Everything You Need to Know when Buying a Stud Finder

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Whether you’re trying to hang a painting in your living room, mounting a pair of shelves in your laundry room, or taking on a serious renovation or demolition project, having a dependable stud finder is going to make the task drastically more manageable. A tool that can quickly and accurately locate a stud or other target inside a wall means you save time, money, and effort on all of your projects.

This guide covers everything you need to know about buying a great stud finder, so you can focus more on your projects and less on the performance of your tools.

Defining a Stud Finder

First, let’s start out with a short explanation of what a stud finder actually is to make sure everyone is on the same page. Essentially, stud finders are handheld devices that allow you to locate the thick pieces of wood inside walls, used for framing and stability, known as studs. There are a lot of reasons you’d want to locate a stud, such as for anchoring something you’re hanging on the wall or to make sure you don’t knock one out of place when you’re opening up a wall. Different stud finders function in different ways, but they all essentially do the same thing – help you pinpoint the exact location of a stud inside of a wall.

Sensor Type

There are two main types of sensors that you’re going to come across in stud finders – magnetic sensors and electronic sensors. Magnetic stud finders do not require batteries or any type of power source, as they rely solely on strong rare-earth magnets to help you locate the stud via the nails used to put it in place during the wall’s construction. These are typically among the more affordable types of stud finders, as they don’t have any electronic components.

Electronic sensors check the depth of a wall for changes in density, so they can tell the difference between scanning over just drywall and scanning over a solid stud behind the drywall. These models offer additional features such as the ability to detect the edges of a stud, digital displays, and even additional scanning modes. However, they tend to be more expensive and can be more complicated to use than magnetic stud finders.

Sensor Size

Another factor to consider when comparing stud finders is the size of the sensors, as larger sensors can have some distinct advantages over smaller sensor sizes. For example, a stud finder with a wide sensor area can cover more space in less time, so you don’t have to move as much over the wall in order to locate the studs. Some of these models can also locate multiple studs at once, since the large size allows them to create distinct scanning zones that can function independently of each other.

Wide scanner zone models can also sometimes offer a deeper penetration for scans, since they can house more powerful units. However, this isn’t always necessary, as most scanners are designed to function with a variety of building materials and common housing situations.

Center Targeting Capabilities

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This is a feature that you really only see in more advanced electronic scanners, as it involves a more complex internal system and a bit more work on your part to achieve, but the effects can be incredibly helpful. Essentially, stud finders with center targeting capabilities allow you to determine the center point of the stud through scanning, rather than having to perform your own calculations and hope that the stud size correlates to standard conventions.

By making multiple passes, the unit’s scanners recalibrate and help you hone in on the exact size of the stud by determining where the edges sit. However, it can take some time to decrease the detection zone and locate the center, so just keep that in mind when you’re looking at models. If you find a scanner that has this feature, make sure it includes some form of visual display indicator to tell you when it has located the center of the stud.

Grip and Design

A good stud finder should be easy for you to hold in your hand and allow you to maintain a strong and comfortable grip while in use. Remember that you need to move the unit across the surface that you’re scanning in a smooth and uninterrupted motion, otherwise you can cause the sensors to lose their calibration and deliver a false reading on the stud’s location. If the unit is uncomfortable to hold due to a bulky design, or lack of any ergonomic structure, then it is likely that you will have issues holding it smoothly while you move. Also, many models offer rubber grip padding on the exterior to make them even easier to hold and more comfortable to use.

Visual Display

As I mentioned above, most magnetic stud finders aren’t going to have any kind of visual display system, since they indicate the location of the stud by literally stopping in place. So the type of display and the information it conveys all comes down to electronic models, and there is actually a lot of variation in this arena, so it all really comes down to what you want to see and what you find useful.

Some electronic models only include LED lights that blink or illuminate when you come across a stud, while others will give you some kind of LCD screen that could feature a visual system for explaining how close or far you are from a stud. Some of these systems also feature icons to tell you if you’re operating on a different scanning mode or if your battery is running low. In general, look for a unit that has a display you can easily understand and see without any difficulty.

Alert Systems

As you can probably guess, each type of stud finder is going to have a different type of alert system as well, and it’s all based on the sensor type. Magnetic stud finders rarely offer any type of additional alert, but electric stud finders will always give you a visual cue to tell you when they locate a stud, often through the display screen.

If you really want to make sure you never miss the location of a stud, you can look for models that also offer an audible warning beep or noise, which will fire off when you pass over a stud. Some models also include an additional light that displays on the wall above the scanner, so you can mark the location of the stud more accurately instead of trying to guess based on the location of the unit itself.

Additional Scanning Features

It’s becoming more and more common for electronic stud finders to offer additional scanning features, which also typically carry an increase in the price tag as well. The most common additions are extra modes, one of which would allow you to scan a wall or other solid surface for metal objects inside, such as a pipe for a gas line or even rebar inside of a concrete block. Another common mode gives you the ability to detect the presence of live electrical wiring inside the wall, which can help you steer clear of them or hone in on their exact location, depending on the job you’re performing.

Choosing Your Own Awesome Stud Finder

When you keep all of the above points in mind, it should be easy to locate your own ideal stud finder. Just remember that every type is going to function the best in a specific situation, so think about how you plan to use the stud finder and, more importantly, where you plan to use it, so that you can focus on the most important features for your situation.