Uses technology that senses the wall in several locations to more accurately locate studs; earns our DIY expert's recommendation.
Bright visual display, not just audio. Additional sensors locate stud edges. No calibration cycle required. Works best with standard drywall, but can also penetrate plaster and wood paneling.
There are some concerns about long-term performance on this otherwise impressive model.
Our expert notes that this is a basic but effective tool that comes at a great price point.
The depth range of this unit is 3/4-inch through drywall. It can also register through thinner covered surfaces, such as wallpaper and fabric. The device runs on a 9-volt battery and is both shock and water-resistant.
This unit features very basic operations — while it quickly finds studs, it can be tricky locating the center of those studs.
An accurate stud finder that features scan options to detect studs, metal, and wires, as well as a deep scan mode.
This scanner can detect wooden studs, metal studs, plumbing, rebar, live electrical wires, and more. Besides a visual display, this model has an audible alert that triggers to help you pinpoint the location of the objects on the other side of the wall.
With the calibration time, the process of finding a stud can take a little longer than expected.
If you're looking for a combo tool, our expert recommends this 2-in-1 stud finder and laser level.
The LED screen does a great job of finding studs and keeping your laser straight for picture hanging. The stud feature is able to detect wood, metal, and electric wiring. Has a lightweight yet durable feel in hand. Comes with a 2-year limited warranty.
The stud finder can be inaccurate when detecting wood.
A great scanner that is great at detection and has a powerful battery that earns our expert's praise.
The LED screen shows where studs are not only located but also how wide they are. The 2 buttons make it a breeze to use. Has a self-calibrating feature and various scanning modes that can reach up to 60MM. Can detect metal, wood, and electric wiring.
The electric wire feature can sometimes get phantom detections.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
Whether you're hanging a cabinet, a mirror, or a widescreen TV, knowing where your wall studs are is vital for getting things fixed securely and safely. Fortunately, there is a wide range of stud-finding gadgets available to help. No more hit and miss with a hammer or a knuckle. The right tool can find those studs in seconds.
But which is the right tool? Old-school magnetics or modern electronics? BestReviews is here to help. Our combination of workshop testing, expert consultation, and customer research is focused on helping you make the right buying choice.
Our findings are completely independent. Accepting samples from manufacturers might lead to bias, so we buy everything we test using our own money. The stud finders in the product list above are those we recommend. They cover just about all the possible choices, so they offer performance and value to suit every user. If you'd like more detail on how stud finders work, and answers to many of the questions that crop up, please read the following report.
There are two main types of stud finder, magnetic and electronic.
These use a very simple concept: the nails that hold studs together are magnetic, and so are drywall fixings. If your magnetic stud finder sticks to the wall, there’s a good chance there’s a stud there!
Not surprisingly, there are some pretty strong magnets involved. Some are molded into a durable plastic casing, others are left loose. With a fixed magnet, you just push it across the wall until you can feel magnetic attraction. With a loose magnet, you get either an audible "thunk" as the magnet is attracted to the fixing, or there's a visual indicator — generally, a bright piece of plastic will pop up.
Often the stud finder incorporates a central groove, or "V," to help you position a nail or screw, or make a pencil mark. A bubble level might also be incorporated.
The main drawback with a magnetic stud detector is that they locate the fixing, not the stud. There's no way to know if the fixing is off center. They're also attracted to any ferrous metal, so it could be a drywall screw – but it might also be steel tube, rebar, or who knows what hiding in the wall.
These come in a variety of forms, but all work on the same basic principle. Using one or more sensors, they measure changes in the density of the wall (technically, the dielectric constant).
Most need to be placed against a wall for calibration (an area where there is no stud), then as they are moved along the surface they measure the wall and feedback data until a different density is found.
Unlike magnetic stud finders, they're not reliant on magnetism at all, so they find both wood and galvanized steel studs equally well. Results are displayed on an LCD screen, which gives a quick and clear indication of what's going on.
Electronic stud finders are further broken down into different types:
Most electronic stud finders do struggle if wall thicknesses are inconsistent, and with lath and plaster walls in particular. "Deep scanning" modes can overcome this to some extent, but it may be necessary to take several readings to get an accurate picture of where studs are.
Some electronic stud finders can detect live electric (AC) cables. A very useful safety feature.
Some models can detect metals – both ferrous and non-ferrous. A basic model might find the edge of a “stud,” only for it to turn out to be a hidden copper water pipe. An advanced model that identifies the pipe could save you a big plumbing bill!
Most electronic stud finders require a 9 volt battery to operate. Frustratingly, this is often not supplied.
Basic magnetic stud finders can be found for ten bucks or less. Thousands of satisfied customers will tell you they work just fine. They do, but there's no precision. These models will find fixings that are off center, metal pipes, and conduit, without differentiating between the types of objects.
Edge-finding models cost around $25 to $35, and for the money you often get standard and deep scan modes and possibly live AC wire detection. These stud finders work equally well on wooden or metal studs.
For around $50 you can step up to a center finder. Again, it's likely that you'll get depth modes, plus live AC detection. You might also get metal identification – both non-ferrous (like copper pipes) and ferrous (steel conduit, for example).
Wide, multi-sensing models are capable of indicating not just the edges and center of a single stud, but can identify several studs at once, and unusual widths. At anywhere from $50 to $75, a multi-sensing stud finder is very much a pro's tool, but if it's something you use frequently, it's probably worth the investment.
Once you've identified your stud, move away, then come back and “find” it again at a different height. Now find the next stud along. Is it where it's supposed to be? Studs are usually located 16" or 24" apart. What you're trying to do is ensure you've got a stud, and not a random cable or length of pipe.
Some stud finders are surprisingly sensitive to battery charge. If yours was working yesterday, and isn't today, try changing the battery before anything else. One manufacturer told us that nine times out of ten, a weak battery was the problem.
If you're using an edge finder, be sure to find both edges, so you can place your fixing in the center. Never assume the other edge is a set distance away. Maybe it is standard, but maybe the contractor ran out, and used something else, just that once? You never really know what went on when that wall was put up. Better safe than sorry.
Though it's called a “2 x 4” stud, it is unlikely to actually measure 2" x 4". Nominal 2 x 4 lumber is usually 1 1/2" x 3 1/2".
Mounting a TV can be problematic if the bracket doesn't match your stud spacing. It's always best to use studs if you can – they're more secure – but drywall anchors can be used. Ensure they have the correct load capacity, and use plenty. Never think you can get away with using less than recommended.
Standard, pre-cut studs are specified as eight feet tall, but are actually 92 5/8" to allow for top and bottom plates. If your walls are an unusual size, it's not unknown for small sections to have been nailed to standard studs to reach the required height. If you're fixing something within six inches of the ceiling, double check that your stud is where you expect it to be.
A: AC detection (also called AC scan, or other similar names, depending on the manufacturer) is an attempt to find cables carrying live current, hidden in your wall. They can provide a useful guide, but caution is always necessary. They seldom register cables more than 11/2 inches below the surface, a distance that can further be reduced by concrete, conduit, or other obstacles. As a safety precaution, always turn the main power off before drilling into walls.
A: You could, but it's a method that's very hit and miss. Using a magnet will find steel nails or screws, but not the actual stud – nor its center. A magnet can't discriminate. It will find any steel object – for instance, a steel pipe, or a long-forgotten electrical box.
A: The challenge with lath and plaster is the variety of ways it's made. Even though the surface looks smooth, the underlying structure can be extremely varied. This tends to confuse electric stud finders, which work by finding changes in wall density. To make matters worse, some lath and plaster walls are reinforced with steel mesh, throwing magnetic stud finders out as well. The old-fashioned method is to tap the wall with your knuckle until the sound changes. Unfortunately, this is one occasion when modern methods often aren't any better!