Which is (really) the Best Stud Finder?
When deciding which is the best stud finder to buy for that next home improvement project, the first thing you’ll need to decide on is whether you want an actual physical stud finder that you can put into your toolbox, or if you’re okay with just using an app.
Yes, there are apps for your phone that turn a regular mobile phone into a stud finder that can find not only the studs in your walls, but also anything metallic including wires and pipes. VERY helpful if you need to rewire a switch and there’s a problem with the wires themselves.
As far as the physical stud finders you can place in your home toolbox, there are two different types, magnetic and electronic. The first being inexpensive, but not as accurate as the later.
Now if you’re new to all this home improvement stuff, I want to start from the beginning in order for you to clearly understand what a stud finder is and is not, and how they work. This will help you better decide with is the best stud finder for your particular needs.
What is a Stud?
Let’s begin with what a stud is. A stud is simply a piece of wood or metal, usually a 2×4 for inner walls or a 2×6 for the outer walls of your house. These are the “frame” of your walls and house as a whole.
If you’re talking about an interior wall, then both sides will have sheetrock, which is what you actually see and paint. The sheet rock is the actual wall, and the studs hold the sheet rock up in place. The same goes for wood planking or paneling.
In order to keep the sheetrock on the studs, nails or screws are used. Sheetrock nails have wider heads than normal nails, which is great because the wider metallic area is what a magnetic stud finder picks up when you’re looking to find the stud. The same goes for sheet rock screws. Most newer construction uses screws as they are actually faster and better at holding the sheet rock up, especially if you’re using one of the best cordless drills to sink the screws with.
What is a Magnetic Stud Finder?
A magnetic stud finder does exactly what it says, kind of…
These units are usually just a magnet of some sort in a housing usually made of plastic. They are fairly cheap and easily found at any home improvement store.
The problem is they are not very accurate. And they are also not very powerful, usually.
A magnetic stud finder doesn’t actually find the studs themselves, but rather they find the nails or screws on the studs used to hold up your sheet rock. So basically a magnetic stud finder is a small hand held metal detector rather than a “wood finder”. If there are no nails or screws on the stud, then a magnetic stud finder can’t detect (find) anything.
On the flip side, if you have metal studs, then these units can easily find the stud from top to bottom. One snag is, these will also show any pipes in your house. So you may have a water pipe going through your wall, but you won’t know until you try to nail or screw into it because magnetic finders can’t tell the difference between a metal stud or a metal pipe. The good thing is most water pipes are either plastic or copper, which isn’t magnetic and won’t be picked up. So if you are looking to find a copper or plastic pipe, then you’re going to need an electronic stud finder.
What is an Electronic Stud Finder?
These units are definietly the best and are far more accurate than a magnetic unit. But that also means that they’re more expensive. So you need to decide if this is a one time project, or if you’re going to be using your stud finder quite often.
Electronic stud finders work on density. Meaning they measure the density of what is behind the wall rather than by means of magnetism.
This sort of measurement is far more accurate, and can even decipher between wood studs and copper pipes due to their differences in density. Remember above when I talked about studs and sheetrock? Studs are usually “framed” 16 to 24 inches apart, depending on materials and building codes in your area.
The space between the studs is usually just left hollow with nothing inside if it is an interior wall. And this is where you place your insulation if it is an exterior wall (meaning one side of the wall is “outside” of your home). Although some houses will still use insulation in interior walls as a sound barrier between rooms.
But back to my point, electronic stud finders easily detect the change in density between a more solid wooden or metal stud and any hollow space between them.
They can also decipher between wires and pipes. So if you’re looking specifically for where the pipes or wires are behind a wall in your home, then you can only use an electronic stud finder for that.
You should also be looking for a stud finder that has a scanning depth that is at least 1.5 inches. Many stud finders also come with an automatic re-calibration feature, and this is particularly useful when you begin to scan a stud and then accidentally move away from it. If you are planning to drill deep or nail deep into the studs, such as 3 inches or even deeper, then it will be worthwhile for you to invest in a stud sensor capable of identifying when there are wires that are embedded within the studs.
No matter which stud finder you decide to use, you should make sure that you mark the location of the stud using a pencil. If you need to find a number of different studs, pull out a measuring tape and mark 16 to 24 inches from the center of each located stud as wood studs are 16 inches spaced apart and metal ones are 24 inches apart.
If you’re just looking to hang a heavy mirror in the bathroom and that’s it, then just go with the cheaper magnetic ones. But if you plan on hanging a lot of pictures, shelves, or need to find wires or pipes, then it would be wiser to make the initial investment in an electronic stud finder.
The Best Stud Finder App
Like I said earlier, the best option may be just to buy a stud finder app. It is literally an app that you add to your phone and they work amazingly well. Plus since it’s on your phone, it’s always handy. And it also means one less tool to pack away and drag out when you’re in need of using it.
Walabot DIY Plus
As far as choosing the best stud finder app goes, there is really only one app I’d even consider recommending you to invest in. The Walabot is by far the best option and is available at Amazon and works on an iPhone or Android.
This is the phone app I have. And yes, I like it a lot. It’s easy to use, it’s very accurate, and like I said before, it’s always with me. I can’t tell you how many times I was at a friend’s house and they were trying to hang a picture or something and I helped them out with the app. I think I helped make a few sales of this app after they saw what it could do.
What makes it truly unique is you can really see what is behind the wall. Meaning, you don’t just get a beep or a light flashes when the app picks up a stud. Rather it “shows” you the actual stud. So you can clearly see which direction, and how centered you are on the stud. It even works through paneling and plaster walls and goes up to 4 inches (4″) deep when reading.
This is also great for looking for wires or even things like cable TV or Internet cables.
It really is pretty amazing what apps are being developed and what your smart phones are capable of these days.
The Best Magnetic Stud Finder
CH Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder
This is the perfect choice if you’re looking for something cheap for a one off job. This little magnetic stud finder can be found for under $10 practically anywhere. It’s solid, has a nice depth range of up to one inch (1″) which is good enough for most small jobs like hanging pictures or shelving.
It’s a small unit, so it doesn’t take up much toolbox space. And of course there are no batteries to worry about. The one thing to remember is, since it works with magnets, you have to have a light touch and really “feel” for the magnetic pull which depending on your walls may be light or heavy.
The Best Electronic Stud Finder
Bosch Digital Multi-Scanner GMS120
This Bosch unit is what you need when you want a serious tool. Perfect for even the professional carpenter or the family handyman who wants professional grade tools.
The Bosch GMS120 Digital Wall Scanner features multi mode laser detection for wood studs, metal objects (rebar, studs and steel/copper pipes) and live wiring. This also has what Bosch calls “3 sensor laser technology” which simply means that there are 3 different ways this units looks at a wall in order to decide what it is that is behind it.
It’s also one of the most powerful as far as depth of detection. This unit can get reading as deep as 4 plus inches through concrete! That’s pretty impressive.
The point that sold me most about this was the accuracy. It can pinpoint the very center of a stud, and even gives an audible sound when it does. Just mark it with a pencil and you are sure that is where you should be nailing. A really great feature set on this.
Even if you only use it occasionally, a stud finder will pay for itself with just one use. These can be purchased at any hardware or home improvement store and are usually priced at less than $100 and are a perfect addition for a Do It Yourselfer’s tool kit. Today’s models use a variety of different electronic techniques to help locate hidden studs and will provide you with an exact position for any stud in any wall.
When you can’t afford to be wrong by a few inches, this is probably the best solution. They are a little expensive, but you’ll be saving money by using the proper position for hanging pictures, cutting in a door way or avoiding electrical wires. For those that are interested in DIY but don’t have a lot of experience, this is a vital piece of equipment that is well worth the money.
Stud Finder Alternatives
This first method is the one most commonly used by most do it yourself’ers, but it does require a little bit of effort.
If you have plaster walls, you can locate studs simply by putting a nail in the wall every few inches by the baseboard. When you run into the stud, you won’t be able to just push the nail in. While this is a pretty accurate method for locating studs, not many people want to put a dozen holes in the walls while they try. Or better yet remove the baseboard or trim and replace it when you’re done so no one can see the holes.
If you simply do not want to purchase a stud finder, this is an easy but possibly destructive alternative. We do not recommend trying this technique in walls where this is electrical wiring, simply because it is all to easy to stick your nail in the wrong spot.
Here’s an old fashioned method that gets the job done when you’re in a pinch.
Grab a flashlight and dim the lights in the room. Now, hold the flashlight sideways on the wall, so that the beam is illuminating the entire section of wall. Look carefully in the wall for any signs that framing nails may have been used. You should be able to see some dents or depressions where this occurred.
This method is incredibly time consuming and may not be accurate. For example, the dent you think is from a framing nail may just be an old dent in the wall. When you need accuracy, the single best solution is a stud finder. You can always look for them during special sales if you’re trying to save money. However, it is money well spent, at least in this situation.
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