From this point forward, I’m only using 30-pound Floreat picture hangers to hang things on my wall. After 25 hours of research and testing, it became clear that they’re the best. In addition to our own testing, I spoke with four different art galleries and a professional art installer and all of them exclusively use Floreats. The hangers are also highly recommended in articles written by art hangers and custom picture framers.
The Floreats were the only hangers that came close to achieving their advertised weight rating when not nailed into a stud. Furthermore, the small, quality nails included pierce the wall cleanly and only leave a small hole when removed.
These hooks are all designed for use directly in drywall, but if you also want a stud finder to be extra sure your wall will bear the weight, we recommend the Magic Stud Finder Plus in a separate guide.
If you’re just looking for a small all-around kit that has a few hangers, some picture wire and eyehooks, we recommend the Ook 50-Piece Assorted Picture Hook Kit.
We also have some thoughts on hanging pictures in masonry.
My experience with construction and home improvement
For the past ten years I’ve been in the construction industry, where I’ve mostly been building high-end custom homes. Working for a company that offered soup to nuts service, I’ve spent many, many days hanging pictures for clients. I also fully gutted and remodeled my own hundred-year-old farm house. For the past six years, I’ve been writing about tools and construction gear at ToolSnob.com, as well as for This Old House, Popular Mechanics and Tools of the Trade, to name a few.
Why picture hangers instead of thumbtacks, etc?
The majority of residential wall construction since the ‘60s has been done with either sheetrock or blueboard with a plaster skim coat. Previous to these sheetgoods, there were a variety of backers (wood and metal lath) with a thick plaster coat on top. Because of the prevalence of these types of gypsum board/plaster-based constructions, I looked at hooks designed specifically for walls of this style. Masonry is a different story; we cover it below.
We do need to note that because the quality and condition of plastered walls (specifically old ones) varies so greatly, you need to investigate and determine for yourself how they will hold up to a picture hanger. In my ten years in construction, I’ve seen ancient horsehair plaster walls that were as sturdy as can be, and I’ve seen others that crumble in your fingertips. If your walls have extensive cracking or any play when you push against it, the plaster may have disengaged from the lath, resulting in the loss of virtually all structural integrity. In these situations, it may be best to locate a stud and hang the piece directly off of that or have a plasterer come and take a look to see if any repairs are needed.
What makes a good picture hanger?
A picture hanger has only two requirements: it must make a solid connection with the wall, and it needs to be able to hold the picture wire securely in its hook.
The key ingredient to the first task, making a connection with the wall, is the angle at which the nail passes through the hanger. Because the nail enters the wall at a downward angle, the hanger/nail combo actually ‘hooks’ the plaster, distributing the weight of the picture not only into the wall, but against it as well.
Not everyone agrees on what the ideal angle for the nail is1, but our research and testing showed that 30 degrees from the level line (horizontal axis with respect to the ground) or 60 degrees from the plumb line (vertical axis) holds the most weight.
Another thing to look for is a solid nail-to-hook connection point that has as little wiggle room as possible. The hangers that performed the best during testing were the ones that had the most success stabilizing the nail, leaving very little or no movement on the angle as the fastener entered the wall. Wiggle room translates into a loose fitting nail and an unstable angle. Not only does this make installation more difficult, it increases the chances of slipping.
The hook, the part of the hanger that actually cradles the picture wire, needs to be stable and strong as well. That means it should be reinforced by a ridge that runs down the back of the body: around the bottom of the hook and up the front. It’s little more than a stamped crease in some hangers, but it significantly adds to the strength of the hook, making it very resistant to bending down. The idea is that it’s much harder to bend a tube (or half a tube) than it is to bend a sheet. The last thing you want to worry about is the hook collapsing and dropping your pictures on the hallway floor.
Notice the deep ridge running down the center of the Floreat’s hook. Also, note the tight nail hole at the collar piece that prohibits the nail from shifting its angle. The Hillman has no reinforcement at the hook.
While each package of hangers has a weight restriction on it, commonly 10, 20, 30, 50, 75, or 100 pounds, the small print, like on the Ook box, says these weight ratings “are based on hangers nailed into studs and are for comparative purposes only.” Nailed into studs and nailed into a sheet of drywall are two totally different things.
During my research, I called a number of galleries and professional art hangers; I asked them about this. Nathalie Champion of Manitou Galleries in Santa Fe, NM, told me that when they hang a picture, they “grossly over-shoot” the weight of the painting. Henry Muchmore, owner of Level Fine Art Services, an art handling company also in Santa Fe, said that he won’t use any hanger rated for less that 30 pounds “even on the smallest items.”
To give some context to this, I weighed a few pictures of mine. A photograph that I have hanging in a 12½ x 10½ drugstore frame weighs 1 pound, 9 ounces. Another picture, measuring 16 x 16 with a fairly robust 2½-inch wooden frame only weighs 2 pounds, 7 ounces.
Since picture hangers cost very little, and artwork can cost thousands of dollars or have irreplaceable sentimental value, there is no reason not to get stronger hangers than you need, especially when the 30-pound and 10-pound ones cost the same. Taking the advice of Muchmore and his 15 years of experience as a professional picture hanger and art installer in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which The Atlantic deemed “The Most Artistic City in America,” I only looked at 30-pound hooks.
There is no doubt that a 30-pound hook will be able to support the vast majority of pictures. But if you’re looking to hang something heavier, our testing showed that you should choose hangers that have a weight rating of at least double the weight of the picture, if not more.
What’s out there?
Without question the most dominant brand on the shelves is Ook. They’re found at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace, and most local hardware stores. They sell both a professional line as well as a simpler, more inexpensive line. Ook is owned by Hillman, who also has a lesser line of hooks which don’t have a reinforcing ridge at the hook end.
Beyond those companies, there isn’t much in the way of quality brass picture hangers. The rest of the pack are all very simple and similar to the Hillman (without any kind of hook reinforcement), and like I said earlier, those are not recommended.
How we tested
To test out the hangers, I installed each hook into a wall consisting of ½-inch blueboard and a skim coat of plaster. While doing this, I watched for plaster spalling and chipping. Then I hung a series of increasing weights from the hangers and watched how they reacted. I raised the weight to 15 pounds in 5-pound increments, then 2-pound increases until 27 pounds. Then I ended with 30 pounds, the official weight limit of the hangers. After that, I went back and installed new hangers and just placed 30 pounds on the hook with no incremental steps. I also checked each hanger’s nail angle with a digital angle finder.
The Floreats are by far the best picture hangers for plaster/wallboard-based walls. Not only did our own testing show this, but by many in the art world, they’re regarded as the only hanger worth using.
When the nail sits in the Floreat, it passes through an ⅛” long collar that prevents movement and ensures that the fastener enters the wall at the proper 30 degree angle. The hook end has a thick ridge running through it, giving it plenty of added strength, and the durable nail is made of steel so sharp it doesn’t spall any plaster when it is installed. The knurled end of the nailhead makes it easy to remove, and because the nail is so thin and pierces the wall at such a steep angle, the hole that’s left is extremely small and will only need minimal patching if you ever decide to move the picture.
During our weight testing, the Floreats excelled. The Floreat hanger started to slightly sag around the 21-pound mark but didn’t significantly sag until 25 pounds. It made it to 30 pounds, but with the nail almost pulled down to the horizontal position. The others didn’t fare nearly as well. The Hillman, which spalled some plaster upon install, lost more plaster at 19 pounds, and started to cause spiderweb cracks at 21 pounds. At 23 pounds, the hook end gave away and released the weights. The Moore showed some sagging at 17 pounds and the nail dropped to horizontal at 21 pounds. The Professional Ooks started sagging at the 19 pound mark, significantly sagged at 23 pounds, and became functionally useless at 25 pounds with the nail bending to horizontal. The regular Ooks did well compared to the rest of the pack, probably due to the gigantic, plaster-destroying nail and the solid nail angle. That hanger popped some plaster during install and at 19 pounds. It started pulling away from the wall at 21 pounds, lost quite a bit more plaster at 25 pounds, and went horizontal at 27 pounds.
When I installed new hangers and put 30 pounds directly on them, the Floreat hardly sagged at all. Again, the hook end of the Hillman gave out. The Moore and the Professional Ook sagged and became very loose. The inexpensive Ook sagged slightly and only loosened a little.
After testing the hooks in this extreme manner and watching the way they handled the increasing weight, the hesitancy of the professional picture hangers to use hooks with smaller weight ratings became clear. After observing this test, the Floreat is the only one that I would trust with anything over 15 pounds, just half of the hook’s actual weight rating.
The choice of professional gallery owners
You don’t have to take my word for it though—Floreats have a very strong following in the art industry among those who use hangers on a daily basis.
Muchmore, the aforementioned art installer from Santa Fe had this to say: “I use Floreats. The nails are very thin and leave small, easily repaired holes. They are also very strong and sharp.”
His sentiments are echoed by Champion of Mantiou Galleries. She likes the Floreats because they “go in and pull out of plaster walls nicely, with little or no chipping.”
ProArtSource, a picture framing company has the following posted on their website, “Floreat hangers are highly recommended for drywall picture hanging. Even large, heavy items. They do not damage the drywall and it is barely detectable that the hangers were ever there, once removed.”
In a very in-depth blog post on how to hang paintings, Jason Horejs, owner of the Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, writes that “once you’ve used a Floreat hanger, you’ll never be able to use another brand again. Floreat hangers are manufactured in Germany, and the engineering and design is exceptional. These brass plated steel picture hangers are strong and durable.” He continues, “the nails are extremely tough, yet very narrow, almost pin-like in gauge. They leave very small holes in your wall. Unlike other brands, Floreat hanger nails won’t bend easily, and can be reused if you need to move the artwork.”
Floreats are sold at a number of places online, but the art installers that I spoke with get them directly from Ziabicki, the importer of these hooks, because of the semi-bulk quantities and excellent pricing. The smallest quantity that Ziabicki sells is 30 hangers for about $8.50 ($0.28 per hanger). Amazon sells smaller packages of 3 hangers for $2.25, or $0.75 per unit. 30 hangers may seem like an unnecessary amount, but the box that I got for testing could be condensed down to fit inside of an Altoid container, so having all of the extra hangers on hand won’t take up much room in the kitchen drawer or home toolbox.
Another tip that Champion from Manitou Galleries told me is to hang every picture with two hangers. This increases the stability of the picture, keeping it level when someone slams a nearby door, and it also causes the picture to sit flatter against the wall. So if you use this recommended technique, the 30 hangers all-of-a-sudden become enough for only 15 pictures. Because of the per-unit cost and the usefulness of having a good supply of picture hangers, we recommend getting them from Ziabiki. But still, if you only want a couple at a time, smaller packages are available.
For larger items
Another benefit of setting each picture on two hangers is that it doubles the potential weight limit of the hooks. This is certainly something to keep in mind when hanging heavier items. Like Champion said, it’s always best to “grossly over-shoot” the weight of the picture.
For high traffic areas
If you have larger pictures that you’re concerned about, Floreat also sells 75-pound safety hangers. Because of their size, they’re more expensive at $8.90 for ten units.
As described, none of the other hangers surpassed the Floreat in the weight testing. Beyond that, they all had other problems.
The Ook Professional Hangers, which at first glance have a design identical to the Floreat, had a surprising amount of play in the nail angle. This is particularly strange seeing as it mimics the Floreat’s ⅛” holding collar. Of all the hooks, the Ook Professional has the shallowest nail angle: 74 degrees, only 16 degrees away from fully horizontal. They are about $14 for 25 hangers, or $0.56/unit.
The Moores are thick and sturdy hangers, but they simply couldn’t compete with Floreat in the weight test. They also have a larger nail, that leaves a bigger hole. The head of the nail is very small and difficult to remove, especially when compared to the knurled head of the Floreat. To top it off, the Moore hangers are also very expensive; available in a 3-pack, they boil down to $2.94 per hanger.
Hillman’s hanger has a thick nail and a steep angle. It’s non-reinforced. During both weight tests, the Hillman hook bent and let go of the weights, the only hook to do so. These hooks are identical to the vast selection of low-end hooks that are found in every hardware store in America. Remember, if it doesn’t have a reinforced hook, keep looking.
The regular Ook Hangers stabilize the nail with a small plastic triangle that the nail passes through as it sits in the hanger. The plastic fits tight on the nail and ensures that it doesn’t move at all. The piece also serves the purpose of keeping your fingers away from the hammer strike while you’re installing the hanger. If you’re not used to using a hammer, it’s a feature you’ll appreciate. The hanger did well with the weights, probably attributed to the secure nail angle combined with the massive size of the railroad spike that it uses for a nail. It was by far the largest fastener of the bunch and it did its share of damage to the skim coat of plaster on the walls.
Other hangers that I looked at but didn’t test included the Monkey Hooks and the similar Hercules Hooks and Super Hooks. They’re interesting items, but they have their drawbacks. The design is basically a bent piece of wire that you jam through your sheetrock, and the kinks and curves of the wire hold it in place and transfer the weight of the picture to the wall. Because they go through the wall and hook against the back of the sheetrock, they won’t work where there’s a stud or any kind of horizontal blocking. This makes them limiting if you have a precise layout in mind for your artwork. In addition, the wire needs to shift around in the wall during installation, so it would seem that if the wall cavity was filled with a dense insulation, like a closed-cell spray foam, there could be issues there as well.
Similar to these is the Ballard Design Power Hook. According to the manufacturer, it can hold up to 121 pounds in ½-inch sheetrock. It has received good customer reviews at Ballard Design. To install it, you need to punch a hole in your wall with an awl or a screwdriver and then twist the hook in. Because of the damage it does to the wall, it’s not practical for most pictures.
Another style of hanger is the French cleat. Consisting of two interlocking brackets, the hangers can hold up a tremendous amount of weight, as evidenced by the 200-pound rating on this Ook model. In construction, I’ve used the same principal to hang cabinets; the brackets are incredibly sturdy. But it’s overkill for the average 2-pound painting. While I’m in favor of overshooting the weight of the picture, doing so by 100 times is a bit excessive. French cleats also need to be screwed into the wall at multiple points, so they do a good amount of damage during install.
We need to note that it appears that the Ook hooks that come with this kit do not have the little plastic piece that stabilizes the nail. When I removed the plastic piece, the nail had a lot of movement, swinging from 60 degrees all the way up to the horizontal point of 90 degrees. So, when installing these hooks pay close attention, and make sure you drive the nails at a nice steep angle to increase their holding strength.
So with the Ook kit, you get the complete picture hanging package for short money, but just be aware that they hooks you’re dealing with aren’t the highest quality.
Hillman sells a kit as well with a large variety of hangers, but since the safety of the art work is paramount, I discounted this kit because of the non-reinforced hooks. A company called Midwest Fastener sells a 175-piece kit, but it also comes with the flimsier hooks and cannot be recommended.
What to do about masonry?
Hanging a picture on masonry is a trickier proposition and to do it properly requires special tools.
3M’s Command Picture Hanging Strips are popular and use an adhesive. They are not compatible with brick and are only recommended for cinder block if it’s painted (which it usually is). Even then, the Command hooks don’t instill a lot of confidence. If you look at the small print on their instructions, you’ll see, “DO NOT use for antiques, heirlooms, or other valuable or irreplaceable items. DO NOT hang items over beds.” Not exactly inspiring words.
Jason Horejs, writing in the aforementioned article on how to hang pictures, sums up the concerns with using adhesive to mount pictures: “Eventually the artwork is going to fall. I have no doubt that some adhesives are strong enough to take the weight of artwork. The problem, however, is the surface you are trying to adhere to.” He goes on to say that “if you glue a hook to a painted wall, you are, in essence, placing all of the weight of the artwork on the paint. The paint will eventually peel away from the wall and your artwork will end up on the floor.”
I asked Muchmore, the Santa Fe art installer, what method he uses for masonry. He said that if you hit a Floreat nail just right, it can penetrate cinder block and red brick. I tested this out and couldn’t do it without bending the nail (Muchmore said it takes practice). If the surface is too hard for nails, he pre-drills a hole with a masonry bit and uses a screw and plastic wall anchor through the center opening of a 50-pound Floreat hanger.
So after all of our research and testing: if you want to put your pictures on the best hangers, go with the Floreats. They hold a lot of weight and leave a very small, clean hole. For a quick-and-dirty variety pack, the Ook 50-piece will work. It’s cheap and has a little of everything and the hangers are of decent quality. But really you should get the Floreats.