10 Ways to Find a Stud in the Wall

Hanging pictures or decor on the wall is done in almost every home. It’s extremely rare to enter a house and not see anything on the walls, so of course, we want to hang up items in our own homes, but before you go slugging away a hammer at a nail, it’s important to consider what you’re hanging and if you will need to anchor into a stud.

Sure, you can often get away with light pictures with just a hammer and nail, but if you want to securely hang anything heavy such as heavy mirrors, large art, wall-mounted shelves, or television — you’ll most definitely want to locate a wall stud.  A wall stud is a  vertical piece of framing within your walls, and by anchoring your nail or screw into this stud, you will provide a sturdy piece for your item to latch onto.  Without anchoring your nail or screw into a stud, you set yourself up for accidents that could potentially cause damage to your wall.

Understanding Wall Construction

Before we get into how to find a stud, it’s helpful to know wall construction and where the studs are placed. While it’s true that every house is different, there are a few things you can rely on. Houses built after 1920 or so are what are considered modern stick-framed houses, and they are likely built with 2×4 or 2×6 studs.

What is a stud?

A wall stud is a vertical repetitive framing member in a building’s wall of a smaller cross-section than a post. It is a fundamental element in frame building. Studs form walls and carry vertical structural loads, but they can also be non-load-bearing, such as in partition walls, which only separate spaces.

Wall studs hold in place the windows, doors, interior finish, exterior sheathing or siding, insulation, and utilities and help give shape to a building. Studs run from sill plate to wall plate. In modern construction, studs are anchored to the plates in a way, such as using fasteners, to prevent the building from being lifted off the foundation by severe wind or earthquake.

Building contractor worker putting in a interior wall partition nailer wall for the first floor on a new home construction project
Photo Credit: Photovs via Envato Elements

Here are some things to know about how walls are framed:

A stud finder is a handheld apparatus used with wood buildings to locate framing studs located behind the final walling surface, usually drywall. While many different stud finders are available, most fall into two main categories: magnetic stud detectors and electric stud finders.
Digital detector man hand is scanning wall by sensors precision stud finder wooden beams soft focus
Photo Credit: Photovs via Envato Elements
Using a stud finder is the easiest way to find a stud. This is the quickest method and most foolproof. Using technology to your advantage will help you find a stud quickly and enable you to hang your item quickly and effectively.
If you don’t have a stud finder and you’re in a pinch, below are some other methods for finding a stud without a stud finder that you can try. 

1. Use a Light Switch or Power Outlet

The most reliable method, second to a stud finder, is to find a light switch or a power outlet. Electrical boxes are generally affixed to studs. Locate the one nearest to the area where you want to hang something. Once you have located your electrical box, measure 16 inches from there since wall studs are normally spaced 16 inches apart by code. As we mentioned above, in some homes, the studs are placed 24 inches apart, so you may have to measure twice.

2. Look for Dimples

All drywall is anchored to your wall studs with screws. The mudding process of drywall installation covers these holes up. After applying a coat of primer and paint, these holes are almost invisible. The secret to finding your drywall studs is looking for these holes with the help of a flashlight.

  • Turn off the lights in the room.
  • Aim your flashlight at a vertical angle against the wall, so the light beam extends across the wall.
  • Look for little dimples in the wall, which indicates a drywall screw. Try looking from different angles if you’re having trouble finding them. The dimples go from the ceiling to the floor in one straight line.
  • Use a pencil to mark a dimple. From this spot, you can measure 16 inches to the left or right of your mark, which should take you to the center of the next drywall stud. Notice if you can find a dimple there as well to confirm.

3. Use a Window

Windows typically have a stud on each side, but finding the edges can be tough. This method is far less reliable than the ones noted above. Still, if all else has failed, locating the edge of your window and measuring 16 inches from there can help provide some broad direction.

4. Tap the Wall

To confirm whether or not you’ve found a stud without doing any damage to your wall, knock or tap the area very gently with your hammer. If you hear a hollow sound, tap a little to the left or to the right. You’ll know you’ve hit a stud when the sound is muffled.

5. Drill a Hole

It doesn’t matter which method you use; no matter what, you should still confirm your findings before proceeding to hang your item. To do so, drill a hole in the wall. If you feel resistance, you’ll know you’ve hit wood — the stud. 

Smiling black man builder drilling a hole in white wall and putting picture frame at home. Home renovation and decoration. Adult making DIY workshop. Concept for home diy, self service.
Photo Credit: zGel via Envato Elements

6. Use a Stud Finder App

Thank goodness for smartphones! If you have one, you will probably be able to find an app right in your phone that can be used to find studs. Most stud finder apps are magnetic and rely on your smartphone’s built-in magnetometer to pinpoint metal objects inside the wall. Be careful, though — While this can help you find a wall stud, it can also turn up a false positive since the app may detect things other than studs, like nails or electrical wires.

Cropped image of young man using application on his smartphone
Photo Credit: DragonImages via Envato Elements

7. Use a Strong Magnet

You can use a strong magnet as a way to find a stud without a stud finder. A lot of levels come with a strong magnet on them, so see if your level has one. If not, you may have another strong magnet around the house. To use the magnet to find the stud, simply run the magnet along the wall until you feel it stick to one of the steel fasteners that’s holding the drywall on.

You can then mark above or below your magnet, and you have found your stud.

8. Use the Nails in the Baseboards

This is easier in an unfinished house, but most carpenters will secure the baseboard with nails along the stud. Look along the baseboards for the nails.

If the nail holes have been filled with putty and painted over, you can still usually see a slight depression if you look close enough.

9. Measure from the Corner

Since studs are typically 16″ on center, you can do calculations by measuring a corner of the room. Keep in mind that all rooms aren’t built in numbers divisible by 16″, so there is a great chance you’ll find a stud that is less than 16″ from one corner. You can attempt the “knock test” near the corner to see if you can determine where the shorter stud spacing might have been added.

This is most useful if you’re measuring a corner of the exterior of the house, which is why it is the least helpful way to find a stud without a stud finder.

What To Do if You Miss the Stud

Sometimes, after all this, you can still miss the stud, and now you’re left with a hole in the wall. Don’t get upset or flustered if your screw or nail misses the mark. In most cases, the item you’re hanging may be large enough to cover the extra hole. If you need to repair the hole, simply extract the screw or nail, fill the hole with spackle and touch it up with paint once the spackle is dry.

man patching hole in wall with putty and spackle
Photo Credit: rekaolya via Envato Elements

Before you try again, pay attention to where you missed the stud.

Related Article: How To Patch A Hole In Drywall

Whichever strategy you use, proceed with caution when drilling holes in your walls. Interior walls contain wiring, plumbing lines, and gas pipes that can cause personal injury or damage to your home if you happen to hit them with a drill bit. Before gearing up your drill, you should be reasonably confident of a stud’s location.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The general spacing for wall studs is 16 inches on center, but they can be 24 inches. That said, spacing isn’t always exact. Studs can bow and twist up to 1 inch in either direction as a home settles.

How do you tell if you’re drilling into a stud?

Make a fist and knock on the wall with your knuckles. In some areas, you’ll hear a hollow sound. Other areas will sound more solid. The solid sound suggests you have knocked on a stud. Studs are located about 16 to 24-inches apart.
Avoid drilling near light sockets or outlets. Wires in the wall often connect vertically and horizontally behind outlets and sockets, leading to electrocution. Hitting a pipe in the wall can cause flooding. A simple rule of thumb is to avoid drilling anywhere near where there may be electrical hookups or piping.
The ideal depth a screw should go into a stud is 3/4 of the length of the screw’s bottom part. Experts say that half of the length is okay. You’ll have to consider any material between the screw and the stud.
Remove the shade, turn on the lamp and hold the bare bulb 10 to 12 inches away from the wall. Look for the silhouettes of nailheads or drywall tape as the side light skims the surface of the wall; you should find a stud directly behind the nailheads or tape. Then, look for additional studs nearby.
Hitting a wire or pipe could cause serious injuries to the person holding the drill and damage the home. Aside from you getting electrocuted and ending up in the emergency room, a fire could start, or your home could get flooded.
There are stud finder apps for both iOS and Android users.  The app uses your device’s compass (magnetometer sensor) to pinpoint metal studs, nails, and screws embedded in all wood wall studs.

How deep are studs behind drywall?

Drywall is attached flush to the studs, so the stud’s depth depends on the thickness of the drywall. The most common drywall for interior walls is 1/2-inch thick. You may also encounter thicker 5/8-inch drywall, which is sometimes used for ceilings or with rooms that require soundproofing. 

If you need more handy how-to’s for around the home, check out these articles: