How to Find Wall Studs—Even If You Don't Have a Stud Finder

Learn the quickest and most effective ways to find a wall stud without any special tools. 

From hanging heavy mirrors to mounting TVs to installing floating shelves and anchoring furniture, there are plenty of home projects that require you to locate wall studs. The go-to tool for this is a stud finder. However, stud finders can have a hard time locating studs behind alternative wall materials like plaster or plywood.

Luckily, there are a few simple methods for locating wall studs without a stud finder. These practical tips and tricks require minimal tools, can be accomplished by any level of DIYer, and are sure to get your home projects back on track.

person measuring wall with tape measure looking for wall stud
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What Is a Wall Stud?

Wall studs are the vertical frame members that stretch between the floor and ceiling to make up the internal structure of a wall. Studs are most often made from 2x4 material, which has an actual measurement of 1-1/2 inches by 3-1/2 inches. The studs are positioned with the 1-1/2-inch side facing the drywall and most often 16 inches on center, which means there are 14-1/2 inches of space between each stud.

Why Do I Need to Find a Wall Stud?

There are a variety of reasons you might need to find a wall stud, but the most common reason is to hang something on the wall that requires the holding power of the wooden stud. Without securely fastening heavy objects into studs, the weak hold of a screw in drywall can fail, even if you've used a drywall anchor. This will not only damage your drywall (and the object that falls as a result), but the falling object also becomes a safety risk to anyone around it.

How to Find Wall Studs: 9 Easy Options

1. Tap the Wall

Sometimes all it takes to find the general location of a stud is to tap the wall. Start by tapping with your fingertip wherever you need to find a stud and slowly move to the right or to the left. If the tapping sound becomes more solid, you're approaching a stud. If it sounds hollow, you're moving away from a stud. Once you've found the stud, measure 16 inches to find the next stud, then tap to verify.

2. Look for Light Switches and Outlets

Although it's possible, you'll be hard-pressed to find a light switch or an electrical outlet that isn't mounted directly to the side of a stud. Once you've found the box, just tap on either side to determine which side the stud is on.

3. Use Magnets to Find Fasteners

Drywall is fastened to studs using drywall screws or cupped drywall nails. These screws are driven just past the surface of the drywall, then covered in drywall mud and paint. This makes finding them with a strong magnet fairly easy. For this method, use a strong, small magnet, such as a neodymium magnet. Run the magnet back and forth across the area of the stud until it catches on a fastener. This will mark the center of the stud. Once you've found one fastener, place magnets on the fasteners above and below to mark a larger portion of the stud.

4. Look for Dimples in Drywall

Sometimes, the drywall mud that's spread over fasteners during construction is sucked into the head of the fastener as it dries. If left this way before painting, a small dimple will be visible. These dimples are key indicators of a stud and if you can locate the dimples in the wall, you've found what you're looking for.

Pro Tip: Having trouble finding any dimples? Turn off the lights in the room and hold a flashlight flat against the wall. If present, the dimples above the fasteners will be easily visible.

5. Look for Dimples in Trim

Like drywall fasteners, finish nails in trim are often a dead giveaway for a stud's location. While these holes are typically filled, they too will often be obvious when you shine a flashlight along the trim.

6. Measure from the Corner of the Room

Because there's undoubtedly a stud in the corner of your room, the next stud should be a minimum of 16 inches from the corner. So all it takes is measuring from the corner to find the next stud, then measuring every 16 inches to find the remaining studs. However, as every room is different, one side of the wall will likely have a stud spaced less than 16 inches from the corner. Additionally, there's a possibility that your home's studs are on 24-inch centers, especially if your walls are thicker than average.

7. Download a Stud-Finder App

Believe it or not, your smartphone can actually locate studs for you. By downloading a free stud-finder app that utilizes your phone's magnetometer, you can turn your phone into a stud finder. For precision, it might take moving the phone up and down on the wall as this method only works for finding the metal fasteners.

8. Drill Holes

While you might not want to start your wall-stud hunt by drilling holes in your wall, drilling small holes is a great way to verify if you've found a stud or not. This is an effective follow-up step for any of the above steps. Simply grab the thinnest drill bit you have and drill where you suspect a stud to be. If you feel resistance and see wood on the bit when you remove it, you've found a stud.

9. Buy a Stud Finder

No luck? A trip to the hardware store might be in order. Stud finders are quick and easy to use. Simply start at the point in the wall where you'd like to hang something, then move the tool back and forth. Most models will beep or light up to alert you of a stud's exact location.

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