Studs are the vertical elements of construction framing behind most walls. Usually made of wood, they tend to be sturdier than the rest of the flat surface they support, so they're important to find when mounting heavier items. Large artwork, hanging plants, or supportive shelving should all be connected to underlying studs, if possible (smaller artwork may be fine without one).
Electronic stud finders make this task easy, but it's possible to locate wall studs without a finder, using a few simple tools and some standard measurements.
Locate Sound Differences
Start at one end of the wall and gently tap your hammer, mallet, or fist against the wall while listening for changes in pitch. In places where the wall has nothing behind it, the sound will be lower. Move along the wall in a straight horizontal path and continue tapping and listening. When you hear a solid, higher pitch, you're over a wall stud. The sound should also be tighter, and confined to one small area.
If you are not sure about the differences in sound, try hammering a small nail into the wall just above the baseboard where you think the wall stud is located. If it meets more resistance, you are driving it into the stud rather than open drywall. Try to keep the hole small enough to be ignored or easily fixed, or at least put it in an area where it wouldn't be readily noticed.
Create Stud Markings
Standard American construction procedure calls for wall studs to be placed evenly in intervals of 22, 24 or (more commonly) 16 inches—so once you locate one stud, finding the rest should be simple.
Once you find the first stud, mark the exact spot with a pencil. Use the tape measure from this mark and extend it horizontally 16 inches. Use the same sound testing as you did in step one to find the next stud. If you don't find one at this distance, your wall studs may be spaced at one of the wider intervals. Extend your tape measure these distances and repeat the same process until you locate the next one.
Corners and Outlets
If you're having difficulty finding wall studs with the methods above, try checking the room's corners, or locate an electrical outlet. Outlet boxes are almost always be attached to a stud. This approach can be especially helpful if the walls you're dealing with are made from thick drywall, which reduces the effectiveness of the sound test approach.
Another way to troubleshoot is with a flashlight. Stand at one end of the wall and shine a flashlight along it. Look for small dimples where nails have been driven through the drywall to the studs. You might also be able to see the joins between two pieces of drywall. There will be a stud behind the wall where they meet.
The last troubleshooting method involves a coat hanger and a drill. Drill a small hole in the wall near what you believe to be a stud. Ideally, feed it through an existing drilled hole in the wall though. Open up the coat hanger and bend a length of wire about six inches long.
Try feeding it through and then bending it to the left to see if it hits a stud. If it doesn’t, turn it to the right and try again. If you still can't locate the stud, withdraw the wire and re-bend it to a longer length. With this method, you will be able to find a stud and judge how far it is from the hole you’ve made to establish the correct location.
Because this method requires drilling a hole you'll have to repair, we recommend you save it for a last resort.
Pick Your Favorite Spot
When you've successfully located one or two wall studs and marked them visibly, you can decide where you want to hang your pictures, plants, or shelves. Nails and other hanging hardware can be attached anywhere along the vertical length of a stud.