How to Punch a F@#king Hole in a Wall

Punching a hole in a wall is totally immature — and totally satisfying. But if you do it, follow our advice so you don’t wind up with a mangled hand.

By Henry Belanger

Ask a woman, and she’ll tell you that punching a hole in a wall is juvenile, creepy, scary, and/or really unattractive behavior. Well, you know what we have to say to that woman? She is totally … correct. So we recommend that when you feel a need to punch a hole in a wall — and all of us feel that way at one time or another — you do it in private. (Or in front of a perp who you need to intimidate in order to find out where the bomb is hidden.) We also recommend that you heed these tips in order to avoid punching a hole in a wall, and then pulling a broken, mangled hand out of said hole.

How To Punch a Hole in a Wall Bear1. KNOW WHAT YOU’RE PUNCHING
This is an excellent rule no matter what you’re punching — perhaps even more so when it comes to living things. (Man? Bear? Malevolent alien?) But even when it comes to walls, knowing your target can mean the difference between relative safety and painful injury.

For the most satisfying, least painful punching experience, you want your hand to go through a sheet of drywall (also known as wallboard or sheetrock), into a hollow wall cavity. Like smashing a prop beer bottle, it delivers all the satisfaction and spectacle with none of the danger. You get all the desired effects: venting and communicating your frustration, impressing children and simpletons, and feeling like you could bring the entire structure to the ground with your bare hands.

To know what your fist will encounter, you need to know when your wall was built. The wallboard used in construction today was invented in the early 20th century, but did not become widely used until the post-war building boom of the late 1940s and 1950s.

If your wall of choice was constructed before 1946 or so, we suggest you choose a different wall. Before wallboard, walls were constructed using three layers of plaster over wood strips, called “lath.” To create a plaster and lath wall, builders tack strips of wood (about ¼ in. thick) horizontally across the wall studs, leaving small gaps between the slats. Next, two layers of rough, granular plaster — reinforced with horse hair for added strength — are spread over the lath in succession. The plaster squeezes through the gaps in the lath and hardens, creating a “key” that anchors the plaster. A final, smooth coat of plaster follows, resulting in a hardened wall that’s almost an inch thick.

That’s why punching a wall made more than 60 years ago is unlikely to deliver the effects you’re looking for. Even if you get lucky and miss the studs, you’re almost guaranteed to cut up your knuckles on the plaster. If your hands are so tough that the plaster doesn’t rough them up — and let’s be honest, Dorothy, your hands are not that tough — the splintering lath will.

Worse, your bloodied, broken hand might be the least of your problems. Hundred-year-old plaster is hard, but it’s delicate; often, paint is the only thing holding it together. One well-placed punch can cause the lath to bounce, bringing down a slab of wall the size of a manhole cover, and blanketing your living room with 10 pounds of plaster, horse hair, and fine dust.

2. NEVER, EVER PUNCH …
… Near Corners, Doors, and Windows: In the United States, building codes dictate that studs be placed vertically, no more than 16 in. on center. What the hell does that mean? That there are up to 43.5 inches of punchable area for every four feet of wall space. That means that you should have about a 1 in 10 chance of hitting a stud (9.375 percent to be exact). But the rule is no more than 16 in. and there’s a reason for that. At the corners of walls, and around doors and windows, studs are doubled and sometimes tripled for added strength and support. (That’s why people are told to stand in doorways during earthquakes.) But since doors, windows, and corners aren’t necessarily laid out at 16-inch intervals, there are likely to be extra studs where you wouldn’t otherwise expect them.

… “Wet” Walls: Never punch a wall in a room with a sink or a washer and dryer — and never punch one of those walls from the other side, either. The walls may very well have pipes in them and often have extra framing to support the plumbing. A cast-iron waste pipe will mess your hand up in a hurry.

… Common Walls: If you live in an apartment and have neighbors next door, you don’t want them calling the cops about the violent psychopath next door. You want to relieve stress, not compound it.

… Concrete Walls: If you can see the concrete or cinderblock, we’d like to think you’ve already figured out that it’s not a wall you should punch. But some walls have drywall laid over concrete or brick. How do you know? Look to see if the electrical outlets are mounted on the surface of the wall instead of inside it; if they are, it’s a safe bet the wall isn’t hollow.

3. KNOW WHERE TO PUNCH
To increase the chance punching in a spot that will not cause you great harm, you need to know a couple things about wiring.

According to building codes, every set of light switches and electrical outlets in your home must be anchored to the side of a stud. Because most electricians are right-handed, the stud usually runs up the left side of the switch or outlet. If there’s a “gang box” of three or more light switches, you can be certain that there’s no framing above it. (Code also dictates that the wires feeding the box be stapled to the stud, so there’s no chance of punching them.)

Likewise, anywhere you see a single outlet in the middle of a wall, you know you have a foot-wide, punchhability zone on either side. In the photo, the light switch is on the right of a stud, and the outlet is on the left of a stud.) The Xs mark the sweet spots.)

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