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Whether you’re planning to hang a heavy frame to center your gallery wall, a gorgeous piece from your favorite artist or shelving to display your pretties, knowing how to properly find a wall stud is a must. Haven’t added a stud finder to your tool collection yet? Don’t fret, Joe Provey is sharing his tricks for how to get the job done!

When it comes to hanging heavy items on a wall, you should aim to drive the screws into studs located in the wall’s framing. These studs can hold more weight than plain drywall can, so this technique provides an important, safe and secure hold. There’s one caveat: finding these elusive wall studs can be a frustrating challenge. The easiest way to locate them is to use an electronic or magnetic stud finder. These tools will flash or beep whenever you get near a stud. Also, wall anchors will allow you sometimes to bypass this hunting exercise all together.

If you don’t own an anchor or stud finder (or the desire to ante up the cash for one), here’s how to locate sly wall studs without spending a penny.

1. Look for clues to where hidden drywall fasteners are. 
Search for slightly raised nailheads; studs usually lie directly behind these fasteners. Also, you can press on the drywall. If it gives, move a few inches away and press again. When you press and the wall doesn’t give at all, you’ve probably located a stud. A third approach is to tap on the drywall and listen for changes in tone. A hollow sound means you’re cold. A solid sound means you’ve most likely found a stud, or you’re close to one.

2. Drill a test hole. 
To ensure that you have indeed found a wall stud, create a no-cost stud finder. Cut 20 inches of a wire hanger and bend it so that there are two 5-inch legs in a 90-degree configuration.

Insert one end into the hole you’ve drilled. Grasp the other leg of the wire and turn, as if it were a doorknob. If you hit something solid, turn the finder in the other direction to see if you hit it again. If you do, it’s probably a stud. Mark the spot on the coat hanger that’s sticking out of the wall. Withdraw the hanger and you’ll have an approximate measure of the distance between the stud and the hole.

If you turn the stud finder and don’t hit a stud; move six inches to either side of your test hole. Drill another hole, and try again. This time you should hit a stud, unless the studs in your home are spaced 24 inches apart instead of the standard 16 inches apart. In this case, repeat the above directions.

3. Mark the stud locations. 
Once you locate one stud, use it to find the location of the other studs along the length of the wall. In most cases you’ll find the other studs spaced in increments of 16 inches away from the center of the first stud. Finish up by patching the hole(s) and touching up with paint so that it matches the rest of the wall.

When using this method, you may end up with several holes in the wall that will need to be patched. While these are fairly easy to conceal, you can also opt to drill your trial holes in an inconspicuous spot, such as near the base molding.

Author: Joe Provey