More Fun with Stud Finders

No stud finder works perfectly. In this thread, pros discuss stud finding methods high tech and low. September 4, 2005

I'm looking for a good stud finder (wood and metal). AC finder would be a bonus, but itís not required. Does anybody have any recommendations?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor C:
I have used several stud finders over the years. Nothing beats an 8 penny nail. I use one to verify if the finder is accurate anyway. Most of the time a tap with the knuckle and a look at the window and outlet/switch locations is the best way.

From contributor L:
To contributor C: I agree. My buddy uses the knuckle method like you, and I use the trim hammer method followed up with a finish nail for confirmation. I have been thinking about trying the old magnet on a string method. They do market it for the purpose of finding studs.

From contributor K:
I own a closet organizer business, and I have used stud finders every day for the last eleven years and have several employees who do the same. We are currently using the Zircon Pro model. We have tried more expensive ones that are supposed to tell you everything from electrical and rebar in concrete with multiple colored lights. We found them to be overly sensitive and harder to understand. The key to having them working right is understanding how they work and what they are telling you. It takes some practice and patience to learn, but anybody worth their money can pick it up in about 10 minutes.

My method is this:

Place on wall and depress button. Moving side to side, when you get the first solid beep and light, that is the stud edge. I then go past that mark what would be the width of the stud and come back towards the mark I made and repeat the process for the other edge. I usually end up with two marks 1 1/2" apart, the center of which is the center of the stud. I continue on down the wall, and repeat the process.

You cannot lift the finder off the wall with out resetting it. If you get multiple lights and beeps in a short distance, I stop and reset about 6" over and repeat the process. You can't start over a stud and get a good reading. I can layout a 10 x10 closet in under a minute and I hit 99 out of a hundred. On the ones I miss, most of the time I am off in transposing the wall mark to my material.

From contributor B:
I use a combination depending on the job. One tip for the 8d nail guys - try an ice pick. I love mine, it's years old, and can be used for multi tasks as well. If a screw spins and won't back out, I jab the tip under the head and pry while backing out. It's a great quick screw starter, and helps hang crown.

From contributor D:
The most effective and fastest stud finder for metal framing is a rare earth magnet siliconed to a string. I rarely work in residential so finding wood studs are not often an issue, but I do have a zircon model that works most of the time.

From contributor J:
The best stud finder in the world for drywall applied with screws is this, and you wont believe it until you try it. Take two pieces of steel wool and rub them together against the wall as you move across. The little flakes of metal will stick to the wall where every screw is. The flakes wipe off with a rag leaving no marks on the wall like some stud finders do.

From contributor B:
Great idea Contributor J. What about measuring studs from corners Ė itís pretty standard scale right?

From contributor C:
Those rare earth magnets work great for finding wood studs too. I keep some in my truck for the purpose. Just move them back and forth, up and down and they will pull themselves onto the screw or nail under the mud. They arenít expensive, they are small, and they donít fail.

From contributor T:
I have a Zircon and use Contributor D's method. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I usually start with it though. The most reliable tool is a plastic gizmo with a small rod magnet inside on a pivot. You run it over the wall to find nails/screws. The final determinant, though, is a nail. I have a box of skinny nails. They're a little touchy, but make a very small hole.

From contributor A:
I use a hardened tiny needle in a plastic body. Push it through the sheet rock and it will stop when it finds a stud. The hole it leaves is many X smaller than an 8d nail.

From contributor S:
The needle gadget from Garret Wade is as good as any of them. If you start out by noticing where the light switches and wall outlets are, and the nail pops, that will show you half of your studs right there. Der Naedle will find the rest, and if it misses it doesn't create any real problem.

From contributor I:
I would suggest feed magnets. You can usually find them at your local Co-op or live stock supply store. I grew up in Wyoming and there they feed them to open range cattle to collect bits of barbed wire and metal in the first stomach. These powerful magnets can locate steel studs through an inch of dry wall and for wood studs, just tape a small piece of string to it, hang it above your first knuckle and run your finger across the wall. With wood studs, locate the screw/nail and you've usually found the stud. If in doubt, check it with a finish nail.

From contributor R:
The best stud finder is one that I came across by accident. It is a Little Wizard metal detector that I have for my shop to check out boards for nails, etc. before running them through the planer or table saw.

From contributor G:

I have several of Zircon stud finders and they didnít work well. I have used a number of other stud finders and their all the same. When youíre hanging a 8" by 8' fixture on the ceiling, I find that itís harder to find a stud and any holes you make better be covered by the fixture. Walls are easier - I use the tapping method, and that usually works.