How to Find Wall Studs

Once you understand how walls are constructed, you should have no problem finding a stud to hang things on.

By Teri Olcott

 

What are Wall Studs?

Wall studs are the wooden boards or steel studs that make up the walls in your home or apartment. They are used to divide up rooms and provide support for the entire building. Studs are spaced either every 16 or 24 inches on-center (from the center of one stud to the center of the next) and run vertically from the floor to the ceiling. Other boards, called headers and footers, run horizontally to provide structure to the walls and support windows. Once the studs, wiring, and insulation are complete for a room, the interior is typically covered with drywall or plaster for a finished look.

 

If you need to hang a heavy object on a wall, such as a large painting or a mirror, you will need to locate a stud behind the finished wall. Drywall alone is not strong enough to hold a heavy object and finding a stud to secure the fastener will ensure that the artwork, TV, or mirror does not come crashing down which can damage to both the wall and the object you want to hang.

 

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Different Types of Wall Studs

In most homes and residential structures, the walls are made from wood, specifically 2 x 4 inch pine boards that have been selected to be wall studs. In newer homes, studs are placed every 16 inches on center. In older homes, the studs may be every 24 inches on center. Unless your home was made with rough cut lumber, meaning wood that came from a local lumber mill, the actual dimensions of the studs will be 1.5 x 3.5 inches and not 2 x 4 inches. This is important to remember when trying to find the center of a stud.

 

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If you live in a commercial building that has been converted to residential, the studs may be steel and not wood. Steel studs function the same as wood, but may be a little more difficult to locate and will require specialty fasteners such as toggle bolts to hold up heavy items.

 

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How Do You Find a Wall Stud?

There are several methods for finding a stud behind a finished wall. Because studs are located every 16 or 24 inches apart, you just need to establish a starting point and then measure and find the stud either manually or electronically.

 

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Electronic Method

One of the easiest ways to find wall studs is with an electronic stud finder. A stud finder works best on drywall, but may have a little difficulty with older lath and plaster walls. An electronic stud finder is a battery operated, handheld device that you run lightly over the wall.  It will light up or beep or both when it locates a stud. Once the stud is found, move the stud finder back and forth over several spots to make sure it is really a stud and not wiring or a pipe behind the wall.

 

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Use painter’s tape to mark the edges of the stud on the wall. To be 100 percent sure you have located a stud, you can pound a small finishing nail into the wall before drilling a hole or making a larger hole in the wall. Some stud finders have a metal-scanning feature which can be used to find steel studs.

 

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There are several stud finder apps for cell phones that are metal detectors that will find nails in your walls used to secure studs. Reviews of the app are varied with some saying it works great and others claiming it does not work at all. Because the app is a metal detector and not an actual stud finder, it will pick up wiring and plumbing as well.

 

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Manual Method

If you don’t have a stud finder and aren’t interested in buying one, there are manual methods for locating studs. One if the easiest ways is to start on a corner and measure 16 inches out. Use your knuckles to knock lightly on the wall. An area lacking a stud will have a hollow sound. Listen for a more solid sound. If you think you have located a stud, measure an additional 16 inches and check again. You should be able to find a stud at that location as well. The second stud can be used to confirm the location of the first stud. If your wall has a baseboard, look for nails in the baseboard at the 16 inch mark. Nails can be used to confirm the studs are located at 16 inches. If you own an older house and aren’t finding studs at 16 inches, try every 24 inches.

 

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Outlets and switches are almost always located on studs. The hard part is determining which side of the stud the electrical box is mounted. You might be able to take off the cover plate for the switch or outlet and look inside to see if you can determine which way the nails or screws are going. Always make sure the power is off to the switch or outlet before removing the cover. If you can’t see any nails or screws, try the knock method. One side should sound hollow and the other more solid.

 

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Once you are pretty sure you have located a stud, you can use the finishing nail test to make sure you are over wood. Drive the nail partially in where you wish to install the mounting hardware for your artwork, mirror, or other object. The center of a stud will provide the most support for hanging something heavy. Remember that modern studs are 1.5 inches wide, not  2 inches. The nail should not drive in easily. If it does, there is no stud behind the drywall.

 

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If you suspect your home was built with steel studs, you can run a strong magnet along the wall. Nails and screws in wooden studs might attract the magnet slightly, but steel studs will have a very strong attraction along the entire length of the stud.

 

Once you are confident you have located a stud, determine the correct height for hanging your object and drill or drive a nail or other fastening device into the wall. If drilling, you should see wood fiber in the grooves of the drill bit. If hammering or screwing, it should take some effort to drive the hardware into the wall. You are now all set to hang your TV, artwork, mirror, shelves, or whatever is adorning your walls with no fear of it coming down.

 

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