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A good stud finder can be the difference between a successful DIY home project and disaster. When hammering or screwing things into walls, ceilings, and floors, you need to know what is on the other side. That's why a stud finder is so crucial.
All stud finders do the same basic thing: detect where support areas like studs and joists are inside the walls. All stud finders can detect wood, most detect metal, and many also detect live electrical wiring. Some finders provide basic detection capabilities that are good for just walls. Others can be used on floors and ceilings.
To cover all of your potential needs, here are the best stud finders.
Above anything else, a stud finder needs to be accurate. If you can’t trust the tool you are using to prevent utter disaster, there is no point in spending a dime on it. For a successful project, you need to know what you are dealing with on the other side of the wall. The ProSensor 710 Franklin Sensors Precision takes the top spot because of the accurate and detailed look it will give you while in use.
The Precision can detect a wide area of wall while searching for studs underneath. The extra width of the device means you will have a more accurate sense of stud locations as you move the finder along the surface. LED lights on the front will light up, marking the location and width of any stud so you will know exactly where the stud begins and ends as you work.
"My husband and I used this model during the installation of a closet organizer...We tested three stud finders during this project, and the Franklin 710 was by far the fastest at locating studs. Thanks to its rectangular shape, it was also the only one that could locate a stud in a corner."—Stacey L. Nash, Product Tester
With the BLACK&DECKER BullsEye Line Laser with Stud Sensor, you get two tools in one. It’s the ideal assistant when you are hanging or mounting heavy items that need to be both securely fastened to a stud for support, and to be perfectly straight, such as cabinets, mirrors, heavy artwork, televisions, or shelves.
Use the device first to find hidden objects inside your wall, including studs, metal pipes, wood support beams, and live AC wires. The device works on drywall, lathe, plaster, and concrete walls. Just depress the power button—you’ll need to keep it depressed with your thumb or finger while you work—slide the device across the wall in your targeted work area, and you’ll hear a beep when the tool encounters a stud or other object inside the wall.
Once you’ve found the stud that you want to use to securely anchor your object, switch the BullsEye to its level function. There’s a small pin on the back of the device you can use to anchor it to the wall, if desired, while you work. On line function, the BullsEye beams a red laser line up to 20 feet horizontally in both directions, giving you plenty of assistance in properly aligning whatever it is you want to hang.
The BullsEye comes with two AA batteries, and is covered by a two-year limited warranty.
For the occasional weekend home project, a budget stud finder is a great option to save money. You still need to be careful, however, since many budget options lack the accuracy you need to reliably drill into your walls. Typically, the best budget options offer the basics without the extra detection capabilities. The Zircon StudSensor e50-FFP will give you basic wood and metal stud detection at an affordable price.
This finder packs a lot of handy features within its small price tag. Capable of detecting both wood and metal studs, the finder will flash and beep once it has picked up the edge of a stud. It includes two scanning modes: StudScan for studs up to 0.75 inches deep and DeepScan for targets around 1.5 inches deep. The finder also includes the ability to detect live AC wires to avoid drilling into dangerous electrical hazards.
"The stud finder’s deep scan mode performed with the same accuracy as the standard mode, so it does give you some extra options if you’re working with thicker walls. As far as the live wire indicator, it’s a nice feature, but we’d still cut the power before drilling if you’re unsure of the location of an electrical wire."—Stacey L. Nash, Product Tester
Metal is another support material that can be difficult to detect for typical stud finders calibrated for wood studs. Even magnetic finders might not register all types of metal since many metals aren’t magnetic. The Zircon MetalliScanner M40, on the other hand, is custom designed to detect a wide variety of metal supports and objects behind floors, walls and ceilings.
The MetalliScanner will detect both ferrous (magnetic) and non-ferrous metals behind most types of nonmetal walls, floors and ceilings. Beyond metal studs and other support structures, this makes the finder great for locating smaller items like screws and nails deeply embedded into the wall up to four inches deep. The blue coil changes as you move the finder to reveal the precise location of any object it detects as well.
Magnetic stud finders are the old school cousins of modern, more advanced finders. Despite their simplicity, a good magnetic finder can be a great budget or additional option if you want something that will work without any batteries. Using a built-in magnet, stud finders like the CH Hanson 03040 will naturally be attracted to the nails and screws that hold the home’s frame together, giving you a good idea of where studs are behind the wall.
The finder uses powerful rare earth magnets to find metal studs and fasteners without any need for power. The body of the finder also includes a two-way level so you can hang the finder from a metal stud for accurately leveling walls and other surfaces. A pointed arrow on the bottom will conveniently mark the safe spot for screws and nails, eliminating the need for trial-and-error while hanging pictures, frames, and other objects onto the walls.
"While it might not be fancy, it does accurately locate screws. The trick is having the patience to find them. Wall studs aren’t covered in screws, so it’ll take you some time to brush the CH Hanson across the wall until you hit one. If you don’t have any idea where the studs are to start with, the location process can take a while."—Stacey L. Nash, Product Tester
It’s important to have an accurate idea of the support behind the floors and ceilings if you have a project that requires drilling or hammering into these surfaces, such as hanging a ceiling fan. You certainly don't want a large chunk of drywall crashing down onto the floor or the top of your head. The Bosch GMS120 is a multi-scanning option that is comfortable to hold in awkward positions, making overhead work safer and easier.
The ergonomic design of the finder houses a multi-mode sensor capable of detecting wood studs, metal support objects, and live AC wiring at the same time. This finder is the top choice for floors since it provides a deep 4.75-inch scan depth, and can handle materials as dense as cured concrete. The LCD display and audible detection signals also provide plenty of feedback for finding and noting objects underneath the floor surface.
For an accurate and quick stud finder, we recommend the Franklin Sensors 710 Precision Stud Finder. It can detect more than one stud at once, and the deep scan mode allows you to detect studs in thicker walls. If you’re looking for something that costs a bit less, the Zircon StudSensor e50 Electronic Wall Scanner is a solid option that still provides reliable results.
Stud material Most homes have wooden studs, but commercial buildings may have metal studs and there are even instances when plastic studs are used. Certain stud finders are only calibrated to find one type, so take the stud material into account as you shop.
Stud location You’ll want to consider whether you’re looking for studs in a wall, ceiling, or floor — some basic stud finders might not be strong enough to penetrate a thick floor. You’ll also want to make sure that your tool has a comfortable grip that allows you to hold it at any angle.
Additional features You may just want a basic tool that finds studs and nothing else. However, some high-end models have additional features that can be helpful for more complex projects. For instance, some units can detect live wires or even keep a map of the wall you’re examining — helpful information for bigger tasks.