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Cannot find studs in plaster lathe wall. Please help!

Cannot find studs in plaster lathe wall. Please help!


Old 05-31-15, 09:20 AM
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Join Date: May 2015
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Question Cannot find studs in plaster lathe wall. Please help!

Hello all, I am new person here, so I apologize in advance for my lack of knowledge.

I am trying to find studs in a plaster wall (~1-1.5 inches thick) in a duplex house (I am renting) built in ~1940s. I want to put up simple shelves in the kitchen, but I cannot seem to find the studs at all! Initially I bought a stud finder at Home Depot but I didn't realize those do not work for plaster walls. I then bought this, which has been referenced before for finding studs behind plaster walls:


This magnet is quite strong, but STILL it does not work. I make the 'S' shape or 'figure 8s' but I do not sense it attracted to any metal in the studs at all. I tried it at a friend's place with normal dry wall and it works great there.

The single electrical outlet is at the very bottom of the wall along, and runs horizontally along the base paneling, so I highly doubt it correlates with a stud. Removing this paneling to find nails will also be a bit extreme, as I would have to remove my refrigerator, clothes washer, dryer and water heater to access the entire length of the panel and remove it.

I have also tried knocking, but in my attempts to do this, I have just drilled through the wall to find no stud (about 6 attempts now). I am one step away from just drilling a hole every 1 1/4 inch to find it, but I worry about doing that since I am 1) renting, and 2) worrying that this interior wall HAS NO STUDS. Is that possible?

Just to be clear, I have mounted TVs, shelves and all sorts of things before on studs behind dry wall before. I may be a novice but I am not an idiot (or at least I like to think I am not). This is my first time with plaster and it is giving me an incredible headache.

Any help with this would be magnificent! Thank you in advance, and sorry for the long post.
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Old 05-31-15, 09:33 AM
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If the outlet is horizontal in the base molding it was probably added after the house was built. If your lucky it's an old work box that's easily removed. Turn off the circuit breaker for that outlet and remove the face plate and pull out the outlet. You may find two screws that have dogs or tabs that swing out holding the box in place. If not the box may have been nailed or screwed in place. Removing the box or at least getting it loose will let you probe inside the wall cavity with a long wire (coat hanger). Some boxes even have holes so you can probe around without removing the box.

If that's a no go I'd give up on the shelves. But... if you want to continue your idea of drilling regularly spaced holes works. A 1/8" hole right at the top of the base molding is easy to patch and conceal or better yet, if your up for the extra work, you can remove the base molding and do you test holes behind the molding.
Old 05-31-15, 01:19 PM
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Join Date: May 2015
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Unfortunately it looks like the outlet is installed behind the wood paneling, meaning I would have to remove the paneling to access the outlet.

I really would rather not give up on the shelves. I have next to zero storage space in the kitchen.

The plaster is probably more like 1.5 inches, if not even thicker. Can I install the shelves directly onto the wall without the screws being held in the stud? I realize that I would be unable to hold anything heavy there but at this point I am kind of desperate for storage space and I would probably just keep dried food items and such on this rack. (I was hoping to put things like a microwave and toaster oven on it but I guess that is a no-go). Is that allowable? To have shelves installed via screws into plaster without securing it to studs?
Old 05-31-15, 01:44 PM
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Toggler Snaptoggle | Anchor Bolts,Toggle Bolt, Toggle Bolts

You might want to try the toggle bolts linked to above. You are doing nothing wrong. I consider myself an expert in finding studs or framing members and plaster walls are very difficult for me.

There are even stronger toggles than the ones I linked to, such as the toggles used to secure bath grab bars. The above are strong enough though for anything that would fit on a shelf.
Old 05-31-15, 01:45 PM
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Plaster is normally not 1 1/2" thick, it is likely about 1/2" think on its own, plus about 3/8 for the lath. No, it is not possible that there is no studs.

I have that exact same stud finder and have had some success with plaster walls. You are trying to find a lath nail under the plaster and they are quite small. It takes a very light touch of feel when the magnet passes over a nail, but it can be done. The studs will be likely be 16" or 24" on center. The outlet is a good place to start. Remove the cover and push on the box With a screw driver to see if you can tell which side of the box might be attached to a stud. You can also poke in something like a coat hanger between the wall and the box to see if there is a stud there.

On a side note, you might be careful on how much damage you do to the walls since you are renting.
Old 05-31-15, 01:58 PM
Join Date: Jan 2014
Location: usa
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Are you sure the walls are not plaster over block or clay tiles?

If there is a baseboard look for nail evidence there.

If you want to hang on the plaster without hitting a stud you may check out "Wingits" at HD. They are rated for heavy loads. As long as the plaster is not deteriorated and is on reasonably well attached lath ( if it is indeed on lath), the Wingits would probably handle the issue.
Old 05-31-15, 03:06 PM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: California
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Yes is is possible for a wall to have no studs. You could have commercial quality construction with metal lath tied to 3/4" steel channels. I would expect the stud finder to sense those however. Maybe you can't feel the difference between the steel channel and steel lath. Or you could have studless walls built with gypsum lath. What is on the opposite side of th wall? When you drill your holes are you going all the way through the plaster or do you go about and inch and a half and stop without going clear through?
Drill holes with a 1/8" masonry bit and go very slowly. See if it feels different at any time. If you go at least 26" and make a hole every 1/2" you should hit what ever support is in the wall, if there is any. Once you find the first stud or channel or whatever is there you can find the rest more easily. If you have 3/4" steel channels they will be either 12" or 16"OC. If wood studs they will be 16" or24" OC. There were other steel support systems in use in the era of your house. Hey would be even harder to find than the channels but if you found them would hold shelves with a proper anchor.
I would not be afraid of drilling as many little holes as I described in your rental unit. They are easily filled and covered. When the time comes to mount he shelves, were it mine I would get approvL from the management of owner. Of course sometimes it is easier to get forgiveness than permission.
Let us know what you find
Old 05-31-15, 03:20 PM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: California
Posts: 1,773
A house th vintage of yours could also have gypsum plaster over gypsum block. One old brAnd was Pyrobar by USG. I would expect that some of your exploration holes would have hit the solid part of the blocks and not gone through and some would have hit he voids and gone through. By going through or not I mean in some cases you would have drilled and then ceased meeting resistance and th drill would have let the chuck hit the wall or you would have had resistance until you reached the maximum depth allowed by the length of your bit and when the chuck hit the wall were still drilling as opposed to having the business end of the bit spinning in empty space.
In pyro at the voids run horizontally try moving up or down 1.5" and drilling another series of holes. This material if that is what you hAve does not lend itself very well to mounting anything. It is very fireproof but has little structural strength. In a duplex this could be the party wall for fire resistance reasons.
You have not told us if the wall in question is the common wall between th units.

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