How to Use a Stud Finder

This simple tool can help accurately locate wall studs for hanging shelves, mounting TVs, and securing heavy furniture.

If you've ever hung a floating shelf, mounted a TV, braced a tall piece of furniture, or secured any other heavy object on your wall, you're familiar with studs. Studs are the bones of the wall—though you can't see them, they're responsible for supporting the weight of everything you can see.

Finding studs isn't always challenging. In fact, there are many ways to find studs without a stud finder. Sometimes, it just takes a stud finder to ensure accuracy and avoid damaging crucial components in the wall. These gadgets work by detecting metal nails or density changes. This step-by-step tutorial shows you how to use a stud finder, so you can spend less time prepping and more time decorating.

What Is a Stud Finder?

A stud finder is a handheld tool that's used to identify a stud's location inside a wall.

Types of Stud Finders

Not all stud finders are created equally, and your particular stud finder may operate differently than another type. Here are the most common types of stud finders.

Magnetic Stud Finder: A simple magnetic stud finder is excellent because it's inexpensive, and you don't have to worry about keeping up with batteries. This simple tool uses a powerful magnet to locate the screws in each stud.

Scan-Style Stud Finder: A scan-style stud finder scans the walls to find the edges of a stud. This is what most people picture when they think of a stud finder. Many models have a deep scan option that scans for other objects inside the wall, such as pipes and electrical.

Sensor-Style Stud Finder: A sensor-style stud finder features multiple lights across the top that illuminate when placed overtop of a stud. These are pricier and, while reasonably accurate, can cause confusion in determining what's a stud and what is not.

Phone-Compatible Stud Finder: The priciest of the bunch, phone-compatible stud finders attach to a smartphone, utilizing its display to show what's inside the wall. These can be highly accurate and can even differentiate between studs and other components inside the wall.

How to Use a Stud Finder

Follow the steps ahead to learn how to properly use a scan-style stud finder.

What You Need

  • Stud finder
  • Batteries
  • Pencil
  • Measuring tape

Step 1: Turn On Power

Insert batteries into stud finder. Place the stud finder on one end of the wall you're checking for studs, then turn the tool on. Make sure the stud finder is calibrated per the manufacturer's directions.

Step 2: Move the Stud Finder

Slowly move horizontally along the wall. A light turns on to indicate when the finder has found a stud. Slowly move the finder toward the stud, approaching from each side to locate the outer edges of the stud. You'll want to know exactly how wide each stud is so you can work within those parameters. A standard stud's width is 1-1/2 inches.

To get a general idea of where each stud is, tap the wall with your finger. A hollow tapping sound will indicate no stud behind the drywall, while a solid sounding tap should be a sign of a stud.

Step 3: Mark the Stud's Edges

Mark each edge of the stud with a pencil. Keep moving horizontally along the wall until you've located all of the studs necessary for your project.

Step 4: Verify Placement

Check to make sure that all of the marks are actually studs by measuring the distance between each mark. Studs are typically placed 16 inches on center, meaning there is a 14-1/2-inch gap between each stud's edge. If you have a closer measurement, this could mean you've found a pipe or other component. If the measurement is around 24 inches, there's a good chance that your studs are 24 inches on center rather than 16 inches, which isn't uncommon in older homes.

If you run a screw or nail into the wall and there's no resistance after the drywall layer, you've missed the stud. Do not attempt to hang anything without moving the fastener over until you've hit the stud.

How to Make Your Stud Finder Last

Unlike a hammer, a stud finder is a relatively fragile tool. Treat it with care and, once you're done using it, remove the batteries and store it in a protected spot such as a hard tool box or a drawer.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles