All About Wooden Studs In Walls

Learn what they are, what they are used for, and other helpful information.

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When you need to hand a mirror, a framed picture/painting, or a shelf in your home, you typically think of banging the wall with a hammer and using nails to make the object hang properly. However, this is not a very reliable method. If you put a nail in your drywall to hang a picture, a mirror, or wall-mounted shelves, they will most likely fall off soon enough. 

To ensure you attach these objects securely, you need to locate the studs in your house. In this article, we will explain how to find a stud location using an old-fashioned method. Also, you will learn what studs are, how they work, and what they are used for in our homes. 

What Is a Stud In a Wall?

What are studs in the wall? Studs are vertical beams spaced 16 or 24 inches apart that work as support for the frame of your home. They are typically 2x4 inches and can be found behind the drywall. Studs are typically made of sturdy materials like thick wood or metal, which is why they can hold screws much better than wall materials like drywall. 

Typically, studs in a house are measured “on center”. It means you can measure them from the center of one stud to the center of an adjacent stud. This is a standardized spacing method that was developed by builders. This approach allows the drywall to be evenly supported. To attach drywall to studs, nails or screws are typically used.

An informative guide to understanding and finding wall studs in your home
Wall Stud Guide. itishouse.com

How Do Studs Work?

As we have already mentioned, studs in a wall work as support for the frame of your home. To be precise, studs have several important functions:

  • Wall studs hold up drywall on interior walls
  • Studs hold wood sheathing on exterior walls
  • Most electrical boxes for switches or outlets are attached to a stud
  • They secure windows
  • Studs are used for holding most trim that is nailed to them.

As you can see, wall studs perform an essential function in your house, serving as a guarantee for its stability and safety. This is why it is essential to choose the right material for your studs if you are going to build a house. 

Metal and Wood Studs Characteristics

Typically, wall studs are made of two types of material. They can be either wooden or metal. You might be wondering in what cases you should use steel or wood. Well, below you can check out some pros and cons of each material. This way, you will understand which one might be more useful for your home wall studs and why. 

Steel studs pros:

  • They have predictable quality (always arrive straight)
  • They do not bow or warp
  • They will not rot
  • Steel studs are durable
  • Steel studs are cost-effective (only 40% more expensive than wood studs)
  • They are lightweight
  • Suitable for problem areas (e.g. bathrooms, basements, and other water-prone areas)

Steel studs cons:

  • Difficult to cut (require a miter saw or circular saw with a metal-cutting blade)
  • Hard to find (not all stores offer them)
  • Come in limited dimensions
  • Metal requires more skill to work with and is a less forgiving material than wood.
  • Drywall installation is tricky
  • Steel studs can decay from rust

As you can see, metal studs are somewhat tricky and challenging to use due to the specifics of the material. This is why people still use wooden studs often. Compared to their metal counterparts, wooden studs come with a bunch of benefits everyone will appreciate:

Wood studs benefits:

  • They have standard sizes.
  • Wooden studs can be found in every home center and lumber yard
  • They are inexpensive
  • Wood is easy to cut

However, you must note that there is one significant disadvantage of wooden studs! They can rot, especially around the bottom of the walls. This is why wooden studs might not be your choice if your house is located in an area with moist soils or a moist climate. Also, wooden studs should not be used in the areas of your home that are exposed to high levels of moisture!

How Can I Find Studs In the Wall?

You might be wondering now how you can find studs if they are hidden behind the drywall and are not seen. Luckily, in most homes, studs can easily be found with the help of a few methods. 

For example, you can use a tape measure. As an option, a flashlight and a magnet can also help you locate the studs in your walls. Another solution is to use electronic stud finders. We recommend you try out more than one method since it will help you find the studs’ location with greater accuracy. Below, you can read about the five methods of locating studs behind the drywall.

Use an Electronic Stud Finder

This is the simplest way to locate the studs. The only thing you need is a stud finder that can be found in hardware shops or online. The great thing about this method is that it’s cheap since these devices cost anywhere between $10 to $50. Besides, most stud finder models can differentiate between wood and metal studs, and they can even alert you to the presence of electrical wires!

However, you should note that stud finders aren’t very accurate when identifying studs through plaster walls! So, if you have plaster walls, you should use the device paired with other methods in order to get the most accurate results. 

Using an electronic stud finder is very easy:

  • Hold it flat against the wall, about a foot to the left of where you want to drill.
  • Slowly slide the device to the right.
  • When it lights up or beeps, retrace the last few inches. It will help you to ensure you know where the alert occured.
  • Then mark that spot with a pencil.

This way, you can find the left side of your stud. To locate the right side of it, repeat this process, moving the electric stud finder to the left and marking the point where the finder makes a signal.

Follow the Outlets

As you already know, light switches or outlets are typically fastened to the wall studs. This is why following light switches or outlets can be an excellent way to locate the stud! 

Remove the outlet or light switch cover, and peer inside with a flashlight until you see which side of the stud is attached to the box. From there, you need to measure out 3/4 of an inch to locate the center of the stud beam. 

Tap the Stud Out With a Knock Test

This is another way to spot the wall studs. To perform the knock test, you need to unroll a tape measure from a corner of your home and mark the wall with a pencil at 12, 16 and 24 inches. Then, knock the wall at each point. Areas without studs will give off a low, hollow sound. However, when you tap a stud, the wall will produce a more solid sound in a higher tone.

Opt For the Magnets

If you have fridge magnets, you can use them to locate the studs in your walls. Pick the strongest magnet and use tape or string to dangle it along the wall. You need to allow it to pull you towards the nail in the stud. Once your magnet is pulled to the nail, measure 16 or 24 inches out to find the rest of the studs.

Trace Your Trim

Since your baseboard is likely attached to studs, if you follow it precisely, you should be able to find spots where it was nailed. These spots will probably look like dimples since they have been filled with caulk and painted over. But you should still be able to locate them if you look close enough. 

After you find the spots where the baseboard was nailed, trace a vertical line up your wall with a pencil. Also, you should use additional stud-finding methods like knocking along the line to hear if the sound is hollow or solid or using a magnet to spot your stud’s nail.  

The rule of thumb is simple: the more methods you use at the same time, the more chances you have to find the studs! 

Now you know what wall studs are and what they are used for in our homes. We explained what these studs are made of and what pros and cons each material comes with. Finally, now you know what methods you can use to locate the studs. 

 

So, you have found your studs, and now it's time to familiarize yourself with all the steps of the rough frame. This is where the fun really begins! Rough framing is the process of creating the basic structure of your walls before adding any fancy finishes. It's like building the skeleton of your house before adding the muscles and skin. It may not look very pretty at first, but it is an important step in the construction process. With a rough frame, you'll be sketching out the basic shape of your walls, installing door and window openings, and getting ready to install electrical and plumbing systems. Think of it as the foundation of your home's personality - it can be rough, but it's important to create a solid structure that will last for years to come. So grab your hammer and nails and get ready for some rough framing like a pro! 

Facts

Here are some intriguing facts and records about this ubiquitous building element:
  1. The 'Standard' Distance: In North America, the typical spacing for wall studs is 16 inches (406 mm) 'on center', a standard that has been traced back to the 1850s. The term 'on center' means the distance is measured from the center of one stud to the center of the next.
  2. Oldest Known Wooden Wall: The oldest known wooden wall dates back to 8300-7800 BC. It was discovered in Jericho, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. This wall was made of undressed stones and mud, topped with a wooden frame.
  3. World's Tallest Wooden Building: The Mjösa Tower in Norway, completed in 2019, is currently the world's tallest wooden building. It stands 85.4 meters tall, is 18 stories high and is primarily constructed from wooden studs, showcasing the strength and versatility of wooden construction.
  4. The Great Stud Shortage: In 2021, there was a significant lumber shortage in North America which caused a spike in the price of wooden studs. The price of a standard 2x4 stud increased nearly 250% over a few months.
  5. Fire-Rating: Contrary to what one might expect, a wall built with wooden studs can have a one-hour fire rating if it's correctly built and finished with fire-resistant drywall.
  6. Carbon Footprint: Wooden studs are considered a sustainable building material as they sequester carbon dioxide. For every cubic meter of wood used in place of other building materials, an average of 1.1 tons of CO2 emissions is saved.
  7. Stud Locating: Stud finders, the handy device used to find studs behind drywall, were invented in 1977 by Robert Franklin. These devices use either magnetism or density detection to locate the studs.
  8. Versatility in Design: A less known fact about wooden studs is their ability to be easily shaped and cut for custom design work, from curved walls to intricate detailing, wooden studs can do it all.

History

Our tale begins in the mid-19th century, at the dawn of a construction revolution in North America. Before this era, the framework for buildings was crafted from heavy timbers. These were sturdy, yes, but also labor-intensive and expensive. The birth of the wooden stud wall offered a practical and economical alternative, a revolutionary change that would forever impact the world of construction.

In 1833, a man named Augustine Deodat Taylor, an architect from Chicago, patented the design for what he called the 'Balloon Frame House'. This design relied on the use of vertical wooden studs, spaced evenly apart, connected by horizontal pieces called plates and sills. The voids between these studs were filled with insulation materials, making buildings warmer and more energy-efficient. It was the dawn of a new era, one dominated by the wooden stud wall.

This technique of framing became widely popular in North America for its simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and versatility. The standard distance between studs, known as 'on center', was established as 16 inches - a measurement that continues to dominate American construction today.

As this new method took hold, forests of tall, straight trees - perfect for crafting these uniform studs - became prized assets. Entire industries sprang up to support this demand, leading to a boom in the lumber industry and the growth of towns and cities.

Over time, improvements were made. Fire-resistant drywall added a layer of safety to these wooden structures. The invention of the stud finder in 1977 by Robert Franklin made it easier to locate studs behind drywall, simplifying the construction and renovation process. And, in the face of growing environmental awareness, the carbon-sequestering nature of wood has led to a renewed interest in wooden stud walls as a sustainable building solution.

Expert Advice

  1. Choose the Right Wood: Not all woods are created equal. Spruce, pine, and fir (SPF) are popular choices due to their durability and cost-effectiveness. Always look for straight, dry studs, free from large knots or splits, as these can compromise the structural integrity of your wall.
  2. Spacing Matters: Standard stud spacing in North America is 16 inches 'on center', which means the distance from the center of one stud to the center of the next. This spacing allows for easy installation of 4-foot wide panels of plywood or drywall.
  3. Insulation Is Key: The spaces between studs offer an excellent opportunity for insulation, increasing the energy efficiency of your building. Fiberglass batts are a common choice, but there are plenty of other options depending on your needs and budget.
  4. Don't Forget the Headers: Over doors and windows, the studs will need to be reinforced with headers. The size of these headers will depend on the size of the opening, the load above, and the local building codes.
  5. Use a Stud Finder: When renovating or hanging heavy objects, it's crucial to locate the studs behind your drywall. A stud finder is an invaluable tool for this job, helping prevent unnecessary damage to your walls.
  6. Follow Building Codes: Always ensure your stud wall construction adheres to local building codes. These regulations are in place to ensure the safety and durability of your structure.
  7. Seek Professional Help: If you're new to construction or tackling a large project, don't hesitate to seek the help of a professional. The structural integrity of your building is not something to gamble with.

Safety

  1. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Always wear the appropriate personal protective equipment. This includes hard hats, safety glasses, work gloves, and steel-toed boots. This equipment will protect you from potential hazards such as falling objects, flying debris, and injury from hand tools.
  2. Check the Material: Inspect each wooden stud before use. Look for signs of damage, such as cracks or splits, that could weaken the structure. Also, ensure the wood is dry as wet wood can warp over time and compromise the wall's integrity.
  3. Proper Tool Handling: Ensure all tools are in good working order before starting. Tools should be used according to the manufacturer's instructions and stored properly when not in use to prevent accidents.
  4. Stud Spacing: Ensure studs are spaced correctly (generally 16 inches apart, center to center). Incorrect spacing can lead to a structurally weak wall that could collapse.
  5. Level and Plumb: Use a spirit level to make sure your studs are plumb (vertical) and your top and bottom plates are level (horizontal). This is crucial to the stability and squareness of the finished wall.
  6. Secure Fastening: Use the correct length of nails or screws and ensure they are driven in securely. An improperly fastened stud can cause instability in the wall structure.
  7. Avoid Overreaching: Keep your work within a comfortable reach. Overreaching can lead to loss of balance and injury.
  8. Keep a Clean Work Area: Regularly clean up sawdust and scrap wood to prevent slips, trips, and falls.
  9. Lifting Techniques: Always bend at the knees and keep your back straight when lifting heavy objects. Use a partner to help with heavy or awkward loads to avoid strains and sprains.
  10. First Aid: Keep a first aid kit nearby. All workers should be aware of basic first aid procedures in case of an accident.
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