So, you need to hang something heavy, and you know it needs to go on a stud… but you don’t have a stud finder. Never fear!
The easiest way to find studs without a stud finder is to drag a strong magnet in an “S” shape across the wall. Wherever the magnet sticks to the wall is where you’ll find a stud. The stronger the magnet the better, but sometimes refrigerator magnets will work too!
But if you don’t have a magnet available, there are some other options too, so keep reading!
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Use a Magnet to Find a Stud
Lets talk about walls. If you peeled back that layer of paint, your wall would look something like this:
Everywhere there’s a white blob is where a screw attaches the drywall to the stud. This was taken mid-renovation when a doorway was being closed up, so it’s not a whole wall, but you get the picture.
When you use a magnet to find studs, you’re really finding those screws.
Since there’s a full layer of drywall between your magnet and any pipes/wires in the wall, you really don’t have to worry about a magnet accidently alerting you to something that isn’t a stud.
If a magnet sticks to the wall, it’s found a screw, which means there’s a stud.
Any strong magnet should do. I used one of these magnets to find a stud in my dining area.
If you’re lucky and the paint on the wall isn’t super thick, a refrigerator magnet might work as well. It didn’t work for me, but it’s worth a shot!
If you don’t have a magnet around, but you do have a higher-end smart phone, there are apps available that claim to act as stud finders. They work the same way as a magnet, sensing the electromagnetic field around the screws.
So if you don’t have a magnet, you can always download a new app!
Use the Features of the Wall
There are a couple facts about wall construction that are really helpful for finding studs.
First off, electrical outlets and switches are always nailed to studs. There won’t be a stud on both sides of the box, but on at least one side, you should find a stud.
Secondly, in newer construction homes, studs are located 16″ apart. In older homes (built before the 1970s,) studs can be 24″ apart.
I frequently use these two facts to find studs. You could also count from the corner of the room, where there also has to be a stud, but for whatever reason this doesn’t usually work for me.
My process looks a little like this:
Step 1: Locate the Initial Stud
Studs could be on either side of the electrical box, so we need to start by figuring out if the stud is on the left or the right.
I usually do this with a sewing needle*. I put it a half inch or so away from the box, and tap it into the wall using a hammer.
If it goes all the way into the wall, no stud.
But if there’s still a lot sticking out after I’ve tapped it all the way in, then it’s hit a stud!
I hit a stud in the photo above. I couldn’t push the needle in any further. Keep in mind your drywall is only 5/8″ thick, so if you can tap it further than that, there isn’t a stud in that location.
I use this method to test anytime I need to find a stud.
Note: There are other things you can use as well, if you don’t have a sewing needle. I like using a needle because it’s small, and I don’t have to repair the wall after (unlike a drill bit,) and it’s strong enough not to bend under the force of the hammer.
Step 2: Measure to the Desired Stud
Once I’ve found the first stud, I measure every 16 inches to find where I think the second stud will be.
Step 3: Test with a Needle
Once I’ve found the general location of the stud I need, I’ll do the “needle test” described in step 1 again to locate the exact position.
If I can, I’ll try to do this in a discrete spot, so that I don’t have to worry about filling the holes in later. But even if that’s not possible, the holes are so small that it barely takes any paint to cover them up.
(And hint – if you’re working on white, you can just put in a little bit of toothpaste instead!)
Step 4: Use Your Stud
Once you’ve found your stud, you’re free to hang your items. If you’ve got instructions for that, awesome, if not, check out this post for a variety of ways to hang items from studs!
Check the Molding for Nails
Just as the drywall is secured to the studs with nails, the molding is as well! Often times, you can see dents or outlines of the nails in the molding , which gives you a clue about the location of the studs.
Note how I said “a clue.” The molding isn’t always an exact indicator of stud location. Builders can shortcut molding more easily than they can shortcut drywall, since nailing molding to the drywall (and not a stud,) is still fairly effective, even if it’s not the right way to do things.
So nail location on molding is a clue, not an exact science.
Still, if you see the location of a nail, you can use the “needle test” described in Step 1 above to pinpoint the exact location of a stud.
And yes, shoe molding, baseboard molding, and crown molding all work for this purpose.
The Knock Method
Finally, we have the knock method. This is my dad’s favorite method and my least favorite method.
Theoretically, knocking on hollow wall sounds different from knocking on a stud, so if you knock on various points on the wall, you should be able to hear a difference when hitting a stud versus not hitting a stud.
Personally, I can never hear the difference. It does feel a little different to me, but I wouldn’t bet $100 on stud location based on what felt like a firmer knock.
Regardless, this is a decent last-ditch option for location positions for performing the needle test. At minimum, it might give you a starting place so that you’re not making tiny holes everywhere.