How to hang a shelf on a brick wall
Many people are worried about how to hang a shelf on a brick wall, it’s not something you can do in one day, but it is very simple with the right tools and materials. It just takes patience and some basic carpentry skills.
Masonry is generally made of bricks or some type of stone, such as limestone or marble. Handymen often need to attach shelving brackets or other types of hanging hardware to such walls in order to install an attractive display piece like a bookcase, medicine cabinet, plate rack, clock, etc., but they sometimes find that this job is much harder than it looks – and it looks pretty darn hard!
They’ll tell you that the only way to securely fasten something onto a brick wall is to drill through the wall and use a hammer-type fastener such as a Tapcon screw or an expansion bolt.
This method certainly works in many cases, but it’s not possible when there’s little or no room behind the brickwork to fit in the machinery needed for this job, and sometimes even when space is available, there just isn’t anything suitable in stock at the home improvement center nearby.
In addition, drilling has been known to shatter bricks, crack concrete blocks and even break glass tiles! We do NOT want that to happen here! It would be embarrassing if we had to re-tile our walls after all our hard work hanging shelves – ouch!
How about using sheet metal screws? They’re quick and easy to install, and they hold well.
Sure, but not if they’re driven into drywall or plaster; the tiny little slots in sheet metal screws are inadequate for wall materials that have virtually no “give” when a load is applied.
So even though this method may seem like a good idea at first, it doesn’t take long before you find out just how flimsy a set of properly installed shelf brackets can be if they’re forced to rest on a single row of tiny drive-screws instead of being anchored deep within mounting studs which have been securely fastened with strong bolts driven home from both sides of the wall simultaneously! But I guess using these screws would be okay if we were hanging something very lightweight – right?
However, even the lightest of objects can be very heavy over time, and experienced home improvers will tell you that heavier items need stronger brackets. So what’s an alternative?
Plywood backing! You’ll hear some old-timers say that it’s best to attach brackets directly onto the brick wall itself so they won’t come loose simply because someone shook their head while walking past them on the other side of the room… But this isn’t good advice because masonry walls are not made of soft pine or spruce – they’re hard concrete or bricks!
The solution? Attach a wooden board first, and then mount the brackets onto that – this will spread the load over a large section of the wall so they won’t come loose, even if someone bumps into them!
And what type of wood should we use? Plywood is best because it’s strong enough to support most types of hardware that would otherwise pull away from brick or stone walls without something to prevent lateral movement.
In addition, using plywood backing ensures that one set of screws will go into studs behind the mounting surface of your choice rather than relying on soft pine construction lumber, which might be found in a masonry wall cavity.
Soft lumber is not only more likely to eventually rot away by absorbing water, but it just doesn’t have the strength needed to support heavy objects securely. So if you don’t agree yet, pick up your favorite small object and try to rip out a screw – using only the holes in the bracket as an anchor – see for yourself how easy it is…
Since screws won’t hold on brick or stone, installing plywood backing first creates a solid platform onto which “real” brackets can be attached firmly enough to prevent any movement.
So now that you’ve decided that this job requires plywood backing, what type should be used?
Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is ideal because it’s available in many sizes of standard 4×8 panels and large 4’x4′ tiles that are easy to cut using either a hand-saw or even a circular saw with a plywood blade.
When cutting MDF, always use a sharp new blade placed well away from the edge of the wood. Good blades cost more than cheap ones because they don’t tear up sheets nearly as much as rough edges do!
This project requires that we first measure and then cut eight pieces of 3/4″ thick MDF: four measuring 24″ x 4’8″ and four measuring 24″ x 4’x4″.
Once the pre-cut MDF pieces have been stacked up on a workbench, lay out the position of each bracket so that they’ll be evenly spaced across the width of the plywood. Be sure to double check your measurements because even a one-inch variation between each vertical bracket could result in ending up with two shelves that are slightly too high or low to align properly when hung onto matching brackets!
When you’re satisfied that all eight brackets will perfectly match both sides of a completed installation, it’s time to drill the anchor holes through the plywood into studs or joists behind it. Since brick or stone walls rarely contain solid wood studs (which might be 16″ on center), mark the positions of each stud using a pencil – just in case you’re off by only one stud.
Size the drill bit (a 9/32″) to match the diameter of whatever screws you’ll be using, and make sure it’s installed straight down into the chuck… Since anchor holes made through plywood are supposed to be “plugged” with some kind of trim pieces, it doesn’t matter what they look like since no one will see them once everything is done. This also applies to any screw heads that might show after installation is completed because decorative matching end caps can easily hide them later on if they’re needed.
Anchor holes must pass completely through both layers of material; otherwise, their load-bearing effectiveness is greatly reduced. For this reason, don’t drill holes smaller than the screws you’ll be using, and don’t use wood-cutting spade bits for this job unless you’re certain that there’s enough lumber inside brick or stone walls to prevent them from collapsing.
Depending on how much weight each shelf will hold and whether or not it’s directly over a door or along an outside wall, select either toenail (flush) stud anchors or molly bolts with large wide flanges for attaching the plywood backing onto heavy duty brackets. When everything has been installed properly, each assembly can easily support more weight than any professional would ever want to put on a single store bought shelf…
Although it may seem possible in some cases to simply screw each bracket directly into the back of a heavy-duty shelf, doing so will eventually cause it to sag and possibly even crack. In addition, the more you cut corners like this, the more often your shelves will need replacing during their lifetime…
So now that we’ve covered all the tools and materials needed, assembling each 4’x4′ section onto plywood backing requires only these seven easy steps :
1) Apply caulk or construction adhesive around each hole, being careful not to get any on the front faces of MDF or studs behind.
2) Insert anchor bolts through holes from the back side, leaving a small part visible at the front until the concrete has set.
3) Position each sheet against studs, carefully aligning inside edges together with marks made earlier.
4)Make sure each stud is straight in line with the next sheet, then fasten all sheets tightly to studs.
5) Fasten plywood backing with 3″ deck screws top and bottom of the same way as studs are fastened.
6) Hang each 24 “x4′ shelf section in place using two double-headed 4″ lag screws with large washers through each bolt on bracket – plus one more 10” long lag screw driven into a ceiling joist below.
7) Level shelves so that they line up exactly when hung onto corresponding brackets.
Now you’re ready to fill your shelves with whatever it is you want to be kept off the floor!
Now that you know how to hang a shelf on a brick wall, all you need is the right tools and materials. Shelf installation is a straightforward process that anyone can do with a little bit of patience and some basic carpentry skills. Just be sure to take your time and follow the steps outlined in this article, and you’ll have shelves up in no time!