Rail bookshelves on a wall with steel studs

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1. Use the right fastener

Don't hang a bookshelf with any old screws you have laying around. Using drywall screws, for instance, is a bad idea. Instead, get a good quality wood screw, such as those by GRK and Spax. The screw should be deep enough to go through the back or hanging rail (see below), the drywall or plaster, and about 1 inch into the wood stud.

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Longer isn't necessarily better, though: The longer the screw you use, the more likely you can penetrate into a pipe or a wire. With that in mind, don't even think of using lags or deck construction screws. These are overkill and increase the chances of doing real damage.

2. Know what you're fastening

Bookshelves, kitchen cabinets, and wall cabinets have a piece of wood that you're supposed to fasten through. Called a hanging rail, this horizontal piece greatly improves the load-bearing ability of the shelf. Ignore it at your peril.

If the shelf...

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Metal building materials were once found mainly in industrial settings, but residential construction has caught on to the benefits of metal. Metal studs are lighter and sometimes less expensive than wood, and they are consistently straight. In conventional construction, hanging shelves on a wall requires finding the studs in the wall and mounting the shelf brackets to the studs with screws. Toggle bolts work better than screws with metal studs. Choose bolts that are at least 2-1/2 inches long; the diameter should be the largest that will fit through the screw holes in the brackets.

Solid an electronic stud finder lightly across the wall until you see a light or hear a sound that indicates a metal stud behind the drywall. Mark edges of the stud on the wall with a pencil, then locate and mark the other studs where the shelves will hang.

Mark the wall at the height where you want to fasten the shelving brackets. Set a 4-foot level against the mark horizontally and trace...

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