May 23, 2017
One of the first things you discover when you begin to mount your TV on the wall is that the manufacturer recommends attaching the mount to a stud for maximum support. Seems simple enough. All you have to do is get out your special tool – that electronic or magnetic device designed just for this purpose, right? Stud finders are easy to use. Unfortunately, they can’t always find a stud, despite their name.
It might not even be the device’s fault. Old houses have walls constructed of lath and plaster, which can obscure studs and confuse your handy-dandy tool. But don’t give up! You can still mount your TV, you’ll simply have to use one of these low-tech ways to locate a stud.
Know Where to Look
Homes built in the past 100 years or so have studs that are usually installed on 16” centers -- in other words 16” from center to center -- though in some types of construction the intervals can be as wide as 24”. Studs are also placed on both sides of windows and doors. Note that, since walls vary in length, there may be one section that is wider or narrower than 16”.
Use a Magnet
Another method is using a magnet – pull one off your fridge and graze it zig-zag style on your wall. If the wall is drywall, carpenters use drywall screws to secure the drywall in place on studs. Wherever the magnet sticks to the wall, you've found a drywall screw...and a stud! Lucky you.
Sometimes you can locate a stud by rapping on the drywall with your knuckles -- it sounds hollow until you reach the stud. It’s worth a try.
Check Out the Moldings
Baseboards and crown molding are nailed to studs. Even though the nails are recessed and the tiny holes filled and stained or painted, a close look may reveal one of these attachment locations. You should be able to measure 16” to either side to find additional studs.
Use Electrical Connections as a Starting Point
Electrical boxes that house light switches and outlets are attached to a stud. This also applies to cable jacks, light sconces, or other electricals installed during construction. (This isn’t necessarily true for retrofits, though.) Using the knock-knock technique should reveal which side. If not, remove the plate and try to peek inside to see the stud. If that doesn’t work, either, carefully insert a thin tool to one side. It will quickly hit the stud; if not, the stud is on the other side.
You can assume the center of that stud is about 3/4” from the edge of the electrical outlet (on the stud side, of course). Then you can make your 16” incremental measurements to find more studs.
Use an Exterior Corner to Get Started
You know corners have studs, so try measuring from there. Beware the warning above about odd-size intervals, because they occur at wall edges – that might be your corner. Once again the knock-knock technique can help.
Make Like a Woodpecker
As a last-ditch plan, you can drill tiny holes in a horizontal row until you find a stud.
Never fear you are dependent on a stud finder to get the job done. Using one or several of the above methods, you can almost always locate a stud on your own.