How to Use a Magnet to Find Studs

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Introduction: How to Use a Magnet to Find Studs

About: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through understanding, and strives to inspire others to lear...

Electronic stud finders have never worked for me. I'm either working on a plaster and lath wall where the stud finder has no hope, the wall is textured, or there's a bunch of other junk in the wall throwing off the sensor. After wasting time, ever hopeful that it will work this once, I have always ended up just drilling holes to find studs. Good thing I'm good and Christy's great at patching plaster and drywall.

Before electronics made our lives easy, people found the nails or screws in studs with a magnet. I tested this trick out in comparison to an electronic stud finder while installing a set of shelves, and it's doubtful I'll ever use my electronic stud finder again.

Step 1: Grab Magnet From Fridge, Hang With Dental Floss

I grabbed a plain magnet from the refrigerator, and tied a piece of dental floss to it -- any fine string or thread would work. Dangling the magnet along a wall revealed all the nails and screws in or beneath the drywall. Once I marked a few with a pencil, it was obvious where the studs were.

I've read that people find this method too slow, but the electronic stud finder always leaves me guessing. Once I saw the pattern of fasteners there was no question I had found studs. If you want to speed the process up, a strong and light rare-earth magnet would really seek out the nails.


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    47 Comments

    nice, a strong magnet would be better.

    you need rod magnets - like this 10x20 mm

    http://magnetiputernici.ro/cilindri-neodim/Magnet-neodim-cilindru-10-x-20-mm

    nope, as crazy as it sounds, it didn't work for me. My apt was built in 1925 and I don't know what's going on behind those plaster walls but the magnet just sticks to every single spot. I already drilled a hole to the point the magnet stuck the strongest to find nothing. I really don't know what else to do.

    2 replies

    In my experience:

    All plaster walls have a wire lath behind which is esentially chicken coop mesh. Imagine a chain link fence but really tiny holes. They used it so the plaster has something to adhere to. To anchor something to a plaster wall, toggle bolts are your best friend.

    Some early 20th century apts do not use studs and drywall, but rather gypsum block and plaster. This may be the case and you may not have any studs at all. Depends on the building.

    After listening to my FRUSTRATED HUSBAND with his stud finder that wasn't working and knocking, I decided to google it and found this. I found the studs in seconds, said your welcome and walked out of the room with a huge smile on my face :) Man ego went down the tubes in a hurry, so I thank you for that!! Awesome

    This worked great! The first nail took a little while to find, but once I found the first one it went really quickly. Thanks!

    Excellent!! Thank you! I've been knocking on the wall to no avail. It all sounds hollow. This was the best method!! Found the screws in the studs in seconds.

    user

    This was perfect. I spent ten minutes trying to use a stud finder, another ten trying to find the directions for the stud finder b/c I couldn't remember what the light meant. Found this and five minutes later I had all my studs marked in my closet. Thank you!

    Cant wait to try this..Need to hang a large framed mirror...Thanks

    This worked easily for me. If you are using a weak magnet, you may need to find the side that is attractive and make sure your magnet is laying against the wall on the correct side. But it works. It's magnets. It has to work. Thanks man.

    This is pretty cool information. We spend a lot of time recommending products on the market mainly big brands to people. But for some people who may need to use a stud finder maybe once or twice a year, this works. Its a good way to teach kids about what stud finders whats in walls, wall safety, I know my 7 year old loves magnets. We cant review magnets but this was insightful.

    http://www.bestconsumerreviews.com/stud-finder-rev...

    What about pipes and other such stuff that might be in your walls? wouldn't the magnet pick up on them as well?

    2 replies

    it is possible to find cast iorn, galvanized, or electrical shield piping. but normaly these pipes should not be continuously touching the dry wall.

    A magnet isn't going to pick up copper or PVC pipes, which is probably the majority of piping materials. If you had an iron pipe in your wall, from a stream heating system for example, it would be obvious you had found a pipe rather than a bunch of nails in a stud.

    This is so simple and elegant, will do it next time

    Alas, I wish I had known this earlier...next time, next time....

    or you could stick with the time tested method of knowing what you are doing before you start putting hole sin your walls. at least, that is what i do. with practice, a quick knock on the wall is all that is needed to know if a stud is there.

    2 replies

    But I'm not going to know what I'm doing though until I figure out how things like studs work - this method can give me an idea of how my house is put together without actually putting holes in anything.

    Try that with a plaster and lath wall.