From mounting shelves to updating power outlets, if you like to do basic home repairs yourself, you should know how to find a wall stud. Studs are vertical pieces of wood or metal that help form the framework of a wall. They add stability and hold up the drywall on interior walls and the wood sheathing on exteriors. These building features are the real MVP, so learning how to make use of them is one key to mastering home improvement.
Nailing into the wall without checking for studs might work when hanging a lightweight picture frame or a collection of baseball caps, but don't make it a habit. Heavier items like a television or shelves rely on the support of several studs to stay where you put them.
Likewise, safety straps that keep tall furnishings from falling over in an earthquake need a sturdy anchor, and drywall is not up to the task.
You know that strange object that, when you hold it, prompts dads and husbands alike to ask amid groans, "were you looking for me?" That's a stud finder, though it only locates the studs inside your walls. These devices detect vertical boards without piercing the material.
Inexpensive models use a magnet to sense metal nails that secure the drywall to the wood. Dialectric stud finders are a bit more sophisticated, using an electrical field to measure the wall's density and locating the stud that way.
You may not always have a stud finder at your disposal. One way to find studs without a gadget is to inspect the baseboard for nails or dimples that were filled with caulk and painted. These spots indicate where the baseboard attaches to the wall studs. Another effective method is to measure 16 inches from the corner of the room. Every corner has studs, which are 16 inches apart on most walls.
Try knocking on the walls at 16-inch intervals, and you will hear a thud rather than a slightly echoing sound when you've zeroed in on a stud.
If you're working in a home built before the mid-70s, there's a good chance the walls contain plaster. Plaster is much denser than drywall, so a classic stud finder might not work effectively. One trick to working with plaster walls is to look for a power outlet. Contractors install electrical outlet receptacles, such as light switches and power outlets, by fastening them to wood studs for support.
Try knocking on the wall around the outlet to locate the stud or remove the wall cover to get a visual confirmation.
Once you've determined the location of your studs, it's time to prepare your drill site. Wall studs provide stability for the wall's construction, so you only want to have to do this once. First, use a drill bit to pre-drill a pilot hole through the drywall for your screw or bolt.
Most drywalls are 1/2- to 5/8-inch thick, so the pilot hole should be as deep. Wrap some masking tape around the drill bit 1/2 or 5/8 inch from the tip, and stop drilling when you get to the mark.
Your walls are a maze of electrical wires and pipes, and they all run through holes drilled through wall studs. As a rule of thumb, outlet cables run about 12 inches high, the same height as power outlets, while light switch electrical lines run about 48 inches off the ground. Ponder these measurements as you plan your projects to avoid hitting wires.
For even more certainty, consider investing in a wall scanner. While expensive, these devices can detect studs, pipes, wires, and PVC through multiple materials.
Some household projects are more work than you bargained for and require extra materials. A common practice for home DIYers is to keep a stash of high-quality fasteners and hardware in different sizes. Screws and washers that come with purchases, like TV wall mounts, are almost always of poor quality, so be sure to switch them out before hanging your pieces.
Are you having trouble getting through the drywall? There's a fair chance your drill needs a fresh battery. If you're doing a variety of home jobs, it's good practice to have at least two batteries charged and rotate them out, so you don't interrupt your workflow. A power drill that plugs into the wall is also infinitely more powerful, especially when dealing with metal studs.
If you accidentally drill through the corner of a wooden stud, you shouldn't try to reroute the drill bit. Move your target one or two inches up or down and try again.
Sometimes, finding a wall stud is not the issue. Maybe your home features brick or concrete walls, or your landlord fusses over every hole in the drywall. A picture rail is a classic solution to a universal problem. You'll find them mounted under crown molding or along the tops of windows and doors, with a small ledge for hanging artwork and collectibles.
Hang a picture rail using minimal hardware, and use wires or decorative hooks and chains to display your artwork.
Part of being a responsible homeowner is knowing when to call for backup. That includes working with walls that connect to your bathroom or kitchen, which are sure to contain plumbing. Professionals have expensive tools that can locate pipes through different materials and have the expertise to deal with antiquated wiring in older houses.
Likewise, if you're tearing down a wall in your home, call a contractor to verify it's not load-bearing. If the studs are 16 inches apart, chances are it is.