A stud finder is more than a dad joke. This helpful little tool is an essential part of the serious DIYers arsenal—especially if you don't want to risk ruining all your shelves and expensive electronics (not to mention the walls) because they weren't properly secured.
For most casual decorators, a stud finder isn't a must-buy. When you're hanging light pictures, aluminum letters, and small clocks, a single nail hammered into the wall should suit your purposes just fine. It's the heavier things you need to worry about.
Attaching a television to the wall, or installing shelving, requires finding your home's studs. Skip this crucial step, and you might find your new DIY project in shambles and your drywall destroyed.
Studs are vertical wooden beams used to frame your home. They're tucked between your walls, usually at 24-inch intervals—although your home's unique construction may change that number. Beams are significantly denser than drywall, making them ideal for hanging or installing heavier objects. The weight of your new 60-inch flatscreen television might rip your drywall to shreds, but when installed directly into a stud, it will live for many years to come.
Stud finders don't have to cost an arm and a leg. Fancy DIYers and professionals might electronic stud finders, which examine your wall for differences in density. But cheaper electronic models are notoriously unreliable—not to mention yet another device that needs a stinkin' battery—and industrial-scale stud finders often cost upwards of $100. Luckily, all you need is a simple magnetic model.
At our home, we believe in only one stud finder: the C.H. Hanson Magnetic Stud Finder, which will run you a whopping eight bucks. This handy little guy works by detecting the nails and screws used to mount the wall to the studs, and works regardless of whether your walls are drywall or plaster.
Using this stud finder feels a little like magic. But there's one important caveat: it does require a delicate hand. (A common issue with many magnetic models.) While the C.H. Hanson does have exceptionally strong magnets, sometimes walls are hung with itsy-bitsy screws that are hard to detect. Sweep this yellow, three-inch-tall device slowly across your walls and wait for the magnets to catch. When it sticks to the wall, you've found your stud.
If you're simply hanging something that only requires one point of contact with the wall, your stud-finding journey stops there. But shelving units or cabinets often require finding two or more studs, and sometimes even a whole wall's worth. You've got a head start — all you need to figure out is if your home or apartment's studs are spaced the standard 24 inches apart.
Every time you figure out where one stud is located, make a pencil mark on the wall. Once you have two sets, the question of "how far apart are my studs" becomes very easy to answer: simply measure the distance between the two markings. But be careful: This will make finding the wall's other studs much simpler, but it doesn't mean you can skip the stud-searching process. Use your magical magnetic machine to confirm the location of every stud you need.
Once you've figured out where your studs are, you're free to move forward. Enjoy your new shelf or your fancy, wall-hung television—and know it's not going to come crashing down.