Three Ways to Find a Wall Stud (Without Fancy Equipment)

How to Find a Wall Stud - Diagram

Photo: Kit Stansley

We’ve all been there, right? “Oh, I just need to find a stud to hang this picture.” And fifteen holes later, you’re convinced the wall is held up by pixie dust and a wish, because apparently there’s no wood behind it.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I will jump at any opportunity to buy a new tool—like I need to hang a picture, I have a bee sting, or it’s Tuesday. Really, it doesn’t take much. But I have a rule about only buying tools that really work and I happen to think of stud finders the same way I do ghost detectors… exciting for the five seconds that they are beeping and a total let down after that.

Related: Get Hooked: 10 Favorite Wall Storage Ideas

After months of framing the big addition to my current house, I now have a good enough understanding of the structure of a wall to help me find studs whenever I need to.

Things You Should Know About Walls

• Studs exist to hold up drywall on interior walls and wood sheathing on exterior walls. This means you will always find a stud, header, or footer on the top, bottom, or corners of walls.

• Typical stud spacing is 16″ on center and even on older houses is rarely greater than 24″ on center.

• Most electrical boxes for switches or outlets are attached to a stud on one side.

• There are studs on either side of a window.

• Most trim (crown molding, base board, and shoe molding) is nailed on the stud.

• The actual lumber dimensions of 2×4 studs are 1.5″ by 3.5″.

Keeping these points in mind, here are the ways I’ve been most successful at finding studs:

1. Look at the Trim
Since the baseboard is attached to the studs, look to see if you can spot where it might have been nailed. These holes—dimples—are generally filled with caulk and painted, but you may be able to spot one to identify the whereabouts of a stud. If you find one, measure in 16″ increments to locate the additional studs.

2. Use the Switch
If I don’t have any luck checking out the trim I look for switches or outlets, knowing that at least one side of an electrical box will be mounted on a stud. Now, I’m not great at doing the “knock test” on the wall, but I can usually detect from tapping which side of the outlet bears the stud support. I then measure about 3/4″ away from the outlet on the stud side and use that as my starting point to determine the 16″ intervals.

3. Measure from the Corner
With studs generally 16″ on center, you can also do calculations by measuring from a corner of the room. Now, all rooms aren’t built in numbers divisible by 16″ so you are likely to have a stud that is less than 16″ from one corner. Try the “knock test” near the corner to see if you can determine where the shorter stud-spacing might have been added. This only really works if you’re measuring a corner off the exterior of the house, which is why it is my least favorite. But it’s worth a shot before you go crazy with the test holes.

Builder Tip: if you’re in the position of building your own house or have torn the drywall off some walls for a remodel, I strongly suggest taking pictures of the walls before closing everything up. I took interior shots of every wall in my house before the drywall went up and I reference them all the time when looking for studs.

If all else fails, consider…

How to Find a Wall Stud - Sensor

Stanley Tools IntelliSensor Pro Stud Finder

For more on walls, consider:

Drywall 101
Bob Vila Radio: Metal Studs
5 Must-Remember Picture Hanging Tips