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A stud finder locates concealed studs and joists using electronic sensors or magnets. Says Glenn Wiseman, RASDT, RHDT, and sales manager at Top Hat Home Comfort Services, "When it comes to choosing a stud finder, you will come across two main types; manual and electronic. I typically recommend an electronic stud finder for most people, because they are accurate, easy to use, and more efficient than manual models. Manual finders are great because they're cheaper, but they do require some knowledge and expertise when it comes to finding studs."
We researched and tested top models, evaluating accuracy, usability, and value. Backed by testing, the Franklin Sensors ProSensor 710 Precision Stud Finder is the best overall option because it's fast, accurate, and offers a wide coverage area.
Here are the best stud finders.
Best Overall: Franklin Sensors ProSensor 710 Precision Stud Finder
Accurate, fast results
Scans 1.5 inches deep
Doesn't detect live wires
Who else recommends it? Bob Vila, Insider, and Wirecutter all picked the Franklin Sensors ProSensor 710 Precision Stud Finder.
What do buyers say? 91% of 6,500+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.
Above anything else, a stud finder needs to be accurate. For a successful project, you need to know what you are dealing with on the other side of the wall. The electronic Franklin Sensors ProSensor 710 Precision takes the top spot because of the accurate and detailed look it will give you; its 13 sensors simultaneously "look" behind the walls or underneath the floors, pinpointing the location of wooden studs and metal objects easily and accurately. No need to take time to calibrate the tool, as with some other stud finders; this one is ready to go right away, detects studs quickly, and shows you the edge and center of the stud simultaneously, making your job much easier.
Our product tester had high praise for this stud finder, saying, "The Franklin 710 locates studs quickly and accurately. You’re not left waving your hand over the wall for long before the 13 indicator lights start popping. This model is always in deep scan mode, so even if the walls are thicker than a standard .75 inches, you get an accurate reading."
The Precision can scan a wide area of wall while searching for wooden studs and metal objects 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. This stud finder requires two AA batteries.
Best Multipurpose: BLACK+DECKER BullsEye Line Laser With Stud Sensor BDL190S
Built-in laser level
Easy to use
No deep scan
Must keep power button depressed while in use
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 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, wooden 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 listen for 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.
Best Budget: Zircon StudSensor e50 Electronic Wall Scanner
Scans up to 1.5 inches deep
Detects live wires
Easy to use and read
Can take several passes to detect studs
For the occasional weekend home project, there's no need to break the budget on a stud sensor. You still need to be careful, however, because many lower-priced options lack the accuracy you need to reliably drill into your walls without striking something you didn't expect to be there. Typically, the best budget options offer the basics without the extra detection capabilities. The Zircon StudSensor e50 will give you basic wood and metal stud detection at an affordable price without lacking precision.
Our product tester used this stud finder during the installation of a closet organizer, and commented that the tool was fast, accurate, and easy to use. She also appreciated its audible alarm and arrow indicator light that trigger when the stud finder detects the edge of a stud, as well as the live-wire sensor.
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-inch 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. It requires one 9-volt battery for use.
Best for Metals: Zircon MetalliScanner M40
Penetrates even lathe and plaster walls
Scans up to 4 inches deep
Detects both magnetic and nonmagnetic metals
Easy to use
Doesn't detect live wires
Doesn't detect wood alone
Metal is another support material that's often missed by typical stud finders calibrated for wood studs. Even magnetic finders might not register all types of metal, as 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 nonferrous 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 4 inches deep. The coil lights up as you move the finder to reveal the precise location of any object it detects, making it easy to pinpoint the location of hidden materials; it starts off red as you get closer, then switches to blue light when you are right over the object being scanned. You'll need one 9-volt battery to operate this stud finder.
Best Magnetic: CH Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder
No batteries required
Small and portable
Includes bubble level
Accurate and easy to use
Doesn't detect live wires
Magnetic stud finders are the old-school cousins of modern, more advanced electronic 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 batteries. 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.
Our product tester put this stud finder through its paces, and reported that it's a useful tool, particularly if working in a small space, but that it does take more time to detect studs with this magnetic stud finder than with a battery-powered device. Still, for the low price it's a worthwhile addition to your toolbox.
Best for Floor/Ceiling Joists: Bosch Digital Multi-Scanner GMS120
Scans up to 4.75 inches deep
Penetrates many materials, including concrete
Detects live wires
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 including copper, and live AC wiring at the same time. This finder is the top choice for floors because 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 objects underneath the floor surface. The 9-volt battery is included.
Best for Live Wiring: Folai Wall Scanner
Scans up to 2-inches deep
Detects live wires
Easy to use
Doesn't detect PVC pipes
One of the most dangerous things hidden inside walls and ceilings is live electrical wiring. Wiring to the lights, outlets, and switches can kill if you are drilling or hammering into your walls with the power on. But even when the power is off, you can still avoid the headache of severing a wire with a finder that can detect the smaller profile of AC wires, such as the Folai Wall Scanner. If you want to play it safe with electrical wiring, this stud finder will give you extra peace of mind while working.
But detecting AC wires isn’t all this wall scanner is good for; the finder includes five different scanning modes for woods, metals, and AC wires hidden up to 2 inches behind the walls. Using the scanner is a breeze. The large LCD display indicates the depth and direction of studs or other items inside the walls, and the device’s audible beeps let you know if you are moving closer to or further away from the hidden object. It even comes with a 9-volt battery, so it's ready to go when you are.
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 thick walls. If you’re looking for something that costs a bit less, however, the Zircon StudSensor e50 Electronic Wall Scanner is a solid option that still provides reliable results.
What to Look for in a Stud Finder
There are two basic types of sensors used in stud finders: electronic and magnetic.
Electronic stud finders run on batteries. They work by detecting changes in the density of the surface being scanned. Typically, electronic stud finders have a visual display that pinpoints the location of the stud, and they often have an audible signal as well. Electronic stud finders generally sense objects buried deeper inside the walls than magnetic stud sensors, but they also cost more.
Magnetic stud finders contain rare earth magnets that don’t actually detect wood inside the walls; instead, they detect the metal in the screws or nails holding the studs in place. These stud finders are fairly inexpensive but won’t show you the exact edges of the stud, and they don’t penetrate into the wall as deeply as their electronic counterparts.
Some electronic stud finders let you adjust the depth to which the sensors penetrate the wall. Typically, studs are buried around 1/2 to 3/4 inches behind drywall, but there are times you want to go deeper to find other hidden objects. Or you’re scanning floors for joists, rather than walls. Many stud finders with this feature can penetrate a surface up to 1.5 inches deep.
While all stud finders detect wood, there are other types of materials that might be hidden behind your walls, including plastic or metal pipes and AC wiring. Many of today’s electronic stud finders have modes for detecting these materials, which is very useful when you’re doing more than merely looking for a stud to support a heavy mirror or shelf.
How do you use a stud finder?
It’s not difficult to use a stud finder, and these simple tools can make the difference between a successful DIY project and one that goes drastically wrong.
To use a stud finder, start by turning the stud finder on and checking that the batteries are charged. Make sure the sensors on the bottom of the tool aren’t dusty or damaged. Then place the stud finder on the wall where you plan on hanging your item, and slowly move the stud finder horizontally across the wall.
When the stud finder detects the edge of a stud, it will beep, flash, or use a combination of signals to alert you. Mark the edge of the stud with a pencil, and then continue to move the stud finder slowly across the wall until you find the other edge of the stud, and mark that with a pencil as well. Some stud finders will automatically determine both edges of a stud for you.
Continue moving the stud sensor across the wall until you’ve found several studs. They are normally equally spaced 16 to 24 inches apart. After locating and marking a few studs, check the spacing to ensure you’ve really found studs and not other materials behind the walls.
Once you’ve determined that you’ve found the studs, you can hang your shelf, television, or other heavy items without worry.
Can stud finders be wrong?
It’s not uncommon for a stud finder to trigger an alert, yet the hidden object behind the wall isn’t actually a stud but a pipe, bracket, or some other material. Many stud sensors differentiate between these various types of materials, but the tool is not infallible. It is possible to get false readings. That’s why it’s important to continue scanning the wall until you’ve located at least three studs. If the distance between each is equal, and is 16 to 24 inches, you can be confident that you’ve located studs, not some other building material.
Do stud finders work through ceramic tile?
If you are planning on installing grab bars in the bathroom but have fully tiled walls, you might figure that you’ll use your stud sensor to locate the studs behind the tile. Unfortunately, while stud sensors have no problem scanning through drywall and similar materials, very few of these tools owned by the average homeowner can reliably work through ceramic tile. For that, you typically need a scanner that uses radar to “look” through the wall, and those are generally very expensive. However, some deep-sensor stud finders with settings to locate metal are able to penetrate tile with fairly reliable accuracy, so it’s worth giving one a try if you are set on fastening something heavy to a tiled wall.
How do stud finders work?
Glenn Wiseman, RASDT, RHDT, and Sales Manager at Top Hat Home Comfort Services, explains, "A stud finder is the most important tool in your kit for wall studs. Put simply, a stud finder basically works like a metal detector, except instead of finding buried treasure, it locates the wood framing behind your walls. Stud finders work by sending out an electronic signal that bounces off of the drywall, hitting any solid object along the way. The signal then returns to the device, which uses that information to make a beeping noise or display an LED light on its screen. There are a myriad of different stud finders to choose from, but they all work similarly."
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article is edited and updated by Michelle Ullman, the tool expert for The Spruce. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, painting, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs.
For this roundup, she received feedback from The Spruce's product testers and also considered dozens of other stud finders, looking for those with the most features, the best accuracy, and the highest praise from users of the tools. Glenn Wiseman, RASDT, RHDT, and Sales Manager at Top Hat Home Comfort Services provided further input and advice.