Introduction: Magnetic Stud Finder
If you don’t have a stud finder among your tools, putting holes in the wall to hang pictures and anchor shelves can be nerve-wracking. But with a magnet and few simple pieces, you can make your own stud finder that doesn’t beep, is easily replaceable, and isn’t recognizable enough for your buddy to pick it up and make lame stud jokes while pointing it at himself.
Here's what you'll need:
- 2" x 2" Wood block for handle - 4-6" length
- Clear coat finish or stain
- Shop towel or brush to apply finish
- Medium super glue
- Small brass rod
- Small round magnet, preferably the strongest you can find (rare earth, for example)
- Sheet metal (I used brass)
- Utility knife
- Lathe and turning tools
- Drill bits for lathe
- Scroll saw or jeweler's saw
- Drill press
Step 1: Design, Turn, and Finish Your Handle
The handle for your stud finder can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like. If you don’t have a lathe or enough patience to hand-carve a handle, you can always purchase a drawer pull or knob from a hardware store.
If you’d rather personalize your stud finder with some gratuitous hardwood, turn your own. I started with a block of walnut, cut down to a square larger than the final circumference I was aiming for.
It is important to note that one end of the handle will be cut off to form a small disc that will hold the magnet, separated from the rest of the handle by a brass rod that will hold your vertical indicator (see step 2). Plan your handle accordingly.
Also bear in mind that the longer and heavier the handle, the stronger magnet you’ll need to hold the handle up.
Since my handle is 10% function and 90% decoration, I went with a sensible “just long enough to fit comfortably between several fingers” and bought a stronger magnet to make up for it. If you are struggling to get the magnet to stick, shorten your handle.
Here the steps I took to finish the handle:
- Using a lathe, turn the handle to desired shape and length, using chisels to add any embellishments you’d like.
- Cut a deep groove into the end of the handle that will face the wall, about 3/8" – 1/2" from the end. The end below the groove will hold the magnet, so be sure it is deep enough to drill a hole for the magnet while leaving enough wood to attach a brass rod on the other side.
- Using a drill bit that is the same size as your brass rod, drill a hole directly in the center bottom of your handle, far enough to extend beyond the deep groove and create a hole for your rod. For my handle, this was approximately 3/4” deep.
- Find a drill bit that is about the same circumference as your magnet. Drill a hole in the bottom center just deep enough for the magnet to sit flush with the bottom edge of the handle or just extend beyond it. Dry fit the magnet and sand/drill to fit.
- Turning your lathe speed down, sand the handle and apply a clear coat or stain to the handle using a shop towel or brush.
- Separate the two pieces by sawing down the deep groove., then shape and saw off the top of the handle as desired.
- Sand and apply finish or stain to the now-exposed pieces.
- Glue the magnet into the bottom piece using super glue.
- Insert the brass rod between the two pieces, ensuring there is a snug fit, but do not glue in place yet.
Step 2: Create Your Vertical Indicator
Once you have found a nail in the wall, you’ll use gravity to mark the stud’s direction in the wall. You can design your indicator however you’d like, but there three key things you must do:
- Drill the hole for the rod to go through the vertical axis of the indicator so it is in the center horizontally.
- Make sure the section below that hole is longer and heavier than the upper portion so it will swing down.
- Make your indicator symmetrical side to side so it will balance straight up and down on the brass rod.
Other than that, the design is entirely up to you. Here is what I did:
- Fold a piece of paper in half and trace the outline you’d like along the folded edge.
- Cut out along the line you’ve drawn and unfold the sheet to reveal the symmetrical pattern.
- You have a couple options to transfer your design. You can use a marker to ink out a square just larger than your pattern, then cut the pattern in using a utility knife. You can also trace your pattern onto a sheet of brass or other metal using a pencil or marker. You can use the same method to mark interior cutouts.
- Cut along the exterior line using a scroll saw.
- Drill holes into the areas you plan to cut out, then use a scroll saw or jeweler's saw to complete the interior cuts.
- File and polish the edges so they are slightly rounded and shiny.
Step 3: Assemble
To assemble the stud finder, you simply need to cut your brass rod down so there is a big enough gap for the indicator to swing freely, with very little excess space. Then attach your rod to the handle, through the indicator, and into the magnet base.
Test it on the nearest metallic surface to make sure everything is balanced.
Once you are satisfied with the balance, glue the rod in to secure everything in place (just make sure you don’t glue the indicator to the rod).
Step 4: Find a Stud. or Two.
To find a stud, run your magnet end along a wall until you feel it stick. This means you’ve found a nail. To verify the stud location, mark nail #1 and then follow the indicator direction up or down until you find another nail. With the stud securely found, you can hang those family pictures/heirloom clocks/stuffed jackalopes with confidence.
You can also leave the stud finder attached to a nail in view of your guests as an excellent conversation starter about your hobbies.
Step 5: If All That Seems Overwhelming
You can accomplish the exact same thing using a magnet with a piece of string glued to it and a washer tied to the other end. But the only conversation that is going to start is “Hey Tim, why is there garbage hanging on your wall?” and you won’t have this glorious piece of art. But you know, that works too.
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