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How to Find a Stud in the Wall

Updated November 06, 2018

Finding wooden studs in the wall is important if you want to hang heavy pictures or mirrors or put up shelves. These items must be fastened directly into the wall’s studs, or their weight will eventually pull them off the wall. There are several methods that can be used to locate wooden studs. The easiest way is to buy an electronic stud finder, although the tried and true knuckle-tapping method can work quite well on some types of walls.

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  1. Tap the wall lightly with your knuckles. Work your way along the wall. When you tap on most portions of the wall, you should hear a hollow sound, but that should change to a more solid sound when you reach a stud. This method works best on walls covered in drywall and will be useless if you have plaster walls. When you reach a solid area, drive a nail into that area to determine if a stud is actually there.

  2. Buy a battery-operated electronic stud finder. The stud finder measures the wall’s density, alerting you when you have reached a stud. Press the button and pass the stud finder slowly over the wall. When you reach a stud, the light will flash and stay lit over the width of the stud. Mark the stud at the area indicated by the stud finder.

  3. Try a magnetic stud finder. This type of stud finder works by locating the nails or screws that fasten the wallboard to the wall. When you think you have located a stud, keep moving the stud finder and see if you can find another stud either 16 or 24 inches down the wall. If you do, this is a good indication that you’ve found a nail or screw and not a pipe. This method will not be useful if you have plaster walls.

  4. Look for an electrical socket. The boxes that hold the outlets are always attached to the side of a stud. If you measure 16 or 24 inches from the outlet, you are likely to find a stud.

  5. Drill a hole into the wall to locate the stud. Do this as a last resort, as you will damage the wall. When you find a location that you think contains a stud, drill a hole at a sharp angle. Unravel a wire coat hanger and cover one end with electrical tape. You can use any rigid wire you happen to have on hand. Push the wire into the hole. It will stop when it hits a stud. If you bend the wire at the point that it emerges from the hole, you will have a rough idea how far the stud is from the hole.

  6. Tip

    Studs in newer construction are usually placed 16 inches apart, although you may occasionally find studs placed 24 inches apart. If you are working in an old house, you may find that there is no consistency in where the studs are placed.

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Things You'll Need

  • Nail
  • Hammer
  • Drill
  • Wire
  • Electronic or magnetic stud finder

About the Author

Working at a humane society allowed Jill Leviticus to combine her business management experience with her love of animals. Leviticus has a journalism degree from Lock Haven University, has written for Nonprofit Management Report, Volunteer Management Report and Healthy Pet, and has worked in the healthcare field.

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