Hollow-wall anchors are great for hanging pictures, framed mirrors and bulletin boards on drywall. But these fasteners aren't strong enough to support extremely heavy loads. And they often work loose when used to attach fixtures that are always being jostled and tugged at, such as towel racks, toilet paper holders, grab bars and curtain rods.
The simplest way to safely attach any type of fixture—no matter how big or how heavy—is to drive the mounting screws directly into wall studs. Unfortunately, that's not always possible. You can usually find one stud to screw into, but seldom is a second stud exactly where you need it. For example, in the installation shown here, we mounted two towel bars one above the other about 6 in. from a wall corner. It's very rare that a stud would be positioned so close to a corner; the nearest one is usually 16 or 24 in. away.
Plus, we didn't want the stud locations to dictate where the towel bars would go. So instead of worrying about where the studs were, we cut open the wall and installed a horizontal 1x4 solid backing that allowed us to securely fasten the mounting brackets exactly where we wanted them.
Here's how to install 1x4 backing for mounting two towel bars. The process is the same for attaching other types of wall-mounted fixtures, with one notable exception: When installing a safety grab bar, replace the 1x4 with a 2x4 and secure it with countersunk lag screws.
Cut through drywall to expose studs
In order to install 1x4 backing, you must first cut a rectangular hole 6-inches-high and long enough to span at least two studs. If working in a corner, mark the hole outlines starting 1 ½-inches from the wall corner and extending 3 inches beyond a stud. Then, use a drywall saw to cut along the pencil lines.
Notch exposed studs
Carefully pry out the wallboard pieces from the holes and set them aside for reuse later. If they break, simply cut two new drywall pieces to fit. Next, use a handsaw to cut a 3/4-inches-deep x 3½-inches-high notch in each of the exposed studs.
Remove waste wood
Use a hammer and chisel to chop out the waste wood from the studs. Check to be sure that each notch is 3/4-inches-deep.
Add support for backing (if working close to a corner)
There's no easy way to notch a corner stud, so screw a 1x2 cleat to the side of the stud and position it 3/4-inch back from the edge to accommodate the 1x4 backing.
Fit backing into notches
Cut 1x4s to length, and then press them into the notches and tightly against the 1x2 corner cleats. Check to make sure that the 1x4s don't protrude beyond the studs. If they do, you'll have trouble fitting the drywall pieces back into the holes. If necessary, remove the 1x4s and cut the notches a little deeper or move back the cleat. Attach the 1x4 backing with 2-inch galvanized decking screws. Drive the screws into the notched studs and the 1x2 corner cleats.
Replace and patch drywall
Take the pieces of drywall that you removed earlier and put them back into the holes. Secure these original pieces with 1½-inch drywall screws.
With the backing installed and the holes patched, it's time to conceal your work. Start by covering the seams around the patches with either paper drywall tape or fiberglass mesh tape. This step is necessary to help prevent the joints from cracking open later.
Apply joint compound
Next, apply a coat of drywall joint compound over the tape and screwheads using an 8-inch drywall knife. Allow the compound to dry overnight, then use the knife to scrape off any ridges or bumps. Apply a second coat of joint compound over the entire patch, only this time use an 8- or 10-inch drywall knife. When this coat dries, scrape off the high spots and apply a thin coat, feathering the edges over a wider area.
Wait overnight, then lightly sand the area with 150-grit abrasive sandpaper. If necessary, apply a final skim coat of joint compound to fill any small surface imperfections. Apply two coats of paint to the patched areas. If the newly painted sections stand out from the surrounding area, you might want to paint the entire wall.
Install the bars
The final step of the project is to install the two towel bars. For each bar, fasten the metal mounting brackets to the wall; make sure the screws you use are long enough to go all the way through the drywall and into the 1x4 backing. Then, slide the towel bar sockets over the metal brackets until you've got them tightly wedged in place.
You can now enjoy your new towel bars, knowing they'll probably never get yanked out of the wall, or come crashing suddenly to the ground.