Hanging an object on a wall can be a simple project, but to do it right and make it stable, you may need to know how to find a stud that can anchor it.
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Studs are boards that function as framing elements in your home, supporting the walls. They're spaced either 16 or 24 inches on-center (measured from center to center) along the wall and run between the floor and ceiling. Drywall or lath (for plaster walls) is attached to the edge of the studs.
Many fasteners and hangers used to hang heavy objects such as large pictures, mirrors, shelves and television mounting systems need to be anchored in studs — the wall alone isn't strong enough to support the weight. Studs hold these fasteners better, preventing them from pulling out under the weight of the object you're hanging. The center of a stud provides the best support for the fasteners.
Some homes have steel studs, which require specialty fasteners such as toggle bolts to support heavy items. If you think your home might have steel studs, you can check by running a magnet along a wall. While nails and screws in wood studs will attract a magnet, steel studs will have a stronger attraction along the entire height of the stud. Some electronic stud finders can also detect metal in a wall.
You can find studs with an electronic stud finder or you can try to find them manually. If you have drywall walls, a stud finder locates studs quickly and accurately. It's less effective on lath / plaster walls, but some have a metal-scanning feature that may locate the nails securing the lath to the studs. Several of the manual methods below are helpful if you have lath / plaster walls.
Whatever method you use for locating studs, make sure you find studs rather than objects such as pipes or conduit. When you suspect you've found a stud, locate multiple points on it to confirm that it runs vertically. Locate several studs and measure between them to confirm they're 16 or 24 inches apart. If you get a different measurement, you've likely located something other than a stud.
Be aware that items such as ducts, electrical wires and water pipes may be in the walls in your work area. Be careful when installing fasteners.
Run strips of painter's tape along the length of a wall to simplify marking multiple stud locations.
Determine how high on the wall you want to begin looking for a stud. You'll base this on the installation height of the fastener(s) you use to secure the object you're hanging.
Calibrate the stud finder (if necessary). Typically, you calibrate the device by positioning it on the wall where there is no stud and activating it. The stud finder indicates if it's calibrated or if you need to move it and try again.
Follow the stud finder manufacturer's instructions for use and safety.
Hold the stud finder against the wall and move it along the surface at the installation height of the fastener.
An edge-finding model signals when it senses the end of open space behind the wall and the edge of a dense object, such as a stud. Mark the location on painter's tape. Recalibrate the stud finder if necessary. Move it back toward this mark from the opposite direction. Locate and mark the other edge. It should be 1-1/2 inches from the first mark. Measure and mark the midpoint between the edges. This is the center of the stud.
A center-sensing model simplifies the process. It signals at the center of a stud, so you can mark the location directly.
Some stud finders detect the presence of live, unshielded electrical wires.
Locate several points on the suspected stud and locate adjacent studs as described above to confirm that you've found a stud.
Estimate stud locations by looking at the wall.
You may be able to find a stud or confirm the suspected location of a stud by tapping the wall with your knuckles or a hammer. An area where there is no stud has a low, hollow sound. Tapping over a stud produces a higher tone and a more solid sound.
If you use a hammer to look for studs, cover the head to prevent damaging the wall.
When you think you've found a stud, mark the location. Locate several points along the suspected stud and locate adjacent studs as described above. If necessary, measure out in increments of 16 or 24 inches until you reach the location where you want to install a fastener. Measure up to the installation height of the fastener and mark the wall at that point on painter's tape.
If you want to confirm the presence of a stud, you can drive a small finish nail into the wall at the suspected location. If a stud is present, you should feel resistance as the nail encounters the wood. Depending on the location of the hole, you may need to repair it after you remove the nail.