Best Stud Finder of 2021
The Bosch Digital Multiscanner GMS120 is a powerhouse of a wall scanner. It has three modes; wood, metal, and electrical power, and is quite accurate with all three. In addition to the three scan modes, the Bosch has a center finder for studs, a magnetic sensor to show screws and other metal, and a ring that changes color depending on how close you are to the material you're seeking. The light-up ring changes from green (no stud sensed), yellow (close), to red (directly on top of a stud). The ring is also hollow, allowing accurate marks right in the center of the sensor. We also like that we didn't have to hold the buttons down when we used it, which was more comfortable in awkward positions, like looking for ceiling joists. It also has a light-up screen, making it easy to use in crawl spaces or other dimly lit areas.
We did wish the device was a little smaller, as it's quite bulky and takes up most of a pocket on a toolbelt. We also would have liked an edge sensor, although the center sensor is quite accurate, so as long as we knew the actual width of our studs (usually 1.5 inches), we were able to make do. Despite its bulk, the Bosch GMS120 is accurate, multi-use, and easy to read, and for these reasons, our favorite all-around product we've tested.
For what it offers, the Zircon A100 Stud Finder is an excellent tool. Although it's fairly simple, the few features it possesses are really nice and quite accurate. We found the edge sensing to be accurate to within 1/16 of an inch, and the illuminated arrow it casts on the wall makes for a really nice way to see and mark studs. The Zircon has two settings, StudScan and DeepScan, depending on how deep the material is. The Deepscan can sense to 1.5 inches deep. It also does a good job of sensing wires and AC power with its wire warning.
Unlike the fancier models, the A100 doesn't differentiate between wood and metal studs, nor does it have many other features, although Zircon offers more expensive models that do. It also has to be held in a certain way to hit the button, although it's fairly ergonomic. Still, this was one of our favorite tools and is useful and accurate for most projects while keeping costs low.
The Black and Decker Bullseye is a simple tool, but it does have a few great features that help with many projects that require a stud finder. First, the name comes from the large circle on top where there's a hole just big enough for a pencil tip to mark the wall, ensuring accurate marks every time. There's also a wire detection feature in the form of a small red light. Where it really shines, though, is the laser level. We found this feature to be super helpful when hanging multiple picture frames, allowing us to line up nails and hangers with precision across a room. The laser is broad enough to work on textured sheetrock as well, which not every laser level is.
We didn't love how bulky the Black & Decker tool is, as it makes it a bit cumbersome to use. It also isn't the most sensitive sensor, forcing us to drag it across the wall slower than some of the other models we tested. Still, it was our favorite for hanging a bunch of picture frames, and we'd recommend it if you want a level and a stud finder in one tool.
Despite the various technological advancements of density scanning that many wall scanners use, there is nothing more reliable than a magnet finding a screw holding the sheetrock to the stud. That's why the C.H. Hanson Magnetic Stud Finder is great. Magnets don't get false readings, nor do they have a hard time differentiating between different materials; either it is steel, or it isn't. Magnets work great with sheetrock, and they work even better with plaster and lathe walls, as many older buildings have. The C.H. Hanson model also comes with a level, which allows you to ensure its point on the bottom is facing plumb straight down.
What this product has in reliability, it lacks in any sort of additional capabilities. The C.H. Hanson will only find the screws in the studs, not the stud itself, so we were never sure if we were drilling into the center of the stud or not. Sheetrock screws are usually 12-16 inches apart, so it can take a bit of noodling around to find two screws to ensure the line of a stud. Still, for ease of use and no false positives, the CH Magnetic Stud Finder is quite handy.
The Franklin ProSensor 710 proved surprisingly reliable and accurate in our tests. Instead of a screen that lights up when over a stud or stud edge, the ProSensor has a bar of lights that shine when directly over a stud. The lights also always err on the inside of a stud, so as not to give false positive readings. We also liked that it shows the entire stud, which could help when there are nonstandard sized studs behind the sheetrock. It also has a level, a ruler, and a straightedge to make accurate marks on the wall.
As much as we like the display and straightedge, we wish it was a little easier to hold. The ProSensor is oriented horizontally, unlike all the others we tested, and was a little more of a hassle to deal with, especially at odd angles, like finding ceiling joists. It also lacks AC power and metal detection and distinction. Still, it's a reliable tool that seems like it will last a long time.
In juxtaposition to the incredibly simple magnetic stud finders is the Walabot DIY Plus Wall Scanner, which is an attachment for Android smartphones that lets you "see" into your walls. As far as finding studs, we were surprised at how well it worked for sensing things. It did a decent job of differentiating between metal and wood if the material was directly behind the sheetrock, less so the further away it was. It could also detect deep pipes and studs, about 3 inches according to our test results, but at that range, it couldn't accurately say what the material was. The Walabot Plus also detects movement behind walls, if you're looking for the mice chewing up your insulation or the pet hamster that escaped.
While the Walabot Plus is a unique solution, we think it's making something more complicated than it needs to be. The Walabot requires a specific type of smartphone, plus an app and a cable connecting the phone to the device. Then, it requires registration and setup before you can even begin to use it to find studs. You could use a traditional stud finder to complete the project before you get this device setup. Also, because our smartphone was attached to it, the consequences of dropping it, especially off a ladder, seemed significantly more dire. Because the scanner-plus-phone combo lifts the screen away from the wall, it's also harder to accurately mark the edge of the studs as well. While it's a powerful wall scanner, we don't think this is the best solution for most people.
The Studbuddy Magnetic Studfinder is about as simple as it gets; it's just an oval magnet with a flat side. That's about it. It detects steel studs and drywall screws, or any other ferrous metal in the wall. It never runs out of batteries and requires a lot of effort to break. The shape helps point out vertical studs, but to be accurate, you'd have to use a separate level to draw a straight line up or down to where you want to place a nail or picture hanger. The nice thing about magnetic stud finders is that there are no false positives; either there is metal that the magnet sticks to, or there isn't.
While the StudBuddy is great if there are different things behind the wall that other tools are picking up on, like copper and PVC pipes, it's not exactly the first tool we tend to reach for when looking for studs. Still, some of the best carpenters we know rely solely on magnets and tape measures for all their stud finding needs, so if you like the old-school feel, this might be the solution for you.
The Tavool 4-in-1 Stud Finder is a powerful sensor that can accurately detect wood, metal, and wires in a wall. It has a decent center finder for studs, as well as edge finders. The Tavool tool also doesn't require a thumb constantly pressing the button; just press it once, wait for it to calibrate, then scan. We like that it has four modes, including wood, deep scan, metal, and AC power.
This is the model that took us the longest to figure out (beyond the Walabot), and we don't love the display. We found it less intuitive than every other product we tested, as this was the only one we actually had to break out the instructions for. The Tavool tool also needed a slower scan than some of the others we tested, which was annoying. For similar capabilities, we think other options might be preferable for most.
The Craftsman 3/4 Inch Stud Finder is a simple, straightforward wall scanner. It doesn't sense different materials, just whether or not there's something behind the sheetrock. It isn't super powerful, but it's enough to sense something if it's within about 1/4 of an inch of the sheetrock, whether it's a stud, pipe, or wire. The Craftsman also has a nice little V on the top, which allowed us to make nice accurate arrows point where studs began and ended.
This product is the simplest of the battery-powered models we tested; it doesn't really have any features, aside from the little V on top and the edge sensor LED. It is inexpensive and relatively accurate, so if you're just looking for a simple tool for a few projects around the house, this could work for you. We think most folks will benefit from a different model, though, in the same price range or just a bit more.
Why You Should Trust Us
Review editor Ethan Newman has over a decade of construction experience. He has worked on projects ranging from Florida's first Earthship style home to building backcountry outhouses in Los Glaciares Parque Nacional, Argentina. He's also a homeowner and runs several rental properties, so he knows the DIY value of getting it right the first time when boring holes into a wall.
For this review, we purchased each product independently after thorough research of the market. Products in-hand, we take each through a rigorous and objectively measurable series of tests, as well as use them in real-world situations to find anything that might not occur in a "lab setting." We also built a small test wall of sheetrock and studs to measure how accurate and sensitive each stud finder is, as well as their metal, wire, and pipe sensing abilities. We used these products to install over 50 picture frames and art in our lead tester's home to round out our extensive testing.
Analysis and Test Results
After completing our testing and comparing notes and data, we used these results to score each product across predetermined metrics covering different aspects of the products. The following is a breakdown of how the various models measured up in these metrics.
Every inaccurate hole we drill into a wall is a hole that has to be covered up and repainted, so accurate sensing is paramount in a decent stud finder. For straight-up edge sensing, the Bosch GMS120, Zircon, Black & Decker, and Tavool could all sense the edge of a wooden or metal stud within 1/16 of an inch. The Bosch and Zircon were also especially good at finding AC power, which is important to prevent accidentally drilling into a live wire.
The StudBuddy and C.H. Hanson were accurate, but in a different way. Because they are just strong magnets, they are attracted to the steel drywall screws that hold the sheetrock to the studs. They also find steel pipes and studs, but those tend to be somewhat less common in most walls. They will not, however, detect copper or aluminum pipes and studs.
We tested accuracy by building a small simulated test wall with a 2-foot by 2-foot piece of 1/2 inch sheetrock, with 2x6 lumber as studs. We mounted the studs exactly 6 inches in from the sides, so we could precisely test our tools. We also simulated steel studs with 1/8 inch steel and a copper pipe section to test for nonferrous metal sensing. AC power sensing was field-tested around light switches and outlets.
Ease of Use
Often times, the place that is easiest to drill or nail and the ideal spot to drill are not the same. Whether on the ceiling, high on a ladder, or over inconvenient obstacles, having a device that is easy to use no matter the situation is very helpful. Ideally, we could also take a device and hand it to any DIY accomplice, and they could understand its functions without explanation. There are typically enough things we have to remember while building, renovating, or mounting; how to use our tools is one more thing we don't need to bog our heads down.
The easiest to use were, somewhat obviously, the Studbuddy and the C.H. Hanson magnetic stud finders. All the instructions say to do is slide the device around the wall in an "S" pattern until we felt the pull of the magnetism. Sure enough, it worked.
Somewhat surprisingly, we also found the Bosch quite intuitive, despite its multiple features. We really liked that we didn't have to hold down the button to keep sensing (a feature the Tavool also has), and the functions were easy to understand. We also liked the Zircon, as it has a little projected light opposite of the marking V that allows for really precise marks.
While a wall scanner primarily finds studs, having a tool that can detect other things behind drywall can be quite handy and prevent some seriously unfortunate mishaps. Some of the models we tested came with analog features like levels and straight edges, as well as more advanced tools like AC power sensing, magnetic sensors to detect steel studs and screws, and pipe detection abilities. The more and better features the product had, the higher it scored.
We really liked the features on the Bosch wall scanner, and we found them to be intuitive and accurate. Not only would it detect what it was scanning for when directly over the material, but a light-up ring indicated that it was close to something via a green-yellow-red system that was easy to understand. The Walabot also does a good job of showing what's behind the wall, whether it's pipe, wires, or studs. However, because it's further from the wall, it's hard to mark stud edges accurately.
Although many of the models come with a level on them, we found the laser level of the Black & Decker Bullseye to be really handy in certain situations. We used it to line up picture frames across a broad wall, making it much shorter work than using a spirit level or tape measure. The level on the Franklin was also useful paired with its straight edges and measurement markings.
Whether you're redoing your kitchen or hanging a picture frame in your home, stud finders can be a key tool in your DIY arsenal. Detecting what's behind your sheetrock can not only save you work and time but also might help avoid dangerous mistakes. We aim to objectively evaluate the options out there, both by using them in real-world situations and devising specific tests. We hope this review helped you find the stud finder for your needs, applications, and budget.
— Ethan Newman