How Find a Stud Without a Stud Finder

Find a stud without using a stud finder!

The ability to find a stud in the wall is a skill that is being lost, due to the mechanical stud finders that are available at all of the local hardware and builder supply stores. However, there could be a situation where a stud finder is not available or has stopped working. Then what?

Maybe a short lesson on stud finding, as well as some common observations regarding the standard layout and placement of studs in a wall would be helpful.
Finding a stud in the wall takes a little practice and requires patience; however, it is a skill worth practicing and learning. Normally, once you find one stud, you will be able to find them all, due to their repetitive layout.

The majority of studs are laid out in a residential wall based upon, what is referred to as a 16 inch on center spacing. This layout is abbreviated in many instances as 16oc. This designation means that the right side of one stud is 16 inches from the right side of another stud. If this is the case, common sense will establish that the centers of the studs are 16 inch apart and the left side of the stud, the same. Theoretically, based upon this standard, once you find one stud, you can use a tape measure to find, and mark the location of all the others.

How do we find that first stud without a stud finder?

1.) Start from the corner of the room.

2.) Measure off from the corner of the room, along a wall that has a substantial length of wall area prior to a window or a door, 16 inches.

3.) Mark the wall at 16 inches from the corner.

4.) Understand that even if the 16 oc layout dimensions were used when the builder constructed the wall, the corner construction could be a varied layering of wall material, framing, etc. Therefore the first stud from the wall does not necessarily exist exactly 16 inches from the corner.

5.) With a towel or rag wrapped around the head of your hammer, carefully tap the wall from the corner outward toward the mark you made 16 inches from the corner.

6.) As you tap the wall, you will easily distinguish a different sound as you tap the wall, and proceed horizontally from the corner towards your mark that is 16 inches from the corner. We recommend that all of this tapping be done at a comfortable height, which is normally about chest level. Thinking about the wall assembly that you are tapping, the areas that will have the stud behind the wall panel which consists of sheetrock, plaster, paneling, plywood, etc., should have a less hollow sound than the areas between the studs. Carefully tapping the wall, you will discover this hollow verses deadened sound. The deadened sound will represent the stud on the other side of the wall panel. Due to the increase in density of the wall assembly at the stud, the sound will be less hollow, or a more deadened sound at the stud location.

7.) Once you have distinquished the sound, continue your tapping, horizontally along the wall. The deadening sound will then be replaced with a more hollow sound. This represents the next spanned area of wall panel from stud to stud.

8.) Using a pencil, mark the start of the deadened sound and the return of the hollow sound. This is the approximate area of the stud location. Repeat this operation of tapping on the wall and carefully listening, a number of times ( at least 3 ). Marking the wall each time.

9.) Using a very small diameter finish nail, carefully hammer this nail between the two marks that approximates the stud location, to confirm the location of the suspected stud. If the nail encounters resistance, once driven through the wall panel, you have confirmed the location of the stud. If the nail simply slides through the wall panel without any resistance, you have missed. Simply move the nail ½ inch away from the original nail hole until you find the stud.

10.) Once you have found the stud, the layout of the remaining studs within the wall is easy. Simply use a tape measure and mark every 16 inches along a horizontal plane on the wall.

Another method of finding the studs in a finished wall is to observe the nailing sequence of the upper nail in the baseboard that has been installed at the bottom of the wall. Assuming that the finish trim carpenter was accurate when installing the base, the nailing of the baseboard should coordinate with the layout of the wall studs. Carefully nail a small finish nail immediately above the baseboard molding to confirm the location of the stud. If you locate the nail immediately over the baseboard, a small dab of caulking will easily hide the hole made by the nail. In addition, most individuals do not visually inspect the bottom of the wall, and any hole or nail will not be as noticed as in the middle of the wall.

Another method of finding the studs in a finished wall is to scrutinize, visually, the surface of the wall extremely carefully. Unless the sheetrock, or wall panel installer was very proficient and skilled, in most cases, the sheetrock pattern can be seen during a careful visual inspection of the surface of the wall, and the actual nails or screws are visible. If this is the case, then the layout of the studs within the wall is the same as the location of the visual sheetrock fasteners.
Remember that in most instances the installation of electric wall outlets and switches are installed on one side of a stud or the other. This knowledge will also allow you to anticipate where the studs could be located, and together with a visual observation of the wall’s surface, you might be capable of approximating where the layout of the wall studs occurs.

With a little practice and a few random nail holes in the wall, you will be able to develop a sense of the layout in any wall and ceiling, allowing you to locate the studs as well as the ceiling joists as necessary.

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