How can you determine whether a metallic object is hidden behind drywall without tearing it down? You could ask the architect who built your home a million years ago, or you could use a stud finder. Stud finders are an ingenious tool that every home improvement DIY-er should have. But how can you know which type of stud finder—magnetic or electronic—is the right fit? In this guide, we’ll help you studs out there find which stud finder is the better option.
Magnetic Stud Finder
As you can tell from its name, magnetic stud finders use the magical properties of magnets to identify the location of metal screws and nails used to keep studs in place. As the tool gets closer to metal objects in walling, the magnet’s attraction grows stronger. When using this tool, simply let the power of magnets do its thing while you slowly move the tool along the surface of your wall.
The bond between magnets and metal is a match made in heaven, but it’s not exactly accurate. The attraction is pretty clear—the tool’s magnet will try to adhere itself to metal, but the surface area of the magnet is far too wide to be 100 percent foolproof. At best, it will give you a general indication of where metal nails and screws are, not the precise location.
Magnetic stud finders are ideal for those who are looking for an inexpensive option for locating hidden metallic objects behind walling. Oftentimes, they can lead to false positives such as a loose nail or a prank that the old contractors left behind. Also, if your home was built with wooden studs, you may not have any luck at all with a magnetic stud finder (for obvious reasons).
If you need ultra-precision, you might want to consider electronic stud finders instead.
Electronic Stud Finder
The truest way to determine whether a stud is hidden behind walling is by using an electronic stud finder. This tool works by gauging the relative density of a tiny portion of walling. When it detects high-density objects—e.g. a stud—it will alert the user by lighting up or beeping.
There’s virtually no way to trick the electronic sensors into miscalculating the location of denser objects behind walling. Also, they provide an accurate clue as to whether a hard object is hidden behind walling rather than the unreliability of something-MIGHT-be-there magnets.
However, that’s not to say that electronic stud finders are completely foolproof. After all, they use electronic components which can deteriorate over time and cause it to malfunction. This is especially true if you leave the device in moisture-heavy areas like basements or unattended in garages. Also, they’re more expensive than their magnetic counterparts by quite a wide margin so unless you’re serious about being a handyman, this may not be the most cost-effective stud finder to have.
Magnetic vs. Electronic: Which Should I Get?
In a nutshell, magnetic stud finders rely on metal objects behind walling just to give an inkling of where studs are located. Electronic stud finders, on the other hand, are much more accurate but come at a higher upfront cost. We’d recommend a magnetic stud finder to aspiring home improvement DIY-ers and electronic stud finders to more serious contract workers who would use a stud finder more frequently.