Tips For Hanging Pictures So They Remain Straight and Level

Hanging pictures in my home is complicated by two issues: children in the house who like to tear around and bang into walls, and an Air Force bombing range only a few miles away. It seems one or the other is always rattling the windows and shaking the house! It’s no wonder that crooked pictures were a fact of life. Not any more! I’ve developed aggressive means of tackling the problem.

I want to share two tricks, one absolutely cheap and simple, one more difficult but guarantees straight and level!

The first solution is so ridiculously cheap and simple I don’t know why I’ve never seen or heard of it. All it takes is some foam weatherproofing tape you can get anywhere for about $3 for a roll of 10 feet. That’s probably enough to fix every picture in your house! The problem with picture frames is the mounting system. Essentially, there’s not enough friction from the small portion of frame touching the wall to counteract the forces nudging the frame. Even worse, if the frame uses a notched hanger, and the manufacturer didn’t get a V groove precisely centered, there’s no hope – gravity will pull one corner down. Frames that use a wire from one side to the other are even worse! Now there’s another problem. If the wire is not anchored on both sides exactly level, there will be a difference in the angle between the two halves forcing the frame to move up the wire along the shallower angle. The more it moves, the more it wants to move! Even if it’s perfect, the wire is slippery and wants to slide over the nail or hook.

The simple solution to both these problems is to increase the friction, both on the mid-span of the wire, and the perimeter of the frame. It may take a little experimenting, but in my home I’ve found that 1/4″ foam weatherproofing tape works for small frames, but 1/2″ works much better for larger pictures. The tape usually comes in 3/4″ widths and for small frames, cutting pads 3/4′ long and placing them inside all four corners is sufficient. On larger pictures, go with the 1/2″ and it may take a couple of inches on each corner oriented so the long axis goes up-and down (this lets the longer edges bite into the stippling increasing friction). If there’s a wire, wrap friction tape around the mid-point. Friction tape is similar to electrical tape except instead of a glossy finished vinyl top, it uses a tacky cloth surface. You can find friction tape at most home improvement centers.

What I’ve just described costs almost nothing, yet solves the vast majority of problems with crooked pictures.

Other pictures require different solutions – ones that costs a little more, or a lot more, and ones that take a little, or lot more effort.

I just recently tore down and rebuilt my hallway family portrait gallery. This is a section that had developed over time with miss-matched frames, and is in a location where people are likely to bump into the pictures. The foam tape I described earlier prevents vibrations from knocking pictures off kilter; it cannot keep them straight if someone collides with the frame! In addition, the pictures weren’t necessarily centered or level to one another.

I bought thirteen new (cheap) frames from Wall-Mart, all in 8×10 to replace the variety of frames we had. The first thing was to get them grouped right. I used a yardstick against the wall and marked 3′ down from the ceiling, every couple of feet for the entire hallway. Using painters tape, I then laid a level line along those tick marks. With a tape measure I found the wall was 13’9″ and allowing for space at each end, 150″ was perfect. I taped the measure against the painters tape so the far end was at the center of where I wanted the last portrait to be hung, then went down the line ticking a mark every 12.5 inches. Perfect! All of the pictures are hung as portraits so that spacing allowed an even interval between each with the markings at the center of each picture.

The mounting system is unique and derived from a previous project – framed wall murals. I’ve heard it said that desperation is the mother of invention. That certainly was true for those impossibly large and heavy wall mural segments. I had to invent a method of securing the 7-1/2 foot tall by 3-1/2 foot wide segments to the wall, each weighing over 25 pounds, so they would hang level and aligned. As a boat builder, I was well familiar with the power of wedges and this mounting system uses a support rail attached to the frame, and rail that attaches to the wall, each beveled to a 15 degree angle – in essence, two opposing wedges. It worked brilliantly! Not only did it support the weight and hang straight and level, two other side benefits capped it off. The opposed wedges literally sucked the frames to the wall, and even if you jolted them, gravity forced them back into perfect alignment!

I used a diminutive version of this for my portrait gallery. Instead of 2×2 stock beveled at 15 degrees, I talked Home Depot out of a dozen paint stir sticks that were 1/8″ thick by 12″ long and 1″ wide. For these lighter frames, I decided to cut 30 degree bevels. After all the bevels were cut (safely on a table saw using feather-boards and push-sticks for the tricky thin stock) I cut them in half giving two matched pieces, one for the frame, and one for the wall. Using double-backed mounting tape, I stuck one 6″ piece to the frame, and one to the wall. Obviously, I paid close attention to the mounting. I used painters tape for a reference line on each frame exactly below edge. The wall wedges were staggered above and below the center marking tape so they just touched the edge. I like the staggered effect, and even better, it breaks up the long horizontal line hiding small errors in the mounting process.

The finished hallway portrait gallery was a complete success! All of the portraits hung straight and level, and as you walk down the span, they’re exactly spaced. If you bump one, you can watch it rock back-and-forth, then return to level. They’re simple to take down for cleaning, or to change out photos. It’s a perfect gallery!