Looking for Studs in All the Wrong Places: Six Ways to Find a Stud in Your Wall

If you're installing shelves, a wall-mounted TV or even towel bars, you'll need more than a thin wall with thin air behind it to hang them on. To keep heavy or frequently yanked items securely attached to your walls, only the solid backing of a stud will do.

Studs are the vertical bones of your house, wood or metal framing hidden behind finished walls. Fortunately, you don't need to have X-ray vision to find studs. As the animation shows, there are lots of ways, from high-tech to no-tech, to track them down. No single approach is fool-proof, but if you combine some of the following techniques, you'll find studs without making your walls look like Swiss cheese.

electronic stud finder 1. The fastest and most reliable way to locate studs is with an electronic stud finder. This handy tool detects changes in density, so it works on all kinds of walls. And it's easy to use: Pass it over your wall, and a light or display (sometimes a tone) indicates when it's over a stud. Some electronic versions have bells and whistles like a live-wire finder, assorted scan settings for different depths up to 3 inches, and a metal detector for locating pipes and other metal objects inside your walls.
magnetic stud finder 2. Magnetic stud finders locate the screws and nails that attach drywall to studs. Like electronic stud finders, they're easy to use, just slide one over your wall until a magnetized bar points to a fastener (or, if the stud is metal, to the stud itself.) While most magnetic models are simple plastic boxes, some have features like built-in levels, like the model shown. A downside: they also find pipes, metallic cable, and nails and screws that may be nowhere near studs.
3. Look for nails or nail holes in baseboards and crown moldings, which are usually attached to studs. So are the outlet boxes for light switches or receptacles. Outlets are typically mounted to one side of a stud. Remove the cover plate, and you may be able to see the stud the outlet is nailed to.

4. Shine a light at a flat angle along the wall and look for dimples. These depressions often show where nails or screws fasten drywall to studs. You may also be able to see long vertical seams where the edges of drywall panels meet on a stud.

5. Use your knuckles or a hammer wrapped in a towel to rap across the wall. You may hear a slightly higher sound over studs and a hollow, echoey sound elsewhere. This popular but unscientific method is less reliable on thick walls. (Strange but true: One fellow we know swears by running his electric razor over the wall to find studs.)

6. If you drill a hole and miss a stud, all is not lost. Insert a stiff, bent wire through the hole and spin it to the right and left until it hits a stud. A coat hanger is perfect for this.

Once you've found a stud, you can locate others fairly easily&, they're usually 16 or 24 inches apart when measured from center to center. (This may vary if there's a window or door in the wall, or if another wall butts into it.) With just a little detective work, you can hang your shelves, gilt-framed mirror or wall-mounted TV with confidence.

CornerHardware.com recommended tools & supplies:

  • Stud Finders (Electronic & Magentic Stud Finders)

  • Drill

  • Drill bits

  • Level