How to Use a Magnetic Stud Finder

Installing something on the wall and need to find a stud to support it? There are a few ways to find the stud you seek without calling in a professional.

There are sonic stud finders and old school methods, but magnetic stud finders are one of the easiest and most inexpensive methods of finding a stud.

A magnetic stud finder uses magnetism to find the nails and screws driven into the studs before the drywall or sheetrock went up. While they’re an easy way to find studs, remember that magnets will also be attracted to pipes or metal conduits, so you’ll need to be certain you’ve identified a stud – not something else.

Got your magnetic stud finder ready? Here’s how to use it to successfully find studs and hang pictures, cabinets, or anchor furniture safely.

1. Why You Need a Stud (and Stud Finder)

Regardless of whether what you’re hanging is heavy or not, hanging an object on a study is the most secure way to hang something permanently.

The drywall covering your walls is there to create a smooth surface to hide wires, frames, and insulation. It’s not there to support heavy objects on the other side of the wall.

By hanging your art, wine rack, or cabinet on a stud, you’re attaching it to a firmer foundation and create a base of support that won’t put too much pressure on your plaster or drywall.

2. Location, Location, Location

The first step in using a stud finder has little to do with the stud finder itself. It’s all about figuring out where you want to hang whatever it is you’re trying to put up.

Start by deciding roughly where you want to hang your picture or furniture. Create a line where you want the top of the item to be, then figure out how far down on the item you need to mount it.

Remember, some items will be mounted near the top and others may be towards the middle. It’s this area that you’ll need to identify studs in.

Once you’ve got your space picked out and marked, remove anything hanging nearby. Take down any pictures or metal pieces on the wall. Because they’re metal, these pieces will confuse your magnetic stud finder, making it harder to get an accurate reading.

3. Prepare the Stud Finder

Magnetic stud finders require fresh batteries for strong readings. If you’ve got a new stud finder or it’s been sitting in the garage for a few years, check the batteries and replace them if necessary.

Failing to do this can distort the readings and leave you hunting for studs sitting right in front of you.

It’s also a good idea to double check the stud finder is clean. Dust and other debris stuck to the flat side of the device will also distort the readings, again making your life harder.

4. Get Searching

In most cases, your studs will be 16 inches apart. Though, it’s not unheard of to find studs 24 inches apart.

This means you’ll be looking for a study within two feet of the area you want to hang your object.
To get started put the flat side of the stud finder against the wall. Begin looking one foot to the left of where you’re hoping to hang the item. Once it’s flat against the wall, turn it on.

Powering it up usually requires the push of a button, but some models are more or less complicated than others. Refer to the owners’ manual when in doubt.

Once it’s switched on, calibrate it. The calibrate button should be near the power button. Keep the stud finder in place while it calibrates. It will be done when it stops beeping or the light stops flashing.

Not sure if the tool is calibrated? Refer again to the owners’ manual.

Don’t start until it’s calibrated, or you’ll risk distracted readings.

5. Keep Hunting

Now that your stud finder is powered up, calibrated, and in position, get hunting.

To use it correctly, keep it flat against the wall at all times. Slowly slide it to the right and across the invisible line you want to hang the item on.

When it thinks it has found a stud, the light will flash or it will start to beep.

Once it beeps or flashes, stop where you are and start moving slowly back the way you came to double check the location of the stud. You may have inadvertently passed over it after the alert.

Once you’ve got back to the correct spot, place a mark on the wall with your pencil.

If you’re using a center-finding model, mark the edges as displayed for a more accurate picture of where you should put your nail or screw.

6. Double Check Your Work

Found a stud? Great. Don’t start building right away.

Mark the first stud you find and continue your search, moving the finder to the right along the same plane just as you were before.

As you find new studs, mark them in, too. Then, measure the distance between the ‘studs’ you’ve found. Are they 16 to 24 inches apart? You’ve probably found a stud.

If they are a strange distance apart, then one of them may be a group of brackets, flashing, or piping in the wall that your detector has mistaken for a stud.

Let’s Hang

Finding studs can be difficult because they’re rarely right where you need them to be. But using a magnetic stud finder helps get the job done faster and help you hang your picture or object right the first time you try.

Even when you’re using a stud finder, remember to check your work. Stud finders aren’t fool-proof, and carelessness can result in holes in your wall or even a puncture pipe, so take careful measurements and put the appropriate marks on the walls.

Got helpful hints for finding studs and hanging otherwise awkward objects? Leave them in the comments below.

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