How To Find A Stud In The Wall? Practical & Headache-Free Methods for DIYers

What Are Wall Studs?

Wall studs are structural elements in the construction of homes. Studs are part of the framing of the building and are typically vertical beams (usually made of wood) that run from floor to ceiling. Housing codes regulate the construction material and spacing of studs and dictate how studs attach to the rest of the structure. Interior drywall, exterior sheathing, crown molding, and baseboards all attach to studs. Studs are structurally supportive, making them ideal for hanging heavy decor on a wall. Studs are invisible after walls are constructed, so finding them in the wall can be a challenge.

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2. Locate the switches and outlets, which indicate a stud

If baseboards don’t offer any clues to the stud’s whereabouts, look for a light switch or electrical outlet. At least one side of an electrical box must be mounted to a stud. To determine which side of the box the stud is on, use the “knock test” by rapping on either side of the switch or outlet. The side that returns a solid, versus hollow, sound is the stud side. Next, measure about ¾ inch away from the outlet on the stud side and use that as a starting point to determine the 16-inch intervals of stud spacing.

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6. Fish around with a wire hanger

If you can’t find the stud even after drilling, there’s one more technique you can try: Grab a wire hanger and untwist it, fashioning it into a right angle. Use your new tool to fish around behind the wall, says Rothman. When the wire makes contact with a firm object, that indicates you’ve found a stud.

4. Use a magnet to locate metal fasteners

One of the easiest ways to detect a stud is to use a magnet. While the magnet won’t help detecting the wood stud itself, it will help you locate the metal screws used to attach the drywall to the studs.

You can’t just use any ordinary magnet off the fridge, though. Since the screw heads will likely be covered by spackle, you’ll need a strong neodymium magnet, which is the strongest commercially available magnet you can buy.

Move the magnet slowly around the wall’s surface until you feel it pull to one of the screws. If you use the right magnet, it should be strong enough to stick to the surface of the wall at the location of the screw head, making it easy to mark the stud’s location with a pencil.

How to Find Wall Studs With a Finish Nail or Drill Bit

  1. Mark a Starting Point on the Wall

    At a location roughly equal to the height where you'll be driving anchor nails or screws, mark a starting point on the wall. For example, if you are hanging wall cabinets, make the mark at the height where the cabinet's nailing strip will be located.

  2. Drill or Drive Exploratory Holes

    Using a hammer and small finish nail, or a drill fitted with a 1/8-inch twist bit, drive a series of holes in the wall to either side of the marked starting point, about 1/2 inch apart. It should become clear when you hit a stud; a finish nail will meet resistance, and a drill bit will show wood dust on the tip of the bit.

  3. Outline the First Stud

    Pinpoint both edges of the stud using the exploratory holes, then mark the edges of the stud on the wall with a pencil.

  4. Measure, Verify, and Mark Other Studs

    Measure at 16-inch intervals from the first stud (or 24-inch intervals on walls framed with 2x6s) and mark the centers of adjacent studs. Verify that you've located the studs with another exploratory hole at each stud location.

    If necessary, you can make long vertical lines to mark the locations of the studs along the wall, using a level.

  5. Patch the Wall (If Needed)

    Once the stud locations are marked, use a drywall taping compound to fill in the exploratory holes on the wall. After the taping compound dries, you can lightly sand, then paint the wall.

    If the holes will be covered by cabinetry, it's not necessary to fill the holes.

2. The Electric Razor Trick

This method works on the same principle as the knocking method. The difference is that it uses fast vibrations to create the sound. What’s the best tool for creating these vibrations? A common electric razor.

Turn the razor on and press it against the wall. A loud, chattering sound instantly fills the room. (It’s pretty annoying, really.) The stud bay is acting as an amplifier for the sound of the razor.

Move the electric razor left and right.

Move the electric razor left and right.

Move the razor sideways along the wall, just as you would in the knocking method. The pitch differences when you go over studs will be drastic. Mark the places where the pitch is highest. Those are your stud locations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) FAQ

Can I Use My iPhone as a Stud Finder?

Yes, you can. Stud Find is an iPhone application that makes use of the device’s included magnetometer to locate metal studs, nails, screws, and other metallic objects in a wall. When the iPhone’s magnetometer, located in the upper right corner of the phone, comes into contact with metal, you will hear an audio cue.

How Exactly Does Your Stud Finder Work?

Stud finders are little gadgets that are used to locate wood, metal, and wiring that runs through drywall, allowing you to find something sturdy to screw items to. They are typically handheld devices that are used to detect areas of denser material behind the device.

Naturally, the hardwood beam is denser than the frail plasterboard, which is what stud finders detect. They frequently generate a beeping noise or flash an LED when they detect the presence of a stud behind the gadget. This notifies you of the beam’s location, allowing you to make a mark and begin using the stud.

How Far Apart Are Ceiling Studs?

Typically, ceiling joists are built 16 or 24 inches on center, which implies they are approximately 16 or 24 inches apart. Once you’ve identified the first, the remaining ones are much easier to locate. If all you need to know is which direction the joists travel, gain access to the attic and inspect.

Do Stud Finders Work on Metal Studs?

Certain homes contain steel studs, which necessitate the use of specialized fasteners in order for them to be able to support heavy objects. If you have any doubts about whether your home contains steel studs, you can verify this using a magnet that you run against the wall.  

While screws and nails in wood studs attract magnets, steel studs will attract a magnet throughout their length. An electronic wall stud finder may identify metal within a wall.

What Is the Difference Between a Deep Scan and a Stud Scan?

There are certain electronic stud finders which are labeled as multipurpose”. They are intended to identify extra items within walls, such as live electrical lines and plastic pipes, to ensure that you do not nail or cut into anything hazardous.

Stud scan and deep scan are two modes that can be found on these types of devices. A stud scan will detect studs and their edges, while a unit that also features the “deep scan” feature can identify other items that are usually located inside a wall and that you definitely don’t want to puncture when drilling holes in the wall. 

How Deep Can Stud Finders Work?

Electronic models allow you to adjust the depth to detect studs 3/4-inch deep below drywall or to locate any number of objects which are found 1 or one and a half inches under the surface. 

While the ability to look further under the surface is advantageous for locating floor joists behind additional surface coverings such as carpet, tile, or wood, you will not want to use your electronic stud finder at this level on a consistent basis. 

If you increase the depth adjustment, you will consume more energy and deplete the batteries faster. By switching between modes and generally using it in stud-finding mode, you can conserve battery life.

Magnetic stud finders operate to a depth of approximately 3/4-inch, which is usually sufficient to locate studs under typical 1/2-inch or 5/8-inch drywall. When a nail or screw is discovered, a stud is discovered. Because drywall fasteners are normally 12 to 16 inches apart, it is recommended that you glide a magnetic stud finder over the wall in a “S” pattern to detect one more quickly.

Is It worth Buying a Stud Finder?

A stud finder is useful for locating concealed studs. Having information on where studs are is critical so that you can screw into them rather than the walls when hanging something heavy, like a mirror or if you want to mount something heavier on the wall, like a TV set. 

Even so, some stud finders come with additional features, like AC wire detection and deep scanning. That is not to say they always do what they are meant to do.

There is a lot going on within walls, and despite how much technology has improved, it can be difficult for any equipment to parse it all and discern what is a pipe and what is a wire from the outside. 

When Should You Use a Stud Finder?

If you’ve ever had to install a bookshelf or a mirror, you’ve almost certainly had to determine the location of the studs under the drywall. That is because attaching anything substantial to drywall may eventually result in the item collapsing to the floor. 

Because drywall is not strong enough to support heavyweight, it is better to use nails or screws when hanging heavier items on wood studs located behind drywall. 

How to Find studs is elementary!

When Sherlock Holmes wanted to hang a picture of the queen on the wall, do you think he went out and bought an electronic stud finder? Even if he’d had the 15 shillings to drop on one, he would’ve used his powers of deductive reasoning and used the clues in front of his nose to find the framing members in any wall or ceiling.

And so can you—the carpenters, electricians, drywall finishers and heating contractors have all left dead-giveaway evidence that will help you find concealed framing locations. This article will show you how to analyze those clues to detect a framing member behind any wall or ceiling. Follow our sleuth in Photos 1 – 8 to help deduce the hidden structure lurking behind your walls and learn how to find studs.

Most of the ideas shown here not only work on drywalled surfaces but also in older homes finished with plaster and lath (where electronic stud finders tend to work poorly).

Deciphering your discovery

Photo 8: Use handrails

Photo 8: Use handrails

In stairwells, you can pull measurements from existing handrail brackets to find other studs.

Photo 9: Checking vibrations Hold one hand against the surface of the wall to feel vibrations as you tap with a knuckle. Listen and feel as you pass over the wall. As you approach a stud, the hollow sound will fade to a solid thump.

Once you’ve revealed a stud or ceiling joist, you can easily find all of the framing members for that particular wall or ceiling by using the 16- or 24-in. spacing rule. Simply use a tape measure to pull measurements from the location of the stud or joist you’ve discovered.

Most tape measures have 16-in. marks enabling you to easily find all the other framing locations by just looking at the tape. Stanley tape measures, for example, have a little red square at 16-in. increments (Photo 8) so you don’t have to do any math in your head. You’ll still need to count by twos for each 2-ft. increment if your ceilings are 24 in. on center, but even Watson could do that calculation in his head.

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