Last updated: August 16, 2021

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Have you ever had a painting fall off the wall? Probably yes, and we can assure you that it was because of a nail whose hole has widened over time. The most efficient way to prevent things from falling off the wall is to use the best dowels on the market.

A dowel will make you do without nails to fix things, as it will help you to support stronger screws. These masonry accessories allow you to fit objects more permanently and securely to any wall, regardless of its construction material. They are must-haves for those who preach DIY (do-it-yourself).

We bring you this buying guide to help you choose the ideal dowel for your home works. We have analysed both the most sought-after pieces and their characteristics, as well as the considerations to take into account when purchasing them.




Summary

  • A dowel is a hollow cylindrical construction piece, which is used to attach parts to structural elements, such as walls, ceilings and floors. They require drilling to create the holes where they will rest, and screws to widen and fully attach to the wall.
  • The most common types of dowels are expansion plugs, which become wider as the bolt is screwed in, and adaptation plugs, which are contorted by the twisting force of the bolt to fit the wall. These are used depending on the wall material and wall structure.
  • To buy the best dowel, you must first study the place where you will install it. Keep in mind factors such as the material, density and depth with which the structural element was built, as well as the weight and size of the object to be supported. You also need a drill to create the hole and a screw to tighten.

The best Dowel: Our Picks

To make your shopping easier and quicker, in this section we have put together different anchor plugs that will be useful for your building sites. After an analysis, we have chosen the most versatile models, in order to cover the different needs you may have. We will also include alternative models of various properties, in case you need them.

Buying Guide: What you need to know about Dowels

Since you need to know about these wall anchors in order to choose the best one for the occasion, this section will give you all the basic information. We'll also give you an overview of the different types of dowels, as well as their different uses. Then we will tell you where you can easily buy them and their most common prices.

Adding hook bolts to your dowel will give you a secure way to anchor ropes to firm bases. (Photo: freestocker / 123rf.com)

What is a dowel and what are its advantages?

A dowel is a hollow cylindrical tool used to accommodate bolts and thus serve as a support for bases. They are placed in pre-drilled holes where they are tightened by the twisting action of screwing in the screw. They are used to attach objects to structures such as walls.

These useful masonry pieces allow for easy attachment between objects and structural elements. With a well placed dowel you can hang pictures or mirrors without fear of them eventually falling. They also allow shelves, tables and hanging doors to be securely attached. They are a must in the drawers of DIY fanatics.

Advantages
  • Easy to install
  • Provide a firm base for supports
  • Large number of different sized pieces
  • Usable on all types of materials
  • Inexpensive
Disadvantages
  • Need power tools for proper installation
  • Somewhat difficult to remove
  • Some knowledge required to choose the ideal one

Expansion socket, adaptable, universal and wood - what should you pay attention to?

Dowels are chosen according to the material and density of the structure in which they will be implemented, as the most effective method of fixing will not always be the same. The weight and size of the object to be attached to the wall must also be taken into account. They all have a similar function, but fit in different ways.

Expansion

These dowels expand as torque is exerted on them. They are often used in dense structures, such as concrete walls. They are the most load-bearing and weight-resistant, as they allow them to fit in firmer places. If you need to install a heavy shelf or table to a solid wall, you will need these.

Adaptable

These are dowels that contort when a screw is screwed into them, exerting pressure from the other side of the wall. These anchors are used in thin walls, such as those made of hollow brick, PVC, plaster or wood. They are preferable for mounting objects of more modest weights, such as mirrors or small shelves to flimsy walls.

Universal

They implement similar mechanisms to those found in expansion sockets and adaptable sockets. If they do not have sufficient space, their widening will tighten them to the hole, and if they do, they will contort to apply pressure. They are ideal for use in locations that implement different types of walls.

Wood

Wooden dowels, although useful, are not as mechanically strong as their steel or plastic counterparts. They are small wooden cylinders that are inserted into the wall, into which nails or screws can be installed. They can be installed in cement or solid concrete walls.

Expansion Adaptable Universal Wood
Fixing method Enlargement of the plug Contortion of the plug Enlargement to contour Installation of plug in hole
Solid concrete walls Yes No Yes Yes
Block walls Depends on thickness Depends on thickness Yes Depends on thickness
Sheet walls (Gypsum, PVC) No Yes Yes Yes
Wooden walls Depends on thickness Depends on thickness Yes No
Used in Doors, shelves, heavy mirrors Lamps, pictures, light mirrors All types of fixings depending on the wall Fitting clothes hooks, cable guides

Purchasing Criteria

If you have not yet bought dowels and you are a bit intimidated by not knowing which model to use, in this section you will learn everything you need to know. Even what you need to know about the materials and dimensions of the walls and even the length of the screws. We will also tell you about the different specialised dowels that exist.

Wall density

The material and density of the wall will determine the best type of dowel to use, as well as the loads it can withstand. For example, it would be illogical to put a flimsy plaster wall to bear the weight of a solid wooden shelf, but the same task would be easy for a concrete wall.

  • Hollow walls: This type of walls are those made with bricks or hollow blocks and also PVC or plasterboard sheets. For this type of material it is preferable to use adaptable or universal dowels, as an expansive plug would not be able to generate enough pressure to hold.
  • Dense walls: When we talk about dense walls, we are referring to those that do not have any type of hollow compartment. These are made of concrete, solid bricks or stone. For this type of wall you only need to choose an expansive anchor plug, the diameter of which is adapted to the weight of the object you need to embed.

Dimensions

No one should choose a random dowel or screw to install in their walls, because if you haven't measured you won't know if you have bought the right part. That's why it's always important to know what you need to measure before you even drill a hole. Always follow the "measure twice, cut once" rule.

Length on slatted walls

If you have a sheet metal wall, it is preferable to buy plastic dry dowels, as these have standardised measurements. Keep in mind that they usually cannot support more than 27 kg, so they are not recommended for shelves or heavy electronic equipment.

Length in hollow walls

In case you prefer to buy an adaptable metal one for use in cavity walls, you can follow the table below. It should be noted that there may be slight variations between different manufacturers, but in such cases they will inform you of the accepted wall thicknesses.

Plug dimensions Wall thickness
3x32 mm 3 to 12 mm
4x60 mm 28 to 38 mm
5x52 mm 3 to 14 mm
5x65 mm 14 to 27 mm
6x52 mm 3 to 16 mm
6x65 mm 14 to 32 mm

Length in dense walls

It is only important to know the weight of the object you need to hang in order to choose a dowel diameter. Keep in mind that you should not buy a wall plug that is as long as the width of your wall, as you don't want to go through it and compromise its structure. At most, leave 1 or 2 cm of unpunched space to the wall.

Thickness

You will need a drill with a drill bit of a specific thickness for the dowel. You will be able to know this because it usually has a number on the barrel that denotes the size required. It's important to know that the width of your anchor will determine how much weight it can support, which we'll expand on below.

Screw

You should choose a bolt whose length is the minimum length specified for the anchor. The minimum length is the length that allows the part to expand fully. If it is not specified, you can find it with the formula:

Length of the plug + Thickness of the object to be fixed + Diameter of the screw = Length required.

For example, if you buy a dowel whose length is 35 mm to fix an object of 25 mm thickness, and the dowel accepts screws of 5 mm diameter, you will need a screw of at least 65 mm long, because 35 + 25 + 5 = 65.

Weight

The strength level of the socket is usually given by the diameter, where the larger the diameter the more weight it can support. Also the material of the dowel will influence its mechanical strength. For safety reasons, it is always preferable to buy anchors that exceed the weight of the object to be embedded.

It is also good to know that you can install more sockets to distribute the weight evenly. Having a good weight distribution between different anchors will also provide a more stable embedment. Below is a table with the most commonly used anchor diameters, their average strengths and common applications.

Socket diameter 4 to 5 mm 6 to 8 mm 10 to 16 mm
Average weight supported 20 kg 20 to 60 kg 60 kg or more
Useful for Curtains, paintings, mini bathroom shelves, lamps, ornaments Heavy curtains, mirrors, theatre sound horns, small TV stands, small shelves Wooden shelves, antennas, large TV stands, hammocks, fans, candelabras.

Specialised sockets

Some anchors have certain features that set them apart from other models. These can be easy-to-install anchors or multi-purpose heads. It is good to keep them in mind for when you need to perform certain tasks, or when you have some limitations in your choice.

  • Butterfly dowel: These anchors have an opening anchoring mechanism that opens once they pass through the hole. They are the most resistant and are mainly used in sheet metal walls. If you want to quickly hang a lamp to a drywall ceiling, you can also use these anchors.
  • Hook dowel: This type of anchor is made of metal and can be the same as the expandable and adaptable ones, only they have a head with a hook. They can be used to hang or tie ropes. If you want to hang a comfortable hammock in your room, or pass a rope to hang an awning, one of these will save you time and effort.
  • Chemical sealing: Although they are not a chemical seal in the full sense of the word, there are commercial chemical compositions that can be used to install bolts and screws.

They work by filling a hole with a chemical hardening mixture, into which a specialised anchor can then be installed. It is the strongest method of anchoring.

(Featured Image Source: Laur7410/ 123rf.com)

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