The Best Stud Finders for Any Job
A stud finder is good for, well, finding studs you can’t see. Knowing where those are is crucial so you can be sure to screw into them instead of just the drywall when you’re hanging something heavy, like a mirror or a mount for, say, a flat-screen TV. But some stud finders have other features, too, like deep scanning and AC wire detection. That doesn’t mean they always do what they’re supposed to. There’s a lot going on in walls, and it can be hard, despite advances in tech, for any device to parse it all and determine what’s a pipe and what’s a wire from outside of the wall. To test all the features, we put a selection of stud finders through their paces on a wall of our own making, as well as walls in existing homes.
Read on for quick info on five of the best stud finders from our testing, then scroll down for buying advice, use tips, and in-depth reviews of these and other top-performing models.
What You Need to Know About Your Walls
Most studs are spaced at 16-inch intervals—find one, and the next stud should be about that same distance in either direction. Changes in spacing usually happen near the ends of walls or doors and windows. If your stud finder seems to be picking up things between the studs, it could be detecting metal or plastic plumbing components, electrical boxes or wiring, or metal ductwork. Electrical wires usually run vertically on the side of a stud and sometimes horizontally between outlets. Keep this in mind, and if there are light fixtures, switches, and outlets on a wall, you can make an educated guess as to where the wires might be. And pay attention to where the kitchen and bathrooms are. Water-supply and waste pipes for the second floor are often found in walls on the first floor, below sinks, tubs, or showers. Pro tip: If your basement is unfinished, you can go down there to see on the ceiling where exactly the pipes go up.
- Don’t touch the wall with either hand while you’re using a stud finder—this can alter its readings.
- Some tools need to calibrate before scanning, so start away from switches, outlets, or light fixtures.
- Apply some painter’s tape over the area you want to scan. It’ll give you a surface on which to mark your findings without having to write on the wall.
- When you detect studs, objects, or live wires, mark them.
- And where you detect a stud specifically, scan above and below that point to make sure it continues to the floor or ceiling. Other readings, not at regular intervals, could be wiring, plumbing, or ductwork.
- Freshly painted walls may be difficult to scan for up to two to three weeks, due to the moisture in the paint.
The Bottom Line
Stud finders have their jobs cut out for them, given the many variables in wall materials and construction. While you may get definitive results in one case, you could be left scratching your head in another. Take everything with a grain of salt, and use the stud finder in conjunction with the placement of electrical and plumbing fixtures to figure things out. Be careful about assumptions, err on the side of caution, and take your time.
How We Tested
For our evaluations, we built a four-by-eight-foot wall out of common materials: wood and metal studs; drywall; copper, black, pex, and PVC pipe; and nonmetallic sheathed cable. Then we scanned the wall with each of the stud finders. All functioned as expected when it came to detecting the studs, but we quickly found that a number of them designed to pick up the location of live AC wiring simply didn’t. We checked with product engineers and found that steel studs, metal pipe, and ductwork could impair live-wire detection. So we went back to our test wall, removed the steel studs and metal pipes, and built a second four-by-four-foot wall to test only the steel studs. Again, stud detection went as expected, but the devices did only a slightly better job of finding the live wires. A couple did, however, manage better than the others. We also took the stud finders to two homes—one a mid-1800s house with lath and plaster, and the other a 1970s tract house—for real-world testing.
Many of our recommended and tested models are currently out of stock due to ongoing supply chain issues. We checked availability, and these stud finders with similar features from brands that have performed well in our testing are currently available if you need one quickly.
Bosch’s GMS120 is much more than a stud finder (though it did locate the centers to within an eighth of an inch). It can also detect live AC wiring, metal objects, plastic pipes that are filled with water, and even rebar in concrete. 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.
―WIDEST SCAN AREA―
Franklin Sensors ProSensor T13
With 13 sensors spread out over its 7-inch surface, the ProSensor T13 scanned deeply to accurately locate studs. When we encountered one, the LEDs over it lit up to show its full width. The T13 even proved wide enough to show doubled-up studs around door frames and windows. We found it simple and easy to use, and it reliably detected wood and metal studs under 3⁄4-inch-thick drywall. While this unit isn’t designed to locate pipes or wiring, we did get a blink of one LED when we ran it over copper piping.
The StudBuddy Magnetic Stud Finder
For finding studs, things don’t get much simpler than The StudBuddy. Using it, we effortlessly located nails, screws, or metal studs by sliding it in an “S” pattern, back and forth on a wall. Two strong neodymium magnets causeed the StudBuddy to snap to ferrous fasteners or studs when we got within about 3⁄4 of an inch of them. Sliding it up or down quickly confirmed additional hits, and the location and direction of studs. We found it worked even better on metal studs because fewer confirmation “hits” were required. The StudBuddy may also locate other ferrous metals in the wall, like ductwork or electrical boxes—so scanning to confirm stud orientation is important.
Craftsman Hi-Vis Stud Sensor
If you just need to find a stud, Craftsman’s Hi-Vis Stud Sensor will do exactly that. It’s simple and effective, designed to locate the edges of wood and metal studs. Pressing the button on the side, we slid the Stud Sensor slowly along the wall, keeping an eye on the indicator. When it lit up, we were at the edge of a stud. That indicator stayed on until we passed the other edge, then we slid the unit back over the stud to confirm and mark the edges before pinpointing the center. In our testing, the tool consistently found studs under drywall up to 3/4 of an inch thick.
―EASIEST TO USE―
DeWalt’s DW0150 was consistent in finding stud centers, locating both wood and metal equally well through both 1⁄2- and 3⁄4-inch drywall. An alert in the form of an LED arrow pointed toward the studs, and we found that traveling over the stud and then back until the DW0150 picked up the center was nearly 100 percent accurate. (We’ll give DeWalt kudos, too, for including a window in the center, which made marking stud centers with a pencil easy.) The device also detects AC wiring—it was reliable through a 1⁄2 inch of drywall but only intermittent under the 3⁄4-inch variety.
Zircon Superscan K3
Zircon’s Superscan K3 is a specialized wall scanner, designed specifically to pinpoint the centers of wood studs. Additionally, it can locate other metallic and non-metallic objects. In our testing, the K3 was very reliable detecting studs, indicating center by projecting a red arrow on the wall. Using its deep-scan mode, we picked up everything in our test wall, including studs, black pipe, copper pipe, polyethylene pipe, and NM-B electrical wire. When we passed over live electrical wires, the screen turned red and displayed an icon indicating the wires were live. In dedicated metal-scan mode, we found it easy to differentiate between metal plumbing pipes and wood studs. If metal studs were present, it was a little trickier, but using the signal strength indicator helped sort out things that were close—the stud—versus things farther inside the wall, like pipes. We noted that, occasionally, the K3 would indicate a wider “hit” than the actual object detected. While not perfect, it is much better than not detecting an object—it reliably steered us away from potential hazards.
Craftsman’s center-finding unit has LEDs to indicate scan status and guide you to the center of the stud—orange ones light up when you’re over the stud, and red ones indicate when you hit the center. Scanning slowly in one direction, past the center, and then back got us accurate results over 1⁄2- and 3⁄4-inch drywall. The AC-detection mode was somewhat vague, indicating an area 3 to 4 inches wide when it picked up wiring. But repeated passes allowed us to determine the wiring’s path. In standard scan mode, the Craftsman located some copper pipe, which was odd, but the pipe was too narrow to be a stud and the device never registered a center. Similarly, it detected black pipe in metal mode. (Note that although it located the pipes, the stud finder couldn’t, nor was it designed to, identify them as such.) Still, these readings can help you identify other objects in the wall you may want to be careful around.
―BEST FULL-WIDTH SCANNER―
Ryobi ESF5001 LED Whole Stud Detector
Ryobi’s Whole Stud Detector lives up to its name. When it finds a stud in the wall, it shows the width by illuminating some of its seven LEDs: Whichever are over the stud will turn on, and whichever aren’t will remain off. And it didn’t matter if the studs were wood or metal, this Ryobi found them both under 1⁄2- and 3⁄4-inch drywall. It also picked up pipes but couldn’t tell us what they were made of. (Though in fairness, the pipes were 4 inches apart, a sure indication they weren’t studs.) We detected live AC wires in 5-inch swaths and followed their paths—so we knew where they were, although not precisely.
Bosch Wallscanner D-tect 150
The Bosch Wallscanner D-tect 150 is really a lot more than just a stud sensor. It’s a powerful, professional-grade tool capable of scanning walls and floors for studs, pipe, rebar, and live AC wires—using scan modes for drywall, concrete, deep concrete, wet concrete, metal objects, in-floor heating, and one that shows signal strength. Our scanning for wood and metal studs, as well as AC wires, in standard walls wasn’t much of a challenge for the D-tect 150; it found all quite reliably. We had to scan concrete floors and masonry walls to really delve into its capabilities. We found one of the more useful features was how detected objects appear on the LCD display. As you find the objects, they show up at depths relative to the surface being scanned. For most modes, that’s 3 inches, but in deep scan, it shows up to 6 inches. We were able to locate a defunct steel drain buried with 5 inches of concrete in our shop floor. Thinking of more ways to leverage the D-tect 150, we searched for a steel survey spike under the pavement at one test editor’s property. Since we didn’t know exactly where it was, it took almost 15 minutes to locate it, with some of that time spent waiting for traffic. We did, however, locate it. The D-tect 150 is not cheap, but if you need to regularly locate hidden things in walls and floors—made from a variety of materials—it can do the job and may be worth the price.
―MOST SCAN MODES―
Tavool 4-in-1 Stud Sensor
We noticed a large number of positive reviews on Amazon, so we decided to try out the Tavool 4-in-1 Stud Sensor. And we’ll admit we were surprised. For the money, it’s hard to beat. It features four scan modes: three for specific objects (wood, metal, live AC wiring) plus one for deep scanning—all work fairly well. One thing we noted is that it could be inaccurate if we neglected to wait for the calibration to complete after turning the unit on. As long as we waited for the audible beep, it found stud centers and edges, within ¼ of an inch. We like that it has a center indicator, which saves time making edges to locate the center manually. In me-scan mode, we were able to detect copper and black pipe but without a center indication. We found the live AC wire detection was not always reliable, with some misses along the wire path. However, because we had access to the back of the wall, we came to the conclusion that this had to do with wire depth—more than 2 inches from the face of the wall and. the wires were harder to pick up.
Published at Fri, 03 Dec 2021 19:55:00 +0000