Hot Topics: The Stud Finder - Does It Do What It's Supposed To?

A Zircon stud finder.

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If you’re hanging anything heavier than an 8x10 glossy, it’s a good idea to find a stud. And if you’re putting up cabinets or anything like that, it’s essential. There’s a tool with a perfect name for the job, but does a stud finder really work as advertised? The Forum looks beneath the surface.

Original Post: Stud finders - do you use them?

tonic Member

I'm looking to buy a stud finder. Are these things any good? What kind do you use, if any?

Highlights from the Thread

Bud9051 Member

Absolutely, I never cared for the woodpecker method. I use a 10+ year old Zircon.

Handyone Forum Topic Moderator

This question comes up a lot. I do not use stud finders and my job depends on finding studs accurately. I install high-end cabinets and must drill only once, no guessing. I use a powerful magnet.

The magnet allows you to establish vertical nailing patterns and nailing patterns in ceiling joists, such as 16-inch or 24-inch on center. It also makes determining the direction of ceiling joists easier.

There are other tricks, such as expecting a stud at the left side of an outlet box, and verifying, then look for a pattern.

A lot has to do with being familiar with framing techniques.

Stud finders have their place, but there are better ways.

marksr Forum Topic Moderator

I have a Craftsman stud finder (came with a new drill) and I use it sometimes but I went so long without one that I still often resort to tapping on the wall .... but I couldn't imagine doing carpentry work professionally without one.

Norm201 Member

As the others have said they have their place, but do not relay on them as an end all. Use them as a guide then use other methods to verify. The electronic ones use density soundings to find a stud, but that can be deceiving if additional drywall or repair has been done previously, or if cross braces have been used. The magnetic ones work unless other iron metal might be in the way or non-magnetic nails were used. If deep driven staples are used then the magnetic ones won't pick-up anything. Using a small finishing nail is perhaps the most true and tried method to establish a stud. Usually the test hole can be covered with paint or Spackle or the test hole will be covered anyway.

Handyone Forum Topic Moderator

I should throw in that no matter how a stud is found, I always verify it like Norm said.

Bud9051 Member

Ditto on the need to verify above. Plus, once you have found the stud, can you attach to it. General rule is no screws or nails deeper than 1.5-inches into the wood. But, if that is subtracted from both sides you are left with just ½-inch in the middle for the electrician and plumbers to use, not going to happen. When they get closer to the surface with pipes or wires they are supposed to cover the stud with a nail plate, so don't dig out the drill and punch right through.

As stated above, be sure you understand all you can about where you are attaching something.

PJmax Group Moderator

I'm like Bud with a ten year old Zircon. Like anything else... practice makes perfect. I use my stud finder all the time. I install a lot of recessed fixtures and customers don't like exploratory holes. That being said... the stud finder only helps to find the studs. It does nothing for what may be between the studs or joists. It's an aid. It's still very important to understand framing.

When I use it in a customer’s home they always say "those things don't work." I tell them... practice makes perfect.

chandler Forum Topic Moderator

Mine is something like this one, I think. It finds the center and edges of studs, and also detects electrical current and metal studs, as well as deep scan. They do work. It's just sonar technology.

Handyone Forum Topic Moderator

“…practice makes perfect.”

That's very true. If you are going to use a stud finder, understand how to calibrate it and how it may give false readings.

Bud9051 Member

I remember zeroing in on a stud I wanted for a shelf, but double checked and it didn't seem right. Happens I had photos of the building in progress and when I checked it was a bundle of electrical wires and not a stud. My old stud finder could barely find the studs. The newer one can find more than studs. I need to always be careful.

Norm201 Member

Mini X-ray! Enough said.

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