How to Find Wall Studs

By Amanda Lutz Updated May 13, 2024

Popular home improvement projects require you to find wall studs, from installing shiplap walls to hanging floating shelves. If you want to simply hang a photo or mount a TV stand, finding a wall stud is one of your first steps.

Unfortunately, finding these elusive boards can be challenging. Even the most savvy do-it-yourselfers (DIYers) have experienced the frustration of putting multiple holes in the wall before finding the sweet spot where solid wood supports your interior wall. If you have a working stud finder on hand, the job might be fairly easy, but if you don’t have one at your disposal, then there are a few other methods you can use to help you find a wall stud. This guide explains what wall studs are, some common and innovative ways to locate them, and step-by-step instructions for how to find studs.

What Are Wall Studs?

Wall studs are the vertical beams in your wall framing that the drywall of interior walls and the wood sheets of exterior walls attach to. They’re 2 x 4 boards with a 2-inch thickness facing the walls. However, a 2 x 4 board actually measures 3.5 inches wide by 1.5 inches thick. This difference in size occurs when wood is shaved away in the finishing process. When you’re looking for a wall stud, you actually have 1.5 inches to sink a nail into.

Wall studs are spaced at specific intervals in the wall. The standard for this spacing is 16 inches from the center of the stud to the center of the next. However, studs in some older homes may be 24 inches apart. You can typically find a stud along one side of outlets and either side of windows.

Wall studs and other beams in wall frames provide a strong support system for interior and exterior walls and the finishing pieces that are attached to these walls. For example, trim and baseboards are nailed into studs. Drywall, interior wall materials, and structural elements of your home, such as electrical boxes for light switches and outlets, are also attached to these braces.

Importance of Finding Wall Studs

The empty 3.5-inch-deep space between your interior and exterior wall holds nothing but soft insulation materials. While interior walls are usually composed of a soft material such as drywall or thin material such as paneling, wall studs are composed of solid wood. Screws and nails will easily pull out of interior wall materials when minimal force is applied. As you can imagine, photos, shelves, or your TV could end up smashing to the floor if secured to your wall and not a stud.

Beyond the cost of broken items, heavy furnishings falling unexpectedly can present a safety hazard. By locating your wall studs, you can sink nails, screws, and other fasteners into firm wood where they’ll stay in place.

Traditional Methods for Finding Wall Studs

Below are some of the most common methods for finding wall studs.

Look for Telltale Clues

You may not be able to see behind your interior walls, but the features you use indoors, such as light switches and electrical outlets, offer telltale clues. Outlet boxes and light switch housings are typically attached to a wall stud. This means a wall stud can be found along one side of the light switch or wall outlet. Tap on the wall on either side of the outlet box to determine which side the stud is on.

Measure from the Corner of the Room

A tape measure is a handy tool for locating wall studs. If a stud is located at the corner of a room, the next stud should be at least 16 inches from the corner. Since room measurements will vary, some studs will be spaced less than 16 inches from the corner of the room. To make matters a little more confusing, some older homes have studs spaced 24 inches apart. You may need to measure from multiple corners and perform a few knock tests to understand your room’s wall stud spacing.

Tap the Wall

Knocking or tapping the wall is another way to seek out studs. Your knocking will emit a hollow sound in areas without any studs. When you reach a stud, the sound will change to a more solid sound. When you find a stud, measure 16 inches to the next stud, and knock along the new stud to verify its placement.

Use a Stud Finder

A stud finder is a handheld tool designed for finding wall studs. These tools are electronic or magnetic and work by detecting density changes in the wall where wood studs are positioned or by locating the nails that attach to the wall studs. They’re generally battery-operated and emit a beep or flash of light when a stud is detected in the wall.

Once you locate a stud with a stud finder, mark it with a pencil. Since stud finders occasionally produce incorrect readings, measure 16 or 24 inches from your first stud and mark the next stud position. After marking multiple studs, you should be able to measure several marks that are either 16 or 24 inches apart.

Innovative Methods for Finding Wall Studs

If traditional methods aren’t helping your search, there are other tactics you can use to find wall studs.

Download a Phone App

With a simple app download, you can turn your smartphone into a stud finder. Stud finder apps rely on your smartphone’s magnetometer to find metal fasteners such as nails or screws in a wall stud. Since you’ll be locating nails to find the stud, you may have to move the phone up and down the wall until you get a response.

Drill a Few Holes

With this method, the trick is to create tiny holes instead of big ones. Get your thinnest drill bit, and drill into the wall where you expect to find a stud. If your hunch is correct, you’ll feel resistance when the bit gets through the drywall to the wood. After you’ve located the stud, repair the tiny hole with a little bit of spackle.

Examine the Trim

Finishing items such as crown molding and baseboards are attached to your wall studs. While the holes are usually finished with caulk and painted after the trim is installed, you may be able to identify shallow indentations with a flashlight. Get as close to eye level to the trim as possible and search for dimples. When you find one, measure 16-inch increments on either side to locate additional studs.

Look for Dimples in the Wall

Interior wall panels are installed flush with one another at the center of wall studs. The screws are sunken slightly into the drywall and then covered with plaster, which is sanded to a smooth finish. Although the evidence of screws may not be immediately noticeable, you may be able to recognize shallow dimples where the filler isn’t completely smooth with the wall’s surface. Similar to finding dimples in your trim, take measurements along your wall to confirm the placement of the studs.

Use a Magnet

In the same way a magnetic stud finder or phone app can locate studs, a strong neodymium magnet can offer similar results. Move the magnet slowly across the wall’s surface until you feel it pull to one of the screws. Attempt to stick the magnet to the screw head and mark the stud’s location with a pencil.

How to Measure for Studs

Once you learn how to measure the studs in your home, you can quickly locate wall studs for all types of home repair projects.

Follow these steps to accurately measure for wall studs:

  1. Start at a corner or window: Studs are typically located in the corners of rooms and by doors and windows. From the room’s corner, or 1 inch from the edge of your window, measure 16 inches, and mark the spot with a pencil.
  2. Determine the distance between studs: Since wall studs follow building codes, they’re located either 16 or 24 inches apart. From the edge of the stud, expect 15 1/4 inches (or 23 1/4 inches) of hollow space before finding another stud. Measure both 16 and 24 inches from the spot where you know a stud is located, and perform a knock test to determine which spacing is accurate.
  3. Perform a knock test to find shortened spacing: Since rooms aren’t designed in perfect 16-inch increments, you may find shortened spacing near some corners. By tapping along the wall from the corner, you can determine if the stud is positioned closer to the corner. When you recognize the stud, mark it with a pencil and measure 16 inches to find the next stud in the wall.
  4. Confirm your results: Once you’ve determined the distance between wall studs, keep measuring and marking several studs to confirm your results. To ensure studs are aligned with your measurements, perform a knock test where your marks are located or drill some tiny holes with a thin drill bit to confirm the spacing of the studs.

Our Recommendation

Understanding how to find wall studs is helpful for a variety of home improvement projects, from hanging a photo to finishing walls. One of the most effective methods of locating wall studs is performing a knock test and listening for solid sounds. Another easy way to find studs is by using a magnetic stud finder, but stud finders can occasionally be inaccurate or not available. If you don’t have a stud finder on hand, consider downloading a stud finder phone app to your smartphone or manually measuring studs from the corner of your room in 16-inch increments.

How to Find Wall Studs FAQ

What is the easiest way to find studs in a wall?

The easiest way to find studs in a wall is to use a stud finder purchased at any home improvement store. The best stud finders emit a beep or flash of light when a stud is detected. Some even have a screen that displays the location and width of the studs.

How do you find a stud without a detector?

There are several methods to find a stud without a detector. Some of the most effective tactics include performing a knock test along the wall’s surface to detect the difference between hollow and solid sounds and measuring in 16-inch increments starting from the corner of your room.

Can I use my phone as a stud finder?

If you download a stud finder app, you can use your smartphone as a stud finder. This magnetic stud finder will locate metal fasteners in studs instead of the wooden studs themselves.

How far apart are studs in a wall?

Modern building codes require studs to be located in 16-inch increments, so there are 16 inches between the center of one stud and the center of the next. In older homes that were built before building codes existed, wall studs are 24 inches apart.

What tools do I need to find wall studs?

Depending on the method you use, some of the tools you need to find wall studs may include a stud finder, flashlight, measuring tape, and pencil. While you may not need all these tools, have a tape measure and pencil on hand to ensure accuracy.