If you’re hanging pictures in your home or apartment that are heavy enough to require a wall stud, the easiest way to find one is with a stud finder. It will help you find wood and metal studs faster, and more accurately than tapping on the wall or hunting and guessing with a drill. Along with a tape measure and a level, it’s a core part of any new homeowner’s toolkit.
Which stud finder is best? Are electronic models worth the extra money? I spent over 30 hours researching and testing the best stud finders on different wall materials to find out. None were perfect, but some were clearly better than others. If you want a stud finder that’s accurate and easy to use, our favorite is the Zircon A150(available at Amazon for $41.99).
If you’re looking for something simple and inexpensive, the C.H. Hanson Magnetic Stud Finder (available at The Home Depot for $8.16) is small and virtually indestructible. It’s easy to use, hanging in place on the wall after you find a stud, so you can make a mark or use the built-in holder to hammer a nail.
These are the best stud finders we tested, ranked in order.
C.H. Hanson Magnetic Stud Finder
Zircon StudSensor A150
The Zircon A150 consistently did well in most of my tests. This consistent performance is the main reason I liked it. I also liked its bright red laser-like arrow that activates when you find the center of a stud. This, along with a display that shows you how close you are to a stud, with indications which direction to move, and an audible alert, make the Zircon very easy to use.
Physically, the A150 is easier to hold in your hand than some of the other models I tested, with a fairly narrow grip. Its single button is placed right under your thumb if you’re right-handed, and under your index finger if you’re a lefty. To aid in smooth sliding across walls, the back is equipped with two soft, felt pads.
When used on drywall, the A150 consistently found the stud. This is a pretty basic requirement, but some of the other models I tested struggled to clear even this simplest of bars. On more challenging surfaces, the A150 did as good or better than the other finders I tested, though it wasn’t able to consistently handle some of thicker materials. This was the case with all the testers and is admittedly asking more than what they were designed for.
If you have an older house with thick, dense walls, stud finder may not work. That said, on our wood-paneled wall test, the A150 was one of the few that was able to sense a stud fairly consistently. On the stucco test, it couldn’t find a stud, but neither could almost any of the other models I tested.
The only notable issue with the A150 is that the LCD display is very hard to see when it’s above your eye-line if you’re trying to find a stud high up on a wall, the display won’t be visible. However, you can still hear its alert, and the red light shines to indicate that you’ve found a stud is still visible.
The A150 requires but doesn’t come with, a single 9-volt battery. AmazonBasics has an inexpensive option.
Makes finding studs easy
Lights up and beeps when you find a stud
Slides well across walls
Screen hard to read when it’s above your line of sight
For most people, the C.H. Hanson is the only stud finder they’ll ever need. It’s compact, works great for most walls, and is very inexpensive. There’s even a built-in level, and the bottom has a holder for a nail. The magnets are very strong, which not only aids in detecting nails/hangers behind walls but also lets the Hanson stay in place on the wall by itself once you’ve found a stud.
Like all magnet-based stud finders, it does benefit from a bit of educated guessing before you try to find a stud. After all, it’s looking for metal—a nail or a hanger—not the wood stud itself. As such, if you’re sliding it horizontally looking for a stud, you could swipe right past a stud if you’re above or below its nails.
Physically, it’s small enough to hold in the palm of your hand. The rubberized exterior could allow it to survive a fall that would shatter any of the electronic finders I tested. There's no need to worry about batteries either, as it doesn’t use any. It will always be ready to work.
During drywall testing, the C.H. Hanson easily found the stud, giving a fairly strong tug when it was near metal. When it does this, you can release the finder and it just stays in place on the wall, like an excited dog that’s found something fascinating in a hole in your yard. With stud finder rooted in place, you’re free to mark the stud with a pencil or use the small bracket at the bottom of the finder to drill a hole, hammer a nail, etc.
On less common surfaces, like wood paneling or stucco, the C.H. Hanson faltered. As strong as they are, magnets still have their limitations. On stucco, it was one of the few finders that work at all, but it was a very weak pull, making it easy to miss its mark. With the wood-paneled wall, it was about the same. If I had an idea about where the stud would be (a good to know when using any stud finder), the magnet was just strong enough to offer some resistance to show where the stud was, under wood paneling or stucco, but it was very subtle. Even so, that was better than many of the stud finders I tested.
I like how small, simple, and battery-free the C.H. Hanson is. However, if you’re going into a DIY project without any experience, the Zircon is probably going to be easy for you to use, especially if you have non-standard walls.
My name is Geoffrey Morrison. I’ve been reviewing all types of gear for nearly 20 years. I’m what I’d call a “reluctant DIYer” in that I know how to fix most things, but would much rather not. Some would call this “laziness,” but I call it… yeah, no, that’s a valid description.
I learned everything I know about home DIY from my dad, who is the opposite of lazy. Not only did he build the house he’s living in now, but he’s completely remodeled it as a retirement project. I’m not a fan of spending lots of money on gadgets that will be rarely used, but if it makes life easier or better, they’re worth it.
The question of whether a stud finder can find a stud is difficult to answer. Some better questions would be: How well does it find studs andHow quickly. Not every wall is the same: Can a stud finder work on thicker walls, as some of them promise? In order to write this guide, these were a few of the questions that I needed to answer.
To find the best stud finder, I first had to narrow the field of products I needed to call in for testing. Stud finders are available in a wide range of prices. After doing some research, I found that most people are looking for a device that might get occasional use to hang shelves, heavy framed artwork, or flat-screened TVs. There’s a number of expensive professional-grade models out there, but I figured these were beyond what most people need. I set a price cap of $35. Doing so excluded expensive hardware that most people would only use occasionally, while still leaving me with a range of devices to choose from.
The first test was the simplest. When used on 10-year-old drywall of an interior wall in a wall in my home, could the stud finder actually find a stud? ~. I knew where the studs in the wall were before I started, so I could see what were false positives created by less accurate finders. I swept each device across the wall quickly, at first, then again more slowly, figuring this would be how most people would use them: A fast sweep to get a general idea and then, a slower one to narrow down precisely where the stud was. The better finders had no issues, but surprisingly several couldn’t even manage this basic test.
For the next stage of testing, I moved my tests from the interior of my home to the exterior stucco walls of my detached garage. Stucco, while less commonly found in modern homes, adds additional depth to any wall it’s applied to, making it more difficult for a stud finder to do its job. Several of the stud finders in my test group have a “deep” mode that’s claimed to better detect studs through thicker wall materials. Most of the stud finders did poorly on this test. Interestingly, two of the cheapest options did “ok.”
Lastly, one interior wall in my home has 1970s-era wood paneling that was there when I bought it. This puts an additional layer between the stud finder and the wall’s studs, but one that’s more “transparent” to their sensors compared to stucco. The better finders passed this test, but as you’d probably guess, weren’t quite as definite in their stud location predictions as they were with simple drywall.
I also took subjective considerations into account. This ranged from how smoothly each device moved over test surfaces, to how obvious they were when finding studs, either the pull from the magnets or any lights and sounds they produced. Related, I rated them on how easy they were to use and read, etc. For the most part, they were all pretty easy to use.
It’s worth noting that with all the finders that claim to find the center of a stud, “center” is a bit of a loose term. It’s best to think of that indication as “on the stud” more than the exact center. There’s a bit of wiggle room if you will, so if precision is required, best to make a few passes, average the results, then drill a small test hole.
Interestingly, most of the stud finders I tested did not come with batteries. So, make sure you have the required type on hand, or order some with your finder.
What You Should Know Before Buying A Stud Finder
How Does A Stud Finder Work?
The most important thing to know about stud finders is that they are not magic. They can not “see” through walls. As such, even the best stud finder on earth won’t be accurate 100% of the time on every type of wall. Other than borrowing a portable X-ray scanner, that’s just not possible. That said, some are better than others.
The two main types of stud finders are magnetic and electronic. The simple magnetic varieties, like the Studbuddy and CH Hanson we tested, use strong magnets that are attracted to the metal used in construction, like a nail or screw and some hangars. As such, they’re not sensing the studs per se, but metal pieces attached/embedded in them. This can make finding a stud a little challenging: it could be easy to sweep a wall horizontally and miss the nails in it completely, making it seem like there are no studs at all. If you moved the finder vertically a few inches and moved horizontally again, you might find every stud easily. If your building has metal studs, magnetic finders should work even better, but you’re going to need special screws and drill bits to hang anything.
Electronic stud finders emit a weak electrical field and sense variations in the field. The cheapest models can only detect the edges of a stud, the better models can locate the center. Since the difference in price is not that significant, I recommend spending the few dollars more on a center-detecting model. This method was, during testing, fairly precise. But again, stud finders aren’t magic— multiple sweeps of a wall to find a stud is always a good idea.
There could be a variety of reasons why you might have difficulty locating a stud., One of the more common issues you may encounter is that something else inside of a wall: like pipes, electrical conduit or ducts. is throwing off the sensing. Most electronic sensors stud finders can detect electricity and give a warning if it’s sensed. This wasn’t a big part of our testing but it is an added bonus. If you suspect there’s wiring and/or conduit or plumbing near where you’re drilling, obviously be careful! Some models also have a separate setting to detect metal studs. There are also more expensive stud finders that use radar, but they are very expensive and well outside the scope of this article.
How Do You Find A Stud In The Wall?
Finding a stud can be difficult without the proper tools. Before writing this guide, the stud finder in my house was a magnet on a string that my dad made for me. I love the DIY aspect, the simplicity, and the price: almost free. You can use this magnet-on-a-string method to find the braces and nails in or around the stud and then extrapolate where the stud must be.
Electrical outlets and light switches are almost always found adjacent to studs, so measure 16-inches on either side and that’s generally where you’ll find the next stud. Trim pieces, like crown molding and baseboards, are often secured to studs. If you’re starting from the edge of a wall, the first stud away from the edge might be only 15.25-inches, then 16 from the center of that one for the rest of the wall (or until a window, another wall, etc). Sometimes studs might be 24-inches, center to center.
If you do get a hit, check other points on the wall up or down from that point to make sure you’re on a stud, not something else inside the wall.
You should know that, despite being called two-by-fours, modern studs are slightly smaller: 1.5 by 3.5 inches in size. If your house was built before the 1960s, it might have studs closer in size to their two-by-four name.
Older houses (built in the 1940s and earlier) may have plaster and lath walls instead of drywall. Plaster and lath will be more difficult to sense studs through than drywall, not least because the plaster alone could be upwards of one-inch thick. In my tests, the deeper the wall the worse all the stud finders I tested performed.
If you know, or suspect, that you have a plaster and lath wall, it’s worth considering a more expensive electronic tester that can sense deeper than the 1.5 inches deep maximum depth offered by the majority of the devices profiled in this guide. Zircon, the maker of our favorite tester, makes by our count eleventy quadrillion models all with nearly identical features and prices. Several more expensive models claim to sense to a deeper depth than the A150 we tested. We didn’t test them, but they’re a place to start looking if you have particularly deep or otherwise non-standard walls.
Most important, the adage of “measure twice, cut once,” is vital here too. Just because your stud finder swears it has found the center of a stud, drilling a small test hole to make sure it’s there is a good idea before you start drilling. Especially if the location is in a place where a miss would be obvious, catastrophic, or, in the presence of live electrical wiring, shockingly bad.
Can You Find A Stud Without A Stud Finder?
In theory, any magnet will work placed on the end of a string will work for this DIY hack. However, the stronger the magnet, the better. All magnet-based finders seek out the braces and nails your wall’s studs, not the studs themselves. It’s possible, if you’re doing a quick sweep across horizontally across a wall, to miss these pieces of metal. The weaker the magnet in use, the more likely you are to miss the metal and, as in turn, the stud you’re looking for. In order for your magnet on a string to be most effective, start by seeking out an easy metal landmark, like an electrical outlet or window ledge. In 16-inch horizontal intervals (the amount of space between wall studs), sweep the magnet vertically in order to find the metal associated with the stud.
Now, let's talk about smartphone apps.
By far the biggest shock in my testing was that free mobile apps that claim to find studs can actually find studs. Using sensors already in your phone, they should be able to find a stud about as well as any of the magnet-based finders. This praise comes with a big caveat: your phone. I tested with a Pixel 4 Android handset, which at the time of this writing, is considered to be a powerful, flagship device. If you have an older, or lower-end phone, your results may vary. Still, since it’s free, it can’t hurt to try.
I tested four apps on the Google Play store that had good ratings, but are no longer available. Two, despite coming from “different” companies, were clearly the same and had a mediocre interface. Another let out a piercing shriek non-stop while it was active. I’ve never deleted an app so quickly. The one that annoyed me least and actually had an interesting interface had no resemblance to what the images looked like in the app store, and one of them was clearly stolen from Walabot So this is a mild endorsement, at best.
What's a Walabot, you ask? Well, it's a flat plastic wall-scanning device that connects to an Android smartphone—iPhone users need not apply. As it's not a traditional stud finder and costs well above the price gap I put in place for this guide, I didn't call it in for testing. However, it's worth mentioning here as, thanks to an enormous marketing budget, it’s seemingly everywhere. Fakespot, a website that rates the quality of user reviews on Amazon, gives the Walabot an “F,” meaning it determines that the vast majority of the product’s nearly 1,000 reviews are fake. For simple stud finding, which is what we were looking for in this guide, the Walabot is more than most people need to spend.
Other Stud Finders We Tested
I thought that the Craftsman might be our winner. Its design is a bit on the larger side, but it was still flat enough to fit in my back pocket. Most notable are its multiple LED arrows, which offer a simple and accurate way to find a stud. The pushbutton center marker was also simple to use. It looks more rugged than it feels. However, none of the electronic stud finders I tested were particularly rugged. The Craftsman was one of the few stud finders I tested that felt like it might survive a head-height fall onto concrete.
Like most of the electronic models I tested, the Craftsman didn’t handle wood-paneled walls well, but it did narrow down the area where the stud might be. The Craftsman is also the only electronic stud finder I tested that claimed to sense to a depth of three inches. If you suspect you have plaster and lath walls, it could be a good option. However, walls of this thickness were beyond the scope of testing that I undertook for this guide.
LED arrows are easy to read quickly Performs nearly as well as our winner Wall marker button makes marking stud locations easy
The Tavool 510's performance was pretty much the same as that of its sibling, the Tavool TH250. Both were able to find studs quickly, with minimal false positives. Despite being more expensive than the TH250, the TH510 preformed worse on the wood panel test. Neither were of the Tavool stud finders were great in this area, but the TH250 was more on the side of usable than the TH510.
The Tavool TH250 one of Amazon’s top sellers at the time that this guide was written—a bit suspect from a company that’s not exactly well-known. However, after using it, my suspicions were put to bed: its performance was excellent, finding the studs quickly, accurately, and repeatedly. Our Best Overall pick, the Zircon A150, is available for around the same price as the TH250, and proved more reliable. That said, the TH250 did a great job overall.
With its iconic rugged, yellow and black asthetic The Stanley FMHT77407 was the most professional-looking of the stud finders tested I tested for this guide. That it comes bearing Stanely's FatMax branding provides the FMHT77407 with the street cred that professional and ametuer putterers drool over. Unfortunately, looks and branding can sometimes be decieving: While the FMHT77407 might look tough, It's constructed using inexpensive plastic—felt it had the same chance of surviving a tumble to a contrete floor as the other stud finders I tested. Additionally, while its performance was acceptable, it wasn't quite as accurate as some of the other models I tested.
The DeWalt DW0150 looks similar to the Craftsman 7623, boasting the same flat-but-wide design. Instead liked that instead of a pushbutton to mark the wall when you find a stud, it comes with a hole in its center that allows you mark the stud with a a pencil or hammer a nail into. Unfortunately, the DW0150 has far fewer LEDs than the aforementioned Craftsman, making it more difficult to get an accurate reading of exactly where the stud you're looking for is located.
During testing, the StudBuddy's performance was similar to that of our value pick, the C.H. Hanson Magnetic Stud Finder... but not similar enough to recommend it. the magnets employed by the StudBuddy aren't quite as strong as those in the C.H. Hanson, making homing in on a stud a little bit more difficult.
Additionally, the StudyBuddy is larger than the C.H. Hanson, making it more difficult to handle. I also found that it wasn't able to slide over walls as I'd have liked.
Can easily fit in a pocket
Hangs on wall when it finds a stud
Weak magnets make it less effective than other models tested
While it glides nicely across surfaces and comes with enough led lights, that pinpointing a stud should have been a cinch, the Hart 9Pro provided me with oddly inconsistent results: lots of false positives and false negatives. Sometimes it would miss a stud entirely, ands then insist one was present inside of a wall where I knew there wasn't. I tried the Hart on a different walls in my home and found that its performance was still inconsistent. What’s more its build quality felt super cheap.
Slides across a wall the best of any finder we tested
I liked the angular design of the Ryobi: it felt good in my hand, no matter how I held it, which isn’t the case with some of the other stud finders I tested. However, it wasn’t able to find the stud in my bathroom test, which all of the other stud finders in this guide could.
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