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

Looking to locate the nearest stud without a stud finder? Try these techniques for finding a wall stud the old-fashioned way.

By Kit Stansley | Updated Oct 18, 2020 4:42 PM

How to Find a Wall Stud - How Far Apart Are Studs

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 letdown after that.

RELATED: 7 Everyday Objects You Never Thought to Hang

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.
  • You may be asking, “How far apart are studs?” Typical stud spacing is 16 inches on center and even on older houses is rarely greater than 24 inches 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, baseboard, and shoe molding) is nailed on the stud.
  • The actual lumber dimensions of 2×4 studs are 1½ inches by 3½ inches.

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

1. Look at the trim for where it has been nailed to a stud.

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-inch increments to locate the additional studs.

2. Locate the switches and outlets, which indicate a stud.

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 ¾ inch away from the outlet on the stud side and use that as my starting point to determine the 16-inch intervals of stud spacing.

3. Measure 16 inches from the corner.

With studs generally 16 inches 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 inches 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. (A hollow sound when you knock indicates that there’s nothing behind the drywall, while a more solid sound would suggest that there’s framework there to screw into.) This only really works if you’re measuring a corner of 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, wondering how far apart are studs in your walls.

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.

Best Stud Finders for Every DIY Skill Level

Photo: istockphoto.com

If all else fails, consider resorting to the ever-reliable equipment.

There’s no shame in keeping such a small tool in your toolbox, really, and you’re bound to find more uses for it than just to hang one heavy frame. (Floating shelves, bathroom mirrors, flat-screen TVs can all benefit from the secure hold of a stud.) Check out these guides to the best stud finder options on the market and effectively using these tools.