Stud finders are great for locating the studs behind your walls. The tried-and-true “tap and guess” method might work in a pinch, but how many holes do you really want in your wall? Grabbing the best stud finder can help eliminate some of the frustration and repainting that comes from less modern methods.
With a focus on residential and light commercial construction, our team uses stud finders all the time once the drywall is up. Even when we’re not using them professionally, there are always pictures and mirrors to hang, shelves to mount, and any number of projects going on around our homes.
There are a lot of “best” stud finder options out there. But let’s face it, there’s no single model that’s exactly what everyone needs. To help you out, our team has broken out a list of our favorite stud finders in a variety of situations along with what we like and don’t like about each.
What is a Stud Finder?
Stud finders help you detect where studs are in your wall. Most people using one are setting a nail or screw, usually to hang something that might pull through the drywall on its own.
Stud finders primarily come in two categories.
Magnetic stud finders work by using a magnet to locate the screws that hold your drywall in place. They cost less than stud finders that use active sensors, but they’re more limited. They can’t detect the actual stud, so there’s some guesswork as you look for the exact center.
Electronic stud finders actively detect differences in wall density to find studs. They typically use batteries as a power source. Many can detect wood or metal studs and some have AC power detection. The simplest models help you find the edges of studs while others show you the entire stud width. These are more expensive than magnetic models, but not prohibitively so. Some of the best professional models still cost less than $25.
There are also other types of tools to detect objects beneath the surface of a wall. Advancing beyond the types of stud finders we recommend, you encounter wall scanners. These radar-like tools typically only get used by professionals to “see” what’s behind the wall beyond just studs.
With the evolution of technology, you can find stud finding apps for both iPhone and Android smartphones. They use the phone’s magnetometer (the sensor that drives the compass) to detect metal nails or screws behind the drywall. Presumably, those nails or screws will be in the middle of that stud you’re attempting to locate. Note that these apps do not detect actual wood studs or measure wall density.
And of course, people still use a knuckle or hammer every day. While there are some folks that are really good at it, it’s somewhat less reliable as a go-to method for detecting studs.
Tips for Using a Stud Finder
- Make sure you know if your model needs calibration and how to do it.
- Keep your stud finder flat against the wall while you’re detecting.
- Keep your hands off of the wall to avoid interference.
- Unless you’re using a whole-stud detector, mark your position from several directions to ensure the best accuracy. Use a piece of painter’s tape on the wall if you want to avoid marking directly on the paint.
- Combine a stud finder with a cross line laser to mark the entire length of the stud or to hit the same height across multiple studs.
- Stud finders also work great on the ceiling for finding joists.
- Studs are typically 16 inches apart (walls) and occasionally 24 inches (ceilings). If you’re having trouble finding one, get a good reading on another part of the wall and measure over.
- Keep an extra set of batteries in your toolbox for electronic stud finders.
- Trying to detect studs in plaster walls sucks. Most stud finders are iffy at best on plaster and lathe. Use a dedicated metal detector instead (recommendation below).
Best Professional Stud Finder
Franklin ProSensor 710
Wider than many stud finders, the Franklin ProSensor constantly checks 13 points and has the ability to detect up to 1.6 inches deep. It’s a full-width stud finder, meaning you see the entire width of the stud. This gives you a clear picture of the stud and mark the full width or more accurately mark the center. If you need to be super-accurate, they also provide a ruler along the edge for reference.
Check out our Franklin ProSensor 710 stud finder review
You can also take things up a notch with the ProSensor 710+. It’s essentially the same model with a built-in bubble level. Our Pro team typically prefers a separate level or cross line laser, so the Franklin ProSensor 710 gets our nod as the best professional stud finder. If you want the level, it’s just $5 more. The Franklin FST602 (T6) also provides the same functionality in a more compact package for $24.99.
- Deep sensing
- Accurate, full-width indicators
- One-hand operation
- No calibration required
- Made in the USA
- Bigger than many units
- More expensive than basic stud finders
Best Electronic Wall Stud Finder
DeWalt DW0150 Stud Finder
As we considered the best electronic wall stud finder options, we wanted to focus on the ability to accurately detect AC and studs. There are plenty of good options, and our team decided on the DeWalt 1 1/2-inch stud finder.
It’s a center-detecting stud finder with LED indicators to help you dial in the center of the stud. Along the way, it also checks for live AC and constantly auto-calibrates for wall density.
There are two models available: a 3/4-inch detector (DW0100) and a 1 1/2-inch detector (DW0150). The price difference between the two is only $5, and we recommend spending a few dollars more to get a better detection depth when needed.
- Finds metal or wood studs
- Detects live AC
- Simple one-button operation
- Constantly auto-calibrates
- Detects stud centers
- Some of our team didn’t care for the ergonomics
Best Magnetic Stud Finder
CH Hanson Magnetic Stud Finder
Magnetic stud finders get us back to where it all began—using a magnet to feel where nails or screws are in the stud. Simple options like StudPop work well, but the CH Hanson Magnetic Stud Finder had the most appeal to our team.
It has stronger magnets than many of its competitors, guiding you to the fasteners easily. It also has a rotating bubble level. Unlike whole-stud options, that’s a feature our team does want on magnetic models.
Without the ability to electronically sense the sides and center, it’s important to get the stud finder level so you can more easily follow the stud. Of course, that assumes the stud itself is straight. We’ve seen some that are questionable in that department.
We’re not alone in thinking CH Hanson makes the best magnetic stud finder. It’s consistently rated very high by customers at every retailer that sells them.
- Tried-and-true simple operation
- Strong magnets
- Detects ferrous metal studs and wood stud fasteners
- Integrated rotating bubble level
- Unable to detect wood stud sides and center
Best Stud Finder With Laser Level
Craftsman 20-ft Self-Leveling Line Generator Line Laser Level
The best stud finder with laser level goes to the Craftsman 20-ft Self-Leveling Line Generator Line Laser Level. By combining a horizontal auto-leveling laser level with a stud finder, you can take care of hanging multiple pictures or longer items with more confidence. This definitely falls under homeowner or DIY usefulness, but we’ve heard of Pros finding these handy for quick layout tasks.
On the stud sensing side, it detects both wood and metal studs. Two things we’d like to see in a future upgrade is a vertical angle and the ability to lock in an angle. A vertical beam is helpful to mark the entire length of the stud. Locking in an angle would be useful when you’re hanging a series of pictures and want to add a creative angle to the display.
Craftman’s concept of a built-in hanging pin is nice, but you can break it off if you try to push it in off-center.
Black and Decker (owned by the parent company of Craftsman) also has a similar model with AC detection available at for $62.99.
If you’re looking for something for professional installations, DeWalt has a combo that includes a green cross line laser and stud finder as separate units. It runs $269 at Home Depot.
- Stud find and laser level in one
- Auto-leveling up to 5º
- Detects wood and metal studs
- Detects live AC
- No vertical laser
- No angle lock for laser
- Hanging pin can break off
- More expensive than other stud finders
Best Stud Finder for Plaster Walls
Zircon MetalliScanner m40
Trying to accurately find studs inside a plaster wall is hard. Magnetic stud finders often won’t penetrate far enough and electronic models are iffy at best. Our selection as the best stud finder for plaster walls isn’t technically a stud finder—it’s a metal detector. In our experience, metal detecting gives us the best results.
The Zircon MetalliScanner m40 is able to detect metal in a variety of materials, including plaster. Like a magnetic finder, you’re searching for nails or screws. Lathe can have more nails than the ones just on the stud, so once you find a good stud, measure out from there.
- Senses metal deeper than magnetic models can attract
- More accurate in plaster than standard stud finders
- Pinpoint scan (turning the scanner sideways) helps identify nails and screw more easily
- Not a good option if you have wire mesh in your plaster walls
- Metal pipes and other metal objects may throw off your search for studs
- You need to run it multiple times horizontally and vertically to ensure the most accurate results
Best Stud Finder for Home Use
Franklin ProSensor T6
If you’re the type of person that’s willing to spend a little more to save time and get better results, the Franklin ProSensor T6 is the best stud finder for home use. Its small profile is easy enough to store in a drawer or toolbox until you need it, and its whole-stud detection meets the needs of full-time Pros.
Operation is simple and one-handed. The $25 price tag is higher than an inexpensive magnetic model, but it will make your projects go so much more smoothly. It’s seriously worth stepping up.
- Whole stud detection
- Easy operation
- Pro-level accuracy
- No calibration needed
- Small profile stores easily
- More expensive than basic DIY stud finders
Best Stud Finder App
Stud Finder by Tue Nguyen Minh
Your best stud finder app options use your phone’s EMF sensor (electromagnetic field) to hone in on the source. The most reliable we’ve found is Stud Finder by Tue Nguyen Minh on iPhone’s app store. The interface is simple to understand and easy to read.
It’s not available on Android, though. For that system, give Stud Finder Scanner by Antilogics a shot. It works on the same principles, though the visuals are quite a bit different.
The downside is that there’s some guesswork based on where your EMF sensor is. Considering you only have a 1 1/2 inches of stud to hit, being off a little can move you off of your target completely. In our testing, it’s not as accurate as other stud finders. However, if you come at it from several directions, you can dial in the nail’s position reasonably well.
Plus, it’s free.
- No cost
- Meter shows you signal strength as a measure of closeness
- Iffy accuracy
- For best results, you need to mark the strongest signal multiple times from several directions to hone in on the source
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