Help me find my ceiling studs
December 16, 2015 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I want to hang a projector screen from my ceiling, and I can't locate the studs. I have a magnetic stud finder, but it doesn't seem to be picking anything up.

First of all: this is going to be a 118-inch screen hanging in front of a 122-inch wall. So each of the two hooks needs to be pretty much exactly 2 inches in from the walls perpendicular to the screen. There's about a 10 inch margin of space forward or backward from the parallel wall where it could hang - from 16 to 26 inches away from the wall. I have no idea if it would be typical for there to be studs there. The screen weighs 30 pounds.

If there are not studs in that area, I figure I have two options: either use toggle bolt ceiling hooks like this, or locate the studs and screw a long piece of 2x4 to them to distribute the weight, and then screw hooks into the 2x4. I'd prefer not to use the toggle bolts if possible.

So, the problem: I cannot locate the studs. I'm not even sure which direction they'd go in.

I have a magnetic stud finder which works great on walls, but either the magnets aren't strong enough to be yanked directly up, or else maybe it's multiple layers of ceiling material. Either way, I haven't had any luck with it on the ceiling. I have also had no luck knocking and listening for the noise to change - it all sounds the same to me.

This is an apartment building (brownstone, top floor), so I can't go check in an attic or something.

Not sure if it helps, but the room in question is here (old photo, sorry it doesn't show much of the ceiling)

My next step was going to be some exploratory drilling, but I thought I'd check in here first. What should I try, here?
posted by showbiz_liz to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You should try a non-magnetic stud finder like this.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:14 AM on December 16, 2015

It is drywall, not plaster, on your ceiling, yes ?

Do you have access to an electronic stud finder ? (finds the density change or whatnot, instead of looking for nails/screws like the magnetic)

There's always the tap and knock way to find a stud (they make noticeably different sounds, but tends to get you ballpark close). Similarly, there's eyeballing it to see where the seams were taped/mudded, and extrapolating from there (also ballpark close).
posted by k5.user at 8:16 AM on December 16, 2015

Response by poster: Drywall, yes. I tried knocking and it didn't help; I also tried to look for seams and couldn't see any. I don't have an electronic stud finder.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:17 AM on December 16, 2015

Electronic stud finders sometimes work when magnetic ones don't. I've got an older one similar to the Zircon e50, and it works OK. (By that I mean: It works on some walls but not on others. When it doesn't work, the failure is almost always obvious, as opposed to just a false reading.)

If the finder is bringing you no joy, drill for it! Grab a 3/32" drill and make some test holes. They're small enough to patch easily and invisibly, and (in a hollow ceiling with wallboard over joists) will tell you where the studs are with no possibility of error.

Toggle bolts are marginally terrible for holding things on a wall. No way I'd ever trust one with something heavy and expensive overhead. Go with your plan to use a stringer if there are no studs in an opportune location.

[Metafilter: No studs in an opportune location.]
posted by sourcequench at 8:20 AM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

There is probably strapping on the ceiling. This is usually 1x3 lumber nailed perpendicularly across the joists (they're not called studs). It helps the ceiling to resist cracking and makes for a more uniformly flat surface on the drywall. But it makes finding the joists harder. I would use a combination of knocking and shining a flashlight, which will show the imperceptible ripples where the sheetrock crosses the strapping. You can probably hang your screen off the strapping rather than trying to find the joists which are 3/4" higher up.
posted by beagle at 8:22 AM on December 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have a similarly sized projector screen mounted with two of these (one at each end, where the hooks on the screen housing are) just in the drywall. I've done it this way for something like ten years now in eight different houses/apartments and never had a problem, but I also almost never roll it up and down.
posted by cmoj at 8:49 AM on December 16, 2015

I had the same problem, and I tackled it by getting the hardware together for either job. Drill your pilot holes for your optimal location, and check for studs, then install whichever you need. The toggle bolts will hold up a projector, no problem.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:54 AM on December 16, 2015

The screw in anchors would not be appropriate for hanging a projector from a ceiling. They are designed for vertical applications where the anchor is screwed into a wall horizontally and the load forces are in line with the drywall, rather than working to pull it out. Toggle bolts or other expanding drywall anchors are far better, but still not a great option. The problem with all of these is that they require rather large holes to be drilled.

I once had a stud finder that worked fine on plaster and lathe. Every once in a while it would confuse the lathe with a stud, but it was pretty obvious that it was happening since the spacing was quite irregular.

If there is accessible attic space above, the easiest thing to do is drill a small hole, stick a straightened coat hanger through it up into the attic and then you can measure the distance between your hole and the joist well enough to get close enough for a stud finder or knocking to find it. Or you can just measure precisely and transfer said measurement to the ceiling below to find where you need to drill.
posted by wierdo at 1:22 PM on December 16, 2015

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