What is the proper way to hang a picture on a rail?

Written by robert gray
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A picture rail is a wood moulding that has been milled with a very specific bevelled profile at the top. This bevel allows for plain or decorative picture rail hooks to be hooked over its top edge which secures them onto the rail. Depending on how high the ceilings are in any given room, a picture rail is installed anywhere from 12 to 20 inches below the ceiling. It runs horizontally across the face of the walls. This picture hanging system allows you to hang pictures without driving nails into the wall every time you want to change the pictures or their locations.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Blanket
  • Framed picture
  • Ladder
  • Picture rail hooks
  • Picture hanging hooks
  • Picture hanging wire
  • Wire snips

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  1. 1

    Place the picture to be hung face down on a table covered with a blanket to protect it from abrasion. Attach a picture wire hook, D-ring or strap hanger at the top of each of the two vertical frame strips. Place the hangers down from the top edge far enough so when the picture is viewed from the front, the hangers can't be seen.

  2. 2

    Stand on a ladder and hook two picture rail hooks onto the rail. Check them for fit. For a better fit, bend them slightly, especially at the top where the metal hooks over the top of the picture rail. Step down to the floor, bringing the two picture rail hooks with you.

  3. 3

    Cut two lengths of picture hanging wire the approximate length of the distance between the bottom of the rail hooks and the height at which you want your picture to hang. Add an extra 12 inches to that length.

  4. 4

    Start wrapping one end of the first wire around the small bottom hook of the picture rail hook. Start four inches in from the end. Wrap the wire tightly around the hook three or four times. Stop wrapping with the long wire hanging straight down from the bottom of the hook. Take the four-inch length of wire and wrap it around the long wire to create a tightly wound coil one to one-and-a-half inches long. Clip off the excess wire with a wire snip. Repeat for the second hook and wire.

  5. 5

    Carry the hooks and wire up the ladder and hook them over the top of the rail. Slide them apart the approximate width of the picture to be hung.

  6. 6

    Get the framed picture, climb back up the ladder and thread the end of one of the picture hanging wires through the corresponding hanger on the back of the picture frame. Pull the wire through until the top of the frame is at the desired height. Wrap the wire around itself once or twice to hold it temporarily in place. Repeat for the other side.

  7. 7

    Step down from the ladder and study the picture for proper position. Make any adjustments necessary before tightly wrapping a wire coil around each vertical wire. Clip off excess wire.

Tips and warnings

  • Picture hanging will go faster if you can enlist another person to help you. While you're on the ladder, the other person can be sighting the position of the framed picture for you or vice versa.
  • If you don't have someone who can help you, place a small six-inch level on the top of the frame to check it while working up on the ladder.
  • Many Victorians used only one hook to hang their pictures. Instead of wire, they used decorative cords or rope and ornamental picture rail hooks.
  • Be careful while working up high not to fall off the ladder.
  • Picture hanging wire is made up of many individual strands of steel wire wound together. Take care not to accidentally poke the tips of your fingers with the end of the wire. It can be very painful.

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