Help me find a stud.
March 13, 2013 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm having trouble finding wall studs in my apartment.

My current abode is an apartment in a pre-war NYC building (1927 to be exact). Recently, I wanted to hang some shelves, but was stymied by my inability to find the wall studs. An electronic stud finder was useless, so I commenced to tapping the walls and probing with a 1/16" drill bit to no avail. I tried looking for both 16" and 24" gapped studs and started both from a corner of my kitchen and from an electrical outlet. The drill bit goes through the wall board or plaster and finds nothing behind it at every point I check.

Before I start trying to use longer and more invasive techniques, I was wondering if anyone with some familiarity with the ins and outs of older buildings might have any other helpful suggestions.

posted by ursus_comiter to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Sure you don't have lath & plaster? Your studs may be very far apart, if that's the case.
posted by hanov3r at 12:30 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your walls are probably plaster. You should be hitting wood lath, narrow horizontal strips of wood nailed to studs; the lath serves as a base for the plaster. You may need to try with a longer drill bit.
posted by mareli at 12:31 PM on March 13, 2013

Response by poster: I think it's quite likely that it's lath & plaster, yes.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:35 PM on March 13, 2013

Try finding the studs with a magnet. Run a magnet along the walls (or tie one to a string and swing it slowly along the wall), and look for it to stick. If it does there's a nail there, hopefully going into a stud.
posted by lharmon at 12:37 PM on March 13, 2013

When old plaster starts to crumble off its lath, one (cheap/quick) way of getting "new" walls is just to screw drywall sheets on top. That means that to find a stud, you'd go through 1/2" of drywall, then 1/2" of plaster, then 1/4"-3/8" of lath. you'd have to drill each test-hole more than an inch deep to see if there's wood back there.

To be sure about that's going on, maybe take the cover plate off an outlet or wall switch and see if you can tell what the layers are. Also, when you know that an electrical box is attached to a stud (by looking at the inside of the box) can you "find" that stud from the front of the wall?
posted by aimedwander at 12:38 PM on March 13, 2013

You might have plaster on lath, with studs spaced more widely than the standard 16 inches. Probably 24 inches. If there is ceiling moulding or baseboard you might get a clue by seeing where those are nailed. Or note where electrical outlets and switches are mounted and extrapolate. If your stud finder has a metal setting, you could try that, and it might find the row of nails attaching lath to studs. Also, if you have made a big enough hole somewhere you could feel through it with a coat hanger wire and locate studs.
posted by beagle at 12:38 PM on March 13, 2013

Response by poster: I have attempted to scout out a stud by taking a plate off my local outlet in the vicinity, but the interior of the outlet box was not such that I could see anything to the right or left of it.

Will consider hacking up some sort of magnetic search.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:41 PM on March 13, 2013

Do you have wide wooden baseboards/mop boards? If so, check to see where they are nailed.
posted by Knappster at 12:47 PM on March 13, 2013

Yeah, you could even gently pull off a baseboard to see what's there. Baseboards don't support any weight, so they might just be nailed into lath.
posted by mareli at 12:50 PM on March 13, 2013

Best answer: I drill a small hole diagonally sideways into the wall, then unbend a wire clothes hanger and poke it inside to find a stud. That lets me reach a foot or a bit more sideways. Sometimes I have to drill more than one diagonal hole, but it's easy to do.

If there's a picture-hanging rail near the top of the wall, drilling the hole just above that means the hole is quite hidden.
posted by anadem at 12:57 PM on March 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

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