DIY Home Improvement and Repair | Simple How To Do It Yourself Projects

How To Find A Stud | Finding Wood Studs In A Finished Wall

by Jeff Sawyer on January 23, 2010

Trying to find a wall stud

Need to hang a heavy picture, or mount a shelf?  Nailing or screwing your hanger into a wall stud will give you the best support, but how do you find one of those stealthy little buggers?  You could go the easy route, spend a few bucks, and buy an electronic stud finder.  But, before you go out spending your hard earned cash, I’ve got a few tips on finding wood studs in a finished wall.

First, some basic information to understanding what’s behind those walls.  Most houses have been built with the same general framing practices.  The walls are constructed with 2×4 or 2×6 lumber that is spaced 16 inches on center.  This means that when you locate the center of one stud the center of another is just 16 inches away.  Ceilings are usually built with 2×8, 2×10, or 2×12 lumber but you will find the spacing to be either 16 inches on center or 24.  If you know that the roof to your house was built with trusses then there is a good chance the spacing is 24 inches.  If you’re not sure, then head up into your attic and take a quick measurement of the spacing between ceiling joists.

All of the people involved in building your home, plumbers, electricians, sheet-rockers, etc., have left behind little clues that can help you sleuth out those sneaky studs.  The following is a list of those clues and how to look for them:

  1. Darken the room you’re working in and shine a flashlight across the wall.  This will highlight imperfections in the wall including nails that are popping through the drywall and tape joints where the drywall was butted together.

    Electrical box spacers

    Electrical box spacers

  2. Remove an outlet cover.  If the electrical box is plastic, then one side of it has two little spacer nubs the electrician uses when nailing the box to the stud.  The stud will be on the same side as the two nubs and the center of the stud is 3/4 inch from the side of the box.  If you have older electrical boxes without spacers, then tap a small nail on an angle away from from the edges of the box.  The nail will either drive all the way into empty space or it will find solid wood.  This same method can be used for locating a stud in your ceiling.  Just be sure to cut the power before removing any light fixtures.
  3. If you have a forced air heating system you can remove a grate to a cold air return. Quite often, the space between the studs are used as a duct.
  4. If your working in the kitchen, look inside the cabinets for the screws holding them to the wall.
  5. Inspect the baseboard and chair rail moldings for filled nail holes.  Look closely, a good painter will not leave much of a trace.
  6. For stairways, take a look at the handrail.  The brackets holding it to the wall are stud locations.
  7. There’s always the tried-and-true method of tapping your knuckle across the wall until the hollow sound becomes more of a thud.  Not as accurate as the other methods but does work.

Where you locate a stud and where you want to mount or hang something can be in two different places.  So how do you find the stud location nearest your work area?  As mentioned before, the other studs in the wall are 16 inches, or a multiple of, away.  Most good tape measures will highlight those numbers to make it even easier.  Mark the spot then use a level to follow the stud vertically up or down the wall to the height you need it.  As a final suggestion, before driving a big nail or screw through the drywall, test your mark with a 4 penny finish nail.  The smaller the hole the easier it is to cover up any goofs.  Do a couple tests by tapping the nail in on an angle one direction and then again the other direction.  This will ensure you are hitting the center of the stud giving you the best support.

Congratulations Sherlock, you’ve solved the case.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

MIKE V. October 29, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Magnets are often a good substitute for a stud finder, in fact, most entry level stud finders use them to detect studs, or rather the metal screws and nails that are anchored in them. Here is a video of a DIY stud finder built using magnets.

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