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Wall studs are absolutely necessary if you want to hang anything up.
You can get away with some light anchors in the wall to hang a picture frame up, but anything substantial (shelving, TV wall mounts, etc.) require you to drill into a wall stud and give a rock-solid anchoring point for whatever it is you’re trying to hang up. It’s important.
We’ve not only found the five best stud finder brands and models on the market, but we’ve taken a deep dive on the subject and talked about why apps aren’t the best thing for you, and just what a stud finder truly does.
Everything you need to know in order to make a smart, informed decision is right in front of you.
Best Stud Finder – Reviews & Buying guide for 2020
Best overall: Tavool Stud Finder Sensor Wall Scanner
Your drywall and wallboards can come with varying degrees of depth, usually up to a full inch.
Because this technology is almost perfectly accurate, but not quite, Tavool made this stud finder with a bit of extra power up to 1.2 inches to account for any lapses.
In our stud finder reviews, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the LCD screen on this little wonder isn’t super dark.
Manufacturers like to keep costs low, and your screen—which helps you see the reading, and is important – usually suffers in terms of quality. I’ve never understood it, but Tavool made sure that wasn’t a problem.
You’re also going to get joist detection with this, and the option to find metal studs through wood AC wire.
While the display isn’t going to be as high-rest as your smartphone, it still displays a lot of information, like the way the images shift and focus as the stud becomes centered underneath your stud finder.
Based on the ergonomic design, it is nice to hold in your hand and doesn’t strain your knuckles at all, but there is one flaw: it’s really easy to hit the mode button by accident and start scanning for something else.
It’s a real pain in the behind. You have four modes, so you then have to cycle through to find yours again, and in that time you can easily move it from where the stud was and have to recenter it.
Is that even remotely a life-ending problem?
No, it’s just a minor inconvenience. At the end of the day, this detects studs properly, and the battery life is pretty decent.
You won’t have to replace the D battery for a while, even if you’re getting regular use out of this. While the depths change with metal and AC, it’s still going to be enough for your needs.
Runner up: CH Hanson Magnetic Stud Finder
We’ve become accustomed to having screens in and on everything we do nowadays, and that can be a good thing for a lot of reasons.
Like with our Tavool stud finder we just reviewed, it gives you pinpoint information that helps you out, but CH Hanson went a different route with a screenless stud finder, which also helps keep the cost down.
Their magnetic stud finder works by actually magnetizing to the screws in the walls, so you don’t get any false positives: if it magnetizes, then that’s it, you’ve found your stud.
The only issue here is that some studs can be smaller than others, so the magnetism might feel a bit faint, even though it will still be there.
This goes as deep as one inch in the wall, and most studs aren’t going to be deeper than 0.75”, so you should be good either way.
Now, it’s a very compact and relatively lightweight device. It’s 0.2 oz lighter than Tavool, which isn’t a super big deal, but it is still lightweight and easy to use.
You get a lot of durability and dexterity with this thanks to the finger grips all along the sides, and as an added bonus, you also get a leveling bubble.
You can use this when finding studs to ensure you’re hanging your shelves or TV mount properly, so you don’t end up with a lopsided, dysfunctional wall hanging by the end.
It’s not easy to use a stud finder and an external leveler at the same time, so this helps streamline the process and maintain your accuracy with a nail and hammer.
Alternative: Vivreal Stud Finder Wall Scanner
We’ve reached the middle of the road here, and with that comes a good middle-of-the-road scanner for your wall studs. Starting out, you get a very similar LCD screen to the Tavool model we reviewed earlier, which is extremely helpful.
It aids you in detecting the exact placement of studs, not just the general area (because then you end up sinking the nail incorrectly and messing up the entire mounting that you were doing.
So what is the best stud finder?
I would argue that it’s one that meets budget requirements, like this, and still has enough depth to be viable. Vivreal, who makes this stud finder, gives you the promise that you can find studs as deep as ¾”, which is about as deep as most studs are.
In our experience and testing, this didn’t have any trouble locating ¾” studs, it just doesn’t boast greater capability than it’s truly worth.
Just like the others, this is lightweight at 5.4 oz, so you won’t have any trouble actually storing it in a tool box or rolling tool chest thanks to its compact design.
However, when you’re actually holding this, it’s not going to feel super tactile in your hands. It’s not fitted with enough of a grip to really be comfortable or give you that peace of mind while moving it around that it isn’t going to slip out of your hands.
You might end up tapping the button on the side and flipping through the different modes by accident while using this.
Speaking of which, those four modes help you find AC wires, wood studs, and the whole shebang. Some of the scans are actually going to give you a higher range, like a two inch AC scan mode, which can come in handy.
ALTERNATIVE: ProSensor 710 Franklin Stud Finder
We’re bumping up the price a little bit here, because ProSensor is, well, designed for the pros. You get a seriously deep 1.5” detection depth, but you’re definitely going to pay the price for it.
ProSensor is actually the most expensive electronic stud finder on this list, but as they say, you get what you pay for, and in this case it’s excellence.
Thanks to the surface size that it covers, you’re able to find multiple studs all at once with little to no issue. Bright LED lights indicate the position of hidden objects, so you don’t have to worry about the location of the stud; it cuts out all the noise.
Now, this is the electric version, but there is an alternate version available that includes a magnetic stud finder, which works differently. It’s up to you, and there is a price difference if budgeting is a concern for this specific stud finder.
The thing I really enjoyed about using this is that it doesn’t have the same physical design as the other stud finders. It’s not slipping out of my hands while using it, because I just have to hold onto the handle and feel the traction between my palm and the rubber material on top.
It just works very well for user comfort, which is important if you’re having a difficult time locating a stud.
One thing that really stood out that ProSensor offers is their information about their depth in adverse conditions. Usually, you just see companies promoting the highest scores they receive from testing and they don’t talk about when things get hairy.
You can endure plenty of instances where your stud finder will be impaired, so it’s good to know that even if those situations arise, ProSensor will still be good up to 1.1” of depth, which is still overkill.
ALTERNATIVE: Tacklife Stud Finder Wall Scanner
Is this the best stud sensor on our list?
For budgeters, it absolutely is. There’s a lot of versatility surrounding this model, which gives you the ability to detect studs four different ways, and ultimately gives you that total control over your entire experience.
Metal scans, wood exact scans, wood deep scans, and AC wiring—it’s everything that you could want.
So what’s so special about this?
The interface is vibrant and the LCD screen is nice and bright.
One of the problems with other LCD stud finders is that you have to turn the lights on just to be able to see what it’s saying, but thankfully, Tacklife made this powerful enough that you can be under direct indoor lighting and still clearly see what’s going on.
Everything on your display works to give you information about percentages, inches, centimeters, and exact alignment.
There’s got to be a catch, right?
Well that’s what we were thinking. Homes are becoming smarter, and that means you might be one of those people with networking cables all throughout your walls, especially for newer construction.
If you’re in an apartment and want to mount your TV, that’s cool, but you have to be careful when you actually drive that nail. Networking cables can be difficult to detect, especially for Tacklife.
For a budget-friendly use, this gets the job done, it just might not suit all the needs of a general contractor or carpenter who plans on using this for their job or commercial work.
I would say this is a good enough stud finder to help you out with demolition and remodeling, of course, but it’s not the ultimate, last-you’ll-ever-buy kind of stud finder.
Stud Finder Buying Guide & FAQ
How Does a Stud Finder Work?
So if you’re ever wondering how much is a stud finder actually going to help you, this is important to know. There are two ways that they work, depending on what kind you get.
There are magnetic ones, that detect the metals in studs and once a magnetic bond has begun, it alerts you. You can actually feel these stick to the wall like it’s trying to rip their metal right out of the drywall.
Then you have electronic stud finders. These are used like big sonars in the wall that detect dielectric constants in the wall, or live AC voltage.
These come in edge finders, center finders, and instant stud finders as well. Honestly, with the way they’re built nowadays, you don’t really have to worry about what type, as long as it’s electronic.
How to Use a Stud Finder?
Place it on the wall, and turn it on. I know that sounds too simple, but it really is that easy—hold it flat against the wall, and press the power button.
If you’re using a stud finder with an LCD screen, you’ll see a visual indicator that says “Eureka, you’ve found it!” If you’re using an electric, non-LCD screen stud finder, there will be some lights indicating if you’ve found it or not.
Most electronic stud finders will come with four modes to cycle through, which can be used to find shallow studs, deep studs, AC cables, and metal.
If you’re looking for AC cables specifically, for an addition to your home, renovation or demolition, then you’re going to want to take your time, but these will work to locate them just fine.
Stud Finders vs Mobile Stud Finding Apps
Your smartphone can do a lot of things. I know that it’s a great piece of gear, because you can trade stocks with it and create websites from a phone that make you money. I get all of that.
But there are just some things that it simply cannot do, and as you’ll come to find from independent research and the countless negative reviews online (on these app pages on Play/App store descriptions), they don’t really work all that well.
By that I mean you have a higher chance of this app failing and a lower chance of it actually finding a stud, unless it’s through extremely thin wallboard inside of a stationary mobile home.
Even then, it’s questionable. At every turn, it’s better to use an actual stud finder since it will not only be reliable, but cut down on the time you spend searching for studs in the first place.
How do You Find a Stud Without a Stud Finder?
It’s true: you don’t actually need one of these, but I dare you to go without one, because it’s annoying and has some guesswork involved.
If you’re confident in your math skills and measurement abilities, you can find a stud without a finder, it’s just going to be aggravating.
Even if you don’t want to grab a stud finder off this list, we still want to help you locate them in your home so you can proceed with your current project. Here’s what to do.
Method #1: Magnets
Some of these non-LCD, manual stud finders use magnets, so why can’t you?
If you wanted to, you could position a magnet on the wall to detect studs: it really can work the same way. You have to take the next method, which is spacing, into consideration with this method.
I don’t know what magnet you have, or how powerful it is, so it’s difficult to say if this will work.
Go for a strong magnet. It’s possible that your magnet will attract nail heads and other metal in the wall, so move slowly and wait until you feel that serious, tight pull.
That’s how you know you found it. To know its width, you can try to move the magnet around a bit and see what it’s strong, and where it starts to disconnect.
Method #2: Spacing
As a general rule, most studs are 16” from the corner of a room because of the way framing works. This gives plenty of stability for your home, as well as enough space in between for insulation.
Measure exactly 16” from the corner of your room, and gently use a ball peen hammer to tap the wall and listen for sounds.
If it sounds hollow, you haven’t hit a stud, and your house is a bit abnormal (or it was an unauthorized DIY add-on to the home), if it’s solid, then you’re good to rock and roll.
Method #3: Flashlight (Unfinished Walls)
Maybe you’ve run into a situation where the walls are unfinished, like in a basement where there’s no paint, but they did spackle up the spaces in between layers of sheetrock/drywall. No matter: you can still find out where the studs are.
One clear indication is to look for long strips of putty, because many times, a stud will have half of its surface covered by one piece of drywall, which will be mounted to it, and the other half of its vertical surface covered by the other one. It’s used as an anchor to attach drywall to.
However, this isn’t always the case.
Sometimes, as we learned with method #2, studs aren’t where they’re supposed to be, and I wouldn’t exactly blame a carpenter for finding an alternative way to hang drywall instead of cutting sheets in awkward sizes just to accommodate awkward studs.
Take a flashlight, and position it at a 40-45° angle with the light shining up. Inspect your wall, moving slowly across it, until you find dimples in the wall where some putty might be.
You’re going to have plenty of spackle spots that don’t coincide with the studs, so pay attention. When you see some bumping in the wall, that usually indicates that something sturdy is behind it.
Tap on the wall and listen for either a hollow sound, or a solid sound.
Are All Studs Spaced 18” Apart?
If only it were that simple. I’m not an architect, so I can’t give you solid reasoning behind why some plans indicate wider spacing on studs, but I can tell you that I’ve never seen a home with any spaced less than 16” apart, or more than 24” apart.
Yes, there really can be an 8” disparity here. It’s rare, but it happens, especially in larger homes.
Just because one stud is 16” from the next doesn’t mean that your second stud will be 16” from the third. It should be, if the home was built properly, but every house is different and has its mysteries.
More Accuracy, Better Renovation
Hanging a TV? Shelves? Just trying to know where you can and cannot knock down in your home?
It’s time to get the right stud finder, and not some garbage app -you need the hardware to tell you exactly where everything is. This isn’t something you take lightly.
Driving a bolt or nail into a hollow bit of sheetrock with nothing behind it could be a costly mistake; get it right, and do it from the start.