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The Best Stud Finder


After testing the accuracy and reliability of nine different options, our local handyman declared the Franklin Sensors – ProSensor T6 the best stud finder for most situations. This revolutionary design gives reliable results without tedious back-and-forth sweeps. If you’re working on thicker plaster or stucco walls, the Zircon – Multiscanner 740 still finds studs when other scanners give up. If you want to use a magnet instead, they all work well but the Studbuddy Plus also has a set of bubble levels.

Our Top Choices

For Drywall


Franklin Sensors

ProSensor T6

See Price at Amazon

For Plaster


Zircon

Multiscanner 740

See Price at Amazon

Magnetic Pick


Studbuddy Plus

See Price at Amazon

After testing the accuracy and reliability of nine different options, our local handyman declared the Franklin Sensors – ProSensor T6 the best stud finder for most situations. This revolutionary design gives reliable results without tedious back-and-forth sweeps. If you’re working on thicker plaster or stucco walls, the Zircon – Multiscanner 740 still finds studs when other scanners give up. If you want to use a magnet instead, they all work well but the Studbuddy Plus also has a set of bubble levels.

Table of contents

How we selected products to test

Our tester, like many who witnessed the heady days of unreliable technological advancement in the 1980s, is skeptical of electronic stud finders. Early stud finders he used were frustrating, to say the least.

We assessed how far the world of electronic stud finding has come by talking to contractors as well as checking internet discussion on the subject. While most grizzled veterans of kitchen cabinet installation projects will tell you a dozen tricks they think are more accurate than electronic stud finders, there are a few sheepish pros and DIY types who will admit to finding better stud finders and being happy with the accuracy.

After checking both reviews from Wirecutter, This Old House and Popular Mechanics, we looked for YouTube reviews of our top picks and confirmed we had found the latest models with the top features.

After checking retailer review scores, we bought the top six electronic scanners that either met a budget of $30 or $70, with higher expectations like electrical and metal scanning from the more expensive group.

We’ve used rare-earth magnets to find studs around the office before, but we bought the highest-rated magnetic stud finders in order to see if the extra features they include really make them better stud finders. An entire package of big neodymium magnets can often be had for the same price or less.

Compare the best stud finders

Lineup of electronic stud finders

Stud Finder$$ ScaleTotal Score 1-5:Scan ModesBatteryCalibration
1. Franklin Sensors - ProSensor T6$3.61AAAN/A
2. Zircon - Multiscanner 740$$$$3.649VAuto
3. Bosch - GMS120$$$3.849VAuto
4. Franklin Sensors - ProSensor T13$$$3.61AAN/A
5. Zircon - SS70$$2.639VStartup
6. Vivreal - VIVSF-01$2.249VStartup
Magnets
1. Studbuddy Plus$41N/AN/A
2. CH Hanson - Stud 4 Sure 03040$41N/AN/A
3. Rack-A-Tiers - Studball$31N/AN/A

Lineup of magnets stud finders

Important features to consider

Electronic vs magnetic stud finders: Magnets don’t stick to wooden studs, but they do stick to the screws that hold your wall up. An electronic stud finder will check for the density change from the actual stud anywhere along its height, while you may have to sweep a magnet back and forth over a large part of the wall before you find one of the screws.

Metal scan mode: This mode will look for metallic objects in your wall, rather than wood. In most cases this will be a good way to double-check that you’ve found a stud by looking for drywall screws, but on an advanced stud finder like the Bosch – GMS120 you also get a determination if the metal is non-ferrous (like a copper pipe) rather than steel.

Deep scan mode: When your wall is covered with lath and plaster or stucco this mode will help you find studs more accurately than a regular stud finder could.

Live circuit detection: An electricity detection mode will tell you if you’ve got energized, un-armored electrical wires in a spot you intend to put a screw or nail.

Battery type: most stud finders use a 9V battery type, but one brand we tested uses AA or AAA batteries, which are less expensive and more likely to be in your cupboard already. Rechargeable A-type batteries are also much more common and last longer than rechargeable 9V types.

Calibration mode: Basic stud finders require you to start your search over a known-empty section of wall if you want to get accurate detection of studs, while more expensive devices automatically calibrate as you use them.

Stud marking features: Holding the stud finder in your dominant hand can make it tricky to mark the center of a detected stud with a pencil. Zircon’s popular models include a pencil marker in the stud finder itself to make marking easier, while others design the body of the stud finder to facilitate precise marking when you find a center.

How to use a stud finder

There are a few key steps you need to understand before you’ll have success with most stud finders. Here are some details about stud finders you should know before you try to use one to mount a TV bracket or shelf.

Calibration

Most stud finders start with a calibration step: The sensor checks how dense your drywall is so that the device doesn’t give you false positives. Most devices do this calibration step on power-up when you hold down a button, so you need to hold the stud finder against your wall in a place where you’re pretty sure there is no stud. (About a foot away from a corner is usually a good place to try.)

If you get strange readings, like detected studs that are too close together or no studs at all, try calibrating in a different starting spot to see if you accidentally calibrated on top of an object inside the wall.

Better stud finders like the Zircon – MultiScanner and Bosch – GMS120 will automatically re-calibrate as you move around the wall, which makes them less likely to give false readings. Franklin Sensors scanners like the ProSensor T6 use a different method: These models have an array of sensors constantly checking against each other, which makes calibration unnecessary. None of the stud finders are fool-proof, though.

Knowing what to expect

Drywall installations use 48-inch-wide pieces, so a wall will almost always have studs evenly spaced inside that length. Sometimes you can even see the intersecting angles of different sheets or finishing lines if you look carefully at a large section of wall or shine a flashlight along it.

Studs are typically 16 inches apart, sometimes 24 inches apart and only rarely at any other spacing. You should look first at 16-inch intervals from the corner of the room; you can also check baseboards for nail marks that should indicate where the studs are.

Features like electrical outlets or light switches also show you stud locations, since they’re almost always nailed to a stud before wall surfaces go up.

In most rooms you should be able to use those facts and listen to the sound of a tap on the wall to figure out where most of your studs are, even without a stud finder. A stud finder can help confirm your guess before you make a hole, though.

Sweeping the wall

Standard practice is to start by calibrating your stud finder somewhere you don’t expect a stud and then move in a horizontal line across the place you need to find one.

As the stud finder approaches the edge of a stud, you’ll see an indicator that it detects a change in density. Mark this point with a pencil on a piece of masking tape or a post-it note.

As the stud finder crosses the stud, most will show you an indicator when you’re over the center. You should mark this point the same way you did the edge.

Once you’re past the stud on the other side, come back around slightly higher or lower than your first line, and mark the other edge and get another reading of the center.

Connect the dots

After three passes you should be able to determine a precise stud center line by drawing a vertical line through your marks with a level for reference, but you can probably get it on the first try if you’re seeing clear readings. When you’re happy with the consistency of the marks you’ve made, you can measure and mark the exact height of the fastener you need to install.

After you finish finding all the anchor points you need for a project (or after you pick up some drywall anchors for holes you need where studs don’t line up) then you’re ready to make the final marks with a level and get out the screw gun or drill.

Instant scans

If you’ve got an instant stud finder like the Franklin Sensors T6, you can skip all of the sweeping and just move the stud finder around until you see a clear three-light indicator that indicates the position and rough size of a stud.

How to find a stud in a plaster wall

Test on a plaster wall

Lath-and-plaster wall surfaces are trickier than drywall. The surface itself is thicker and denser, so the sound of a hollow opening behind the wall isn’t as distinct when you tap on the wall. Plaster is also much less consistent than the perfectly-flat gyprock boards in newer construction.

Because the plaster and wood covering are denser and less even compared to drywall, you’ll need to use a stud finder with a deep scan mode that adjusts the output or sensitivity.

The magnet trick

Fortunately, even plaster wall surfaces still use metal fasteners holding them to the studs, so you can usually find studs with a strong neodymium magnet or a purpose-built magnetic stud finder like the Studbuddy.

Sweep in a zig-zag pattern up and down the wall until you find a single metal detection point, then look for other spaced-out points along a vertical line to confirm that it’s a stud with fasteners. From there you should be able to more quickly find the next stud locations by measuring 16 inches away.

How to find a stud in the ceiling

A ceiling is usually just drywall with a texture applied, and stud spacings are usually the same. There are a few tricky aspects to finding ceiling studs, though.

First is the fact that you’re working directly over your head. This can lead many people to lose their balance or even to feel vertigo. It’s important that you have a safe, steady platform or step ladder to stand on when you’re working on a ceiling.

Wearing eye protection is even more important than usual, since you’ll probably knock dust or ceiling texture into your face.

Another obstacle is that ceiling texture itself, lumpy “popcorn” texture especially. This stuff will make it very difficult to slide a stud finder back and forth across the surface of the ceiling. Using a piece of paper or thin cardboard can help, but unless you tape or tack the paper to the ceiling it can make the over-your-head one-hand sweeping motions into an ordeal.

A good deep scan mode helps make up for the extra gap created by the texture, but in our tests it was better calibration accuracy that made the biggest difference in eliminating false positives on a popcorn ceiling.

How we tested

We used each of these devices to check for studs in four different areas with multiple passes. Most of those tests were behind half-inch drywall, including two checks in a wall we knew had a copper drain pipe and electrical wire inside. One test was on an exterior stucco wall with steel lath, and one more was on a ceiling with popcorn-type texture. We also did some follow-up checks on plaster walls after our depth and stucco tests returned surprising results.

PRODUCTDeep ScanCeiling ScanAvg. Score 1-5:
Franklin Sensors - ProSensor T6☆☆☆3.6
Zircon - Multiscanner 740☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆3.8
Bosch - GMS120☆☆☆☆☆☆☆3.6
Franklin Sensors - ProSensor T13☆☆☆3.6
Zircon - SS70☆☆☆☆2.6
Vivreal - VIVSF-01☆☆2.2

Ease of use and speed

We tested all of the stud finders to see how easy they were for untrained users to pick up and use. Factors like complicated calibration or scan-mode selection options resulted in docked points, while scanners that built confidence with quick, clear readings were given bonus points.

PRODUCTEasy OperationSpeed
Franklin Sensors - ProSensor T6☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
Zircon - Multiscanner 740☆☆☆☆☆☆
Bosch - GMS120☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
Franklin Sensors - ProSensor T13☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
Zircon - SS70☆☆☆☆☆☆
Vivreal - VIVSF-01☆☆☆☆☆☆

Depth test

We also did a check for depth calibration using a piece of half-inch foam over the drywall to see what happens when walls are thicker than normal.

The air gap and stucco or plaster walls are the only tests we tried that foil the Franklin Sensors stud finders, while the other devices with deep scan modes passed these tests almost as easily as they did on a regular wall.

Electrical wire detection test

We tested the ability of these stud finders to see live circuits around live receptacles and switch boxes, and with an extension cord behind a mock-up testing wall.

All of the stud finders with live wire detection features were able to see an energized extension cord behind a piece of drywall. But in the walls in our tester’s home and office, live circuits didn’t trigger the device. That’s almost certainly because those wires are run through an armored jacket, which grounds out any electromagnetic field the device would be able to sense. Even a household circuit-breaker panel wasn’t enough for the stud finders to see through normal shielding.

This isn’t a huge problem for most of us; building codes keep electrical wires away from the edge of a stud, and it’s pretty easy to tell if you do happen to screw something into an armored cable that the stud finder misses.

The live circuit detection feature is nice to have for the rare situations where it could save you from accidentally hammering or screwing into un-armored wire between studs in houses where you’ve only got bare Romex wire in the walls, but it’s not an essential feature.

Even if you’re using one of these sensors, you should always turn off circuits running through a wall you’re drilling into.

Best on Drywall: Franklin Sensors – Prosensor T6

Franklin Sensors - T6
If you want an accurate picture of where studs are behind your drywall, but you don’t want to practice a methodical back-and-forth sweep to get it, the Franklin Sensors – Prosensor T6 is an inexpensive option that works flawlessly in drywall.

This is a different kind of electronic stud finder. Instead of using one or two sensors and telling you when the reading changes as you sweep the tool across the wall, Franklin designs their tools with more sensors that read a larger area simultaneously. The T6 covers a three-inch-wide section, compared to the seven-inch width of the more expensive T13.

How it works

The Prosensor T6 is a textbook definition of a measuring tool that’s very accurate but not at all precise. You don’t actually get a true center-line indicator, just three lines (with an inch in between) that wiggle back and forth a bit as you slide across a stud location. Even with wider or narrower objects we tested, the T6 is programmed to give you a vague one-inch “right here” indication rather than ever trying to show a precise outline.

Since finding the precise center of a stud isn’t usually important, this process gives you exactly what you need, and quickly: If you get three lights, the center light is within a half-inch of a stud center, and you’ve got at least a half-inch of room beside it before the edge of the stud. If you slide the T6 one way or the other, the indicators will shift over to follow the stud, so if you mark the two “middle” lines you see you’ll have a very accurate target about a third of an inch wide.

Both the Franklin Sensors T6 and T13 show plenty of false-positive lights as you sweep over the wall, just like other stud finders; the difference with these “instant read” models is that when it can get a clear reading on a stud, you know for sure because of the telltale three lights that track as you move it slightly from side to side. On other models, you’d have to track a new sweep over the area to double-check a false reading.

Best for Drywall: Franklin Sensors – Prosensor T6

If you just want to find studs quicker than you could with a magnet, this is very accurate in drywall. Simple, easy to use and affordable, this is the sort of tool we love most.

Not as good in plaster

Our only real reservation with this recommendation is that the Franklin Sensors design isn’t very good at finding studs in thick plaster or metal-backed stucco. They claim that these sensors are deep-scanning, but in lath-and-plaster walls the T6 only sometimes works accurately.

The Franklin Sensors stud finders don’t have any other features, either. There’s no metal detector (though they’ll find metal studs well enough based on density) and no live electrical wire detector.

On the plus side, the T6 uses AAA batteries, which are much less annoying than the 9-volt type other electronic stud finders use.

Upgrade to the T13 if you want a built-in level, pencil holder and 8-inch ruler; the extra width doesn’t make it more accurate or precise.

For mounting shelves the price and simplicity of this device are unbeatable. Magnets will be almost as reliable, but the T6 is quicker in drywall.

Key takeaways:

  • To find studs accurately and quickly behind drywall, the Franklin Sensors – T6 is excellent.
  • While the T6 won’t give you a precise center line, it always gives a reliable target for your screw or nail.
  • The AAA batteries are much less expensive than the usual 9V in other tools.
  • All this in the least-expensive stud finder we tested.

Best for plaster: Zircon – Multiscanner 740

Zircon - 740
For those who expect precision and versatility along with accuracy, the Zircon – Multiscanner 740 is a great example of all the technological advancements available in a traditional electronic stud finder.

Zircon is the original patent licensee and most prolific maker of electronic stud finders, and the 740 is one of their top models. It still relies on a methodical back-and-forth sweep, though, and so it’s slower to use than the instant-read Franklin Sensors – Prosensor T6.

Of the two Zircon models we tested, the more expensive 740 was clearly working harder to earn its keep. The extra scan modes for metal and electrical wiring are notable, but the superior calibration accuracy is what really sets this scanner apart. Whether in drywall, ceilings, plaster or stucco, this deep-scanning sensor got the clearest detections overall.

The Zircon also self-calibrates as it’s scanning, so you don’t need to worry about starting in the wrong location and getting false readings.

All the Features: Zircon – Multiscanner 740

If traditional sweep-scan stud finders are what you prefer, Zircon designs this self-calibrating version to work more quickly and accurately than the rest. It’s not as simple to use for quick estimates as the T6, but the Zircon does help you mark a more-precise center line.

This doesn’t mean the Zircon is foolproof. We still got false positives with this stud finder, and the red light indicator and precision pencil marking system are not actually telling you where the exact center of a stud is every time. It’s just better than most comparable tools.

The two-part hinged design is both a blessing and a curse: You don’t have to hold a button down, it just uses pressure against the wall as a power switch instead. That means it’s more susceptible to turning on in a tool bag, and it’s frustrating when you’re working on uneven wall surfaces or especially when trying to skim along a textured ceiling.

The live wire detection worked well in our fake-wall tests with an extension cord, but the armored cable used inside many home walls isn’t detected. If you know you have un-shielded Romex in your walls, this feature might be worth buying for.

If you’re looking for a device that works well on all wall types and helps you quickly mark center line estimates, this is a worthwhile upgrade.

Key takeaways:

  • The Zircon – Multiscanner 740 was the most precise scanner we tested.
  • Four scan modes let you find more than just wooden studs.
  • The deep-scan mode is tricky to activate, but works better than anything else in stucco or concrete.
  • A built-in marking device will save you time on big projects.
  • Not as quick or easy to use as our top pick.

Best magnetic stud finder: Studbuddy Plus

Studbuddy Plus

A magnetic stud finder relies on a tricky cheat to help you find studs: Instead of scanning for the wood inside your wall, it just sticks to the fasteners which hold your wall to the studs. The Studbuddy Plus uses two very strong magnets and an easy-to-grip housing to make sweeping the wall easy.

One great perk of the Studbuddy Plus is that it also has a built-in spirit level. You can switch from finding a stud to marking a level horizontal shelf line without pulling out a second tool, and that saves a lot of time.

Best Magnet: Studbuddy Plus

The Studbuddy Plus is a good multi-purpose tool, but it's still an affordable option for finding studs in nearly any wall. You could by a pack of neodymium magnets instead, but not for much less money.

Compared to the other magnetic designs we tried, the Studbuddy Plus doesn’t try to show you the precise centerline of a stud at all. The width of the plastic body is just under an inch and a half, so if you trace a line on either side you’d have a rough outline of the stud underneath.

Because screw heads are on the edge of drywall sheets rather than centered on the stud, though, your lines will usually be a half-inch offset from the true stud underneath.

That’s still good enough for most jobs, just don’t rely on the vertical lines you can draw with this tool to show you the limits of where a screw can go. Magnets don’t usually stick on the exact center of a screw head anyway, so you should never rely on a magnet for that without marking a bunch of the zig-zagging screws and finding a center line between them.

The Studbuddy Plus is a multi-purpose tool that adds a handy level to all the strengths of other magnetic stud finder designs. This is the first magnetic finder we’ve seen that actually gives you more functionality than a set of bare magnets would.

Key takeaways:

  • The Studbuddy Plus in an inexpensive magnetic stud finder that does more than the rest.
  • This is a bit easier to grip and sweep back and forth than other magnets.
  • Studbuddy integrates a bubble level into this stud finder, so you can finish your job quicker.
  • It doesn’t have a notch or indicator for marking precise center lines.

The other finalists we tested

Bosch – GMS120

Bosch

With an even more advanced set of wall-scanning tools than even the Zircon Multiscanner, the Bosch – GMS120 does it all. You get the wood, metal and electrical scan modes you’d expect, but the GMS120 will also detect metal objects like fasteners while you’re in the other scan modes, and it can even distinguish between steel and copper.

Knowing that you’ve found a copper pipe instead of a screw head is a pretty great perk, and could save you from costly mistakes. The accuracy wasn’t that impressive, though, so it’s not as quick to use overall

We like most Bosch tools, like the impressive GLM 50C that won top place in our laser distance meter review. On this stud finder Bosch has included thoughtful options like a mute button and a big pencil-marking guide, and this is still less expensive than the Zircon, but the accuracy and consistency were just not good enough to beat the other top two stud finders.

Franklin Sensors – ProSensor T13

Franklin Sensors - T13

Everything we liked about the Prosensor T6 is also true of the bigger Franklin Sensors – ProSensor T13, but the increased price makes it a hard sell. You’re paying three times more for a wider sensor, but the T6 is already more than wide enough to work effectively.

You do get a level, ruler marks and a pencil holder in the T13, which might save you time. But is it worth $40 more? For that much you could buy the T6 and a couple of StudBuddy Plus magnets with built-in levels, and you’d still have change left for a nice mechanical pencil.

If you’re going to spend $60 on a stud finder, you’ll probably be miffed that it doesn’t find electrical wires or work better than this in stucco or plaster.

Zircon – SS70

Zircon - SS70

Zircon’s highly-developed stud finders are good at the side-to-side sweep detection method. The Zircon – SS70 is slightly less accurate than the bigger 740, and it doesn’t work as well through difficult surfaces like metal-lath-backed stucco.

For $29 this is a good stud finder once you get the hang of the back-and-forth sweeping. It also has a live electrical-circuit detector that could be useful if you’ve got unshielded wire it will actually find. But the Franklin Sensors T6 costs less, is much quicker to use and is less likely to give a confusing reading.

Vivreal – VIVSF-01
Vivreal

If you want a metal-scanning mode on a stud finder for less than $30, the Vivreal – VIVSF-01 is not a bad pick. This is decidedly last-generation stud finder technology, though, with a power-on calibration time of 10 seconds. It’s also the least-accurate stud finder we tested with false positives all over the place.

If you do enough sweeps back and forth you’ll be able to find the real center of a stud with this model, and it performed better on stucco than our top pick in deep scan mode, but it’s not a tool we’d want to use every day. If you can only spend $25, get the Franklin T6 and a big package of magnets instead (or both).

Other magnetic stud finders we tested

CH Hanson Stud 4 Sure

The least-expensive option we tested was the CH Hanson – Stud 4 Sure 03040. Buying this stud finder is probably less expensive than buying a pack of rare-earth magnets to build your own, and it has a good, strong pair of magnets spaced slightly wider than the Studbuddy’s set.

If you wanted to mark five or six screw locations and average them out to get a best-possible guess at a precise stud center, the Stud 4 Sure has a small indicator that helps you make more consistent marks than the Studbuddy. The level is too small to be useful for anything other than keeping your marks more-or-less in line with the screw heads you find.

Studball
The Rack-A-Tiers – Studball is a great design solution to the problem of covering larger areas of wall quickly: Rather than embedding a magnet in a block of solid plastic that you slide back and forth, this design uses a tail of stretchy silicone so you can swing the magnet around quickly without missing your marks. The silicone coating also helps keep the magnet from marking up your wall.

This works well to speed up how quickly you can sweep over a wall for screw heads, and we’d love to have a dozen of these when marking studs for a big project, but it’s not worth the extra $5 over other magnetic options.

The bottom line

After spending years tapping on walls and using bare magnets, we’re happy to say that the latest stud finders really are better than they used to be.

The Franklin Sensors – Prosensor T6 is claimed to be an instant stud finder, and it really is much quicker to use than the old side-to-side sweep type. It isn’t as reliable in thick plaster or stucco, but for interior walls it’s an amazing tool at an affordable price.

If you need better scanning in thick wall surfaces, or extra metal and live electrical circuit detection modes, the Zircon – Multiscanner 740 gives the most reliable results we’ve ever seen in a traditional electronic stud finder.

For many people, using a strong magnet to find screw heads under paint will be enough to get the job done. If you’re looking for the best way to use this trick, the Studbuddy Plus is easy to slide around and has a built-in spirit level for lining up that shelf or bracket once you find the stud.

Best Overall: Franklin Sensors – Prosensor T6

For most walls, this is by far the easiest type of stud finder to use. It's not as good as more expensive deep-scanning stud finders in thicker plaster, but even at this low price it still beats the top contenders in regular half-inch drywall. It's much quicker than hunting for screws with a magnet, too.

Daniel Jackson, Writer

Daniel is a Canadian farm boy who grew up to be a nerd with a literature degree and too many hobbies to count. He emigrated from Canada to California in 2013, and now writes for Your Best Digs full-time. Daniel remains unapologetic about Canadian spelling, serial commas, and the destruction of expensive travel mugs.

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