One of the most valuable tools you can have for projects around the home might not be the one you think of first.
However, a stud finder is invaluable when you’re doing things like putting up shelves or hanging a new picture and it can make sure the job is done safely and effectively.
A stud finder is traditionally a handheld device that uses either an electric or magnetic force to determine where the studs are located in the wall.
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Thanks to the wonders of smartphones and the internet though, stud finder apps have taken over as an easier way to get this tool for your DIY projects and ensure that whatever you’re hanging or drilling, it’s done right.
Do stud finder apps work, though?
A stud finder app relies on the magnetometer sensor within your phone to do the work of a regular stud finder, so they work similarly to a magnetic one.
They can be effective in determining whether there are studs present behind the wall but as they’re not as reliable as a dedicated tool, it’s up to the user to decide if it’s worth it.
If you’re planning a DIY project and want to know what you’re about to drill or hammer into, you won’t want to proceed without this invaluable tool.
We’re going to find out all about stud finder apps to see how they compare to the original device and whether it’s worth downloading one to use for your next home assignment.
What is a Stud Finder?
A stud finder is a tool first created in the early 1900s, with the very first device using only a small amount of magnetic power to work.
Fitted with internal magnets, they were able to detect nails and walling fasteners that might be hidden behind the wall, although not as powerful as the stud finding tools of today.
The first electric stud finder was introduced in 1977 and it used an internal capacity to read variations in density behind the wall, however it wasn’t as effective as its magnetic predecessor.
The stud finder of today, in both magnetic and electric styles, is more impressive and uses multiple sensor plates that work over greater areas and with heightened sensitivity, and can tell the user the location and width of studs precisely.
A magnetic stud detector uses magnets to detect metal as it’s attracted to it. As the stud finder moves closer to the metal, the attraction grows, so you’re able to pinpoint an exact location of where a stud is.
Although generally effective, they can have issues with homes built using metal materials, so they aren’t always reliable.
An electric stud finder uses a sensor inside that assesses the dielectric constant of the wall. This constant changes if the stud finder is moved over the top of a stud and when it has a low reading, this means there’s something in the wall.
Other modes of electric stud finders can do things like reading live AC voltage and detect other forms of metal, and the main types are instant finders, edge finders, and center finders.
What Is a Stud Finder App?
It appears we can do just about anything on our smartphones these days, so it should come as no surprise that there’s an app that helps you find studs.
Stud finder apps are available for download and they hope to replace the beloved tool that so many home handymen rely on.
Stud finder applications for the smartphone can detect studs behind the wall and other metal objects like earrings and lost keys.
Depending on the quality of the app and its capabilities, they can work just as well as a stud finder device, although they often lack the other features that these tools come with.
How Does a Stud Finder App Work?
A stud finder app works similarly to a magnetic stud finder and relies on parts that are within the smartphone to function.
Unlike an electric standard wood stud finder that senses changes in density behind the walls, a magnetic stud finder like those installed on a smartphone relies on a magnetometer to detect metal objects.
The magnetometer is responsible for other apps on the phone, including the compass, and they’re included as a standard part of modern smartphones.
The cheaper and free apps rely on the quality of the magnetometer in the phone but also the quality of their software to work alongside it, so if you’re going to rely entirely on the app to find studs in your home, you don’t want to skimp on the purchase.
The magnetometer in most phones isn’t powerful enough to detect at the same level as a quality magnetic stud finder.
If you have denser than average walls or other materials behind the wall that need to be analyzed before you can begin work on them, the cheaper versions of these apps will fall short.
More high-tech varieties of these apps allow for other capabilities like being able to map out the walls in their entirety, detecting whether there’s something else behind them, and locate things like electric wires or other materials.
They can also sense movement behind the walls which might indicate pests like mice and rats, so they’re helpful for more than just home improvement projects.
Stud Finder vs Stud Finder Apps: Which is Best?
When you consider how much damage you can do drilling or hammering into the wrong wall, you want to be sure the tools you’re working with are the best
For stud finders, it seems that some of the more modern versions of these smartphone apps have capabilities that make them a threat to the traditional stud finder, although they’re still working out the kinks.
A quality stud finder is an investment that you’ll use many times over your years of homeownership and considering they’re not that expensive, it’s probably better to choose one of these instead.
The cheaper alternatives for stud finder apps seem to be basic at best and when it’s your safety and the wellbeing of your home at risk, it’s not worth taking a chance on them.
However, if you’re working on a low-risk job and already have some idea about what’s going on behind the walls, you might feel comfortable using one of the apps that rely on the phone’s magnetometer to work.
Your phone must have a magnetic field sensor for them to work, so check with the manufacturer to find out what type is included.
If you’re not comfortable relying on a smartphone app to detect studs, you’re probably not alone. Most people prefer using either a magnetic or electric stud finder and feel like it’s a more reliable option, at least until the day these smartphone apps have been perfected.
A stud finder is a handy tool to have for so many jobs around the home, whether it’s as simple as hanging a picture or as detailed as adding wiring and cable behind the wall.
If you’re interested to learn more about these devices and how they work, including whether or not a smartphone app is worth it, check out our answers to the FAQs.
How Can You Tell If You Hit a Stud?
If you’re unable to use a smartphone app or don’t have a stud finding device, you might be able to detect a stud behind the wall using your hands.
Knock on the wall where you plan on drilling a hole and listen for a dense, muffled knock that usually indicates a stud. If the sound is hollow, there’s likely no stud behind there.
Once you’ve established the sound, you can slowly drill into the area with light pressure to feel if you’ve hit a stud or not.
How Far Apart Are Studs?
Sometimes you can determine the approximate location of a stud based on where the others are around your home. If you live in a framed home, wall studs are placed either 16 and 24 inches apart, so you can measure from the last one.
Start in one corner of the room and measure 16 inches first to see if you find a stud, and if not, try to read it again at 24 inches from the corner
Should I Drill Into Studs?
Most people assume that you have to drill into a stud if you want to hang something, but this is only true for heavier items.
Making a hole into a stud and using an anchor screw can give further strength to whatever you’re hanging but if it’s not required, you don’t have to use one.
However, you should still check the area you plan on drilling into to make sure other objects or hazardous materials aren’t behind the wall.