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A Quick Guide To Finding Wall Studs

Finding And Anchoring Studs
When replacing a patch of drywall, you're going to need to anchor the new piece to the nearest studs, so you have to know how to find them. Some people tap the wall with a hammer until they hear a solid "thunk," just like they were picking a watermelon.

Finding Studs: Every Handywoman's Dream
But let's face it, most of us can't pick out a good melon and aren't much better at finding studs. There are easier ways and they don't involve so-called "stud finders," which don't always work. If you have a stud-finder (insert classic "Sex and the City-style joke here) and it works, by all means, use it. If not, here's help.

How To Find Studs
Unless your home is an anomaly (in which case, hit-or-miss with a nail may be your best option), then the easiest ways to find studs are the following:

1. Look for an outlet or switch. Electrical boxes are usually anchored to studs. From the nearest outlet or switch, measure in 16-inch increments (the standard stud placement in most construction) toward the section you want to replace. Test to see if you found the stud by drilling with a 1/16-inch bit and see if you get resistance. If it goes straight through the wall, measure again from the nearest electrical box, but try 24 inch increments, which is a less common standard.
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2. Examine your baseboards. Unless the installers were drunk (or you were), the baseboards along your walls should be nailed to the studs. Even with putty and paint, if you get on the floor and look up close you'll find tiny patches over the nail heads, revealing where your studs should be.

You've Found The Stud...Now What?
Now that you've outdone Magellan and discovered the two closest studs framing the section of drywall you intend to replace, we're ready to move on to the nitty-gritty.

1. Use a level to mark a horizontal edge both on top of and below the section you're replacing. Extend the marks to the studs on either side of the damage. Try to approximate the center of each stud to make your vertical marks.
2. You'll need to anchor the wall outside the hole you'll be cutting so that the surrounding wall will stay flat and steady when you pull out the damaged section. Drill pilot holes just outside the corners of your marked area, then use a countersink bit so you can install the screw heads just below the surface. One screw for every 4-6 inches is a good guide. If you'd prefer, you can use nails instead, though you may need to use more, since they don't anchor as well. Countersink the heads. For added support, countersink a screw or nail directly into the studs outside the four corners of your marked area.
3. Position several strips of wide masking tape outside your marks (over the screws or nails) to help keep the plaster from crumbling off the good section of wall. Overlap the strips until you have 2-3 inches of tape laid around the hole you'll be cutting. If your plaster is very smooth and hard, you can use duct tape (but not on soft or textured walls, because duct tape may pull out plaster).
4. Wear protective eye goggles for this part and, if you are using an electric saw, earplugs. Use a circular or other saw, or a large sharp utility knife and a metal straight edge, to cut along your marks to remove the damaged section. A circular saw will produce the cleanest cut. If you're using a serrated handsaw (a saber saw), use force on the forward motion only and not on the withdrawal. You can expect some dust and crumbling, especially if your plaster is old.
5. Cut a piece of drywall that is approximately ¼ of an inch shorter and narrower than the hole. For example, if the hole is 16" by 4", the drywall patch should be 15 ¾ x 3 ¾. Position it in place and hold it against the studs.
6. If the drywall patch sits lower than the surrounding drywall, shim the area behind the patch with wood or asphalt shingles until it is level. Attach the shims to the studs and mount the patch over them. If it's easier, you can opt instead to attach the shim to the backside of the patch.
7. Sand or cut off any splinters, burrs or rough areas around the patch and wall opening.
8. Drill pilot holes and secure the new patch with drywall screws, countersinking the heads. Make sure to insert a screw every 4-6 inches along the studs. Blow or brush away any dust or debris.
9. Cover the gaps between your patch and the wall with drywall tape. Make sure the tape is flat and smooth. If it bubbles or creases, remove it and use a new piece.
10. Cover area with finishing plaster and allow to dry. Use a drywall knife or rough sandpaper to smooth any ridges or mounds.
11. Once dry, apply another coat of plaster, and blend it into the surrounding area. A small paintbrush may help you achieve good results. Sand. If needed, apply another plaster layer and sand again. You can repeat this process until the patch becomes unnoticeable. Once you have it just right, prime and paint.
12. If you have a sand or textured finish, see our section on Making the Patch Match.
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