Studs are boards that work as frames behind your walls. They run between the floor and the ceiling and drywall or lath are then attached to the edges of the studs.
Because these types of walls aren’t usually strong enough to support heavy frames, pictures, and other home decor, they need to be attached to the studs. The easiest way to locate a stud to hang an object on your wall is to use a stud finder.
But, what are stud finders and how do they work? Well, in this article, we’re going to tell you all about stud finders, what they do, and where they come from.
We’re also going to run you through the different types of stud finders available and tell you how to use one. Lastly, we’ll share some of the best stud finder manufacturers in the industry as well as highlight how difficult it is to find studs without using one of these devices.
So, without further ado, let’s get started.
What Is A Stud Finder?
As mentioned above, a stud finder is a device used to locate studs in walls, the framing elements in your home that support the walls themselves. These devices are also known as stud detectors or stud sensors and come in various forms.
Fasteners and hangers used to hang heavier objects such as art pieces and television sets need to be anchored to a stud because the wall itself is not strong enough to support them.
Studs help hold the weight of these objects, a key reason why it is crucial to locate them when you plan on drilling or screwing something to your wall, specifically drywall or lath.
While experienced builders and carpenters can tell where studs are by knocking on the walls and listening to the different sounds, others are not- that’s when a stud finder comes into play.
While there are many different types of stud finders, most fall into two categories, magnetic or electric.
Stud Finders - A Brief History
Stud finders are very modern devices that came into play in the early 1900’s. At first, these devices only came in magnetic form, relying on the magnets within the stud finder to find the fasteners inside the walls.
Later in 1977, the electronic stud finder was designed by Robert Franklin. This new and improved device relied on an internal capacitor to measure the various densities within each wall.
Zircon went on to manufacturer Franklin’s device until the patent ran out in 1998. Now, there are hundreds if not thousands of different models available to choose from, both magnetic and electronic.
Today, stud finders come with numerous sensors, meaning that they can detect studs inside a wall in multiple places at once. Aside from locating the studs, modern day stud finders can tell you the width of the studs as well.
Different Types Of Stud Finders
As mentioned above, there are numerous types of stud finders available on the market today. That said, these all normally fall into two categories, magnetic and electric. Here is an explanation of the two:
Magnetic Stud Finders
As the name suggests, magnetic stud finders use magnets to find metal in the wall. But, there are also two types of magnetic stud finders, these are:
Stationary magnets are used to detect the stud in the wall. All you have to do is run your stud finder across the surface of the wall until you feel a pull or force as the magnet detects the stud.
These types of stud finders are used on a drywall because studs are normally close to the surface of the wall meaning they’re easier to detect.
However, studs in plaster walls can be buried up to an inch deep into the wall, rendering a stationary magnetic stud finder virtually useless.
While stationary magnetic stud finders cannot be used with certain walls, moving ones extend the range of the magnet. These types of stud finders use a neodymium magnet, a rare earth metal that acts as a strong magnet.
These stud finders move at the same speed as the depth of the metal. They make a sound once they detect studs. As a result, if used on a drywall they make a deep noise whereas, on a plaster wall, they make a lighter sound.
Electronic Stud Finders
Electronic stud finders are completely different to their magnetic counterparts. These models detect changes in the dielectric constant changes in the composition of the wall. There are three different types of electronic stud finders, these are:
As the name suggests, edge finders can detect the change in density in the wall when the edge of a stud is located.
These are the most basic types of electronic stud finders and they need to be calibrated against an empty section of the wall before they can be run along the wall to detect a change in density.
Before you can correctly detect the edge of a stud using this type of edge finder, it is important that you move your device from both directions.
Only then can you detect the center of the stud. Because edge finders are the most basic and probably time-consuming types of edge finders, they are also the cheapest.
Center finders are more complex in nature but also easier to use and much more efficient than their above counterparts. As their name suggests, center stud finders can locate the center of a stud thanks to two sensors that register separate wall density readings at the same time.
Once both readings are the same, the device can then locate the center of the stud for you. While center finders also require calibration against the wall, they do not need to be moved in both directions.
Also, it is worth mentioning that uneven wall surfaces can lead to false readings.
Instant Stud Finders
Last but not least, instant stud finders are by far the most accurate and effective types of devices. Not only can they locate the edges and the center thanks to their numerous sensors, they can also locate multiple studs at the same time.
Thanks to their multiple sensor plates, this type of stud finder does not need to be moved against the wall and can, therefore, overcome problems detecting studs when ran across uneven wall surfaces.
Pros And Cons Of Using A Stud Finder
There are both advantages and disadvantages to using a stud finder. While they do depend on the type of stud finder you are using, here are some of the most common ones:
Easy Access To Studs
With a stud finder, you’ll be able to find studs easily without having to play any guessing games. While DIY professionals are able to detect studs by tapping on the wall and listening to the various sounds, other more amateur DIYers cannot.
Depending on the type of stud finder you choose, you’ll be able to find studs by running your device along your chosen surface or by placing it against it and letting it do the work for you.
Detection Of A Variety Of Objects
Aside from detecting studs, some models can find live electric wires, plumbing, and various other objects behind your wall. These stud finders will stop you from drilling a hole with the risk of going through your pipes or worse, electrocuting yourself.
Unfortunately, not all stud finders are accurate. Some do not detect the studs correctly and can, therefore, lead you to make unnecessary holes in your walls.
Depending on the model, you may find that your stud finder confuses a stud with another object leading to further problems with your project.
With this in mind, be sure to choose a model that comes from a reputable manufacturer and that is able to detect various materials and objects as well as a multitude of different depths in order to avoid mistakes.
Thick Wall Density
Some stud finders perform differently when exposed to thicker wall surfaces. This means that depending on the model, they either don’t detect studs at all, or they do so incorrectly. This is especially true with old houses that have a layer of thick plaster on the wall.
Stud Finder Features
Electronic and magnetic stud finders come in all shapes and sizes. They also vary in weight and can come equipped with a variety of features to choose from. Here are some features you could expect to see in the various models available today:
While most stud finders require you to slide your device across the surface of the wall to detect a stud, others have a hands-free feature which means they stay attached to the wall when they find a stud.
Stud finders can stay attached to the wall while you mark the location of the studs. This allows you to keep track of where the studs are without having to hold your stud finder against the wall.
Not only this, depending on the type of stud finder you choose, you can mark more than one stud at one time.
Levels And Rulers
In addition to coming with a hands-free feature, stud finders can come with levels and rulers as well as pencils. For those of you using a stud finder to install a cabinet, television, mirror, or piece of artwork, the likelihood is you want your object to stay straight on your wall.
Choosing a stud finder that has a built-in level will allow you to make a more accurate mark on the wall so that you can hang your objects evenly.
While electronic stud finders often have a digital display that indicates when a stud has been detected, magnetic ones do not. This means that instead of sending you a visual or sonar signal, these models stick more forcefully to the wall.
Electronic models can either send a vibration through the machine, make a sound, or send an alert through an LED light.
Certain models can send different colored alerts depending on how close they are to an object behind the wall. These can also detect the width of the wall behind which there is a stud.
Once again, magnetic models do not have sensors, they use magnets to alert you when they have found a stud. On the other hand, electronic models come with one or multiple sensors to offer a more accurate reading than their magnetic counterparts.
Sometimes, these devices can come with up to 15 sensors. Each sensor is individual to the other meaning that it can detect multiple separate studs at the same time.
How Does A Stud Finder Work?
Now that you know about the various stud finders available to choose from, let’s have a look at how these work.
Magnetic stud finders are handy tools to have but do not have the same abilities as their electronic counterparts. While it is clear that these devices use plates to detect dielectric constant, there is much more to it than just that.
When it comes to instant stud finders, they use multiple sensor plates so that they don’t need to be moved against the wall. Thanks to their algorithm, they can analyze the readings from the plates in order to find multiple stud edges and centers across the surface of a wall.
These machines will notify you when they have located a stud by sending a signal through their LED display or through a vibration or sound depending on the model.
How Do You Use A Stud Finder?
Once again, the correct way to use a stud finder completely depends on the type and model you are using, however, traditionally you would:
Determine Where You Want To Hang Your Object
Before you start using your stud finder, you need to establish where you want to hang your chosen object, artwork, or appliance on your wall. You’ll have to base this measurement on the height of the fastener you are using.
Calibrate Your Stud Finder
Generally speaking, to use a stud finder, you first need to calibrate it. Then, place your unit against the wall behind which you are trying to locate a stud and turn it on by holding down the side buttons.
Slide Your Stud Finder Horizontally Across The Wall
Once you’ve established the height at which you’d like to attach your fastener and you’ve turned on your stud finder, slide your device horizontally across the wall until you get an alert when the machine has detected a stud in the wall.
Mark Your Stud Location With A Pencil
Depending on the model you choose, you may have to use your stud finder multiple times. Once you locate a stud, mark the location with a pencil.
With an edge finder, you’ll receive a signal once your device locates the edge of a dense object. Mark this location with pencil and then use your stud finder from the opposite direction towards this mark.
If the second signal is one and a half inches away from the first one, you’ve found a stud. From there, you just need to find the center.
When it comes to using a center finder, the process is a lot more straightforward. Each signal you receive from your stud finder will tell you where the center of the stud is.
Locate Several Studs Before Drilling
It is worth always marking numerous studs one after the other before drilling or hammering in case your stud finder has confused a stud for plumbing or electrical wires. Other studs should be located anywhere 16 inches either side of your first stud.
Reputable Stud Finder Manufacturers
Now that we’ve gone through everything you need to know about stud finders, here are some of the most reputable and well-established manufacturers in the industry today:
Based in Silicon Valley, Zircon was established all the way back in 1975. In its early days, the company manufactured digital watches. Later, Zircon went on to own and operate the Fairchild Channel-F video game division.
In 1980, the company recognized a need for electronic hand tools for everyday home improvements. In the same year, the company developed its first stud finder.
Since then, the company has been manufacturing and selling some of the most innovative and accurate stud, metal, electric scanning, and thermal detecting solutions in the industry.
Zircon can be found in more than 30 different countries throughout the Americas, Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia.
The company is dedicated to providing some of the best electronic handheld tools while also educating and supporting their customers on their home improvement projects.
Franklin was the first company to invent, manufacture, and sell the instant stud finder. Since that day, the company has been known for providing extremely accurate and well-made stud finders to the market.
All Franklin stud finders are designed with the latest technology in order to provide DIYers and homeowners alike with products that will last them a lifetime.
Franklin produces some of the most advanced products in the world with the aim of meeting the requirements of even the most demanding professionals in the industry.
CH Hanson is one of, if not the most long-standing DIY company in the world.
Founded in 1866 by Christian Henry Hanson, a war veteran from Denmark who moved to America in the mid-1800’s, the company produces everything from license plates to hand tools such as stud finders.
CH Hanson is known for being the market leader in tags, steel stamps, stencils, and various other metalworking machine tools and accessories.
The family-owned business is currently run by the fourth and fifth generation Hanson’s and has pursued its success by keeping true to its past while reinventing itself for the future.
How To Find Studs Without A Stud Finder
Finding a stud without a stud finder is not only a long process but also hard work. That said, if you haven’t bought your device yet, here are some alternative ways you can locate a stud in the meantime:
Look Closely At The Trim
The baseboard should be attached to the studs. This means that you may be able to spot where it has been nailed by looking for the holes that have been filled and painted over. If you can spot one, you can locate a stud, find the center, and measure 16 to find the next one.
While you may get lucky using this method, the chances are, finding that first stud will be near impossible, especially if you or your builder did a good job at filling in and painting the holes where the nail heads are.
Use Doors And Windows As A Starting Point
Doors and windows always have a stud alongside them. This means that you can use the same mechanism as that of the one mentioned above and measure in increments of 16 inches to locate the next stud.
Once again, you need to first find the center of the stud before you can go on to locate the next stud. Unfortunately, while this method does work, it is incredibly time-consuming.
Take Off The Cover Plates On Light Switches
Typically, electricians will place the electrical box for light switches against the edge of a stud. Unfortunately, it is not easy to find out on which side of the stud the box has been nailed to. With this in mind, your best bet is to take off the cover plate on the light switches and peer inside.
Once again, this method will not give you the exact location of the center of the stud, and you can’t be sure you’ll be able to see the stud even by taking the cover plate off. With this in mind, it is easier and more accurate to use a stud finder.
Choosing a stud finder that detects all the studs in your wall can be challenging. As you can see, some offer different features than others, and some come with faults that make them inaccurate.
If you have decided that a stud finder is what you are looking for but you’re still not sure which model to go for, we recommend you head over to our buying guide.
In it, you’ll find five recommendations as well as more information regarding the features you can choose from and reasons why you should choose your stud finder carefully.