The Best Stud Finders: Take the Guesswork Out of Renovations
Track a stud’s position behind any surface with these top-rated stud finders.
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BY Corrina Murdoch / LAST UPDATED ON August 2, 2021
Have you ever tried to mount something on your walls, tapping away at the drywall to do the stud sound test? Not only does it look a bit goofy, but it’s far less efficient than an actual stud finder. Instead of a guess-and-check method, these popular devices scan behind the surface. The stud finder lets you know when you come across a stud or beam behind the surface. It might not be x-ray glasses, but when it comes to renos and contracting, stud finders are the next best thing.
So long as you’re dealing with a non-metal surface, you can pin down the studs with ease. Whether you want to avoid them or track them down, the best stud finders can add ease to your project. Now, with how useful stud finders are, there is no shortage of choices. To cut through the noise, we’ve curated a list of the best stud finders available.
A battery-powered stud finder that can sense multiple locations simultaneously.
- Uses LED indicator lights to show stud’s position
- Indicates the size and location of the stud
- Works through all types of surfaces
- Able to assess up to 13 locations at a time
- Comes at a relatively high price point
- LED light circuitry may indicate a stud without one there
- Requires double checking if light glitches
A powerful stud finder that pinpoints the exact location of nails and screws in a stud.
- Comes at a reasonable price
- Hangs on wall for ease of use
- Compact and ergonomic design
- Requires no batteries
- Only works when looking for metal bars
- Doesn’t perform well on drywall or plaster
- Can register false positives due to proximal metal in walls or floor
A magnetic stud finder with an indicator that clicks when a metal stud is found.
- Doesn’t require batteries
- User-friendly and lightweight design
- Ideal for thin drywall
- Works on rough surfaces
- Weak magnetic force
- Performance is inferior to an electric device
- Lacks power to work through thick walls
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Benefits of a Stud Finder
- Easily find studs. The biggest benefit of a stud finder is that you can easily find the studs behind your walls. This gives you a solid, secure, and stable base from which you can hang objects on your wall.
- Safer. Using a stud finder makes doing your projects safer. Look for a unit that can locate pipes and live wires. This will prevent you from drilling into something that will create a big mess or potentially injure you.
- Multifunctional. Look for a higher-end stud finder that can perform more than one function. This lets you use one tool for multiple tasks and reduces the number of tools you need for a single project.
Types of Stud Finders
Electronic Stud Finders
Electronic stud finders first hit the market during the 1980s, with a singular goal of pinpointing studs. When either a metal or wood stud was identified, a series of lights went off. The same basic tech is used in modern stud finders, though the wiring is more advanced to pinpoint wiring that runs on alternating current. These updated models work through more materials like plaster or cement. Typically, these are more powerful than their magnetic counterparts and make it easy to take readings with long-lasting LED lights. While there is the downside of needing to replace batteries once in a while, electronic stud finders remain the best in terms of utility.
Magnetic Stud Finders
Generally affordable, this type is more prevalent for those focusing on home repairs rather than commercial projects. The utility is simple. It employs magnetic sensors to determine the studs’ placement. Because of this magnetic force, these tend to be more accurate than other options. Working without a battery, these stud finders are portable and extremely easy to use. These tend to be long-lasting due to the basic design. The only downside is that the magnetic field is distinctly weaker than the comparable electronic field. As such, magnetic stud finders won’t necessarily work as well when dealing with thicker surfaces.
Whole Stud Detectors
Unlike other types of detectors which use the endpoints of the stud to deduce the center, a while stud detector uses a more precise form of measurement. These determine the location of the stud as well as the depth. Using this scan, you can gain more information about the surface you’re dealing with. Working with two hands, the sensors face towards the wall while the readout faces towards you. While it comes at a bit more of a cost, the value of assessing depth (without having to break through the wall) adds enough value to make it worthy of the investment.
Hitting the market in 1975, Zircon was originally an LED watch manufacturer. Gathering a following through its innovative technology, it moved on to create the trademarked StudSensor. Now, it is one of the best-reputed brands in the construction industry for user-friendly electronics. Based in California, this company has evolved into an international name in the contracting industry. A testament to its quality equipment is the Zircon Stud Finder StudSensor A150.
Dedicated to crafting high-end stud finders, Franklin was the first to market with this technology. Carrying that spirit of innovation, it moved on to create a wide line of stud finders. Equipped with high-quality sensors, its stud finders lead the industry. Though its products may not be well known due to the niche nature of these sensors, professional contractors are familiar with its merit. Take the Franklin Sensors ProSensor 710+, for instance, a high-quality model that works in professional and at-home situations.
A relatively new brand, Hart has an exclusive contract with Walmart. It supplies affordable DIY supplies including a line of 20-volt power tools, compact hand tools, and a whole host of other supplies. Ideal for those looking to flesh out their garage’s tool kit without breaking the bank, Hart balances quality with cost in a good way. A good example is the Hart Professional Stud Finder. It’s affordable, effective, and compact enough to fit in any space.
This brand positions itself as one of the most user-friendly companies on the market. The StudBuddy is technically a line of products, each employing the same tech. Designed to hang on the wall, work without batteries, and be useful for wood or metals, this American brand is still new to the scene. That said, its StudBuddy Magnetic Stud Finder does stand out in ease of use, a feature that’s helping this company grow its name.
Dating back to 1866, CH Hanson has remained a family-owned business for over five generations. Gaining a reputation as the go-to DIY tool supplier on the international market, it focuses on tenets of quality and continual innovation. With everything from safety tape to carpentry tools, this brand offers all the essentials for any renovations. If you’re looking for a reliable stud finder that is proven to last, the CH Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder is a good way to go.
Stud Finder Pricing
- Under $20: While basic, the stud finders in this price range get the job done. Typically, these are simple magnetic models. They work best with thinner surfaces and are better for small projects like mounting frames.
- $30 to $60: You can get a high-quality electronic model in this price range, though there are some powerful magnetic models in this category as well. Expect the device to be able to read through all types of surfaces.
- $60 and up: The most expensive stud finders tend to be whole stud finders, though there are some decked-out electronic models nowadays. If you’re buying in this price range, look for something powerful enough to work with all kinds of materials and durable enough to last.
Stud Alert Method
The whole purpose of a stud finder is to inform you of the stud’s position. To do this, the finder needs to have a reliable alert system. A simple, magnetic model will have a piece of metal that lines up with the magnet. This silent alert relies on you pinpointing the position. An electrical model is a step up since it uses LED lights to tell you where the stud is located. Many are color-coded for added ease, though high-end models instead include a screen. These will also indicate the depth and the center of the stud. When assessing the alert method, look for reliability first. There is always a margin of error, but if the model is prone to false readings and glitches, it can lead to issues. Aim for focused sensors and a clear indication of stud position.
If your stud finder relies on batteries, the last thing you want is to drain them unnecessarily. However, any electronic or whole stud finder can benefit from an auto-shutoff system. Not only does this save you on batteries, but it prevents the inconvenience of a dead tool at the worksite. Typically, this feature will require a full minute before shutting down. Analog methods that rely on magnets don’t require this feature.
Handheld or Hands-Free
Depending on your situation, it can be beneficial to have a hands-free system. If you’re working by yourself, this lets you hang the stud finder instead of holding it. This saves you from marking the wall and makes it easier to hang frames or mount equipment. In some cases, the finder will rely on its own magnet while others use suction cups. Make sure that these are strong enough to hold in position while you work. Most stud finders don’t do well when you drop them, so take care to find a sturdy option. Conversely, if you want something more heavy-duty, a handheld device can do the trick without risking damage to the stud finder while you work.
- Storage Requirements. It might be a weak magnetic field, but it’s still a magnet. If you have anything that relies on a microchip in its proximity, it poses a moderate risk. That said, as long as you keep your magnetic stud finder in tool kits, it shouldn’t pose any issues.
- Multiple Modes. Some stud finders can find more than just metal in the stud. Having multiple modes means you could find both magnetic and non-magnetic metals, wood, pipes, and live wires. If you want to use your unit for multiple projects, then these different modes can allow you to get more use out of it.
- Additional Features. You’ll also find stud finders that can do more than finding objects behind the wall. The most common feature is a level. This will help you immensely when trying to hang items on your walls. Another common feature is a laser light. This will help you hang multiple objects on the wall in a straight line.
- Auto Depth Detection. This feature is mainly found on high-end and advanced stud finders. It tells you the depth of the stud, which will help you to determine the thickness of the drywall over the stud. By knowing this thickness, you can choose the right approach and tools for your current project.
Best Stud Finders Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Always use fresh batteries to maintain the accuracy of the stud finder. Weak batteries may give you false readings and may reduce the detection depth of the finder.
- A pencil will come in handy when marking the edges of the stud. It will help you know the exact point to drive your drill or fastener.
- Always double-check your work to make sure that you correctly marked the edge of the stud. Run the flat side of the stud finder on the surface from the extreme edges to the center of the stud.
Q: What does the lightning bolt mean on a stud finder?
A: The lightning bolt is a safety feature that informs the user that a live wire is close by. Tracking a live wire relies on the same interference-based technology that the stud finder already uses. When it comes near a stud versus a live wire, the interference level is different. If the stud finder identifies an unshielded set of AC wires, it will either flash a light or show a lightning bolt. It prevents the risk of drilling or hammering into active wires, protecting against damage to the wires (and potential electrocution).
Q: How do I know if my stud finder is working?
A: To determine if it is working, you can always double check with the sound-check test. Tap on the wall to the sides of where the finder says the stud is. You should hear a somewhat hollow noise. Then tap on the spot where the stud finder indicates there is a stud. You should hear a higher pitch, telling you a stud is behind the wall. Using this method, you can cross-check the results against what your stud finder says.
If the stud finder is electronic, check that the batteries are working and it is on. Next, place it against the surface of the wall. It assesses the density of the surface, where places with studs have a higher density than the other parts of the wall. Many stud finders calibrate automatically, though some require recalibration before each use.
Q: What can interfere with a stud finder?
A: Two things can interfere with stud finders: false density and extraneous metal. Magnetic stud finders cannot tell the difference between the nail in a stud to the rebar in your foundation. It’s not usually an issue for drywall, but if you’re dealing with concrete in which a metal got stuck, it can interfere. Also, since stud finders measure density, if there is something lodged in the frame behind drywall, it can give you a false positive.
Not all interference is bad, though. In fact, registering interference from live wires is one of the best safety features of these tools. The alternating current does register as interference with the sensors, but it also lets you know what to avoid.
Q: How accurate is a stud finder?
A: Assuming your stud finder is equipped with depth measurement and is capable of locating the center point and edges of the stud, it should be very accurate. Each model comes with specs that tell you how deep it can register based on the material (ex: live wires, metal, wood). This lets you know how accurately it will be relative to the project at hand. Look for models that automatically calibrate to prevent confusion while you work.
It’s worth noting that electronic and whole stud finders tend to be more accurate than their magnetic counterparts. They might be a bit trickier to use, but if you are looking for precision, those are the best types to choose from.
Q: Is it possible to get a false positive when using a stud finder?
A: High-quality stud finders are less prone to inaccuracies and can give you the exact size of the stud. Cheap units have weaker magnets that may give false readings. You may get false readings from metal piping, brackets, wires, and other materials. Also, you may get a false reading if there are dirt particles at the contact point of the stud finder and the surface.
Q: Can a stud finder detect wires?
A: Most electric stud finders have the ability to detect electrical wiring in your walls or car door. They typically create a strong electrical field that can easily detect the location and length of the wiring. After pinpointing the location of the wire, you can use a voltage detector to tell if it’s a live wire or not.
Q: Does a stud finder work through aluminum?
A: It will depend on the design and sensitivity of the stud finder. Aluminum or copper may shield the magnetic field of some low-strength magnets since they aren’t magnetic materials. However, aluminum is extremely inadequate against high-frequency magnetic fields typically produced by high-end electronic stud finders.
Our top pick for one of the most accurate stud finders is the ProSensor Franklin Sensors. It gives accurate readings without sliding it back and forth from the surface. Its wide design is also great for finding double studs.
You can also opt for the CH Hanson Magnetic Stud Finder, which is a cheaper option.