How to Find a Stud Without an Electronic Stud Finder

What You'll Need
Tape measure
Wire coat hanger

Ideally, you’ll use an electronic stud finder when you need to locate a stud through the wall. However, you might not have one of these useful tools at hand. What do you do if that’s the case? You can actually find studs without a stud finder and it’s not that difficult to do. Apart from a little trial and error, it’s usually just a matter of observation and taking measurements.

Step 1: Observation

To locate a stud remember that there are studs in most corners and that outlet boxes will always be attached to a stud.

There are two possible distances between studs of either 24 inches or 16 inches. This distance is measured from the center of one stud to the center of the next. However, when starting out, you won’t know which of those two distances you might encounter on a particular wall.

If there’s an outlet on the wall, remove the cover plate and shine a flashlight inside. You might well be able to see a stud on either side of the box. If you spot it, measure the distance from the corner to the stud. It will be in multiples of 16 or 24 inches repeating regularly at the same interval.

Step 2: Flashlight

If the wall is hung with drywall, there’s another way to locate a stud without using a stud finder. Stand at one end of the wall and shine a flashlight along it. You need to look for small dimples where nails will have been driven through the drywall to the stud. You might also be able to see the joins between two pieces of drywall. There will be a stud behind the wall where they meet. You will need good eyes for this as well as some patience to look at the wall.

Step 3: Hammer

It’s also possible to find the studs by using a hammer, although this doesn’t mean knocking holes in the wall until you find one! Gently tap on the wall with a hammer. The noise where there’s a gap behind the drywall will be subtly different to the noise when you tap against part of the wall where there’s a stud.

This isn’t a foolproof method, by any means and you need good ears for it to work. Once you master the technique, however, it’s fairly easy to find the studs this way.

Step 4: Coat Hanger

A wire coat hanger can be used in place of a stud finder but this method can be frustrating when you’re drilled a hole only to discover there’s no stud there. Open up the coat hanger and bend a length of wire about 6 inches long. Ideally, feed it through an existing drilled hole in the wall. Try feeding it through and then bending it to the left to see if it hits a stud. If it doesn’t turn, it to the right and try again. If you still can't locate the stud, withdraw the wire and re-bend it to a longer length. With this method, you will be able to find a stud and judge how far it is from the hole you’ve made to establish the correct location.