Need to hang some pictures in your bathroom? You could grab a stud finder, but you don’t want to make another trip out to the garage and dig through the mess in your hubby’s “testoster-zone.” You also don’t want to hear the inevitable dad joke, “Look, the stud finder found me!” (He really can’t help himself.)
Whatever the situation is, you don’t have a stud finder, and you need one. Fortunately, it is possible to find wall studs without the aid of this device! It turns out there are a lot of ways to find those wooden wall studs without a stud finder.
Some are common sense; others are quite creative. None of them are particularly difficult, nor do they require any special tools.
Basic Methods and Variations
These solutions are standard go-to techniques when you need to find wooden wall studs.
1. Make a Hole
This is the most basic and damaging option. There are various versions of this. There is one way that suggests using a finishing nail or drill bit to put a series of holes in the wall until you find a stud. This requires a lot of clean-up work. Who wants to do all that extra spackling and painting to repair the holes?
A smarter version of this is from PrettyHandyGirl, who suggests pushing a quilter’s pin into the drywall. Quilter’s pins are usually thicker and longer than a regular straight pin. They should be strong enough to pierce the drywall, but small enough to not leave a noticeable hole. If the pin goes in all the way: no stud; part of the way and stops: stud!
2. Use a Coat Hanger
The coat hanger method is a more involved version of the “make a hole” method. Take a coat hanger — or another long, stiff wire — and bend it into roughly a right angle. Put a small hole in the wall – it needs to be big enough for the wire to fit through and move around. Feed your clothes hanger through and give it a spin! It should stop when you hit a stud. Just be sure to hold the wire in place until you have marked where the stud is at the other end of the wire.
Find a stud and measure out to where you want to hang your picture frame or TV. The distance between one stud to another is typically 16-24 inches. The space in between them, however, will vary based on the age of your home.
Homes built after 1965 have wooden studs that are 1.5 inches thick, so the space between them is around 14.5 inches. Homes built before 1950 have wooden studs that are 2 inches thick, so the space will be smaller. Start measuring from corners, doors, windows, and handrails. Studs support these areas.
Another method is to remove the plate from a light switch or electrical outlet and check on either side for the stud.
4. Take a Closer Look
Often there are visual clues as to where the wooden studs are in your walls. Drywall is screwed to studs, and typically any crown molding, chair rails, or baseboards are as well. Look for “nail pops” – places where the nails are popping out of the drywall, causing small raised circles, or “dimples.” Also, look for small holes in the woodwork that are plastered, but the plaster didn’t fill the hole. Shining a flashlight against the wall can help make nail pops and dimples easier to see.
Next Level Tricks
If you want to move beyond basic, there are some more intermediate methods you can try.
1. Listen Closely
Do you know how heroes in movies find a secret passage by knocking on the wall? Well, they’re smart to do so. The sound of the knock can tell you the difference between a solid object in a wall (the stud) versus a space (the space between studs).
Listen carefully, and you’ll hear a slightly higher pitch when you knock on the wall in front of a stud versus the hollow space between them. Try using a hammer covered in a washcloth. The hammer will produce a louder sound than your fist, and the washcloth will pad the hammer and protect your walls. You could also use an electric razor! Run the electric razor over the wall and listen for the change in sound.
That’s right, magnets. Run a magnet across the wall to find the nails holding up your drywall. Once your magnet is attached, use several others to mark the stud up and down the wall.
A couple of words of advice on this technique: first, your kitchen magnet isn’t going to work here. You’ll need a heavy-duty magnet, such as a rare-earth or industrial magnet. Second, your magnet might be finding other things besides the nail – like pipes or metal protector plates.
This method is thinking out of the box, but once explained, it makes some sense!
1. Steel Wool
This neat trick works similarly to the magnet method. Take two steel wool pads (not the kind with soap on them) and rub them together for about a minute. The friction will build up an electrical current. Then rub them together close to the wall, so that the falling fragments of steel wool fall on the wall. The fragments will stick to the parts where there are nails in the drywall!
Remember that studs are set in place vertically. When you do find one, move up or down on the same stud, or measure horizontally to find another.
It’s also important to remember when using these methods that none of them are foolproof. It’s best to use a combination of these methods to increase your accuracy. There are other things behind your walls – like pipes – that could throw off some of the results. If your house has clapboard walls, it will affect the accuracy and efficiency of these techniques, as well.
If you happen to sew and have a hubby that uses an electric razor, combine the pin poking and sounding options until you find a stud. Your pictures will go up beautifully. And if your husband comes in and says the only “stud” you need is him, jab him with your pin. Those quilters pins might just become a permanent addition to your toolbox.