It's an extra step, but it can save you a headache.

By Lauren Wellbank
October 14, 2020
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A stud finder is what its name implies: a device that can locate the studs that were used during the construction of your home. Unlike the empty spaces between them that are often filled with insulation and wiring, your wall studs are solid pieces of wood that are better equipped for holding the heavier objects you might want to hang on your wall, like art, shelves, and anchors for furniture. Since they are covered by drywall, it can be hard to know exactly where they are located—which is where a stud finder, which can help you uncover them, comes in. But when all is said and done, are they truly necessary? Here, an expert weighs in.

An Extra Step That Pays Off

Using a stud finder may seem unnecessary, but it's probably one of the most important steps when it comes to hanging anything substantial on the wall, says Anna Kroesser of Kroesser + Strat Design, LLC. "When you hang something heavy on the wall that isn't on a stud, you risk drilling into sheetrock. The artwork may be too heavy and the wall alone can't support it," she explains. This can result in the weight of the object slowly pulling the screw out of the wall over time—or worse, sending it crashing to your floor after it's been hung.

Alternatives to Studs

Sometimes the placement of a stud doesn't match up with your vision, and you need to find another way to make sure your screws and nails stay put. This is when you turn to wall anchors, an additional piece of plastic or metal that keeps your screws and nails secure within sheet rock and dry wall. But they aren't a one-size-fits-all solution. "Wall anchors can really do the job for light-medium weight wall hangings," Kroesser explains. "Smaller pieces of artwork or tapestry will usually be okay with these." There are certain things, however, that need to be on the stud, like television mounts, sconces, and curtain rods, she adds.

Stud Finder Types

Not all stud finders are created equal. "Some measure the edge and others the center," Kroesser says, adding that it's important to make sure you know which your finder does. "If it's an edge, you'll need to mark each edge to find the center of the stud," she says. "If you only mark one side, you could risk drilling into its edge." Also, make sure to place the stud finder on the wall before you turn it on. Otherwise, the stud finder will calibrate to the air, not the wall.

Be Sure to Double-Check Your Device

No matter how good your model, stud finders aren't foolproof. "Sometimes, the tool can be tricked into reading piping or ductwork—and you definitely don't want to drill into those," explains Kroesser. She suggests marking the recommended spot and then looking for another one approximately 16 inches away to confirm that what the device has found is indeed a stud.

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