How to choose the best stud finders to make drilling into stud walls simple
Stud walls are part of the fabric of today’s buildings: whether you live in a new build or have an older property that’s been altered over time, the chances are you’ve got a stud wall or two. While it’s usually fine to tap a hook for a sensibly sized picture frame straight into the plasterboard, if you want to hang something heavy such as a large mirror, or install a television wall mount, it’s essential you locate and drill into the studs. And if you need to drill into a stud, you’ll need a stud finder.
These little boxes of tricks use clever technology to help you identify the studs – or frames – within a stud wall onto which the plasterboard has been attached. And, as well as detecting studs inside walls, the best stud finders can detect live wires, electrical ducting, and metal or plastic pipes, too.
A word of warning, though: as good as stud finders are, you need to take your time and exercise caution. It’s important to use other signals to determine the likelihood of drilling into something you shouldn’t, and you mustn’t assume that ducting or pipework will always run in a straight line, so check wherever you’re planning to drill or cut.
How to choose the best stud finder for you
How do stud finders work?
In years past, finding stud work required a lot of trial and error, drilling and filling. Fortunately, modern stud finders eliminate all the guesswork. Most detect minute changes in electrical capacitance from materials of different densities to determine what is just plasterboard, where studs are located, and where cabling or pipework is positioned.
Cheaper, less sophisticated stud finders are essentially small metal detectors, or even simply magnets, relying on finding nails in studwork. The problem with these stud finders is that it can be hard to distinguish between those nails and other metalwork, such as cables or water pipes.
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How to use a stud finder
First, work out where you want to drill holes for the mirror, TV, shelf or whatever other item you need to hang – it will cut down the time you spend unnecessarily scanning parts of the room. Then remove rings, watches and other jewellery, as well as any electronic devices from your pockets, to avoid interference. The trickiest part of the job is finding the first stud, so work systematically, from left to right, then up and down, keeping the stud finder in contact with the wall. Studs are usually either 400mm or 600mm apart, but you shouldn’t simply assume that’s the case.
The stud finder will alert you when something is detected. Depending on the device, it will tell you the type of material that it’s found – magnetic or non-magnetic metal, or non-metallic. If you just have a magnetic stud finder, you should be able to feel it as you scan the wall.
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The best stud finders you can buy in 2023
1. Bosch Professional Stud Finder: Best stud finder
Price: £95 | Buy now from Amazon
Bosch’s Professional Stud Finder is far from the cheapest, but if you’re looking for a fully featured unit that you’re going to use frequently, it’s the one to have. It also comes with a wrist strap and a drill marker, plus a protective case, even though it has an IP54 dust protection rating.
Despite its professional label, it’s straightforward to use even for an amateur, with modes to detect metal – magnetic and non-magnetic – live wires, and those all-important studs behind drywalls. It has a three-colour display that illuminates green when nothing has been detected, yellow when you’re close to a target, and red when it’s detected something. There’s even an indicator to show when you’re at the centre of the target, while a hole in the unit allows you to mark the drill hole using the tool supplied.
Key specs – Stud scan depth: 38mm; AC scan depth: 50mm; Metallic scan depth: 120mm; Non-metallic scan depth: 80mm; Stud centre locator: Yes
2. FOLAI New Stud Finder Wall Scanner: Best-value stud finder
Price: £23 | Buy now from Amazon
The impressive ratings on Amazon suggest Folai’s stud finder performs far better than its bargain price suggests. It comes close to the Bosch on specification, and only loses the overall top spot due to the lack of a case and, more importantly, no hole through which to mark the drill holes. There is a notch on the top, but it’s just that little bit more fiddly.
It has three scanning modes to detect wooden beams and joists at different depths, and two more to scan for either metals or live cables. The LCD screen is crisp, and clearly displays the type of material you’re detecting, how close you are to it, the depth, and when you’ve landed at the centre of it. It will beep too, which helps in tight spaces. You press the power/mode button to switch on and cycle through the modes, and there’s a well-positioned scan button on the side of the handle to recalibrate the device and start detecting.
Key specs – Stud scan depth: 38mm; AC scan depth: 51mm; Metallic scan depth: 60mm; Stud centre locator: Yes
3. StudBuddy Magnetic Stud Finder: Best simple stud finder
Price: £12 | Buy now from Amazon
StudBuddy claims its product is the world’s simplest stud finder. And, at just £12, it’s quite possibly the cheapest, too. But there are some things to bear in mind when you consider its simplicity. First, it’s designed to work on plasterboard – not plastered walls or on lath and plaster – which could limit its usefulness, particularly in older UK homes. Second, it relies on magnets to hunt down nails or screws in studs, rather than any electrical capacitance, which means you need to take extra care to be sure it’s finding a nail and not a metal pipe.
But if you can work with that, the StudBuddy is well worth having in your tool box. It’s about the size of a marker pen and doesn’t require batteries. It magnetises itself to the wall when a stud is detected and will hang there like a plumb bob for ease of marking. There’s also the more expensive StudBuddy Plus, which incorporates vertical and horizontal spirit levels.
Key specs – Stud scan depth: N/A; AC scan depth: N/A; Metallic scan depth: N/A; Stud centre locator: No
4. DeWalt ¾in Stud Finder: Best centre-marking stud finder
Price: £23 | Buy now from Amazon
Unlike the other stud finders here, the DeWalt doesn’t show you the entire stud, just the centre of it. That cuts down on confusion or ambiguity as to whether you’re drilling into the heart of the stud, or perilously close to the edge. There’s no screen though, so you’ll have to watch the LEDs and listen for the buzzer – as you move closer to the target, the beeps will sound more rapidly, and the left and right arrows light up to show where the nearest stud is.
The DeWalt also continually calibrates, meaning it’s good to go as soon as you switch it on, while some of the others here will need the odd bit of manual calibration as you’re scanning. Once you’ve found the stud, there’s a channel in the centre of the device to mark the drill hole with a pen, scribe, or centre punch.
Key specs – Stud scan depth: 19mm; AC scan depth: 51mm; Metallic scan depth: 19mm; Stud centre locator: Yes