Locating Studs Using the Nail Method

Finding studs to attach fasteners to can be one of the most challenging parts of any interior project around your home. Whether your mounting a television, putting up a fancy loft bed, or you simply want to hang up a couple shelves you’ll have to know how to find a stud.

The quickest and easiest way to handle that task is with a stud finder, but if you don’t have one of those available, or if heaven forbid the darn thing isn’t working in the room you’re working in ( and I run into this a lot) you’ll have to use a different method, and there are a lot of them.

The Many Stud Finding Methods

Some people will tell you to knock on the wall until you feel a solid spot, and this works occasionally if the studs are behind particularly thin material. Other people will tell you to shine a light along the wall in a dimly lit room to look for shadows, and that works too but only occasionally. I’ve tried most of the different methods out there and sometimes they get the job done, but sometimes they don’t. So what do you do when none of the other methods are working. The nail method!

The Nail Method

The nail method is a gritty and dirty method to finding studs. Essentially you take a small nail, preferably a little trim nail, or even a roofing nail, and you make small holes along your wall. I always used to cringe when someone mentioned this method because it seems barbaric, but you know what it works! Not only does it work, but it always works. I’ve never encountered a situation where the nail method wasn’t successful.

Get yourself a small trim nail, and start pounding in a nail in a straight line along your wall. Spread it out in 1-inch intervals and you’ll likely come across a stud in no time flat.

Finding the Other Studs

Once you locate the first stud you shouldn’t need to do much more damage to your walls or ceiling. With the first stud located you can measure 16 inches or 24 inches from that spot in the direction you need to go. Check with another nail to see if you’ve found your stud and you’re done.

Problems with the Nail Method

In some instance you might think that the nail method isn’t working because you aren’t using a long enough nail. When I was working on theĀ floating bed project I thought that the nail method was failing me when looking for a rafter in the ceiling to bolt the chain to. I was wrong. My issue wasn’t the method, but the fact that I didn’t have a long enough nail. The rafters weren’t right up against the ceiling in every position and I actually had to go about four inches past the ceiling before I hit the rafter. Make sure that you have a long enough nail when you are testing out the holes, and you’ll always find a stud.

Other than the nail being too short the only issue you’ll run into is the mess that you leave behind, and patching it up isn’t too difficult.

Fixing the Mess

The quickest and easiest way to fix any holes you make with the nail method is with a small tube of drywall compound like this one. Make sure that you have some around your house before you start the project, and you can quickly fill in all the holes after you’ve located and made use of any studs. The compound works on holes of around 1/4″ without a problem, so any smaller nails will be quick and easy to take care of with it.

Simply squirt some of the compound into the hole and wipe away the extra with your finger or a rag if you want to stay clean, I normally don’t care by the end of a project because I’m dirty anyway.

Each time I start a new project I rely on my stud finder first, but if that doesn’t work I move on to the nail method. The stud finder can usually make quick work of locating a good spot, but I still double check the findings using the nail method before I drill my first hole, drive my first screw or do whatever else I plan on doing. Having a set of trim nails, some compound and knowing how to use the technique is important to anyone planning indoor projects.