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 ...and thanks for stopping by. I'm Claire Douglas,  DIY and home interiors writer specialising in money-saving and creative home interior projects. I've spent years developing my 'bespoke on a budget' approach to DIY and home interiors and I love sharing all my tips and tricks in tutorials and posts here on my blog, in articles I write for some of the leading titles, in the press, on Instagram, Tiktok and my online course

How I get the best results from a stud finder: a DIY guide

Save time and money with an affordable accident-preventing stud finder.

electronic stud finder

As a keen DIYer, I can't stress enough how essential a good stud finder is for any home project that involves drilling into different materials, especially in older homes when anything could be lurking behind those plaster walls!

Whether you're a seasoned DIY enthusiast or tackling your first home improvement project, having a reliable stud finder in the palm of your hand is a really good idea, saving time and preventing potentially life-threatening accidents. I've tried various types over the years, but the one currently in my toolbox is a super affordable electronic sensor-based stud finder from Amazon that takes the guesswork out of drilling into walls. With its LCD display providing accurate readings and an easy-to-read display screen, locating studs, pipes, and live wires has never been easier - which is a relief for people who are a little clumsy or accident-prone like me!

It's a good idea to have a stud finder handy, particularly when hanging heavy objects like picture frames or shelves, where finding the centre of a stud is crucial for secure mounting. We've all heard the stories of people drilling into walls and hitting a pipe or cable, causing disaster to strike. There are lots of different types of stud finders; some have extra features using innovative technology to help DIYers identify the width of the stud as well as stud centres and pipes and wires.  

How I use my stud-finder 

Below are the steps I take when I want to check a location within a wall is safe to drill into. As part of this checking process, I need to establish that there aren't any wires or pipes behind the wall surface, as drilling into either of these could cause serious damage and potential injury.  

1. Select the correct scanning mode

electronic stud finder

I begin by powering up the stud finder and selecting the correct scanning mode for what I'm asking the stud finder to look for eg metal (pipes) (AC) electrical wires or wood (studs). If you are just getting started, it pays to read the instructions that come with your stud finder and identify each of the symbols used. Many modern stud finders come with different modes, such as a 3-mode or 4-mode switch, offering various functionalities, mine has 4 modes in total. Choose the mode appropriate for your task. For example, if you're dealing with dense materials like ceramic tiles, opt for a mode that enhances sensitivity to locate studs accurately if you have one.

2. Calibrate the Stud Finder 

Ensure your stud finder is powered on and calibrated according to the manufacturer's instructions. If your stud finder has a laser level feature, activate it to provide a visual reference point for stud location. Adjust the settings as needed to achieve the desired level of accuracy. Below are the specific instructions for the model I use.

How to calibrate a stud finder

  • Power up the stud finder

  • Position flat on the wall.

  • Press and hold the scan button on the right-hand side until the screen shows the correct icon, you have to work through a few including numerous within the stud category to determine the position within the stud as well as the location of studs.    

  • As the decreasing bars vanish and a single beep sounds from the buzzer, calibration is done and it's ready to start. 

3. Locate timber studs

  • Position the stud finder against the wall and slowly move it horizontally or vertically, depending on your preference and the type of stud finder you're using. 

  • Gradually glide the tool along the wall. Watch for the illuminated bottom arrow and the "EDGE" indication, signalling the stud edge's location.

  • Keep moving the tool.

  • Once the centre of a stud is found, observe the full bars on the Signal Strength Indicator, the pointed arrow atop the bars, and the "CENTER" indication, accompanied by a buzzer sound.

4. Identify electrical wires and cables

electronic stud finder alerting to the presence of AC wires

Some stud finders come equipped with features for detecting AC wires and cables. Before proceeding with your DIY project, use this feature to locate any electrical wiring hidden behind the walls. This helps prevent accidental drilling or nailing into live wires, ensuring safety during installation. 

Despite my stud finder being one of the more cost-effective models, it has the handy feature of alerting you if it identifies ac wire detection, even if you are in one of the other modes - a handy safety function that gives me peace of mind. 

To check for electrical wires before drilling into the wall I follow the following steps...

  • I select the AC wire detection mode before calibrating.

  • Move the stud finder slowly across the wall, checking to see if an alert comes up for wires. 

My stud finder can detect unshielded AC wires and electrical wires up to 2 inches (51 mm) deep, so it's worth bearing in mind the depth you need to drill in case depth is a limitation of the scanner you're using. 

5. Locate metal and pipes

metal pipe signal on electronic stud finder

In addition to electrical wires, it's essential to be aware of the location of water pipes, especially when working on plumbing-related tasks or installations. While stud finders primarily detect studs, some models may have features or modes that can help identify the presence of metal pipes behind the walls. Use this feature to avoid damaging water pipes and causing leaks or other plumbing issues during your DIY project. Even if you don't think there will be pipes in the section of wall you are drilling into, it's always worth checking to avoid a costly accident. 

The manufacturers say that Metal Scan mode is capable of detecting non-ferrous metals like copper pipes up to 1½ inches (38 mm) deep, as well as ferrous metals like rebar up to 2.36 inches (60 mm) deep and that this mode also enables differentiation between metal and wood studs.

I follow these steps to check for the presence of water pipes in the wall...

  • I begin by placing against the wall and locating the stud using Stud Scan mode before switching to Metal Scan mode and calibrating.

  • I then move the scanner slowly over the surface, looking and listening out for the distinctive alerts if it detects metal. 

Reasons you need to add a stud finder to your toolbox

Prevent damage to walls

Without a stud finder, you might resort to methods like tapping or drilling small holes to find studs, which can lead to unnecessary damage to your walls. A stud finder eliminates the guesswork and minimizes the risk of creating unsightly holes or causing structural damage while searching for studs.

Save time and effort

When it comes to DIY projects, time is of the essence, and no one likes wasting time worrying about where to drill, etc. a stud finder on hand can make all the difference. Electronic stud finders are a game-changer, especially when dealing older houses where many of the works will have been completed before modern regulations came into effect. Instead of wasting time tapping on walls or guessing stud locations, these helpful tools provide an accurate way to locate framing studs or even electrical wires instantly. 

Secure fixings 

screw in wall going into rawl plug

Mounting objects on walls without adequate support can pose serious safety risks, particularly if they're bulky or situated in busy areas. Utilizing the best stud finders to pinpoint wall studs ensures that your fixtures are firmly secured, mitigating the chance of unexpected falls and potential injuries. Accurately identifying wood studs and the centre of the stud with a stud-finding tool will guarantee a reliable anchoring point, even amidst challenging surfaces, whilst avoiding wires and pipes. 

If you are mounting heavy objects in plasterboard, I recommend using Grip-it fixings, as they are the best in my experience. If you are having issues with a loose rawl plug, you might not need to redrill and replace it, and I recommend trying these brilliant Wet n Fix pads first. I've written a tutorial on how to use Wet n Fix as a DIYer, so check that out if it's helpful. 

Help for a range of DIY Projects

Stud finders aren't limited to just hanging shelves or mirrors. They're versatile tools that can be used in various DIY projects around the house. Whether you're installing a new light fixture, mounting a TV, or even just rearranging artwork on your walls, a stud finder can come in handy to ensure that everything is securely anchored to the wall.

Avoid drilling into electrical cables

Calibrating an electronic stud finder for electrical wire scanning

When working on DIY projects involving drilling into walls, there's always a risk of accidentally hitting electrical cables hidden behind the drywall. This not only poses a safety hazard but can also result in costly repairs. A stud finder equipped with live wire detection features is an easy way to identify the presence of electrical wiring in the wall, allowing you to steer clear of potential dangers and drill safely.

Prevent damage to water pipes

In addition to electrical wiring, another concern when drilling into walls is the possibility of damaging water pipes hidden within. Accidentally puncturing a water pipe can lead to leaks, water damage, and the need for urgent repairs. Some advanced stud finders are equipped with modes to detect metallic objects behind walls, including pipes. By using a stud finder with this capability, you can avoid drilling into water pipes and prevent potential water-related disasters.

So, if you have any DIY projects that involve drilling into walls on your to-do list over Easter, make sure you get your hands on a stud detector with electronic sensors before you start. In my opinion, they are worth their weight in gold. 

Where next?

See below for some tools-related posts you might enjoy.

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