Updated: June 8, 2015

Stud Finder Reviews

If you're a homeowner, chances are at one point or another, you are going to have to locate a stud in your wall, ceiling, or floor. We recently hung some overhead storage shelves in our garage, and guess what, you had to locate the ceiling studs or rafters in order to screw the mounts into solid wood for support. Or maybe you are hanging cabinets onto a wall and need to find the studs there, or hanging a heavy mirror that requires studs for support. Whatever the case, the reason you need to be able to find the studs is that most walls and ceilings, though they look solid, are nothing more than thin wallboard with paint or plaster over them -- you can punch right through them if you try. Unless of course you punch a stud. What are studs? Studs are the solid framing of 2X4s or 2x8s that form the skeleton of the walls, ceiling, and floors. Sheetboard is then screwed onto the walls, anchoring into these solid studs for support. So if you had xray vision, you could look at the wall and see the parts that were pretty much hollow and the parts that were the solid studs. This is what a stud finder (or stud sensor) does for you -- it "sees" through the walls and helps you locate these otherwise invisible studs. In this guide we will take a look at some of the best stud finders out there, go into more detailed instructions on how to use stud finders, and check out some prices and where to buy.



Stud Finder Instructions - How To Use A Stud Finder

Most electronic stud finders these days work by measuring the density of the material their sensor is over -- sheetrock is thin and low density and gives back one reading, while studs are heavy and solid and more dense and give back another reading (older stud detectors used magnets to hopefully find nails in the studs, but the electronic version are more accurate and quicker to use). To find the studs, you press the flat back side of the stud finder against a starting point on the wall, then usually press and hold a button on the side to activate it and calibrate, then slowly start moving the stud finder horizontally (sideways) along the wall surface. There is normally a beep or a set of flashing lights that indicates when the density changes from sheetrock to stud. In most situations, you will bump into either single or double 2x4s, so there will be a gap of about 1.5" to 3" until it beeps or flashes again to indicated it is past the stud. Some stud finders have LCD screens which show you the left, right, or center of the stud. One good way to improve your reading is to take multiple readings and mark the spots with a pencil. Do one pass at eye level and mark with a pencil dot the left and right side of the stud, then drop down 18 inches and do it again. Then draw a light vertical line (or just hold the yardstick) between the two point on the left and the right to find the "average" position of the stud. Another variety of stud detector alerts you to the center of the stud instead of the edges. This allows you to find and mark just the center instead of looking for both edges and then finding the center between them -- both systems work well, and yes, the center finder might be a little easier for most people, so consider that when you go shopping for your stud detector. There are even newer stud sensors that use a mini-radar type technology for finding the studs, but we've found that the electronic models do a pretty good job 99% of the time and we wouldn't spend more on fancy technology. You can browse their most popular stud finders and wall scanners here.


Best Stud Finder

A number of companies make electronic stud finders, though Zircon is probably the most popular and best known. Others include Stanley, Irwin, Black and Decker, and Soundbest. Look for units that have protective pads on the back to keep from scraping your walls, and a pencil notch or laser light to help you mark edges is also a nice feature. All these models below are powered by AA batteries. We really like the Zircon models, and they have a variety to choose from. If searching for studs is not something you do often, you can probably get by with a low-end model that costs less than $10. Zircon makes the iSensor ($7.99) and StudSensor ($9.99) -- these are nothing fancy, just red and green lights that shine to tell you when you are near or at the edge of a stud. Simple to use, inexpensive, and they get the job done. The StudSensor Pro SL ($15.99) and StudSensor Pro SL-AC ($19.99) offer DeepScan mode which goes as deep as 1.5", while the AC model also detects AC current in electrical wires up to inches deep -- no one wants to drill or drive nails into live electrical wires hiding behind the walls. Their two top-of-the-line models include LCD screens for visual information on stud location, the StudSensor OneStep Pro LCD ($24.99) and MultiScanner Pro SL ($34.99). The MultiScanner Pro even finds copper, aluminum, and rebar in concrete up to 3" thick, on top of everything else. Even fancier is the Zircon One Step Wall Scanner for $75. It powers up automatically when placed against the wall, has a 2 part hinged design so you can angle your wrist while the sensor part stays flat on the wall, and has a backlit LCD screen. So if you think you will use a tool like this often, I'd say it's worth the extra $15 bucks or so and go with the StudSensor Pro LCD -- if it's a one time deal for hanging a picture or two, you can probably scrimp and buy a $10 model. But like most serious tools, spending a little extra to get a top quality tool is often a good idea. Also, if you buy a model that includes the AC sensor, it saves you from buying a separate tool -- not a bad deal to combine the two and save money and space in your toolbox. The Stanley models look a lot like the Zircon, especially the Intellisensor Stud Sensor which costs about $21 -- it works great as well in our tests, no complaints. For about $40 you can get the Stanley LED Stud Finder Professional, with an LCD screen and scanning depth up to 1.5", also a live wire detector. While the electronic stud sensor technology is pretty much the same across most of the models you will come across, our overall recommendation is for the Zircon units. We've used them for many years with good results, and we hear the same from readers who share their stories with us. Popular Mechanics did a good head to head comparison of stud finders recently and we found the article on their website as an added resource. See all the top rated Zircon stud finders here.