Wall Nailing Hard Spot Mystery

Sometimes it takes a little detective work to figure out why fasteners won't penetrate at one particular spot. January 11, 2008

I was hanging cabinets and was doing good finding the studs, but when I got to the last cabinet, the last screw would not go in. So I took a nail and hammered it into the wall and the nail wouldn't go in. When I pulled the nail out the tip was flat. I don't know what it is I'm hitting and now I'm worried that I've hit something that I shouldn't have. It is an interior wall. The last cabinet was going up beside a pantry in the corner. I believe the wall is load bearing.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor J:
My guess is you hit a nail plate covering an electrical service or a plumbing vent or similar. Don't force it, or you'll puncture whatever the plate is protecting. Can you say how old the house is? Any possibility it is a masonry chase (older house) for a furnace or water heater flue in the basement? A hammer drill and masonry fastener might work then. Try following the line of where the stud should be downward to see if there's a good spot below your intended fastener, then place a second back brace in the cabinet in that spot.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your response. The house was built in 1972. There's no basement - just a 2 story house. There's one outlet in the middle of the wall which I've already passed. The other side of the wall is the den area and there's no outlet on that side of the wall. If I put a bracket on the wall itself and hang the cabinet, how strong would it be? Would it come crashing down on our heads? I'm installing 33x15 cabinets.

From contributor E:
If you can, I would try to get a screw in at another height. If that's not possible, what I use when I don't have a stud are Hilti hollow wall anchors. As long as the cabinet is securely connected to the cabinet next to it, and it sounds like you may already have a couple screws in this cabinet, you should be fine.

As for what you hit? No idea - could be a nail plate - it's certainly the most likely out of the few things that come to mind. If you really want to know, pull the cabinet down and cut a small hole in the wall. At least that way you'll be sure no damage is done. And the cabinet will cover up the hole afterward.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I have tried nailing well below the bottom of the cabinet and on the side wall (corner wall) with the same affect. I think I will take a piece out to be sure I haven't damaged anything and to know exactly what's going on in the wall.

From contributor T:
You also could have hit a diagonal brace cut into the wall. Most likely, though, it is a protection plate. I just hung a set of cabinets in a church and I swear they had plates around the entire perimeter of the room right at the height where I needed to screw. Anyway, sounds like removing a little sheetrock to see what the culprit is would be a good idea.

From contributor K:
Is any plumbing nearby? In a house that old, you could be nailing into a piece of cast iron sewer and drain pipe that's serving as a vent. You should go outside and look at the roof of the house in the general location of the wall you're nailing on and see if a vent is sticking out of the roof.

From the original questioner:
I went outside and sure enough, there is a vent pipe coming out the roof, so I removed a square of drywall to make sure I didn't damage anything. It all still looks good. There is a stud right next to the pipe, so I'm back in the cabinet hanging business. I don't know how I was missing that stud to begin with. I guess it was just too close to the pipe. It's right on it. Thanks.