It doesn’t have to be a guessing game.
While most stud finders are glorified magnets, expensive ones do a better job and scan thicker walls, which is essential. None of them are foolproof, but anything is better than nothing.
Stud finders are an invaluable tool that everyone should have at home, but do expensive ones work any better? When hanging pictures, mounting that fancy new 75-inch TV to the wall, or working on a DIY project at home, you’ll want a good tool to safely find studs and avoid electric wires behind the wall.
While you can always use the “knock, listen, and guess” method or get a cheap stud finder at a nearby grocery or home improvement store, putting holes in the wall is risky business. And there’s nothing worse than missing a stud entirely and having to put another hole in your wall.
You can get cheap stud finders for around $10 or spend $50-$100 on a high-end stud finder or professional multi-sensor. Below, we’ll go over some important factors and explain if more expensive stud finders are even worth buying.
Stud finders are a popular tool you’ll find in commercial construction, and many homeowners have them for mounting pictures, mirrors, and shelves. As the name suggests, this tool can help you find studs hiding behind your painted drywall.
Before that fresh coat of paint in a house, walls look like the image above. All those lines cover the holes from nails and screws going through the drywall into wooden studs and the house framing.
When trying to hammer a nail into the wall and hang a heavy picture frame, you’ll want that nail or screw in a wood stud, not just the drywall. And even though drywall anchors and fasteners will work in a pinch, you’re better off finding a stud in your wall. Plus, anchors make huge holes.
Stud finders are typically sold in two options: a magnetic finder that locates screws or an electric model with a few extra features and sensors. Depending on what you buy, you’ll have an easier time hammering into the wood. Some even promise to show you the “inside of your wall” if you spend enough money.
Electronic stud finders typically run on a battery, actively detect studs using sensors, and can often find the density of a stud as well. Some can see wood and metal, and more expensive models even have an AC power detection feature.
I have a $10 stud finder similar to the model pictured above, and after spending a few minutes with it, I’ll quickly get frustrated by all the false positives, beeping, and weirdness. All it does is beep when it senses something, and I’m unsure if I’m about to drill into wood, a metal pipe, or hit some electrical wires. No thanks! And trying to use a magnetic stud finder is even worse and mostly a guessing game.
The problem is that not all homes are built the same. Some use 5/8-inch drywall, you could have 1/2-inch drywall, some have shiplap or decorative wood on top of the drywall, and some homes use other materials entirely. Unless you build a new home, you likely don’t know wall material depth, and cheap stud finders are general-purpose tools lacking in features. Many won’t read through a thick wall, rendering it useless.
A good stud finder won’t just locate the wood behind your walls; it’ll read more than an inch deep and even help you find the center of that 2×4. I have the Franklin T6 stud finder, and it’ll show me both ends of the stud, making it a breeze to put a few nails in the wall, keep a picture evenly spaced, and have fewer chances for mistakes.
Some of the more expensive models, even ones under $30, have a “deep-sensing” mode that works on thicker walls. So, if you know the material in your home, that’s a great route. However, many of the “fancier” stud finders have screens that try to help explain what it’s finding but typically end up confusing the user.
It’s always a good idea to read the user manual, see if the stud finder needs any calibration, and try to use the proper depth mode for the drywall depth in your home. The video above is a bit excessive, as most walls don’t have that much stuff hiding behind them, but it’ll show you just how inaccurate stud finders can be.
So, should you keep using whatever stud finder you have or buy something more expensive? Well, that depends on how often you’ll use it and the type of walls in your house. That said, yes, you can greatly benefit from a more expensive stud finder without spending much money.
A quality stud finder has multiple depth modes, will alert you to electric cables you’ll want to avoid, and a good one will make the job easier. At the same time, any stud finder is better than nothing. That said, none of them are foolproof, and as you see in the video above, several variables can cause problems. The WALABOT DIY 2 is one of the most expensive stud finders, but it’s surprisingly accurate when it works.
A more expensive stud finder is worth it, especially if you know the depth of your walls. You’ll always want to go horizontal and vertical and try to rule out false positives and hang pictures in areas less likely to have anything hiding behind the drywall.
In closing, the material of your wall and the type of tool you use matter, but nothing is foolproof. So, if you’re worried, consider hiring a professional.
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