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220 S. Wabash Ave. Chicago, IL 60604
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The Arakawa Hanging System: An Overview

Getting your art into a frame is only half the journey. The other half is getting it up on the wall where it can be seen, at the right height and in a secure way. We'd like to introduce you to a hanging system that we have used in our own frame shop and personal home for several decades. We have placed Arakawa Hanging Systems hardware in many homes, galleries, schools and offices: The Arakawa Hanging System. Never drive a nail into the wall again to hang a picture frame. Ever.

The Advantage of a hanging system

The traditional way to hang a framed item was to use a picture hook, where a nail was driven into the wall. Most standard picture hooks are held in place by a nail, so if you can drive the nail into the wall surface, it should work. There are several problems with this sort of solution, though. The most obvious problem is that it makes a hole in the wall. If you need to remove the framed art or move it elsewhere, the hole remains visible and must be covered up by spackle and more paint. Another issue is that it is not flexible when it comes to changing which piece of art gets hung in that spot. An 8 x 10" frame and a 24 x 36" frame need to have the hooks in different spots. You get the picture, though: The old way is not flexible, not easily changed and very time consuming to implement. 

The Arakawa Hanging System, on the other hand, is a new version of an old solution:  The Gallery Rail. Over a hundred years ago, a wooden moulding would be placed parallel to the ceiling, just below the crown moulding where the wall and ceiling meet. The moulding was shaped to accept either a metal rod with a hook on the end that could grab the moulding, or an "S" shaped metal "moulding hook" over which a cord or wire could be passed, with the other end attached to the frame.  The engineers and designers at Arakawa took that idea and modernized it. The beauty of what they designed lies in the fact that you only have to attach an extruded aluminum rail to the wall about an inch below the ceiling. Once screwed in place, everything you want to hang will hang from that rail.

The system consists of:

Arakawa AF3P116-ss Midway Picture Hook3.

  • An aluminum hanging rail that can be attached to the wall, ceiling or floor (shown is the CRE rail)
  • A rail clip (CF1 shown) that clips onto the rail and has a spring-loaded gripper on the other end that grabs a braided, stainless steel cable. You can slide the rail clip to the left or right without detaching it from the rail. You can attach the rail clip to the rail at any point on the rail. It does not have to be slid in from the end of the rail.
  • A picture hook (AF3 shown) that slides up or down on the cable with a one-way gripper built into it that eliminates the need for thumb screws, hex set screws or other hardware to allow the hook to grab the cable and not move until you are ready to make it do so.
  • A braided stainless steel cable either 3/64" in diameter or 1/16" in diameter (depending upon the weight you want to hang). Note: The 3/64" cables are for use with the CRE rail system (45 lbs. max per cable)and the 1/16" cables are for use with the CRJ rail system (60 lbs. max per cable). While most people do not need anything heavier-duty than the CRE rails for their homes and offices, galleries and retail shops would be better off with the CRJ rails, as it gives them a lot more options for hanging multiple items in the same space, one over the other or extra large, extra heavy items.
No tools are necessary to use the Arakawa Hanging System once the hanging rails have been installed. It is that easy. Hanging a grouping of frames becomes a joyful exercise, not one of sweat and frustration. What could be simpler?

Who uses the system?
Originally, we bought the system for use in our own picture framing shop. Not only did we use it to hang artwork and framing samples on the wall, but we also used it to hang framed art in the display windows without a wall behind the art. We attached rails configured to be used on the ceiling, even in a window that had a suspended, gridded ceiling with acoustical tiles. We simply screwed it to the metal grid or attached wooden strips to the grid first and then screwed the rails to the wooden strips. In our current location, we have screwed the rails to the underside of the horizontal window mullions, since we have a 14 foot ceiling. Today, we use it to hang framed art samples, picture frame moulding corner samples, even large, heavy shadowbox frames.

Eventually, Arakawa began referring, to us, clients who wanted to purchase the hanging systems for their homes, offices and galleries in Chicago. One client, with a home at Chicago's Marina City, came to us and wanted us to install the system in every room in her 2 condo's that she owned there. Marina City is an amazing early 1960's-vintage pair of buildings that resemble giant corn cobs that were designed by Chicago Architect Bertrand Goldberg. One feature of those round towers is that the many of the interior walls are made of cast concrete. Try driving a nail into those walls to hang a picture! The Arakawa Hanging System was a natural for that sort of usage. Several masonry drill bits and 154 Tapcon masonry screws later, we had installed rails in every room in both condo's. The client liked to change the artwork frequently and, now, she could do it at will. Problem solved!

Another client, a doctor, who had rehabbed an old industrial loft building for his home with 14 foot ceilings purchased the system for his use there. The Arakawa Hanging System was just the solution to be able to hang art on the unpainted brick walls. An office in the Chicago West Loop purchased the system to hang artwork and framed photos in the CEO's office, which had an exposed brick wall too. It worked out great!

Kirksville, Missouri Arts Center

We received an order from the newly renovated Kirksville, Missouri Arts Center, for Arakawa rails and hardware. They were going to have an opening exhibition of quilts and needed a convenient, flexible way to hang them on the walls. See the photos  below to learn how they accomplished that and made it look amazing.

Kirksville Art Center

The newly rebuilt arts center in Kirksville, Missouri, using the hanging system to display an exhibition of quilts. Photos courtesy of Steve and Linda Treasure.

Story Center at the Mid-Continent Library, Kansas City

In the Fall of 2020, we received an order for Arakawa Ceiling-mounted hanging rails and associated hardware (rail clips, hooks, and cables) from Dr. Mark Livengood, director, of The Story Center in Kansas City. They were outfitting a gallery space in the center that would have exhibitions of framed art periodically. The following photos are one such exhibition that they mounted. The items displayed are all paintings on cradled wood panels by the artist Patricia Streeper. The women depicted in the paintings were all authors and story tellers, which echoes the mission of The Library there. Our thanks to Kristy Watson and Dr. Mark Livengood for forwarding the photos to us.
Paricia Streeper Exhibit-Women Who Led Through Story
Story Center Gallery Exhibition photo 1Story Center Gallery Exhibition photo 2Story Center Gallery Exhibition photo 3Story Center Gallery Exhibition photo 4Story Center Gallery Exhibition Photo 5Story Center Gallery Exhibition Photo 6
Note that they have installed Arakawa CRB-1800 ceiling-mounted rails instead of CRE or CRJ wall-mounted rails. The profile is a bit smaller than the wall mounted rails and the ceiling rails can be positioned away from the wall if the items being hung may be a thicker than a standard picture frame. Either type of rail, in this case, would have worked out just fine. None of the paintings were framed in this case. All painted panels have a wooden cradle or strainer on the back, to which d-ring hangers or screw eyes were attached, It is to that hardware that the picture hooks attach.

Prospect Heights, Illinois, Public Library

In August, 2020, we spent 4 full Saturdays installing Arakawa CRE hanging rails throughout the totally expanded and renovated library in Prospect Heights, Illinois, a suburb Northwest of Chicago. They had, originally, the Arakawa CRE rails throughout part of the library. When the Covid-19 Pandemic hit, and the library closed, they had already begun work on expanding and renovating the library and had taken down all the old rails. They decided to do all the renovation and other work while the library was closed and ended up with a really beautiful, colorful facility. All that remained was to reinstall the Arakawa rails. Unfortunately, the old rails had been disposed of, so they came to us for new rails and hardware. We installed it in the Children's library section, many of the offices and common areas and in a few reading rooms and walls over entry ways. We spent a total of 32 hours there doing installation. It all turned out great. Here are some photos of a couple walls they utilized right away for public exhibitions and some photos of various walls with rails installed but nothing hanging on them yet.

Prospect Hts. Public Library exhibit spaceProspect Hts. Public Library exhibit space #2Entry to Childrens' Library at Prospect Hts. PLCEO's office wall at PHP Library
Where else?

We have sold the system to many galleries, where an ever-changing framed inventory makes it a must-have for those businesses.

A number of corporate offices have installed the system to display photo arrays of board members, advertising campaigns, framed awards, wall art and more. There are no limits to how the Arakawa Hanging System can be used.  Brian Flax uses it in his 1929-vintage home as well. It is used to hang art in nearly every room in the house, since the walls are old plaster and lathe walls (what was used before Gypsum Board or Dry Wall was invented). Plaster-and-lathe walls are strips of wood nailed to studs with gaps in between each horizontal layer.  Then, layers of plaster are added the the face of the wooden lathe, with plaster pushed or squeezed into the gaps between the lathe. This is what holds the plaster in place once it dries. The only problem with it is that when you try to drive a nail into such a wall, you never know whether you are nailing into the wooden lathe strips or a chunk of plaster. This complicates hanging framed art. The absolutely best solution:  The Arakawa Hanging System. It is easy to attach to dry wall. We use 1 1/2" or 1 1/4" #6 SPAX construction screws (get 'em at  places like Home Depot and Menards) without even needing wall anchors. If you are hanging heavy items from a CRJ rail, you should consider using wall anchors. For CRE rails, it is not absolutely necessary (though Arakawa recommends it in their literature). We have attached CRE rails to brick walls and end up using Tapcon Screws without wall anchors, drilling our pilot holes into the mortar joints. The Tapcon screw has deep, hardened threads that cut their way into the mortar. The corresponding Tapcon drill bit creates a hole a tiny bit smaller than the screw thread's diameter.

What can you hang from this system?
Anything that you can attach a metal D-Ring to, anything that can have wire on the back of it or anything that you can adapt a wide range of grippers and hardware that Arakawa makes can be hung on this system. We've seen clients hang decorative shelving, tubular bars to hang tapestries, jerseys, even medieval chain mail armor! Real estate offices with display windows can hang photos and graphics using edge-gripping hardware made by Arakawa.  We recommend that you plan to use two cables for every frame that is larger than 11 x 14. However, you can hang frames from a single cable if you can put a screw eye in the middle of the top frame rail on the back of the frame. This guides the wire through it and it keeps the picture hook, slid onto the cable after the cable is passed through the screw eye, tethered in one spot on the picture wire. Still, we think two cables works best and keeps everything level. For those who live in earthquake zones, it keeps your art from falling off the wall during tremors.

Two framed photos, each on one cable.

A corner shelf hung on the CRE rail above it.

A 30 lb. shirt of chain mail hung on a metal pipe from cables attached at each end to special grippers.

A small framed canvas hung on two CRE cables.

How to Get Started & Ordering Suggestions

The first thing to consider is on which walls you should install the hanging rails. You can either run the rails the full length of the wall to maximize the wall's picture hanging potential, or just install enough rail length above the area to be used. We think that it is better to do the whole length of the wall, as you may wish to hang other items on that wall later and, if those spots have no rail above them, you will have to go back and retrofit the area with rail. Do it all at once and don't spend the time or money twice. Clearly, a narrow segment of wall with a window to one side and a doorway to the other side does not need a full length rail. However, a 20 foot run that has few interruptions most certainly does.

Which rail should I get?
There are three basic types of rails to choose from:

CRE System Rail:  Designed for most homes and offices, this rail accommodates 3/64" cables, each of which will hold up to 40 lbs. This is a wall-mount rail. It comes with a paint-able, snap-on vinyl cap. Each rail comes pre-drilled with mounting holes and can be cut with a miter saw or hack saw.  The CRE rail accounts for about 90% of what we sell in Arakawa hardware. It is our most popular gauge of hanging rail. It uses the CF1 rail clip and the AF3P116ss picture hook. The CRE rail comes in 24", 36" or 72" lengths. It also comes with an alignment pin that allows you to daisy chain them in perfect alignment. When installing the rail, you can either use a level to make sure the rail is parallel to the floor (even if the ceiling is not), or you can follow the ceiling line if it has a  very gentle slope, keeping the gap between the ceiling and the top of the rail to about 1 inch. The photo shows a segment of the CRE rail lying on its side with the vinyl, snap-on cover slid to the right to expose the shape. the groove in the middle is where the screws go to attach it to the wall. The head of the screw bottoms out in the channel. The cavity on the underside of the rail is where the rail clip attaches to the rail. There is a lip along the top of the rail from which the snap-on cap hangs.

CRJ System Rail: This is a heavier-duty rail that should be used where the cables need to handle 65 lbs. each. This is what we use in our frame shop store. We hang everything from multiple framed art samples one above the other to velcro-covered panels that display picture frame mouldings and fillets. This rail uses 1/16" diameter cables and the dual duty picture hook, the AF3P116SS (works on CRE, CRJ,CRB/CRC rails) and the heavier duty rail clip, the CR1. The CRJ rail comes only in 72" lengths but can be cut either on-site or by us in advance. Each cable that hangs from the CRJ will handle up to 60 lbs. We recommend that you always use two cables for something that is in that weight class.

CRB1800-A or CRC1800-A Ceiling Rails: If you don't want to attach the rail to the wall and want, instead, to attach it to the ceiling, you will need to use either the CRB or CRC series of rails. The CRB rail attaches right to the face of an existing ceiling. The CRC is designed to be inlaid into a slot cut in the ceiling dry wall so that it is flush with the face of the ceiling. This is more commonly used during new construction build-outs. It can, also, be inlaid into the face of a vertical wall which would allow you to attach a special gripper that incorporates a cable tensioner.  You can even inlay the CRC into the floor or surface mount the CRB on the floor to attach the loose end of the cable to a tensioner. We sell a lot of the CRB rails for use in retail store displays and galleries. CRB/CRC rails only come in 72" lengths but can be easily cut with a miter saw or a hacksaw. We will be happy to cut them for you in advance if you know exactly how long they need to be.

Ceiling rail is shown with a BS1R rail clip attached.

Ceiling rail is shown with a BS1R rail clip attached

What if I want to hang a single cable from the ceiling? Do I need a rail?
There is a single point gripper that can be screwed to the ceiling and allows you to hang a single cable. However, it will not be movable, since it has to be attached directly to the ceiling. It is called a BS35SET Single Point Gripper.
What if I need to tether the loose end of the cable and pull it tight with a tensioner?
If you are using a CRB or CRC ceiling rail, you wlll need to order another rail of the same kind directly below it to attach to the floor or window sill. Into that, you will insert a BS23BRSET track-mounted bottom tensioner. If you are using a CRE or CRJ wall rail, you will need another rail of the same model to go below, just above the floor. To that, you will attach a short length of cable via a CF1 or CR1 rail clip and the end of the cable attaches to an in-line tensioner called a BS25TB. The photo at the top of the page showing (in color) an array of framed photos uses an in-line BS25TB tensioner at the bottom of the wall.

How Long Should I
Order The Cables?
Because the cables are cut to size and have the ends welded shut to prevent them from unraveling, you need to determine how long your cables should be. On average, if you have an 8 to 10 foot ceiling, depending upon the size of the item to be framed, you want the framed item (generally) to be positioned on the wall so that your eye falls 1/3 of the way down from the top of the frame when looking straight at it.  For the average person, that is 60" off the floor.That means a cable that is 4-6 feet long is adequate. We recommend two cables per frame for anything over 11 x 14 in size. Usually, we attach D-rings on either side of the frame about 3 to 4 inches down from the top edge of the frame on the vertical frame rails. If you order your cable too long, that is not a problem. Simply coil it up and secure the coil with twister ties. You can, then, hide the coil behind the frame.

Which Cables Should I Order For Which Rail?
The CRE rail uses the 3/64" diameter cable.
The CRJ rail uses the 1/16" diameter cable.
The CRB or CRC rails use both diameters  when used with the BS1R Ceiling Rail Clip.

How Many Cables Should I Get?
The general rule of thumb, based upon our experience with the systems, is that you should order 4 cables, 4 rail clips and 4 hooks for every 72" length of rail that you install. That lets you hang two reasonably sized frames every 6 feet.  If you have a more complicated or denser array in mind, you may need more cables and consider bridging frames between other cables not initially intended for a frame to hang under or over another frame. In other words, you can use the left cable from one frame and the right cable from the one next to it to hang a third frame above or below the pair hanging side by side.

How Many Hooks Should I Get?
If you are using two cables, per frame, you should get two hooks, per frame. You can always get more, later, if you find that you want to double up and hang items above or below the others. The AF3P116SS Hooks work with the CRE or CRJ rail systems, on either 3/64" or 1/16" diameter cables. For the ceiling rails, you can use either one, but just be sure to order the corresponding diameter of cable for that hook. The AF3P116ss hook comes with a security latch. It will, definitely, slow down someone trying to remove the framed item from the wall who is in a hurry and is not authorized to do so. We know this from experience.

AF3P116-ss Midway Picture Hook
What sort of hardware do I need for hanging unframed vertical boards, panels and signs?
The BSVL1 and BSVR1 are vertical edge grippers that have a set screw for clamping the panel in place. You should use two on the left side and two on the right side of each panel, with a wire on each side passing through each gripper. The BSV edge grippers will handle 3/64" and 1/16" cables. The channels that grip the panels can handle thicknesses of up to 3/8".

Shown above are 3 large panels with edge grippers suspended via Arakawa cables  of CRB ceiling rails.


Another type of gripper that grips the top edge of a sign or panel is available for either signs or panels that are made of anything but glass and those that are made of glass. The SF31SET Panel Hanger uses 1/16" cable and can handle up to 65 pounds per hanger. It can accommodate up to 3/8" thick material. The version of this that is used on up to 1/2" thick glass panels with a hole drilled in it in two places comes with a plastic sleeve over the screw to prevent the glass from cracking across the screw.

Above is an example of a sign hung via two panel hangers and an Arakawa rail with cables.

How Do I install
Any competent carpenter, installer or contractor with a drill and a level can do this. All they really have to do, for you, is install the rail in the appropriate place with a level (if it is a wall mounted rail) or attach it to the ceiling if it is a ceiling rail. Most ceilings are drywall attached to wood ceiling joists in residential settings. If it is a concrete ceiling, they need to use TapCon screws, which are a coated, coarse-threaded screw that is designed to screw into a hole slightly smaller than the overall diameter of the screws. So, for example, if the screw is 5/16" diameter, the hole in the ceiling should be 1/4". The hole in the rail should, also be, 5/16". For all wall mounted rails, we recommend mounting the rail about 3/4" down from the ceiling, leaving just enough space to snap the vinyl rail cover into position. We no longer do on-site installation work, but we are happy to coach you, over the phone, on the best methods for getting the rails up and how to use the cables, rail clips and all related Arakawa hardware.

I have to order all online?
No, you do not. You can pick up the phone and call to consult with us before ordering. If you like, we can take your order over the phone to help ensure that you get the right quantity and configuration of hardware for your project. If you have a particularly large order or are looking for Arakawa hardware not shown on our website, call our main phone number:  312-431-9588 during business hours 9-5:30 Monday through Friday and ask for Brian Flax. With over 50 years framing experience and nearly 25 years selling Arakawa hardware, you can be sure your order will get prompt and professional attention from the business owner.