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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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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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  • 3
    +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
  • 3
    I do a combo - thump first to get an idea, then a magnet to get most accurate. 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
  • 1
    Very old-but-good tech: magnetic stud finders Stanley version: stanleytools.com/…
    – HerrBag
    Feb 22 '13 at 19:03
  • I've just had a go at this with a couple of my walls - couldn't find anything using rare earth magnets.. is there a chance brass fixings might have been used or am I not looking hard enough? Obviously anything other than steel won't work...
    – John Hunt
    Jul 3 '20 at 13:09
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A variation on the "educated guess exploratory hole method" is to use a small finishing nail (longer than the drywall thinkness) and "explore" by nailing that in near the floor boards. If it moves freely after hitting it in, you are not in the stud, move 1.5" to the left or right and try again. After you have found the stud, 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 them.

I have also removed the baseboard in the past and put the nails in there, so that the holes will 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 so that it will find the screws or nails that the drywallers used. These nails or 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
  • Look at baseboard for nails . Tap wall. Remove outlet cover find stud use tape to find layout.
    – user101687
    May 28 '19 at 3:26
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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! Feb 25 '13 at 19:25
  • Great idea, but most people don't happen to have a stethoscope handy...
    – iconoclast
    May 27 '19 at 23:18
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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. Jul 21 '10 at 19:44
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    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. Jul 21 '10 at 20:03
  • @Steve: Exactly
    – Doresoom
    Jul 21 '10 at 20:04
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The method recommended by a well-known maker of stud-finders is to put a fresh battery in your stud-finder. Their claim is that

Stud finders, particularly models with backlit LCD screens, require adequate voltage to power the sensing mechanism inside the tool.

Not having a spare brand-new 9-volt battery handy, I used the magnetic approach described by others here, with relative success. Nonetheless, I list this approach as a possibility that has some measure of authority behind it (albeit from a company with a vested interest in having you continue to use their product).

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I know this is an old post, but I'll give my 2 cents anyway; just in case someone else has this problem. I have used all the previous methods that were mentioned before too. As an additional method, I also try to locate something that is almost guaranteed to be lined up on a stud, like an outlet or switch. Unless they're a remodel box, they'll be fixed directly to one side of a stud and you should be able to go 16" O.C. (on center) from there. If you're really luck, you'll have a box on both sides of the same stud to take all the guess work out of it.

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  • Check the other side of the wall as well. (Even exterior walls may have devices of interest.) Remove the cover plate from the box and confirm which side, if any, is adjacent to a stud.
    – HABO
    Jun 23 at 21:26

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