Sooner or later, all homeowners will want to securely hang or brace some heavy item on a wall inside the house. Since most walls in a house are built of sturdy vertical 2-by-4 wood supports, called studs, it is imperative that any fastener supporting a heavy mirror, picture, wall shelf or other substantial item be anchored into a stud for safety reasons.
Finding a wall stud can be a bit daunting because the studs are hidden by the finished surface of the wall. The easiest way to find a hidden stud is to use an electronic stud sensor. This battery-operated device is available from most home centers for about $20. The tool, about the size of a TV remote control, finds a stud by sensing a change in wall density as it is brushed across the surface of the wall.
A light illuminates or a beep is heard when it is directly over a hidden stud. As great a tool as this is, though, it is not foolproof due to construction idiosyncrasies in some homes.
Should the sensor fail, here are a few "tricks of the trade" for finding studs:
* Since wall studs are positioned about 16 inches apart on center, measure laterally from a spot where you know a stud exists and mark a multiple of 16 inches near where you want to hang the item. Studs are found at wall corners, door and window frames, on either side of air duct registers and at either the left or right side of a wall outlet or switch.
At a multiple of 16 inches (32, 48, 64 inches, etc.), drive a very small nail into the wall. If you miss the stud, try again an inch left or right.
Odds are you will find it.
Of course, if there is already something anchored to a stud on the same wall, measuring laterally from its fastener will also reveal a stud location.
* Because walls are hollow between the solid studs, sometimes knocking on the wall near where you want to hang your item will tell you by the sound emitted where the stud is.
A deeper hollow sound means no stud. A higher-pitched "solid" sound indicates you've found it.
* If you look closely at some wall surfaces (especially drywall) you can sometimes see slight dimples where the nails holding the drywall to the studs are located.
This is easier to spot if you put your head close to the wall and look "across" it rather that directly at it. Any surface irregularities you see probably indicate a stud position.
* Another old-time method of stud detection is to drill a 3/16-inch hole in the wall through which a thin, stiff wire is inserted.
Create a bend in the wire so about 9 inches of it penetrates the hollow wall. Now rotate the wire until you feel it stop where it touches the wall stud inside the wall on either the left or right.
Note the approximate angle of the wire inside the wall when it hits the stud and follow the same angle on the outside to a point about 9 inches from the wire's wall entry spot to determine the stud location.
Patch the hole with spackling compound.
* And finally, the least desirable method is to drive a thin nail into the wall at 1-inch intervals along a horizontal line where you need to find a stud. Keep going and you will ultimately hit the target.
To minimize the unsightly appearance of the holes, drive the nails toward the bottom of the wall just above the baseboard.
Draw an imaginary vertical line upward from the stud location to where you need to anchor your fasteners. Again, patch with spackling compound.
Gary Abrams is a general contractor who has written about home improvement for 10 years. Questions can be sent via e-mail to email@example.com