How to Install Toggle Bolts

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You can't drive screws directly into drywall and expect them to hold anything. Drywall is too weak and crumbly for that. You need wall anchors to support anything of weight, and toggle anchors, also known as toggle bolts, are the strongest anchors there are.

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A toggle bolt works by anchoring itself to the back of the drywall, so when you put outward force on the bolt, the entire sheet of drywall resists it, not just the crumbly core. The two types of toggle bolts are the wing style and the strap style, which features a solid support bar that makes it easier to install.

Toggle Bolts Are the Heavy-Duty Choice

The most secure way to drive a screw into drywall or plaster is to locate a wall stud using a stud finder (or the old-fashioned method of tapping with a hammer) and drive the screw into the stud, using a screw that is at least 2 inches long. The problem with this method is that there isn't always a stud where you need one.

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When there's no stud, you need a wall anchor. The choices, in order of increasing strength, include:

  • conical plastic anchors
  • self-drilling plastic screw anchors
  • winged plastic anchors
  • molly bolts
  • toggle bolts

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The weight a toggle bolt can support depends on the size of the bolt and the thickness of the drywall. The smallest toggle bolt with a 1/8-inch diameter can support 180 pounds of force in 3/8-inch drywall and 310 pounds in 3/4-inch drywall. A 1/2-inch diameter toggle bolt can support 340 pounds in 3/8-inch drywall and up to 600 pounds in 3/4-inch drywall.

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Installation Starts with Drilling a Hole

When you purchase toggle bolts, check the packaging for the recommended hole size. If you're using traditional wing-style toggle bolts, fold the wings up against the shank and measure the width of the folded end. Use a drill bit with that diameter. Be sure to make the hole large enough but not too large. You don't want to have to force the wings into the hole, possibly breaking out some of the drywall. You also don't want an oversized hole that could weaken the drywall unnecessarily.

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Installing Wing-Style Toggle Bolts

Once you've made the hole, fit the threaded bolt through the item you are hanging, then thread the bolt into the toggle wings so the spring side is facing the item. Squeeze the wings together and push them into the hole in the drywall.

The next step is a little tricky. Use your fingers or a screwdriver (or simply pull on the hung item) to hold the wings (which have spread out behind the drywall) against the back of the wall while you tighten the bolt with another screwdriver. If you don't maintain this tension, the wings will turn with the bolt, and the bolt won't tighten. Once the bolt is reasonably tight, the wings won't turn, so you can release the tension and finish tightening the bolt.

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Installing Strap-Style Toggle Anchors

Instead of wings, a strap toggle anchor (such a the Snaptoggle brand) has a solid bar that pivots instead of spring-loaded collapsible wings. The bar on a strap toggle is connected to two sliding plastic tabs, and you slide the tabs to rotate the bar.

  1. Slide the plastic tabs in opposite directions until the bar is parallel to the tabs. Insert the bar into the hole in the drywall, far enough for the entire bar to clear the backside of the drywall.
  2. Slide the tabs back to realign their ends; this rotates the bar so it is perpendicular to the tabs and parallel to the drywall.
  3. Slide the collar on the tabs so is flush against the front side of the wall, then snap off the tabs; they're designed to break off flush with the collar. This holds the anchor in place.
  4. Insert the anchor bolt through the item you're hanging, thread it into the collar and bar, and tighten as needed.

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