How to build an artist's peg wall easel for painting
I've been using a wall easel system for a few years, and I love it!
There are two basic options for hanging paintings: either screws, or pegs.
- Using screws is a little easier, with less work upfront, but you have to use a screwdriver to move them around.
- Pegs are easier to move around, but require more work to build.
Benefits of the peg wall are:
- It takes up no floor space
- It's economic (definitely less expensive than buying a traditional easel)
- You can paint the top, sides, and bottom of a canvas all at once, since the canvas isn't resting on the bottom edge of an easel
- It's adjustable
- You can make it as large or small as you like; very little wall space is needed
- You can leave many paintings drying on the wall at the same time
- You can display an entire collection of paintings at once; great for photo ops!
However, it's not a perfect system. A few drawbacks of a peg wall are:
- Canvases hanging straight up and down aren't as ergonomic; it's more comfortable to use a tilted easel
- You do have to invest about one full day to build a peg wall system
- Once in place, it's not portable
Here's exactly how I built my peg wall easel. I'm a small adult, and I did it alone in one day.
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Supplies and Cost
Supplies I bought:
- 1 x 3 x 8 boards. I bought 6 primed boards which were already white, but you could buy as few as 2 boards. $9.74 each x 6 = $58.44
- 1/2” dowel. $1.96
- Wall anchors. You'll need enough for the top and bottom of each board. I used 6 boards so I needed 12 wall anchors. $6.23
Tools needed; the items without prices, I already owned:
- Small drill bit for pilot holes
- 1/2" drill bit. $22.97
- Tape measure or ruler
- Stud finder, optional
- Miter saw, optional
- Drill press, optional
In total, I spent $89.60 on this project, after the items I already owned. Many hardware stores rent tools like drills, if you don't own one.
How I built the peg wall easel
Before you begin, you might need to trim your 1x3s. My previous studio had 8-foot ceilings, with crown molding and baseboards, so I had to trim about 6 inches off the height of the boards. In my current studio, I have 9-foot ceilings, so the 8-foot boards fit with some room to spare. I chose to align them with the top of the wall and leave the empty space at the bottom. If you don't have a miter saw, your hardware store will cut the boards for you, for free.
First, I marked where I wanted my screws and peg holes.
I marked 2 inches from either end of the board for the screws, and drilled a small pilot hole the same size as the screws that came with my wall anchors.
Next, I drilled the peg holes. First I marked a spot every 6 inches along the length of the boards. Then, I used the 1/2" drill bit to drill all the holes. This step took longer than I thought it would! A drill press would have been a better way to drill the holes, but I don't own one, so I did it by hand. Since my 1x3s were a composite wood material, they splintered quite a bit. If I did this again, I'd buy solid wood boards in hopes that the holes would be a little neater. Tip: place a piece of scrap wood underneath the board where you're drilling, to prevent the back side from splintering out.
A note on size: You'll want to buy the same size dowel and drill bit so that the pegs fit very snugly in the holes. Test it out, and if you can't get the dowel in, put the drill bit in the hole again and wiggle it around a little to widen the hole just a smidge.
Next, I moved the boards into my studio. I propped them against the wall and eyeballed where I wanted them placed. I wanted some of the boards to be close enough together that I could hang an 11" wide canvas on them.
I decided on a pattern where the 6 boards are grouped into 3 sets of 2. You could also space all of the boards evenly apart. The closer boards are 8 inches apart, and the wider spaces are 16 inches. This allows me to hang either large or small canvases on the wall.
Once I had determined my spacing, I marked spots on the walls for the screws and anchors, 2 inches from the bottom of the crown molding. I used a stud finder to see if any of my boards could be screwed directly into a stud (without an anchor), but alas, I had no such luck! I could have moved the boards to align with studs, but I was also working around electrical and cable outlets, so I had to use wall anchors for all of the boards.
Then, I placed my wall anchors in the wall. I love EZ-lock anchors! You start by nailing the first half of the anchor into the wall, until you reach the screw threads. Then, use a screwdriver to move the rest of the anchor into the wall. They are very easy to use!
I did have one problem with the board on the far left. For some unknown reason, the wall anchor just would not screw in. This is an exterior wall, so I think there is something in the wall blocking it. I ended up moving the board one inch to the right.
Now it was time to attach the boards to the wall!
I used my electric screwdriver to rotate the screws through the top of the 1x3s (through the pilot holes) just enough that they were sticking out the back a little. Then I aligned the screws with the wall anchors, and screwed them all in.
At this point, the boards were attached to the wall, but they were crooked and wobbly! This is why we need the second screw at the bottom of each board.
I used a level to make sure the board was perfectly straight, then added the screw at the bottom of the board, through the pilot hole. I screwed it just far enough that it punctured the wall behind it.
Then, I used that mark to add a wall anchor, before inserting the screw all the way.
Finally, I used a miter saw to cut my large dowel into small pegs. A 1 x 3 is actually 0.75 inches thick (not 1 inch), and I typically paint on canvases that are 1.5 inches deep, so I cut my dowels 2.25 inches long (0.75 + 1.5 inches). They are actually a little long, so I'm going to trim them down to 2 or 2 1/8 inches so they don't poke the front of my canvases. I also used sandpaper to smooth the cut edges.
I'm so happy with how it turned out, and I can't wait to use it for years to come!