If you’re a do-it-yourselfer type of person, a stud finder is a very hand gadget to have in your toolbox. Wall studs act as anchor points in a wall, and knowing where they are located will help to make your DIY projects a success. Whether you’re hanging pictures or mirrors on the wall, or you’re installing a new ceiling fan, studs will provide you with the extra support you need to brace these heavy objects. Likewise, if you are installing a new door or a window, you need to know where the studs are before you start construction so you can avoid cutting into them (doing so would spell major disaster.)
A stud finder helps to locate the studs that are buried within a wall or a ceiling with far greater accuracy than simply knocking and can alleviate some headaches when it comes to your DIY projects. To make sure your projects are a success, we’ve compiled this handy buyer’s guide to help you find the best stud finder.
Types of Stud Finders
When a house or any other structure is built, studs are one of the most important elements, as these wooden beams provide support for the structure. If you are doing any home improvement project, knowing where the studs are is very important. Stud funds help you locate the studs by either finding their edges or pinpointing their center. There are two main types of stud finders:
Magnetic Stud Finders
Metal fasteners and nails, which are magnetic, are used to secure the studs to the posts of a structure. Magnetic stud finders feature a magnet. When passed over a wall or a ceiling, the magnet in this type of stud finder is attracted to the metal fasteners or the nails in the stud. There are two different types of magnetic stud finders:
- Stationary Magnetic Stud Finders
These stud detectors contain a small stationary magnet that is used to detect the nails or metal fasteners in the studs. They must be moved around the wall or ceiling until the user feels the magnet “pull,” which indicates that it is attracted to a metal object. Because the user needs to feel the attraction between the magnet and the metal, they aren’t always effective.
- Moving Magnetic Detectors
This type of magnetic stud finder uses a neodymium magnet, a stronger magnet, to detect locate studs. Unlike stationary magnetic stud finders, which rely on the user’s ability to detect the “pulling” sensation of the magnet, the neodymium magnet in a moving magnetic detector moves when it detects metal objects hidden within a wall (the nails and metal fasteners in a stud.) When the magnet is attracted to a metal object, it makes a sound as it moves toward it, rendering moving magnetic stud finders more effective, as they do not rely on the user’s ability to feel the attraction between the magnet and the metal.
Electronic Stud Finders
Electronic stud finders utilize sensors that detect any changes in the dielectric constant of the wall or ceiling. As the sensor in the stud finder passes over a study, the dielectric constant changes. A lower reading suggests the presence of a stud in the wall. There are three types of electronic stud finders:
- Edge Electronic Stud Finders: These stud finders detect the edge of the stud. Prior to use, they must be calibrated over an empty portion of the wall, and can then be moved along the wall until a change in density is detected, such as a stud. This type of stud finder should be moved along both direction of the wall to locate both edges of the stud. Once both edges of a stud have been located, the user must determine the center of the stud.
- Center Electronic Stud Finders: These stud finders contain two sensors, which register separate readings of the dielectric constant in a wall or ceiling. The center of the stud has been located when the two readings match. They do need to be calibrated before using, but they only need to be moved in one direction along the wall to find the stud.
- Instant Electronic Stud Finders: These stud finders contain several sensor plates and use algorithms to analyze the readings from the sensors. This allows for quicker, more accurate detection of the stud. They can locate the center and edge of the stud, as well as locations that do not contain studs. Instant stud finders do not have to be moved along the wall.
Stud Finder Considerations
Just like any other product you purchase, there are important factors that should be taken into consideration when purchasing a stud finder. Considering these factors will help you find the best stud finder for your specific needs.
The Walls and / or Ceiling
What type of walls or ceiling will you be using the stud finder on? If the surface has a bumpy texture or other construction anomalies, it could impact the accuracy of the stud finder. For example, it may be difficult to locate the stud in a wall that has textured paint with a magnetic stud finder. Likewise, if the walls or ceiling contain other metal components, such as wires or pipes, certain stud finders may confuse those metal components with a stud, making it difficult to locate the actual stud.
Ease of Use
A stud finder that can easily locate studs is considered one that is easy to use. For example, because a stationary magnetic stud finder requires the user to detect the magnetic pull, it can be difficult for some users to accurately locate a stud. Generally speaking, instant electronic stud finders tend to be the easiest to use.
Why are you trying to locate studs? Is it to hang pictures, or to install a new window or door? If the reason is to hang decorative items that are heavy, but not too heavy, a more basic stud finder, like a moving magnetic detector, will likely be able to do the job. However, if you are going to be cutting holes into a wall, a more complex stud finder, such as an instant electronic stud finder, will not only help you locate the studs, but will also help you locate things like metal pipes and electric wires.
The price is another important factor to take into consideration. The more complex a stud finder is, the more expensive it is. If you are on a budget, or if you don’t want to invest a lot of money in this tool, you may want to opt for a less expensive model. However, if you are going to be doing heavy construction work, spending more money on a more complex stud finder may be a good investment.
Stud Finder Features
More advanced stud finders can boast a number of features that can improve your experience and make it easier to locate a stud.
Wire Warning Detection
Electric wires are concealed within the ceilings and walls of your home. Drilling, nailing or cutting through them can be extremely dangerous. Stud finders that can detect live wires can help you avoid a calamity and a potentially dangerous situation.
An LCD display will clearly showcase when the edge or center (depending on the type of stud finder you are using) is located. This feature can help to take the guess work out of finding a stud and simply the process.
Some stud finders create an audible sound when the edge or center of a stud is located. Unlike the “thunk” that a moving magnetic stud finder makes, these sounds are louder and clearer.
The most advanced stud finders feature laser pointers, which will shine a beam of light onto the wall when a stud edge or center is located, so that you can easily mark the spot with a pencil or pen.
Top Stud Finder Brands
Because there are several manufacturers that make stud finders, and because we want to help you find the best stud finder to meet your needs, we have reviewed, tested and assessed stud finders from several different makers. After our assessment, we have determined that the following makers are the best of the best.
Franklin Sensors Inc
This company is highly regarded in the construction industry for the high quality stud finders they make. They specialize in creating stud finder that deliver more accurate results and deliver those results faster. Their stud finders are also less prone to error than many of the products made by other manufacturers.
This company started out making video games and digital watches in 1975. In 1980, they started manufacturing stud finders. Their stud finders consistently receive top reviews and we found that they stand up to those reviews, as they delivered excellent results when we tested them.
General Tools and Instruments
Founded in 1922, General Tools and Measurements started out making hardware and specialty hand tools; however, they expanded their production of tools, which now includes stud finders. Based on reviews, we found that General Tools and Measurements stud finders are very well received. When we tested them ourselves, we found that their products feature some of the most cutting edge technologies. They also delivered accurate results.
Kapro specializes in construction tools and equipment, including stud finders. We tested several of their stud finders and were very pleased with the many features and we liked how easy they were to use. We also really liked how accurate they were at detecting the centers and edges of studs.