A home project like hanging a picture can turn into a weekend of patching and painting if things go badly. Every do-it-yourselfer has experienced moments of anxiety as they hesitantly tap a nail into the wall, wondering if it will find that elusive wall stud. The stress fades as the nails secures itself in the stud, but you wonder whether you could find it again. The answer is yes, you can. With some basic knowledge of home building standards and a few items from your local hardware store, you can mount pictures, paintings, and televisions with confidence and security.
Electronic stud finders are the quickest and easiest way to find wall studs. Simply place the device against the wall where you want to secure your item and slowly slide it from left to right. The sensors determine whether the area behind the wall is empty or solid and use audible beeps or lights to notify the user when it finds a solid area — in other words, a stud. Note that false positive readings are possible in older homes with thicker plaster on the walls; the sensors might be confused by the unexpected density of the whole wall.
Most homes are built using 2x4 or 2x6 inch wooden studs, set at a standard 16 inches between studs. Some older homes used a wider stud distance of 24 inches. The distances are measured from the center of the studs and align with standard sizes of 4x8 foot building materials for walls, insulation widths, and medicine cabinets. For new home construction or major renovations, it is a good idea to take pictures of the frames before the walls are installed; this will make finding studs easier on future projects.
Doors and windows are framed with studs for support. Using the edge of a door or window as a starting point, you should be able to measure 16 inches to find the nearest wall stud. Keep in mind that stud intervals on walls with doors or windows may vary depending on the building design and load requirements. If you don’t find a stud at 16 inches, measure 24 inches to check if the longer standard was used.
Frequent-use devices like electrical boxes that hold outlets and light switches are attached on the side of a stud to secure them. Find a stud using one of these as a guide, then measure from the edge of the box to the center of the stud before you start your 16-inch measurement to find the middle of the next stud. Remember to think about safety and turn off the power before you remove any outlet or switch cover.
Placing the tip of a tape measure in the corner of a room, you can usually measure 16 inches to find the nearest wall stud. For best results, use this method when you can measure the corner from an exterior wall to ensure the studs are set to the 16-inch standard intervals. It is important to know that not all interior rooms are built using a 16-inch divisor, so the nearest stud may be closer than 16 inches from the corner.
The baseboards in a room are secured to the wall studs. Using a bright light, look for nail holes or indentations that have been covered with caulk and painted. These are more difficult to find but there might be one or two that are more noticeable. Once you find the stud, follow it vertically up the wall until you reach a comfortable height and start measuring in 16-inch intervals until you find the nearest stud to your desired location.
When two edges of drywall meet, there is a seam where they are tacked to a wall stud. These lines are covered with plaster, sanded, and painted so that you see one solid wall. After a house has settled, small imperfections, like dimples, can appear along the seam where the nails were inserted to secure the drywall to the stud. Using a bright light, you can see these depressions to identify the stud and begin your measurements.
With a small hammer, lightly tap different areas of the wall in a horizontal direction, listening for different sounds. If you hear a hollow or empty sound, there is an empty space behind the wall. A solid or muffled sound identifies a stud. This method requires a sharp ear. Once you hear the solid sound, continue to tap up or down the wall on the same line, to make sure you actually found a vertical wall stud. You can then begin your 16-inch measurements to find a stud near where you want to hang.
A lesser-used method for finding wall studs involves a refrigerator magnet, a piece of string, and a little luck. As strange as it sounds, swinging a magnet on a string across the wall can identify a stud. The magnet will stick to the wall when it gets close to one of the nails used to secure the drywall. The nails are inserted vertically down the stud, which makes this a slower method and not as accurate if performed alone. It is best used along with one of the previously mentioned methods to narrow the search area.
Regardless of the method used to find the studs, it is critical to know that wall studs have live wires attached to them, so make sure power is cut to the area before drilling into a wall. Most horizontal wiring is run through the studs within two feet of the top or bottom of the wall. Vertical wiring is fastened to the side of the stud and runs up and down the inside of the wall. For most weekend projects, you're unlikely to hit these wires if you're careful to mount in the center of the stud or the vertical center of the wall.