You can have the best stud finder and still make your life difficult if you don't use it properly. Knowing how to use a stud finder can ultimately save you a lot of trouble and repair bills. Our professionals actually use these tools a lot, and we ask them to share their best practices.
A good example of what you need to know how to use a stud finder when installing a TV mount on the wall. You want to make sure you drill into the studs – not just the drywall. In fact, this goes for any heavier items you plan to mount on the wall. Unless you prefer to replace drywall and the objects mounted on it at the same time, let the frame of the house support those heavier items. To be successful, you need to know how to properly center studs.
Table of contents
- Which stud finder should I buy?
- How to Hang Things Using a Stud Finder
- Check your battery and base
- Find native stallions in your area
- double check your work
- Drywall or plaster? Block or frame?
Which stud finder should I buy?
When you choose a model, you'll gain a better understanding of how to use a stud finder. Stud finders come in many shapes, sizes and techniques. Some magnetic stud finders like StudPop locate studs by identifying metal screws and nails in wood. However, these won't necessarily help you find the exact center of the stud. Magnetic stud finders range from the functionality of traditional density models to novel versions that actually "stick" to the wall when finding a screw or nail:
Our experts recommend reading the model for the density of the material. These will help you position the edges of the stud, allowing you to hone in the center. Of these, we like the Franklin Stud Finder.
How to Hang Things Using a Stud Finder
Check your battery and base
First things first. As with any tool that uses batteries, you need to make sure you have fresh batteries. A low battery can give false readings, and you need accuracy. Also, make sure the contacts on your stud finder don't have any dirt in the way of holding them firmly against the wall.
Find out where you want to hang or secure items. To illustrate, let's assume again that you want to mount your TV to the wall. Decide where to hang on top of the TV. Next, measure down from the top of the TV to the topmost mounting hole on the TV stand. Mark this to locate and mark the approximate height of the stud.
Find native stallions in your area
Building codes should ensure that the columns in your house are spaced properly—typically 16 inches on center. You basically have a 2 foot wide space to scan when looking for your first stud.
Figure out where you most want to drill. Press the flat side of the stud finder firmly against the wall and press the activation button. Then, move your tool about 12 inches to the left.
Slowly move the stud finder to the right, taking care to keep the stud finder flat against the wall and upright.
With most models, you'll know you're successful when your stud finder starts flashing or beeping at you. You want to double check where the alarm started by stepping back a few inches and returning to the same spot.
Editor's Note: You may need to calibrate your stud finder — though most are self-calibrating. If not, read your owner's manual to learn how to do this.
Take that pencil and mark where the studs will go. If you are using a center find stud finder, mark the edges of the stud so you can find the center. Ideally, when you drive the fastener into the stud, you want to aim there.
double check your work
You probably know how to use a stud finder, but that doesn't eliminate the risk of false positive readings. Metal pipes, brackets, and other unforeseen materials in the wall can trick tools into seeing things that aren't actually studs. However, if you've found the correct location, you can tell by searching the studs on either side of the mark. You should be able to find the next 16 inches from the initial mark.
Now that you've identified where your studs are, go ahead and install your mounts, brackets, or whatever, without worrying about whether you've found the right spot!
Editor's note: If the goal is to drive larger anchors into studs (such as lag screws for TV mounts), pre-drill the holes first. Not only does this help the anchor work as designed (without splitting the stud), it also confirms that a stud is present at that location.
Drywall or plaster? Block or frame?
Most electronic stud finders will only give you accurate readings for drywall. I've had some limited success using one to get a rough idea of stud location in plaster, but they're usually not designed to penetrate that material. If you have plaster walls, you're better off using a magnetic stud finder.
You'll also want to pay attention to whether you're looking for studs on an interior or exterior wall. In the block house, the façade has vertically extending gutter strips. That's the best anchor location, but concrete fasteners still need to be used. You also don't want to drill holes in the top of the socket or between those strips near the switch. This is where a stud finder with a built-in NCV (non-contact voltage) sensor can help.
Remember the rule of 16 inches on centers. After confirming the location of one stud, measure from there to find the other studs. Then confirm with the tool.
If you have any tips or tricks we might have missed on how to use a stud finder, feel free to add them in the comments below.