Stud Finder How To Use

Stud Finder How to Use It to Find Studs, Joists and Water Pipes

Checkout my video this is a summarized version of our in-depth article below. 

Have you ever heard about a stud finder and how to use it? A stud finder is a tool that helps you locate wall studs in exterior and interior walls. Sticking it to the surface of the wall, the product uses ultrasonic waves or electromagnetic waves to detect anything solid behind the wall. These devices are vital tools not only in locating studs but some types can also find pipes that are located in between walls.

Stud Finder How to Use

Stud finders are simple to use and they come with useful features like magnets for nails, level indicators for accurate measurement, depth gauges so you can see how deep metals go, and can show parallel lines indicating roughly where studs are located.

If you are unsure on how to find studs without a stud finder, you have to know that a stud finder can also be a great help. They can provide a better way of finding the location of the studs and saving you money by avoiding over puncturing your wall when wanting to hang something and they can eliminate your worries about hitting wires, metal pipes, insulation or anything that might be behind your walls.

Stud Finder How to Use

How to Use Magnetic Stud Finder

How to use a stud finder is easy be it a magnetic or an ultrasonic stud finder. Ideal for electricians, builders, plumbers or roofers who work from both the outside of the house to the inside, you only need to hold it onto the surface of the drywall and press the button to activate the sensor then slide it sideways or in a circle. They also come in different shapes and designs, but their main function is to detect the presence of either metal or solid objects behind and in between walls or ceilings.

Stud Finder How to Use

The most basic thing you have to keep in mind about stud finders and how to use them is, regardless of its brand, capacity and mode of use, you must read its manual first before operating it. And all  these units has its user and troubleshooting guides. Even if you are used to using other types of stud finders treat it as  a new gadget, you still have to read its manual to learn how to exploit the gadget’s potential. 

And for those who are first-timers using stud finders, here are the step-by-step procedures on how to use it only takes a few minutes .

Stud Finder How to Use

First, make sure your stud finder has a new battery and most likely it needs a 9v single battery. You must also have a pencil and a tape measure ready. Check your stud finder, is it a magnetic type that can detect metals like nails or screws or is it an ultrasonic density-reading stud finder capable of finding the center and thickness of the stud? 

If you love American-brand stud finders, then let’s say what you have is a Stanley stud finder and this is how to generally use these gadgets.

How to Use the Stanley Stud Finder For Detecting Studs

Plan where you want to install your bookshelf or hang your picture on your wall. Choose the size of the nails or screws that can carry the weight of the item you want to install. 

Clear out the area on your wall where you will use your stud finder so that there’s no interference during your stud finding. The surface of the wall must be free of bumps and dirt as well as the underside of the stud finder must be clean. Keep in mind that studs are about 16 or 24 inches center apart. 

 To know a lot about stud finders and how to use it, you can start from the corner of the wall or find an electrical outlet to use as your basis in finding the first stud.

how to use the stanley stud finder

Hold the gadget flat against the wall where there’s likely no stud underneath then press the button to turn it on. This is to calibrate the gadget. Alert signals will turn on and off. 

 Slide the unit horizontally and slowly while pressing the button. Once the light flashes or the sound went off, that indicates the gadget has found what you’re looking for based on your setting. It could be a stud, a pipe or AC wiring. 

 Mark the spot with a pencil where the alert signal went off. If your stud finder is a multi-functional type and you’ve set it on finding metal, the signal or light flashes will indicate it found a metal underneath like nails, screws, or a metal pipe. Setting it on the stud, the alert signal will turn on when it finds a solid object underneath. 


stud finder not working

But if your stud finder is set on finding an AC wiring, it will set off a louder sound or the lights will flash faster indicating it detects the flow of current.  

When finding studs, mark the spot where the first light went off. Then slowly move the gadget to the right and mark the spot where the light went out. Move the gadget back again and then forth and watch for the light. The two marks where the light goes on and off indicate the edges of the stud and you now know the center of the stud.

Use your tape measure and measure from the center of the first stud 16 inches away. On this point, there could be the next stud so use the gadget again to confirm. Continue moving the stud finder horizontally until you pass the spot where you want to install your item.  You now have the marks where the studs are and can carry on with the installation of your bookshelf.

In case you are looking for a pipe or an insulation box, don’t forget to set it to metal or AC and if necessary switch the unit to deep scanning mode. Pipes and insulation boxes do not follow specific distances unlike the studs but they are also supported by the studs so they will only be about 1-2 centimeters away from the stud. And this is how to use the more modern Stanley stud finder, generally speaking

will a stud finder find floor joists

 Floor joists are what commonly hold your floor in your home. They support the sub-floor and also serve as the attachment points for the main flooring which are generally made of hardwood. 

When fixing the hardwood floor into the joists, we usually use long nails so that it can pierce through the floor joists.  Nails being metals can be detected by magnetic force, therefore to use a stud finder on the floor is much the same as when using it on a wall.

what are wall studs

So for those who are asking “will a stud finder find floor joists”, yes, it can but it should have a deep scanning feature. To use it on the floor, you must also calibrate the unit much like calibrating it on a wall. Once calibration is completed, move it in a direction perpendicular to the direction of the floor. 

So if your floor pieces go towards the north, move the stud finder towards the east because this is where the joists are likely to be aligned. And as it finds a joist, you will hear a beeping sound or a flash of lights as it detects dense objects considering your stud finder is a multi-functional gadget that is set to finding studs.

Moreover, it’s better to have a stud finder with a capacity to detect the presence of metals, AC flow and dense objects like studs. Floor joists are also typically positioned every 16 inches apart though in some homes, there also follows the 24-inch distance. 

Just a tip, if you want to find the position of the joists that can support the findings of the stud finder, you can shine a flashlight at the floor’s angle and look for a flash of shine off the head of the nails. Also, you can tap the floor using a hammer lightly and watch out for that “thud” sound and you can start from a corner. 

How to Find Studs Without Stud Finder

Can a Stud Finder Find Water Pipes?

If you follow the principles of how stud finders work by magnetism and through detecting density as well as the flow of current, answering the question “can a stud finder find water pipes?”, the answer is yes but that is if the water pipe is made of metal. Water pipes can be made of galvanized steel, copper (for hot and cold water), PVC and CPVC which are both plastic materials. 

If your stud finder has metal detection features as well as deep scanning, it will find metal pipes easily. Unfortunately, there are no stud finders that can detect plastic pipes or even water even though water is a good conductor of electricity. In fact, metal pipes are some of the things that can create issues when finding nails and screws on studs because your unit may also emit the same alert signals once it detects the metal pipes.

So if you suspect that there’s a leak in your PVC pipe, check your water meter if it’s running or stick  your ear to the wall or floor and listen for gushing. Look also for signs of seepage or moisture. When you are sure there’s a leak, you can either do your repairing stuff but to avoid further issues, call a professional plumber. 

Stud Finder Not Working - What Should You Do

Now that you know what  a stud finder is and how to use it, what if one day you’ll find that your stud finder is not working? Remember that stud finders work electronically so they need enough power (with their batteries) or they may not work properly. A staggering unit may also indicate a low battery charge. There are also some factors why your stud finder is not working well but we have included some troubleshooting tips.   

When you know that your stud finder’s battery is new but the unit is still not turning on, remove and then reinstall the battery then power it on again. If there is still no light or sound coming out, you can disassemble the unit and check for a disconnected wire. You can also return it if it’s still under warranty.

If your stud finder works but does not detect studs or metal, check if your wall is newly painted or moist. Moisture is a conductive element and this can prevent the sensor from going through the wall. Let the wall go dry first.    

Is your wall smooth, dry, clean and the underside of your stud finder clean as well? Having these interference along the way of the stud can enable the gadget not to work perfectly.

Stud finders will not work well on uneven surfaces like on ceilings with rough surfaces. So you will need to use smooth cardboard for the gadget to slide on and do its work. 

Have you properly calibrated your stud finder and followed our tips on calibrating method? Your stud finder will not work well without proper calibration. Turn it on and off while you’re holding it on drywall without a stud underneath.

Stud Finders Reviews

Stanley stud finders are some of the best and most reliable gadgets in terms of finding studs, electrical wiring and metals and therefore are very useful for home repair and renovation and construction work. And if you are particular in having gadgets of a quality brand, Stanley is no doubt, one of the most reliable brands bearing the American quality tradition. Here are two of the Stanley best buys we could find.

StanleyFatMax Stud Sensor 300

The Stanley 300 is the latest among its predecessors Stanley 100 and 150. It has 3 sequential LEDs and produces loud beeps when it finds its targets. On its display, you can see the mark channels clearly and what it has detected even on low light conditions. Its penetrating power can go as 2 inches deep when detecting current flow and with wood and metal up to 1.5 inches deep. 

With just one pass, it can clearly show you the center of the stud and it can also detect metal up to 3-inch below while on deep scan mode. Being used by professional contractors, if you want to hang up or install a heavy shelf on your wall, better choose this professional version. Also,  no problem with calibration because this is designed with an auto-calibration feature, unlike other brands and units that you need to calibrate now and then.

Stanley 9 Volt Handheld Stud Sensor

If you want to have a Stanley stud finder and how to use it easy, you must check this model out. Also presents an LCD screen that will clearly show you complete readings of what it detects, it can find studs and metal that is 3/4-inch deep. It can also detect AC up to 2 inches down the walls and is also packed with a OnePass center-find technology for easy finding the center of the studs. Its marking channels will also let you mark your spots easily. The only difference with this  unit against the Stanley 300 is its front feature presentation but this model is best for DIYers and homeowners who want to hang stuff on walls.

Now that you are familiar with wall studs and have learned tricks on how to find studs without stud finder from our other blogs, we hope you can do a better job when finding studs or pipes or AC just behind your wall. Stud finders are very affordable gadgets that can provide you the advantage of completing your work at a much faster rate. 

For more tips about home repairs and using gadgets as your aid, visit our site to check out for more. Our site is designed to help DIYers like you improve and beautify your homes.    

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