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How to Find the Studs in Your Wall Without a Stud Finder
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How to Find the Studs in Your Wall Without a Stud Finder

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“The wall is solid.”

300 (2006)

So, you want to hang that new family photo in the living room, or set up that fancy mirror you got for a steal at your neighbor’s garage sale. If the picture frame is light enough, you can probably get away with hanging it wherever it looks good, but most of the time you’re going to need to find a stud. And no, I don’t mean a tall, dark, handsome man who can solve all of your household problems with a Colgate smile. I’m talking about the vertical wood framing that holds up your entire house. Those things are pretty simple to find once you know what you’re looking for. Who needs a stud to find a stud? Not us.

The Easy Way

The flat-out simplest way to try and locate a stud is by running your hand across the wall. In most cases, this won’t net you anything more than some weird feelings about the past few seconds; however, if a house is old enough, or wasn’t constructed with as much love as it could have been, there’s a chance you can feel (or even see) the bowing of the wood through the drywall. You can also take a look at the ceiling where it meets the wall. Sometimes the wood framing can sag ever so slightly. If you’re eye-balling it, you can highlight imperfections in the wall by turning all of the lights off and shining a bright flashlight along the surface.

Knock Knock

If that doesn’t do it, your next easiest bet is to try the knocking method. This method will not work for everyone. People with sensitive hearing or those with a musical background are more likely to notice the changes in pitch as they lightly tap their knuckle across the wall. What you will be listening for is a higher, sharper knock with less reverberation than the more hollow ones you should hear more often. People who can use this method can generally use it reliably.

The Hard (Not Really) Way

If you have a relatively powerful magnet handy (more powerful than what you hang pictures on your refrigerator with), you may be able to find the nail or screw heads in the studs. You can also use your house’s existing layout to deduce where many studs are. Structures like wall-mounted cabinets and windows are usually attached to the framing of the house. Your house’s electrical outlets follow the same logic. Most, if not all, of the outlets in your house are installed on one side of a stud. The same goes for a lot of moulding. If you look carefully enough, you may be able to see tiny dimples where the nail heads begin to bubble the paint. That’s probably your stud.

You can see the small divot where the paint has worn off the nail head.

Got It… So Now What?

Once you’ve found the stud you’re looking for, it’s time to confirm that there actually is a stud there. The simplest way to do so it with a fabric pin or safety pin. Push it into the wall where you think your stud is. If it stops about 3/4″ through, you’ve found yourself a stud. If it sinks all the way in, then you’ve made a huge mistake. Luckily, the tiny holes that they leave in the drywall are much less noticeable than a nail if you are wrong. Now that you’ve located one stud, it becomes much easier to find more. Many houses follow a general construction rule of 16″ between studs (although it can be up to 20″ in some cases). Obviously this gets altered at some point because not every room in the world has dimensions divisible by 16, but it can give you a rough jump start on where to look for multiple studs.

The last method we’ll talk about won’t apply to most people, but it’s the easiest and most efficient way to keep track of your studs if it does. If you have access to the walls before they have their drywall attached, simply take a picture. If you have a picture of the framing, you’ll never need to guess where the studs are. There’s always a chance that the previous owners, landlord, or even the renovation company that redid the room may have pictures as well. If all this sounds like too much work to hang a dang picture, be sure to check out our upcoming article, “How to Fix DIY Drywall Disasters.”