art gallery hanging system

Do you need a solid gallery hanging system, but you are short on money? In this DIY tutorial, you can build one for less than half the cost of a professional art gallery hanging system.

You just need to be willing to invest some extra time to put the raw materials together to DIY (do it yourself).
A gallery hanging system is the best way to display art because it’s flexible. You can change spacing, height and even quantity of artworks quickly without perforating a wall with holes. I needed to hang art on two walls in a coffee shop and calculated that a professional system employing a molding trim rail would cost about $260.
Inspired by the design, but deterred by the expense, I decided to “bootstrap” and make a system. For my installation, material cost was only $116.58, not including paint for the rail and wood putty for filling holes.

*The hooks are one of the biggest costs of the pro system and with good reason; they are ingenious! The professional hooks adjust easily with the push of a button, sliding up and down the hanging wire, locking in place when the button is released. My DIY solution: terminal lugs from the electrical supply section of the hardware store! A set screw locks the lug to the wire rope. I even bent the tabs to form hooks. It takes a bit more time to hang your art with these, but they are solid and a fraction the cost.

Here’s the DIY art gallery hanging system recipe:

  • Pine “bed” molding for rails
  • 1/16” wire rope
  • Aluminum grommets for 1/16” wire
  • Brass corner braces for rail hooks
  • Small copper terminal lugs for art hooks
  • Paint and wood putty for trim
  • 6 penny 2” finish nails and 2” screws for trim
  • Here’s the method, in brief:

1. Prepare trim rail: Mark your walls where you want the rails to be. After cutting your molding to desired length, pre-paint to speed installation. You can fill nail holes with putty afterwards.

painting rail

2. Install molding rail: With finish nails, counter sinking the nail heads. Then, pre-drill holes through the rail into the wall studs and secure with 2” screws so the rail will bear weight.

install rail molding

3. Make your hangers: Have lengths of 1/16” wire rope cut to length at the hardware store. I used 6’ lengths. Bend brass corner braces to form the rail hooks. If you want to avoid the bending process, substitute larger “S” hooks. The brass hooks I fashioned hang close to the wall, a plus.

rail hook

Thread an aluminum grommet onto the wire, run it through the bottom of your rail hook and back through the grommet to form a small loop. A couple taps of a heavy hammer will set the grommet. Just watch your fingers!
4. Make your art hooks: Take the copper terminal lugs and turn around the tabs so they will pinch the wire rope tightly when the set screw is tightened. Thread onto the wire. You’ll notice the tabs have a hole where you could use an “S” hook. I simply bent the tab to form a hook using two sets of pliers.

terminal lugs for art hangingart hooks gallery

5. Place the finished hangers onto the rail:

gallery hanging system

6. Hang the art: Hang and adjust the terminal lugs as needed.

Two items of note: For a bit more security, attach your art to the hook by running a zip tie around the hanging wire on the frame and the wire rope. To hide excess wire rope, loop wire until it is in back of the artwork and secure with blue painters tape, which will keep sticky residue from accumulating on the wire.
This system is in Coffeeberries, a Londonderry NH coffee shop that has just expanded. I’m curating artworks through a program we’ve created to give local high school students real-life experience as established artists. Their works are for sale with all proceeds going to the students. Also pictured here are a couple pieces by artist Michael James Toomy, a supporter of the program. The long term mission is to partner small businesses with artists, increase exposure for all and fill the community with art!
This post is in no way meant to discourage you from buying a professional gallery hanging system. You do get what you pay for: a quality, innovative way to hang art securely and quickly. I recommend that if you want to hang more than a couple dozen pieces, you’ll want to go pro. Someday, I hope to do the same.
Guest author Andy Mack Jr. writes and consults for NH Arts, Culture & Business. His subject matter runs from New Hampshire life, to local business, marketing, and angling. He is passionate about content, art, music, food and local culture.
Student art program
Michael James Toomy

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