I'm a DIY noob who has recently moved to a new apartment.

After building my Ikea furniture, I want to begin with something more challenging, I want to install wall shelves with brackets. I've followed multiple DIY tutorials and have bought the tools that I need, all of them refer to finding studs in the drywall and drilling in to them.

Drywall is a new concept to me, I come from a country with concrete walls. I haven't quite understood what studs are, can anyone help explain what they are and what their purpose is?

As far as I've been able to make out the stud is a metallic sheet where the drywall is screwed in, so I should be looking to find an existing a nail in the stud and then screw the bracket with an anchor above/below it. The other thing that I was wondering about was if both the brackets should be drilled into studs or is just one side enough and what happens if the length of the shelf is such that the other side doesn't align with a stud.

  • 4
    wikipedia has this covered well: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wall_stud
    – DA01
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 16:13
  • 5
    @ChrisCudmore Towels are different sizes in metric? I thought towel was a universal unit of measure?
    – Tester101
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 21:19
  • 3
    @Tester101 Towels made from Egyptian cotton are measured in celsius.
    – bib
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 22:11
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    When I brought my towel rack back to Ikea and explained my situation, the guy at the return desk just nodded, and said "You wouldn't believe how often I get this." Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 13:03
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    @DanNeely Most folks don't even try to hit the studs when hanging towel rails. In fact, I think people actually try to avoid the studs. They use the included drywall anchors, and hang the rail from the drywall.
    – Tester101
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 13:24

6 Answers 6


There is a ton of information and history out there.

Studs are strong pieces that are the internal structure of your walls. They are covered by some type of material (the "skin") that is what you see when you look at a wall. If you imagine your wall without any type of skin material, there are probably two studs at the left and right edges and definitely two framing members (similar material as studs, but the term studs explicitly refers to the vertical members) going horizontally at the floor and ceiling forming a rectangle. This rectangle has many vertical studs inside of it, usually space at 16" or 24".

A term you'll see sometimes is 16" O.C. which means On Center; it just means the center-line between two studs is 16" apart and there is about 15.25" of air in between them.

Your studs are covered on both sides by something. These days it is typically drywall (sheetrock) which is cheaper and easier to install than most alternatives. Your surface could also be plaster, paneling, tile, etc.

You need to use a stud finder to locate where your studs are because you need to attach heavy objects to studs. Drywall can only support very little weight. To use a stud finder:

  1. Put masking tape horizontally on your wall.
  2. Place the stud finder against the wall, holding it vertical.
  3. Press and hold the button.
    • Hold it still for the first half second so it can calibrate itself.
  4. Move the stud finder horizontally across the wall and mark on the tape where the signal is strong.
    • If the signal acts weird, make sure you slide the stud finder sideways at the same height.
  5. Take a tape measure and try to find a pattern between your marks that is 16" or 24" apart.
  6. Now you can measure multiples of 16" or 24" and know where other studs are.

You need to determine if your stud are wood or steel because the type of fasteners (screws) you use depend on it.

There are other methods of determining this, but here's one: Figure out where your fasteners are going to go and drill a small pilot hole (smaller than the size of the fastener). If you get about a 1/2" deep and hear a terrible screeching noise followed by your drill bit sliding and having no resistance, you have steel studs. If you get 1" in and you start to see saw dust coming out of your pilot hole and your drill still feels like it's biting at something, you have wood studs.

If you have wood studs, you can use general construction screws (NOT drywall screws). If they are steel, you probably have to use toggle bolts. Toggle bolts are a pain to use, so you can try using self-tapping machine screws with a fine thread first. Make sure your fasteners are long enough.

There are many other types of walls out there so if things don't seem right, maybe they're not typical stud walls.

  • 8
    Studs are the vertical structural members in a wall. While the top and bottom plates may be made of the same material, they are not "studs".
    – Tester101
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 18:43
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    A couple notes on stud finders: Typically you need to hold the button while using it, not moving it while it calibrates. If it is acting strange (not showing no lights but lighting up for about an inch every whatever the distance between your studs is) you may have calibrated directly on top of a stud. Try checking for the location of your studs from many starting points before putting a bunch of wholes in your walls and possibly hanging something that will fall and take a chunk of dry wall with it.
    – Roger
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 20:35
  • @Roger Good info. I clarified the button thing. Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 20:56
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    To practice with a stud finder start with an electric outlet--start 6" to the left of the outlet, move to 6" to the right of the outlet. This basically ensures you start over open space and cross a stud as the outlet box is mounted to a stud. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 0:20
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    @LorenPechtel Not all electrical boxes are mounted to studs. An "old work" box can be positioned anywhere on the wall.
    – Tester101
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 13:27

In countries with high labor costs, people build structures out of wood, not concrete or bricks or earth, as wood is faster to build with, thus minimizing those high labor costs. In such buildings, the wood is the structural core that frames the walls, floors, ceilings, and roof, and there are various terms for the different pieces of wood depending on where they go and how they're oriented. Studs are vertical pieces of wood that make up the walls. That wooden structure is like your body's skeleton; it needs to be covered with something. On the outside, it's usually covered in more wood, called sheathing, which can be plywood, OSB, or fiberboard. That will be covered in vapor-permeable plastic or tar-soaked paper to resist the rain, and then some kind of finish material like wood siding, bricks, stone, or exterior plaster (stucco). The inside needs to be covered with something too. Usually that something is drywall (also known as sheetrock, wallboard, plasterboard, or gib board in various places), which is nothing more than paper-faced sheets of aerated gypsum. Drywall is brittle, weak, and turns to mush in the presence of standing water. But it's lightweight and fast to put up, thereby facilitating lower construction time and lower labor costs.

Is any of this better than concrete? Not really. It's primarily done in the name of cost savings, because Americans are much more expensive to hire to build houses than they used to be and than Indians still are. Climate plays a role, too: in India, the climate is much hotter than the USA, and hotter climates benefit more from heavy uninsulated masonry walls than cold climates do. There's also a cultural element; the USA has a huge amount of wood, so we built stuff with it. In the UK by contrast, they used most of their wood building huge warships back in the day, so they did more with stone and earth even though its cold there, thereby developing a culture of masonry construction that never really took off in the USA.

  • 2
    And before drywall, they used lath and plaster, which you also don't really want to nail into.
    – Random832
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 20:43
  • Right, which fell out of favor because it was too labor-intensive.
    – iLikeDirt
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 20:50
  • @Random832 the only thing worse than trying to work with lath/plaster is trying to remove it. UGH Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 22:26
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    Wooden framing is used for other reasons than just labour costs. In areas of high seismic activity, wooden or steel framed houses are more flexible than masonry ones and much more resistant to collapse. They are more likely to suffer from just cosmetic damage rather than undergo structural failure. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 2:31
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    That's true, but only of unreinforced masonry built without any regard for seismic resistance.
    – iLikeDirt
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 2:53

This website is predominantly used by US residents, so, for those of us who live or originate elsewhere there are potentially confusing differences in terms and practises.

It seems a lot of US construction uses timber (i.e. wood) as the primary load-bearing structures. In Europe masonry predominates.

A stud wall is traditionally made with a timber frame surfaced internally with a paper coated gypsum board (US: sheet rock; UK: plasterboard). The the UK these are often use for non load-bearing internal partition walls in houses with mostly brick external and brick load-bearing internal walls.

So the studs are regularly spaced vertical timbers that stretch from floor to ceiling.

More recently, metal struts are used instead of timber.

You can buy detectors for both types of stud. These are used to find where to mount heavy fixtures.

  • Local terms here for frame built walls are stick-built (2x4 or 2x6 studs) or tin-can (metal u-channel studs). In the US Pacific Northwest, timber was plentiful and brick was scarce. That has vastly changed over the last couple decades and metal studding is becoming common. Given that we live on the "Ring of Fire", unreinforced masonry is deadly and the coming subduction zone quake will pretty much remove all the old quaint brick buildings of yore. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 5:36

Summing up what others have said and providing a bit of context:

Studs are vertical structural components in the walls. In load-bearing walls, they carry part of the weight of the house and its contents above them. In American construction this generally means a "2x4" stud placed every 16 inches on center along the length of the wall, with additional support at critical points and "cripple studs" to carry those forces around window and door openings.

Non-loadbearing walls are generally constructed ("framed") the same way for consistency.

The surface of the walls is then attached to this framing. There are several different ways of applying that surface -- it could be decorative wood panelling, for example -- but one of the most popular interior surfaces is painted plaster.

In the past, constructing a plaster-surfaced wall required nailing up thin boards (lath) to create a supporting surface, then trowelling plaster over that. Some of the plaster would be squeezed between the lath, giving the plaster a good grip on the wall. After several cycles of plastering, sanding the surface smooth, and plastering again this built up a smooth, fairly strong, fire-resistant wall surface ready to be primed and painted.

Wallboard/plasterboard/drywall is a modern shortcut for achieving the same effect. Pre-cast sheets of paper-backed plaster can be attached directly to the studs with screws. That leaves only the joints between adjacent sheets to be plastered and sanded by hand.

Note that since the studs at on 18" centers, 4 or 8 feet is a good size for getting complete coverage of the wall with minimal cutting of the drywall sheets. That same spacing is used elsewhere in the house's construction, so "sheet goods" generally (plywood, panelling, waterproof "green board" for bathroom walls) will tend to come in that 4'x8' size, or occasionally 4'x4'.

Hope that gives you a bit more understanding of how "stick framed" walls work. If you want to know more about lumber-framed house construction I'd really recommend picking up a book on the topic. There's just too much interesting and important detail to cover completely here.


Look behind an electric plate of some kind (light switch or power plug) carefully, to see how the walls are constructed. An original (not added later) junction box will be fastened securly to a stud, so a stud will be on one side or the other of the box. If there is a little clearence around the drywall hole you can see a sliver of the stud itself.

Use that to see what they are made of, and as a starting point for figuring out where one ought to be found.

Also, an "unfinished" area such as a supply closet or an apartment unit under construction offers a look. See if you can find somplace like that. For grasping the concept (not the specific materials innthis case), then any construction work will serve as an example. Look at a suburb house construction site, or a TV show. Look up "drywall hanging" on you-tube.


I think the general concept is to hold the drywall in a verticsl position and thus provide a wall type room partition

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