A stud finder is a tool that is used to locate the framing studs behind the walls of a building. It is useful for hanging pictures, shelves, and other objects on the wall. There are several different types of stud finders, but most work by detecting the density changes that occur when they pass over a stud. Some use magnetic fields, while others use radar or ultrasonic waves. Some stud finders also have additional features, such as the ability to detect live electrical wires or the presence of metal pipes.
- 1 How We Tested the Best Stud Finders
- 2 Stud Finder Pros and Cons
- 3 What to Consider When Choosing the Best Stud Finder
- 4 Stud Finder Types
- 5 How accurate are stud finders?
- 6 Can I use a stud finder on plaster walls?
- 7 Can I use a stud finder on a ceiling?
- 8 Can I use a stud finder on a concrete wall?
- 9 Can I use my smartphone as a stud finder?
- 10 How far apart are studs?
- 11 How do you use a stud finder?
- 12 Can stud finders be wrong?
- 13 Do stud finders work through ceramic tile?
- 14 What does it mean when a stud finder beeps?
- 15 Are outlets always on studs?
Stud finders are used to determine where the studs in your walls are located. Once you’ve located a stud, you can drill into it to hang objects, such as picture frames and televisions.
The Best Stud Finders Tested in 2023
- Best Overall:Franklin Sensors FS710PRO ProSensor
- Best Multipurpose:Zircon StudSensor A100 Wall Scanner
- Best Budget:BLACK+DECKER Line Laser
- Best for Metals:Bosch GMS120 Digital Multi-Scanner
- Best Magnetic:Zircon Multiscanner A200 Electronic Wall Scanner
- Best for Live Wiring:CH Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder
- BEST FOR DIYers:CRAFTSMAN Stud Finder
- BEST FOR PROS:Stud Finder Sensor Wall Scanner
- BEST MULTIPURPOSE:Zircon MetalliScanner m40
- BEST WITH LASER LEVEL:Stud Finder Wall Scanner
With a focus on residential and light commercial construction, our team uses stud finders all the time once the drywall is up. Even when we’re not using them professionally, there are always pictures and mirrors to hang, shelves to mount, and any number of projects going on around our homes.
#1.Franklin Sensors FS710PRO ProSensor
- Deep sensing
- Accurate, full-width indicators
- One-hand operation
- No calibration required
- Made in the USA
- Bigger than many units
- More expensive than basic stud finders
It’s a full-width stud finder, meaning you see the entire width of the stud. This gives you a clear picture of the stud and marks the full width or more accurately marks the center. If you need to be super-accurate, they also provide a ruler along the edge for reference.
#2.Zircon StudSensor A100 Wall Scanner
- Comes with a lifetime warranty
- Detects live wires during all scanning modes
- Features a large LCD readout panel
- Doesn’t give accurate readings on all walls
- Doesn’t have a dedicated scan mode for live wires
Customers praised this stud finder for its edge- and center-scanning capability as well as its ability to detect studs in dense materials, such as double sheetrock. Customers who were unhappy with this stud finder said that it didn’t move smoothly on some walls and that it gave false readings on some materials, such as porcelain tile.
#3.BLACK+DECKER Line Laser
- Built-in laser level
- Easy to use
- No deep scan
- Must keep power button depressed while in use
It’s the ideal assistant when you are hanging or mounting heavy items that need to be both securely fastened to a stud for support and perfectly straight, such as cabinets, mirrors, heavy artwork, televisions, or shelves.
Use the device first to find hidden objects inside your wall, including studs, metal pipes, wooden support beams, and live AC wires. The device works on drywall, lathe, plaster, and concrete walls. Just depress the power button—you’ll need to keep it depressed with your thumb or finger while you work—slide the device across the wall in your targeted work area, and listen for a beep when the tool encounters a stud or other object inside the wall.
Once you’ve found the stud that you want to use to securely anchor your object, switch the BullsEye to its level function. There’s a small pin on the back of the device you can use to anchor it to the wall, if desired, while you work. On line function, the BullsEye beams a red laser line up to 20 feet horizontally in both directions, giving you plenty of assistance in properly aligning whatever it is you want to hang.
#4.Bosch GMS120 Digital Multi-Scanner
- Detection status light
- Expensive if you only need a stud finder
This Bosch unit has audible tones, an illuminated ring around the sensor area, and an LCD screen—and all three work in concert, guiding you to what you’re scanning for. The ring turns red when over a stud, while the screen provides live-wire alerts and displays a bull’s-eye to indicate the stud’s center. Though the GMS120 didn’t find wiring in our wall, it did pick it up fairly accurately in the test houses.
#5.Zircon Multiscanner A200 Electronic Wall Scanner
- Detects both wood and metal studs
- Features center and edge detection
- Large LCD screen
- Accurate to within 1/16 inch
- Occasional error message
Never miss a stud again. For those who need to find the center of a stud, either for securely hanging artwork or cutting the drywall along the stud’s centerline, the Zircon Stud Finder shines. I inserted a 9-volt battery, and the stud finder was ready to go. As I slid the tool across the surface of the test wall, diagonal lines appeared on either side of the digital display to indicate the sensors were moving over a stud. As soon as I reached the stud’s center, the lines met in a “V,” and a lighted red arrow appeared on the wall above.
The red arrow was right on the center of the stud, and had I inserted a nail or screw at that point, it would have been dead-on. I moved on to testing for repeat accuracy on a regular wall. I started at one end of the wall and made an entire scan from side to side. Every time the Zircon tagged the center of a stud, I marked the wall with a pencil. To my amazement, the marks were almost exactly 16 inches apart (within a 1/16 inch). This was without needing to calibrate the tool, but the Zircon does come with an auto-calibration feature if it ever needs to be recalibrated for accuracy.
#6.CH Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder
- Tried-and-true simple operation
- Strong magnets
- Detects ferrous metal studs and wood stud fasteners
- Integrated rotating bubble level
- Unable to detect wood stud sides and center
It has stronger magnets than many of its competitors, guiding you to the fasteners easily. It also has a rotating bubble level. Unlike whole-stud options, that’s a feature our team does
Without the ability to electronically sense the sides and center, it’s important to get the stud finder level so you can more easily follow the stud. Of course, that assumes the stud itself is straight.
#7.CRAFTSMAN Stud Finder
- Straightforward operation
- Detects both wood and metal studs
- No center detection available
I was a bit surprised on the first inspection of the Craftsman stud finder; it weighs less than 4 ounces, and it’s just 5½ inches long. I didn’t hold out much hope that it would do the job. I was wrong.
I put a 9-volt battery in the stud finder and pressed the power button on the side. A beep and a green light on the top lit up to indicate the stud finder was ready to go to work. With this stud finder, I discovered the user has to hold the power button down while scanning—let off the button and the tool goes back to sleep.
I ran the Craftsman stud finder over the test wall and then over a standard wall. When the sensor detected the edge of a stud, the tool emitted a beep, and the “Edge” light on the front lit up. This tool comes with an edge sensor only, but that’s all you need to find a stud. A standard 2-by-4 stud is 1½ inches thick, so by measuring 0.75 inch from where the Craftsman indicates the edge of a stud, you’ll find the center. For the cost, you can’t beat the accuracy.
#8.Stud Finder Sensor Wall Scanner
- Offers four scanning modes
- Provides visible and audible alerts
- Includes a backlit LCD screen
- Requires calibration before each scan
- Gives shallower readings in its deep scan and live cable modes than similar models
its most notable mode is the metal mode which can detect various metals up to 2.25 inches deep. To locate wood and metal studs, the scanner works up to 1.5 inches.
#9.Zircon MetalliScanner m40
- Penetrates even lathe and plaster walls
- Scans up to 4 inches deep
- Detects both magnetic and nonmagnetic metals
- Easy to use
- Doesn’t detect live wires
- Doesn’t detect wood alone
Even magnetic finders might not register all types of metal, as many metals aren’t magnetic. The Zircon MetalliScanner m40, on the other hand, is custom-designed to detect a wide variety of metal supports and objects behind floors, walls, and ceilings.
The MetalliScanner will detect both ferrous (magnetic) and nonferrous metals behind most types of nonmetal walls, floors, and ceilings. Beyond metal studs and other support structures, this makes the finder great for locating smaller items like screws and nails deeply embedded into the wall up to 4 inches deep. The coil lights up as you move the finder to reveal the precise location of any object it detects, making it easy to pinpoint the location of hidden materials; it starts off red as you get closer, then switches to blue light when you are right over the object being scanned. You’ll need one 9-volt battery to operate this stud finder.
#10.Stud Finder Wall Scanner
- Automatic calibration
- Large digital screen readout
- Deep scan mode (up to ¾ inch)
- Audible detection
- Must be recalibrated every time it’s turned on
The instructions very clearly say the tool must be calibrated before every scan. That was a simple matter of selecting the mode I was scanning for (wood stud) and then holding the device against the wall while depressing the scan button on the side. In a few seconds, the tool beeped, indicating calibration was complete, and I rescanned the test wall. The Vivreal wall scanner showed a series of horizontal bars as the scanner neared the stud and a beep when it found the stud’s center.
On the whole-wall test, the Vivreal wall scanner was also highly accurate, finding the center of each stud. It also found the wires running to the light switch. The back of the stud finder features three thin felt pads, which make it slide effortlessly across the wall.
The Vivreal Wall Scanner stands out for its versatility. It features four scanning types (stud, metal, wire, and deep scan mode) and comes with a graphical LCD display. Users can select the mode, adjust the signal strength, or perform automatic calibration. This stud finder is a worthy option for a do-it-yourselfer with a lengthy to-do list.
How We Tested the Best Stud Finders
In order to make this list of the best stud finders, each one of the tools I tested had to be highly accurate. Users rely on stud finders to pinpoint the location of studs concealed beneath drywall.
I wanted to create a test situation that was very close to the situation DIYers and pros face when trying to find hidden studs, so I built a facsimile of a stud wall. I framed up a test board with several vertical studs and attached standard, ½-inch drywall to the bottom half of the studs.
That allowed me to test the tools on the drywall while noting how accurate they were. In addition, to test for live wires, I ran the stud finders (the ones with wire-finding functions) over a section of wall in my home where I know electrical wires run.
I scored each stud finder as to accuracy, ease of use, and screen visibility, and I recorded the scores on a rubric. At the end of the testing, I added up the scores for each stud finder and used them to categorize the tools based on their best use.
Stud Finder Pros and Cons
A stud finder is a tool that is used to locate the framing studs behind walls, ceilings, or floors. It is often used by homeowners and contractors when hanging heavy objects, installing shelving, or making other changes to a home. Here are some pros and cons of using a stud finder:
- A stud finder can save time and effort by quickly and accurately identifying the location of studs.
- It can help to prevent damage to walls by allowing you to avoid drilling or nailing into pipes or electrical wiring.
- Some stud finders have additional features, such as the ability to detect live wires or the presence of metal behind the wall.
- Stud finders are not always 100% accurate and may not be able to detect all studs in a wall.
- Some stud finders can be expensive, especially those with additional features.
- Using a stud finder requires some knowledge and skill to operate correctly.
- If a stud finder is not used properly, it can give false readings and lead to mistakes.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Stud Finder
Stud finders fall into two basic categories based on the method they use for stud detection, either magnetic or electronic. One’s not inherently better than the other; instead, each one offers different benefits for different situations. We tested both types of tools in our hands-on tests with some pretty eye-opening results, so don’t miss those tests and reviews below our guide.
Number of Sensors
Like all technology, electronic stud finders have seen many improvements from the time they appeared on the construction market in the 1990s. To pinpoint the location of a stud, an electronic stud finder uses sensors that detect a mass behind the wall. They may come with a single sensor, in which case they will detect only the edge of a stud, or they may come with multiple sensors, giving them the ability to detect both edges as well as the center of the stud. Both single sensor and multiple sensor stud finders perform well on average.
Sensors range in size. Stud finders with larger sensors have a few advantages, such as being able to cover a more expansive area and (sometimes) being able to penetrate thicker or more solid walls, such as plaster or concrete. Smaller sensors, on the other hand, can be highly accurate. For most home DIYers, sensor size is not an issue since a typical stud finder with smaller or larger sensors will be able to pinpoint studs behind drywall.
Today’s stud finders can also pack an extra punch: Many are outfitted with features that extend the usefulness of the stud finder and make it handier. From this list, identify the features you think could be the most helpful before settling on a stud finder that works.
- A built-in bubble level, available on either magnetic or electronic stud finder, can assist you in leveling shelves or whatever else you’re attaching to the wall. Small bubble levels tend to be less accurate than longer, carpenter-type levels because they only record level over a very short distance.
- A built-in laser (electronic models only) is a step up from a bubble level. At the press of a button, you can shine a laser in a straight line from the stud you’ve located, either vertically or horizontally to help you align additional fasteners. A laser level makes it a snap to hang multiple photos or paintings on a wall—all at the same height.
- Depth adjustment (electronic models only) allows you to switch from detecting studs ¾ inch deep behind drywall to locating any number of objects up to 1½ inches beneath the surface. The ability to inspect further behind the surface is handy for detecting floor joists beneath additional surface coverings like wood, tile, or carpet, but you won’t want to run your electronic stud finder at this level all of the time. Increasing the depth adjustment takes more energy and runs the batteries down more quickly. Switching back and forth and primarily keeping it on stud-finding mode helps conserve battery life.
- Multipurpose electronic stud finders are designed to detect additional materials within the walls, such as live electrical wires and plastic pipes so that you don’t nail or cut into something that might be problematic.
- A “center punch” feature (electronic models only) makes a small hole in the wall right over the center of a stud, which is the optimal spot for inserting a nail or screw—no need to carry a pencil to mark it.
- Varying visual displays (electronic models only) give you some choice in how you want to “see” the stud. Some electronic stud finders let you preview a digital map of the stud beneath the wall on an LED screen; others feature LED lights across the top that blink when the finder is passed over a stud—both provide a reliable way to pinpoint a stud.
- A battery indicator (electronic models only) will alert you when it’s time to replace the batteries. While some electronic models take AA or AAA alkaline batteries, a growing number require the use of a small 9-volt battery to adequately power multiple options.
- An ergonomic hand grip makes holding and moving the stud finder easier and is available on both magnetic and electronic models. Some stud finders require depressing a button before scanning the wall for studs. When choosing one of these models, look for a button that’s located in a comfortable spot to both press the button and control the movement of the tool.
Stud Finder Types
There are several types of stud finders that you can use to locate framing studs in walls, ceilings, and floors. Here are some common types:
- Magnetic stud finders: These devices use a magnet to detect the nails or screws that hold the studs in place. They are relatively simple to use and inexpensive, but they can be less accurate than other types of stud finders, especially if the walls are made of materials that do not contain metal (e.g., concrete or brick).
- Electronic stud finders: These devices use a series of sensors to detect changes in the density of the wall, which can indicate the presence of a stud. They can be more accurate than magnetic stud finders, but they can be more expensive and require batteries to operate.
- Acoustic stud finders: These devices use sound waves to detect changes in the thickness of the wall, which can indicate the presence of a stud. They can be more accurate than magnetic stud finders, but they can be more expensive and may require some practice to use effectively.
- Laser stud finders: These devices use a laser beam to detect changes in the distance between the device and the wall, which can indicate the presence of a stud. They can be more accurate than other types of stud finders, but they can be expensive and may require some skill to use correctly.
- Apps: Some smartphone apps claim to be able to detect studs using the phone’s sensors. These can be convenient if you already have a smartphone, but their accuracy may vary.
Stud Finder FAQs
How accurate are stud finders?
The accuracy of a stud finder can depend on a number of factors, including the type of device being used, the quality of the device, and the condition of the wall. In general, electronic and laser stud finders tend to be more accurate than magnetic ones, but even the most accurate devices may not be able to detect all studs in a wall.
Can I use a stud finder on plaster walls?
Yes, you can use a stud finder on plaster walls, although it may be more difficult to get accurate readings due to the thickness and texture of the plaster. In some cases, it may be necessary to use a different type of stud finder or to try multiple devices to confirm the location of a stud.How To Find a Stud in a Plaster Wall
Can I use a stud finder on a ceiling?
Yes, you can use a stud finder on a ceiling, although it may be more difficult to get accurate readings due to the overhead angle and the potential for movement. It may be helpful to use a ladder or other stable platform to hold the stud finder steady while you scan the ceiling.
Can I use a stud finder on a concrete wall?
Yes, you can use a stud finder on a concrete wall, although it may be more difficult to get accurate readings due to the density of the concrete. Electronic or laser stud finders may be more effective than magnetic ones in this situation.
Can I use my smartphone as a stud finder?
Yes. There are apps that allow you to use your smartphone as a stud finder. However, these apps aren’t known to be nearly as accurate or trustworthy as dedicated stud finders. Additionally, the app may not offer as many features as a true stud finder, such as detecting live wires or leveling the surface.
How far apart are studs?
Most studs are 16–24 inches apart, but that’s not always the case. Before hanging an object that requires more than one stud, measure the wall for all studs instead of just finding one and assuming the next one will be 16–24 inches away from it.
How do you use a stud finder?
It’s not difficult to use a stud finder, and these simple tools can make the difference between a successful DIY project and one that goes drastically wrong.
To use a stud finder, start by turning the stud finder on and checking that the batteries are charged. Make sure the sensors on the bottom of the tool aren’t dusty or damaged. Then place the stud finder on the wall where you plan on hanging your item, and slowly move the stud finder horizontally across the wall.
When the stud finder detects the edge of a stud, it will beep, flash, or use a combination of signals to alert you. Mark the edge of the stud with a pencil, and then continue to move the stud finder slowly across the wall until you find the other edge of the stud, and mark that with a pencil as well. Some stud finders will automatically determine both edges of a stud for you.
Continue moving the stud sensor across the wall until you’ve found several studs. They are normally equally spaced 16 to 24 inches apart. After locating and marking a few studs, check the spacing to ensure you’ve really found studs and not other materials behind the walls.
Once you’ve determined that you’ve found the studs, you can hang your shelf, television, or other heavy items without worry.How To Use A Stud Finder Simple Easy
Can stud finders be wrong?
It’s not uncommon for a stud finder to trigger an alert, yet the hidden object behind the wall isn’t actually a stud but a pipe, bracket, or some other material. Many stud sensors differentiate between these various types of materials, but the tool is not infallible. It is possible to get false readings. That’s why it’s important to continue scanning the wall until you’ve located at least three studs. If the distance between each is equal, and is 16 to 24 inches, you can be confident that you’ve located studs, not some other building material.
Do stud finders work through ceramic tile?
If you are planning on installing grab bars in the bathroom but have fully tiled walls, you might figure that you’ll use your stud sensor to locate the studs behind the tile. Unfortunately, while stud sensors have no problem scanning through drywall and similar materials, very few of these tools owned by the average homeowner can reliably work through ceramic tile. For that, you typically need a scanner that uses radar to “look” through the wall, and those are generally very expensive. However, some deep-sensor stud finders with settings to locate metal are able to penetrate tile with fairly reliable accuracy, so it’s worth giving one a try if you are set on fastening something heavy to a tiled wall.
What does it mean when a stud finder beeps?
That depends on the individual tool. Some beep when they detect the edge of a stud, while others beep when they detect the center of a stud. Some stud finders beep to let the user know they’ve just recalibrated.
Are outlets always on studs?
Most, but not all. Some outlets come with boxes that are designed to fit in a hole cut through the drywall. A stud finder that detects both studs and live wires can tell the user if this type of outlet box is in use.