How to Find Wall Studs

Exposed Wall Studs
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  • 01 of 06

    Use a Tape Measure to Find 16-Inch On-Center Studs

    Frequently when remodeling a home or just when making small repairs it is necessary to locate a stud behind a finished wall.

    For example, when anchoring a wall cabinet, it is crucial to secure the cabinet to established framing members and not attempt to hang the cabinet from the drywall. Heavy pictures, shelves, chair-rail molding, baseboards, and other items are also best anchored by securing them directly to studs.

    Most homeowners will immediately reach for a stud finder. While stud finders are valuable accessories in the hunt for a wall stud, they are only that: accessories.

    Even if you do use a stud finder, you will undoubtedly be using some of the other methods of detection listed here.

     

    House framing generally positions studs at 16 inches on-center. On-center is a popular building term that means that you measure from the center of one stud to the center of the adjacent stud. Among many benefits, this standardization helps avoid the confusion of whether you are measuring from the left of one stud to the left of the next or a myriad of other variations.

    So, in most houses, if you can locate one stud, there is a good chance that the next one is 16 inches away.

    With some newer houses, there are instances where the walls are framed differently. A concept called advanced framing puts the studs at every 24 inches on-center.

    So, beginning from the corner, or measuring from anyplace where you have already located a stud, you can measure in multiples of 16 inches to identify the likely location of other studs in the wall. In fact, carpenter's tape measures usually have the 16 inch increments highlighted in red to make this easier.

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  • 02 of 06

    Find Wall Studs Adjacent to Doors and Windows

    In residential house framing, window and door openings will always have studs along their sides. In fact, they will usually have two doubled-up studs to make the opening extra sturdy. These are the king stud and the sister stud.

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  • 03 of 06

    Find Wall Studs Adjacent to Light Switches and Outlets

    In new construction, electricians usually nail the electrical boxes for light switches and outlets onto the sides of studs. This can help you find the general location of a stud in a wall.  

    But note that it is not immediately clear on which side of the box you will find the stud. The electrical code does not specify which side of the stud to attach the box.

    To find out which side, you need the stud finder. Or, if you simply take off the cover plate for the switch or outlet and peer inside, you may be able to see in which direction the box has been nailed. 

    It is important to know that not all electrical boxes are nailed onto studs. Retrofit or old-work boxes are mounted directly in the drywall. They might give you the false impression that there is a stud adjacent to them. You can always identify a retrofit or old-work box because they always have a small screw at the top and bottom of the box. These screws turn the plastic wings that hold the box tight against the drywall.

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  • 04 of 06

    Using a Finish Nail or Drill Bit to Find Wall Studs

    While these tips can help you estimate the general location of a stud, for greater accuracy you can drive a thin finish nail or small-diameter drill bit into the wall.

    You may have to punch a small row of tiny nails in order to find the stud. But these are very easy to cover over with drywall compound and paint after you are done.

    One advantage to using a drill bit over a finish nail is that you may be able to spot the wood fragments on the drill bit when you have hit the solid wood stud. 

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  • 05 of 06

    Use a Stud Finder to Find Wall Studs

    Stud finders are a vast improvement over the days when there were no stud finders. But you should not rely on them as the only way to find a wall stud.

    One reason is that stud finders often return false positive readings. You may scan a wall and believe that you have located a stud, only to find a different dense object behind the drywall than a stud.

    1. Place the stud finder about 6 to 8 inches to the left of the general location of the stud. Press the button on the stud finder and slowly slide the stud finder to the right.
    2. When the stud finder indicates that it has located the stud, usually with a red light or a beep, immediately stop moving the stud finder and mark this spot with a pencil or scrap of masking tape. This is the left side of the stud.
    3. Now repeat this process from the right side of the stud location, moving the stud finder to the left, and marking the point where the finder beeps or lights up. You have now identified the right edge of the stud. 

    A rare earth, or neodymium, magnet stud detector helps you locate metal fasteners that hold the drywall to the studs. Since fasteners should be attached directly to studs, it stands to reason that if you find a fastener, you have found a stud.

    While generally reliable, these, too, can return false positives. The installer may have driven the fastener into the wrong place in the drywall and left the fastener behind. 

    Keep in mind that magnet-based stud finders locate near the center of the stud but not the exact center. Lay down several magnets to find the exact center.

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  • 06 of 06

    Find Wall Studs Above and Below Doors and Windows

    When hunting for wall studs, usually the goal is vertical studs. But there are also horizontal framing members located above and below door and window openings.

    Above windows and doors are doubled-up studs called headers. Sometimes, these are two-by-six studs turned on edge. Below a window opening, there is also a horizontal sill plate.

    Both the header and sill plate can be used for attaching items to the wall. 

    Also extending above a window or door opening, and below a window sill plate, are short vertical studs known as cripple studs. These, too, are strong enough for attaching items to the wall.