a stud by looking at your electrical boxes. They will be nailed to studs. Measure the distance between two of them, and see if it’s a multiple of 12 or 16 - studs are using positioned 12" apart on center or 16" apart on center. Remember that the edge of an electrical box will be on the side of the stud, so the center of the stud is 1 1/4 inches back from that (2 x 4 studs are actually 1 1/2 by 3 1/2). So take a measurement along the bottom of the wall from the nearest electrical box to where you want to attach the curtain rod. Every 12 or 16 inches, make a mark. Then you can line up with the mark by dropping a plumb bob from where you want to hang the curtain rod to the mark.

This sounds like a lot, but it’s really fast. The trick is to make sure you know which side of the electrical box the stud is on. But you can usually figure that out by tapping around it, or even by removing the faceplate and shining a light inside and looking through the holes. Or you can look at other things attached to the wall, or measure out the distance from the electrical box to a known stud location like the end of the wall.

BTW, if you went through with the screw and met no resistance, but a longer one hit something, you’re not hitting the wall stud at all, unless the short screw wasn’t even long enough to penetrate the drywall. There should be no gap whatsoever between the stud and the drywall, obviously. So either you were using very tiny, inappropriate screws, or you were hitting something else in the wall with the longer screws - a fire break, an electrical wire, or something else. If the screw was really long, you might even have been going into drywall on the other side of the wall or the external plywood sheathing of the house. Eiither way, I would not continue to screw into whatever it was.

As for spackling… How big is the hole? If it’s just 3/8" or something, that’s the size of hole you’d need for a toggle bolt anyway. If it’s much bigger than that (i.e. a 1" hole), then you can’t spackle it closed - you need to make a plug first, attach it to the drywall, then use spackle to smooth it over and blend in the damage. But spackle isn’t structural, and it will shrink and crack over time if you use too much of it. And you can never screw into it - it will just crumble and break. It has no real strength of its own.

Hope this helps.

Wow, thanks, Sam! A lot of info, but definitely good info. I should mention I was using metal screw-in anchors and not the plastic kind, which even I know are basically worthless. And I am familiar with toggle bolts after looking at the picture in the link - I just never knew what they were called. I’ll pick some up.

ETA: Oh, and the original screws were definitely too short - but they were the screws that came with the fixture (from IKEA, I think I hardly need add).

After countless curtain rod adventures, many of them including the exact scenario in the OP, I’ve hit upon this near foolproof method for attaching anything to drywall.

After deciding where to place whatever, I mark one hole. Using a screw long enough to penetrate the sheetrock, 1-1/4" to 1-1/2", I screw that fully into the wall, but without the curtain rod or whatever. If I hit a stud, great! I back out the screw and hang that side of the curtain rod. If I don’t hit a stud, then I back out the screw and use the hole to insert an anchor. Lately, I’ve been using the plastic screw-in anchors. They’re easy to install and quite strong.

After the first side is fastened by one screw, I repeat on the other side. This makes it very easy to level the curtain rod or shelf or mirror. The first screw holds up one end while I apply the level and mark the other end.

And in your case, where you need to spackle the hole. The spackle won’t hold the screw by itself, but if the screw is long enough to go into the stud, then the stud will hold the screw, not the spackle.

Thanks, Rhubarb.

Don’t use plastic screw-in anchors to put up shelves. Because the weight of a shelf is some distance from the surface of the drywall, the shelf puts a serious pulling force on the drywall anchor. Think of a claw hammer pulling a nail. Drywall anchors are strongest when the force is perpendicular to the wall, because they act as a stiffening agent for the drywall, and are supported by the drywall. So putting weight on a picture frame is okay, up to the rated weight of the anchor.

But a pulling force is another matter. Drywall material just isn’t that strong, and the only thing holding that anchor in is the sandwiched drywall between the threads. One day you’ll put too much weight on that shelf, and it will come down. Or more likely, over time as things are removed from the shelf and put on it, the anchors will slowly pull out of the wall, makiing the shelf loose and causing it to rattle.

Use a toggle bolt or a molly bolt to hang anything like that on drywall if you can’t hit a stud. If it’s a heavy shelf, use a toggle bolt. If it’s a really heavy shelf, you need to actually cut into the drywall, install supports, and repair it. I imagine more than one plasma TV has crashed to the ground because someone hung it on a wall with drywall anchors.

What do you folks think about these self-drilling anchors?

I’ve had good luck with them, myself. I used them to install all of the towel racks in my house. They resist pulling out, and aren’t as much as a pain as toggle bolts and molly bolts.

I agree that normal drywall anchors are generally unsuited for anything other than something light that doesn’t exert any pulling force on the anchor.

I think I would do everything I could to get a plasma TV mounted to wall studs rather than using any type of drywall anchor.

An anchor like that is strong if the force is perpendicular to the wall (shear force), but not nearly as strong when the force is pulling away from the wall (tension). If you scroll down on the page, you’ll see that the rated load for 1/2" drywall is 40lbs in shear, but only 15 lbs in tension. If you hang a shelf with one of these, if you drop something on the shelf or there’s vibration in the room, you’ll create a transient force in tension that can pull the anchor a bit out of the wall. One it begins to be loose, it loses strength and will start to work its way out.

So again, they’re fine for hanging pictures or other things where the load is right at the intersection of the anchor and the drywall. For anything like a shelf or a curtain rod, use a toggle, a molly bolt. or find a stud.

All of my windows are framed with at least one 2x4 stud, and sometime two, on both sides of the window and a header on the top. I just make sure the curtain rod end isn’t more than an inch outside the window and use 1" screws to go through the drywall or plaster into the stud.

I’m not following your definitions. A wall runs vertically, therefore force perpendicular to the wall means pulling away from the wall. I think you mean that *parallel * force is shear force.

Most things you would attach to a household wall are shallow enough that tension force doesn’t much come into play, and nearly all the force is straight down.

This has been a topic of discussion in some construction forums. When framing a wall, I can either do it to code or I can put in blocking, based upon how people will actually use a dwelling. Window treatments, horizontal runs to support cabinetry in kitchens and bathrooms, grab bars adjacent to toilets and in tub surround areas are all spots to place a framing member. Doing so requires the framer to look beyond the print and put him/herself in the shoes of the final occupant and ask, “What would I want to install/hang here?” Convenience and common sense aren’t mandated by code.

A word of caution to anyone who finds something solid in a wall cavity - ie: you go through the sheetrock, find air, but then there’s something solid a bit further in.

Look at the other side of the wall before going any farther!

There’s a very good chance that hard thing is an electrical box. In the OP’s case, it could be an outside light fixture, or in the case of a neighbor, they weren’t paying attention and drilled a hole into their circuit breaker panel from behind with spectacular results.

OTOH, if the hard stuff is wood, you’ve probably just run into some goofy framing - someone might have used a single 2x8 against the exterior wall as a window header, for example. In which case, yes, you can patch the hole and start over with a suitably long screw to engage the wood.

It’s for situations like these that I wish someone would introduce an affordable borescope to the market so we could easily look inside a wall and see what we’ve run into. Although… These are getting close to “cheap” but probably not quite cheap enough for occasional DIY use.

Don’t fprget the possibility that it might be some copper or PVC plumbing pipe. If it’s supply line, you’ll hear it right away. If it’s waste line, well…

Molly-bolts® are a wonder when they work as designed. When they fail, they’ll break your heart, and you’re stuck with a shiny staring eye in the wall to remind you of the failure.

In theory, the part of the Molly behind the wall will neatly spread out to give you a firm anchor in the wall, and its screw will be precisely in the center of the hole you drilled. If you ever need to remove it, you back out the screw and gently tap it, to straighten out the frangible parts of the anchor. Then you can pry and pull the whole thing out.

Over the years, I had enough Mollys fail that I don’t use them any more. Some worked well as anchors, but when my decorating committee (wife) decided we needed a different curtain rod, one or two would break in the extraction process. That means not only is it there forever, but you can’t put another curtain rod near it; it gets in the way. You can’t use a broken Molly again, because the threaded part is down in the wall somewhere.

Now, finally, if the OP is as all-thumbs as he says he is, here is a WARNING. Yes, I’m yelling.

MAKE SURE ALL THE WASHERS AND BRACKETS ARE ON THE TOGGLE BOLT BEFORE YOU PRESS IT INTO THE WALL. You can back it out, but the toggle falls off and you’ll need a new one. :smack: :smack:

I’m not following your definitions. A wall runs vertically, therefore force perpendicular to the wall means pulling away from the wall. I think you mean that *parallel * force is shear force.

I should have said ‘perpendicular to the fastener’. Good catch. But I think everyone knew what I meant.

I was specifically responding to the idea of hanging shelves or curtain rods this way. And they DO have a significant tension force that is applied to the wall hanger. In fact, they behave just like a claw hammer pulling out a nail - there is a lever arm, a supporting bracket holding the bottom of it against the wall, and a force at the end of the lever attempting to pull the anchor from the wall.

As I said, most of the wall fixtures in my current house were attached with typical expansion anchors, and over the last five years I’ve had to replace ALL of them. Every single one. every rod, every towel bar, every toilet paper holder. They all worked themselves out of the wall.

And when you put up a shelf, you may not plan to put anything heavy on it. But no one else knows how you hung the shelf, and they may have different ideas. Or one day someone will try to use the shelf to pull themselves up, or they’ll drop something on it, or a kid will try to hang from it, and the whole thing will come down on his head.

Use the right fastener for the job. Expansion anchors aren’t it. They’re fine for small pictures, fine to hang a wall clock or to attach a thermostat or something. But they’re wholly inappropriate for anything where there will be a load some distance from the face of the wall.

I mentioned the same thing. You’d think we had experience with that or something…

I also agree that Molly bolts can be a pain. You can get them out, though - you drill them out. Use a drill bit slightly bigger than the screw that would go into the molly bolt, and drill it out. The back part will fall off, and you can pull the front out. The big risk is that the bolt will spin with the drill, so you might want to figure out a way to hold it in place with pliers or something while you do it. Or, you could let it spin, apply a little more pressure, and get it to spin through the dryall and drop inside. THe hold will be a little larger (the size of the flange on the bolt), but you can then use the same hole or repair it.

If you just want to hide the hole, put the screw back in the molly bolt, and tap it with a hammer until the entire bolt face is set into the drywall a little. Then remove the screw and spackle over the whole thing.

Had a customer do just that when adding shelf brackets to the pantry closet. Four or so nails driven into the ‘really tough’ stud, which was, in reality, the DWV riser to the second floor. Oopsie. :stuck_out_tongue:

I almost mentioned that, but I feared it would set me to weeping and screaming again. :smack: After a $2 device has shown me how big a fokkop I am :smack: , I’m really reluctant to apply a hammer to drywall. :eek: I’m calmer, these days. Back then, when I was angry enough to see red, even I could see that picking up a hammer would have been a bad decision. Starting a curtain rod job with a drywall patch seemed like a step backward. :smack:

Yes, I’m calmer now, and I don’t seek out frustration unless there’s no other way. As Og is my witness, I will never buy or use another Molly-bolt. The universe has its own destination for the Molly-bolt’s inventor.

Agreed. Anyone who would hang heavy shelves with drywall anchors is probably my wife :). I wouldn’t trust toggles in that case either, unless I had no choice. Since there’s usually some latitude as to where the brackets go for a shelf, I strongly recommend always screwing directly into studs. Double ditto for anything suspended from the ceiling. But for lightweight, knickknack shelves no more than 6" deep, screw-in anchors will suffice. The trick lies in not overestimating the strength of drywall.

And to David Simmons, you are absolutely correct, the window framing is the best place to hang curtains or blinds, but it seemed the OP had already missed that spot and now had a hole to cover up. I’ve also had windows that didn’t seem to be framed properly and there just wasn’t a stud where there should have been. And when the love of my life is designing window treatments for Rancho Rhubarb, there are blinds that mount just inside the window casing, a curtain rod to hold shears or drapes just outside the window casing and another curtain rod to hold some foofy-poofy dust catcher valance thing to mount outside the first curtain rod. By this time all of the prime, stud-backed real estate is gone and I’m hoping to get the anchors in the right place the first time.