Finding A Stud
We have absolutely no idea exactly how many sexually oriented jokes we’ve heard on the subject, but they number somewhere in the thousands. They range from quotes about Dr. Ruth, the world’s most famous sex therapist, to questions about how hard it is to erect a wall – think about it!
However, the fact of the matter is that the wall studs (the vertical members that make up the wall skeleton) actually constitute some pretty serious construction. Studs are really important. They hold up the roof, they hold windows and doors in place, they retain insulation and they act as a base for interior and exterior wall coverings like plaster, stucco, siding and masonry. But studs have another important use – and it’s not making puppies or ponies.
In an earthquake a stud or two can be the reason why your water heater doesn’t topple and explode. In a hurricane a wall stud could be the reason why a cabinet doesn’t fall over and injure a member in your family. And, under less critical conditions a stud can be the reason why a towel bar, toilet paper holder or your favorite family portrait doesn’t fall off the wall.
Basically, the stud is the one standard within a wall that can be relied upon to offer solid support to whatever it is (inside or out) that you want firmly held in place no matter what condition exists. Screwing the ends of the support strap (that surrounds a water heater) into solid wood can prevent the tank from toppling during an earthquake. A toppling gas fired water heater can become an explosive devise as a tilting tank shears a gas line and then ignites the spewing fuel. Remember the time that you were hanging that picture and you hit solid wood with the hangar nail? Remember how you thought, “this one will never move”. Unfortunately, a stud can sometimes be hard to find. But where there is a will there is a way. Read on!
Naturally, the easiest way to find a stud is with a stud finder. There are two types: 1) magnetic, and 2) electronic. The magnetic type doesn’t detect studs but rather the nails that hold the wallboard to the studs. Close enough for us. The magnetic stud finder is the less expensive of the two, but the easiest to damage – a relatively fragile tool. The electronic stud finder is definitely more expensive, but has the advantage of showing you the EXACT location of the stud – from one side to the other. You can even get them with audible signals. Wake up stupid, you’ve found what you’re looking for. Electronic detectors also can be used to find electric wiring, pipes and other objects within wall cavities. Definitely the hard-core do-it-yourselfer’s choice.
If you aren’t a tool freak and want alternatives to a stud finder you can be inventive and use your own homegrown tool – a small table lamp. That’s right, a lamp! Remember what we just told you about how the magnetic stud finder works? You know, by finding nails. Well, sometimes you can find those same nails with the naked eye. All you need is a little side lighting. Take the shade off of a small lamp and shine it across the subject wall’s surface. The light will cause high and low spots to be exaggerated. In other words you will be able to see even the smallest indentation (in this case, one caused by a puttied nail). You might even be able to sight a nail.
Actually, we don’t use either technique. Since the walls in both our homes are covered with wallboard (this technique doesn’t work as well with plaster) we can find studs by simply taping the wall with our knuckles or the side of our fist. As you tap closer to the stud the wall sounds less hollow and the hollow sound begins to sound more like a thud. It takes a bit of experience, but once you get the feel it’s hard to miss finding a stud by more than a fraction of an inch. Worst case scenario you can drive a tiny nail into the wall (in a horizontal line) at about three-quarter inch intervals until you find what you’re looking for. Several small nail holes can be instantly patched with a fingertip full of toothpaste.
Regardless of which technique you decide to use it is important to remember that the studs in a wall are usually found at either sixteen- or twenty-four-inch centers. Keep in mind that a nearby wall intersection, a window or a door can throw off the layout we just mentioned.
Once you find your stud you may discover that your favorite picture won’t be centered if you try mouting it in that location. So be it. However, don’t forget this important technique when it comes to securing bookcases, water heaters and other earthquake and hurricane sensitive items.
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