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I was trying to hang my TV at my new place, on an interior wall (between living room and a bathroom). Using the stud finder on other walls worked fine, but on this wall I got some very strange readings. An area of about 5 feet by 4 feet was setting off the AC warning, and studs seemed to be upto a foot wide and at irregular spacings.

I ended up drilling "exploratory holes" looking for the stud, because it didn't make sense that there would be tens of power cables in the walls, equally spread between the studs (in the air space between, and the ones attached to the studs shouldn't be within a 1/2" of the drywall. The studs turned out to be simply 2x4s with 16" centers.

Is there a trick I could have used rather than just drilling into the wall in exasperation?

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up vote 24 down vote accepted

Do you have any high powered magnets? like the rare earth neodynium magnets? If so you can probably rub one around the wall until it attaches to one of the nails in the studs. Or you can try thumping on the wall, a stud will sound alot less hollow versus empty drywall. That's how I've searched around in the past.

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+1 for thumping on the wall. – acrosman Jul 21 '10 at 19:32
+1 for using a magnet; I've also done this in my attic to find the nails joining the stud to the headers. – Niall C. Jul 21 '10 at 19:36
I do a combo - thump first to get an idea, then a magnet to get most accurate. – Wayne Werner Jul 22 '10 at 3:40
I have never thought about that. I use hard drive magnets all the time too! – Evil Elf Dec 29 '11 at 13:27
Very old-but-good tech: magnetic stud finders Stanley version: stanleytools.com/… – HerrBag Feb 22 '13 at 19:03

A variation to the "educated guess exploratory hole method" is to use a small finish nail (longer than the drywall thinkness) and "explore" by nailing that in near the floor boads. If it moves free after hitting it in, you are not in the stud, move 1.5" to the left or right and try again. After you find the stuf, use a level or plumb bob to trace up the wall. The holes will be so small and near the floor so you can easily patch or paint over then.

I have also removed the baseboard in the past and put the nails in there, that way the holes would be covered when you put the baseboard back on.

Scott mentioned magnets, I have also used a stud finding magnet, that you run all over the wall and it will find the screws / nails that the drywallers used. These nails / screws will be over a stud.

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glad to see i coined a new DIY term :) – Doresoom Jul 21 '10 at 21:44

One way I would try is an "educated guess exploratory hole method." Try locating a stud with a stud finder on the same wall, but away from the problem area. Then, if you have a little bit of faith that your builder followed the standard 16" stud spacing, measure over and drill at 16" intervals.

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I wouldn't risk my 50lb flatscreen TV on any amount of faith in my builder. Finding the studs is very, very cheap insurance. Exploratory holes don't really have to be filled if they're tiny and hidden by the TV, anyway. – Adam Robinson Jul 21 '10 at 19:44
I took Doresoom to mean that, if I have any faith in my builder, then I drill an exploratory hole 16" over, not that I just mount the TV 16" over. – Steve Armstrong Jul 21 '10 at 20:03
@Steve: Exactly – Doresoom Jul 21 '10 at 20:04

Try careful knocking while listening with a stetoscope. Knocks on the studs will sound less hollow.

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I really like the idea of using a stethoscope! – Chris Marasti-Georg Feb 25 '13 at 19:25

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