The Difference between Magnetic and Electronic Stud Finders


Stud finders are one of the more fascinating pieces of construction and contracting equipment, since they allow you to determine the location of objects hidden behind walls without having to open them up at all. There are two main types of stud finders that you’re going to see – magnetic and electronic – both of which have their own set of positive and negative qualities. This article covers the key features of each type and explains how they can differ, to help you gain a better understanding of this essential tool.

Pros of Magnetic Stud Finders

For most people, the biggest benefit of a magnetic stud finder is that they don’t require any batteries. They are able to function without batteries because they utilize rare-earth magnets, which are made from special metals and allow the user to locate studs through a clever, yet indirect, method. Instead of locating the wood, the magnets help you find the location of screws or nails inside of the wooden studs, which are used to hold them in place inside the wall.

Another key benefit of magnetic stud finders is that they are usually the most affordable option, since magnets are still much cheaper for manufacturers than the complex electronic components used in other models. Since there are no electronics inside the stud finder, this type of tool also has the added benefit of being less prone to breaking and malfunctioning.

Cons of Magnetic Stud Finders

Since magnetic stud finders use such an indirect method to locate the studs, using them can actually be quite cumbersome, especially on the walls of older buildings that weren’t constructed with the modern orthodox standards. Similarly, magnetic stud finders can also be troublesome on modern walls because they don’t actually tell you where the stud is, only when it located a piece of metal. This can sometimes lead to false positives, and often requires more work to determine the stud’s exact location.

Magnetic stud finders are also relatively basic in design, so you definitely won’t have any of the more advanced features that are present in electronic models.

Pros of Electronic Stud Finders


Since these types of stud finders include electronic components, they are able to make use of actual sensors to help you pinpoint the exact location of studs. This is accomplished by scanning the wall for changes in density, since most walls are actually made out of wooden frames (the studs) with sheets of drywall on top of them. Using this type of detection method means tit is significantly more accurate than magnetic models, and they also frequently include multiple cues that tell you when you’ve found a stud, such as beeping, lights, and more.

Some types of electronic stud finders also include additional features and functions, most of which center around the ability to detect different types of materials in the wall. It’s common for these multipurpose stud finder scanners to allow you to check standard walls and even concrete or cement for metal elements, such as rebar or pipes. Finally, they can also help you to detect live AC wires, which are commonly stored within walls with no outward demarcation.

Cons of Electronic Stud Finders

As you might be able to guess, electronic stud finders are going to be more expensive because even the most basic model has more going on inside than a magnetic unit. Also, by introducing electronic components, these models also introduce the chance of malfunctions if the unit gets damaged. Low battery power can also affect the performance of some models, not to mention become a huge inconvenience if your batteries die in the middle of a job and you don’t have any replacements.


While it might seem like electronic stud finders are the clear winner in a head-to-head comparison, you have to remember that each model offers different benefits for different situations. Some people may prefer a more basic device that has a lower risk of breaking down, while others would certainly love a tool with tons of features and a digital display. It all comes down to personal preference and individual needs.