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I have a house that was built in 1924 and the original wall finish is lath and plaster. At some point, the entire home was refinished with 1/4" faux wood paneling.

I'm having a difficult time finding studs behind this material so I can securely mount heavy objects. Traditional stud finders obviously don't work, and none of the strong magnets I have pick anything up except the finish nails used to affix the paneling.

I'd like to avoid drilling and probing if possible, especially since this plaster seems to eat drill bits, but I think that may be inevitable. Are there any other methods I can try? Would a very large, potentially dangerous magnet possibly work?

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    Look for switches and outlets, they are usually mounted to the side of studs. If you have baseboard, can it off and make holes behind it(~2 inches high or higher). If lucky all the studs will on 16 inch centers.
    – crip659
    Dec 16, 2021 at 17:54
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    @crip659 This place has very outdated electrical, I'm lucky to have two outlets per room. In some of my demo work I have luckily found that the studs are 16" O.C. so that's a plus. Unfortunately the baseboard is definitely thinner than the wall lumber (fully 2" rough studs).
    – Sam Morgan
    Dec 16, 2021 at 18:22
  • Actual 2x4" (not nominal) studs, rough cut surfaces, and I'll bet, that if you try to drill them, you'll find they're made of petrified oak! Ours are certainly hard as rock. Probably old growth hardwood because it was abundant when the house was built. Have fun with that (he says, sarcastically)! :) Wonderful, sturdy structures, not at all square and hard to work with to modern standards.
    – FreeMan
    Dec 17, 2021 at 12:23

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My house was built in the 1890s and it, too, has plaster & lathe walls. I've quite rather enjoyed it for the 30 years we've lived here because I've never looked for a stud! I have hung more than small pictures on the wall, too.

In my office, we had a wall of "stanchion & bracket" shelves that we put up about 30 years ago. We spaced the 6' tall stanchions evenly across the wall, screwed them in wherever they hit using 1-1/2" drywall screws (not the most highly recommended for load bearing), without worrying about what was behind them, then put on the shelf support brackets, 8' shelves, and proceeded to load them with books, toys, school supplies, more books, toys and supplies and more.

There were probably 100+ pounds on each shelf (7 or 8 shelves in total) and never had the slightest issue with screws wanting to pull out. We took the shelves down last summer and replaced them with cabinets with doors. We actually had some difficulty getting some of the screws out. Not because they'd stripped out their holes, but because they were holding so well.

It may not be "ideal" or "recommended", but it was certainly very functional over the years. Even with 3 kids playing and ramming into them on occasion.

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  • Thanks for the suggestion! This would certainly work for certain things, and I will definitely use this approach where appropriate. For larger objects like TV mounts or a wall-mounted speed bag, I really need to find studs, ideally in a non-destructive manner.
    – Sam Morgan
    Dec 16, 2021 at 18:28
  • For the TV mount, you might get away with just driving screws/lags into the wall, @SamMorgan, depending on how many there are. For the speed/heavy bag, you'll definitely want studs! TBH, I've never found a stud finder that would work on the P&L walls, though I've tried several different ones.
    – FreeMan
    Dec 16, 2021 at 18:33
  • Wouldn't hurt to take this approach, but if the item being mounted is considered to be permanent, maybe add the use of a small bead of construction adhesive
    – bsd
    Dec 17, 2021 at 9:24
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A TV mount generally has a rather large footprint on the wall and the coverage of the TV is even larger. Determine the general location where you'll want the mount to be and drill a single hole. Probe into the hole with stiff wire (coat hanger, electrical/building wire, etc) to measure the distance to the edge of the studs nearest the hole. Use that measurement to mark on the surface of the wall and add half the thickness of a stud so that your fasteners will be centered in the studs.

Consider the effect of curvature of the wire probe inside the wall cavity: it'll measure an arc from your exploratory hole to the stud rather than the shortest path/straight-line distance. You might or might not need to compensate for that.

A variation on the technique is to form the wire into a U shape with equal-length legs. Insert one of the legs into the hole and rotate the U until you feel resistance. The position of the outside leg will indicate approximately where, inside the wall, the resistance is encountered.

Because the exploratory hole is hidden behind the mount, or at least behind the TV, you can leave it unrepaired until such time as the mount is taken down and its four fastener holes are repaired.

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  • Boroscopes are getting cheaper all the time
    – bsd
    Dec 17, 2021 at 9:25
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Depending on the temperature profile of the walls you could use an iphone flir attachment to see the studs. It works well on exterior walls where the studs are thermal bridges but even if you just heat up the neighboring room you should see thermal differences between the studs and the stud bays. At less than $200 USD these tools come in handy.

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