Qs about hanging heavy bookcase on plaster and lath wall

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Forum topic by Abter posted 12-03-2018 08:12 PM 375 views 0 times favorited 2 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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79 posts in 1229 days

12-03-2018 08:12 PM

Topic tags/keywords: plaster lath firewall bookcase

I am building some built in bookcases for my daughter’s newly purchased condo. They are in a classic Washington DC 14 unit downtown apartment building built In 1909. 10 foot ceilings, steam radiator heat, plaster & lath walls, hardwood and marble floors, decorative plaster ornamentation on the mantel… it’s a gem.

While the lower bookcases will sit on the floor, others must be hanging on the wall. I was surprised to learn how heavy books were; about 20 pounds per linear foot. The largest hanging bookcase is about 36” wide, and will have 5 shelves. With ¾” plywood throughout (carcass, back and shelves), this will weigh a lot.

My real problem is the wall where I want to mount these is an interior wall between the adjacent apartment. While I’ve been quite successful finding studs on the other walls, but this wall appears to not have studs. After trying every device I could find to locate studs in plaster walls, I drilled two rows of holes 2” apart in the across the full width of the space (holes will be behind the shelving unit). Every single hole hit something very hard 1” to 1.25” deep. There was little space (.25” ??) between the plaster and lath and this solid back material.
My guess is that there is some sort of fireproof wall between the units, perhaps made out of brick or similar impenetrable material. Even with a brand new bit I could not make a dent in the dense material.

What am I running into? Is it possible that there is a brick firewall there?
Can I attach to the wall French cleats, and a 2×2 runner on the wall for the base of the unit to sit on with some sort of masonry screw product, perhaps with something like a lead shield anchor in the masonry.
All suggestions and help appreciated.

-- "Many men fish all their lives without ever realizing that it is not the fish they are after." {often mis-quoted as by H.D. Thoreau}

2 replies so far

View DBDesigns's profile


232 posts in 599 days

#1 posted 12-03-2018 09:33 PM

There is a strong possibility that you have a block or brick wall separating apartments. In fact, I hope that is the case. There would be some kind of firring strips between the block and the lath.

There are many different types of fasteners that will work here. It depends on weight and installation. Here is a french cleat method. You still have to deal with the space behind the cabinet but it is a start. I would use heavy concrete screws to hang the cleat. This is obvious but I’ll mention it anyway. You need a spacer at the bottom of the shelf unit so it hangs straight. The beauty of this system is that you hang the cleats and then just lift the cabinet up onto it after it is already secure. I always shoot some screws through the back of the cabinet into the cleat attached to the wall just for safety.

Also, I am actually after the fish. Especially Stripers. They are awesome fried!

-- I remember when Grateful wasn't Dead

View BlasterStumps's profile


1494 posts in 1041 days

#2 posted 12-04-2018 02:33 AM

I’m probably being way overly cautious but were it me, I would look into the wall with an inspection camera before doing any drilling. I would want to get a good idea of what it is that I am depending on for the purpose of supporting your bookcase. If it is a ways back in the wall from the plaster, you will loose some of the strength of the fasteners, would you not? Does the bookcase have to be wall mounted? A floor standing bookcase attached with clips at the top to keep it from tipping would be a good option.

-- "I build for function first, looks second. Most times I never get around to looks." - Mike, western Colorado

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