How to Find a Wall Stud or Ceiling Joist Without a Stud Finder

While renovating our barn house, we quickly found out how hard it is to find a stud in the wall using one of those electronic stud finders you see at the hardware store. We plugged in a battery, and it beeped & booped in the most random ways possible as we tried to use it.

I even held it up to part of the wall that we cut away (exposing the stud in the open section) and it still couldn’t find the stud even when I was holding it right over it! Needless to say, we returned it as soon as possible.

As we continued with the renovation, I realized something.

We were switching out the old wall outlets with new, white ones. I noticed that every outlet was attached to a stud. DING! A light bulb went off in my head.

If I knew where at least one stud was in the wall, then I could find other studs in the wall using a measuring tape and a small nail. And it worked. It was way more accurate than that little battery operated, stud finding “toy” we had returned.

So I made this video to show you how it works:

The Peek & Poke Method

The video gained a lot of traction, and it really helped a lot of people out. But I did get a lot of comments saying that not every house is built with studs at 16″ centers. Yes, that’s true, not every house is built that way, but it’s pretty likely that the studs in your wall are at 16″ … possibly different though. That’s why I recommend testing with the little nail to know for sure.

So if you try out the method I showed you in the first video, and you’re still having a little trouble… I came up with an even simpler, more accurate method!

The Super Simple Swing Method

The DIY Magnet Method:


The two methods above are about as simple as it gets. There’s no math, no poking holes with nails, and no measuring. It’s super simple to find studs with magnets.

You will need to find a source for the little rare earth (neodymium) magnets, but they’re relatively easy to find and inexpensive. I got a 3-pack of 1/2″ diameter ones at Hobby Lobby for about $5, and I’ve seen them at WalMart before for a little less. And here’s some direct links to Ebay or Amazon with lots of options as well.

Sure, you’ll have to spend a couple of bucks and a half hour or so to make a little “natural stud finder”, but this thing works great! The rare earth magnet is WAY stronger than your average refrigerator magnet, so it will cling to the hidden screws or nails holding your drywall up to the wall studs. It even works to find the joists up in your ceiling too!


UPDATE: I tested the magnets on our refrigerator and found that a couple of the stronger ones actually worked too! They didn’t practically jump out of my hand and hold on as strong as the little rare earth magnets do, but I was able to find the screws in my drywall with just a little more patience. So if you want to test this out before buying some rare earth magnets, find your strongest fridge magnets, and give them a try.


Now, I did get a comment about this new method from someone saying that on some new construction houses, they’ve started using glue to hold up the sheets of drywall to the wall studs. In that case, this little DIY magnetic stud finder won’t have anything to stick to. If you have a place built like that, I’d suggest using the first method and do a few test pokes with a nail in an inconspicuous place to figure out the spacing of your studs. The tiny holes can be covered with a quick swipe of spackling & paint… so no biggie.

The walls and board & batten ceilings freshly painted.

When we put up the board & batten ceilings in our house during the renovation (every single room, btw …. 1800 sqft or so), we used the first method. We were covering popcorn ceilings, so we didn’t care about the tiny test holes. It took a day or so to test and mark all the ceilings in the house. But my second method is so much easier and faster with just the magnet and a little painter’s tape. I wish I would have thought of it sooner!

We just used this second method to re-hang some shelves in our living room a couple of day ago. We found the studs we were looking for in less than a minute and had the shelves screwed up in place within 5 minutes or so. It was super quick & easy.

So, there you go. I hope these two methods help you find the studs you’re looking for.

If not, maybe that Tinder app all the kids are talking about will help. jk 😉