Wall Studs – What Are They?

Wall studs are the beams which hold the Gyprock sheets your Gyprock walls are made of in place. Check out one of the walls in your home. Hidden behind your walls are the wall studs. They are vertical lengths of timber or steel. How high your wall studs are is determined by the height of your walls; most walls in modern houses are 2.7 m high.

Stud finder
Stud finder

It can get confusing because there are several names for Gyprock. Is also known as gypsum board, drywall, sheet rock, or plasterboard. These drywall sheets are made of calcium sulphate dihydrate and have thick paper on both front and back. They come in different thicknesses, widths and lengths. No matter what their size, they will always be attached to the wall studs.

Your builder nails or screws the Gyprock sheets to your wall studs which frame each room. In Australia these vertical wall studs are normally spaced at 450 mm intervals. Sometimes they can be spaced every 600 mm.

Do I Need to Hang my Pictures on a Wall Stud?

It’s a question we’re often asked: “do I need to hang my artwork on a stud? Will it be safe if I don’t?” The short answer is: “No, perhaps and what about a nifty alternative!”

The problem is that the studs never seem to be just where you’d like to hang your painting. If your picture is light, you might be okay with just a nail. If it’s heavy it’s weight could tear down the nail, and you may find a puddle of calcium sulphate dihydrate and glass shards just below where your framed photo once hung. Not good!

How about if you want to hang several pictures? Or maybe the pictures you’d like to hang are anything but light. Perhaps you have photographs behind frames that you’d like to be able to savour from your favourite spot on your sofa with a glass of red wine in hand. Frames can enhance photos and paintings and the glass can protect them. The only drawback is the weight of the final framed picture.

Before I delve into the gory details of the stud finder, let me share something with you that many people just don’t know about.

The other day I got a call from a former federal civil servant. He told me that at 64 he was stunned to have discovered something he wished he’d known all his life: that the picture hanging systems he’d seen in art galleries are also available for normal human beings. He’d been to visit a friend with an eclectic art collection that he’d gathered during the many years he’d spent working in Melanesia. His friend had hung up all is mementos by means of a picture hanging system: ‘strips’ on the wall with his art attached to ‘hang straps’ is how the gentleman how described it to me.

The professional term for this is a picture hanging system. It consists of a picture hanging rail https://www.hanglogic.com.au/products-services/wall-fixed/click-rail-install-kit/ that you attach to your walls by clicking it onto clips (screwed in a straight line on the top of your wall).

click rail connect clips

You then twist hanging wires https://www.hanglogic.com.au/product/twister-1mm-hanging-wire/  into the rail which you can slide back and forth along the rail.


Then you slide hooks https://www.hanglogic.com.au/product/micro-grip-hook-1mm/  onto the hanging wire. All this together lets you position your paintings, pictures and photographs wherever you want along your wall and at any height.

This is what the end result could look like:


If you have an exposed or hidden timber beam you could even attach a ‘top rail’ https://www.hanglogic.com.au/products-services/ceiling-fixed/top-rail-install-kit/  to it.


This is a picture hanging system designed for horizontal surfaces that allows your paintings to hang down from the ceiling or from a beam.

Stud Finder – How Does it Work?

I digress! Let me get back to the original theme of this article which was whether you should use a stud finder. The purpose of a stud finder is to help you find studs that can’t be seen. This can also be advantageous when installing picture hanging systems https://www.hanglogic.com.au/products-services/installation-services/picture-hanging-system-install/ .

It will help you locate metal and timber studs, which you can access to hang heavier objects from them. It can also help you discover where your electrical wiring is.

When you set out to buy a stud finder, you’ll find there are many options https://www.bunnings.com.au/products/tools/hand-tools/measuring-tools/stud-finders


Best not to buy a magnetic or battery-operated stud finder. These may be all right in buildings with metal studs but they are less accurate in homes. Magnetic stud finders will pick up on nails or screws that have been driven into your studs. However, they detect anything metallic in a wall, whether it’s driven into a stud or not. They could mislead you!

The battery-operated stud finders often don’t have the penetrating power to accurately detect the studs through the wall.

The best choice is a stud finder with AC wire detection. This type of stud finder reveals the presence of live electrical AC wiring whilst it is the scanning for studs and metal objects.


Stick painters’ tape around the area you plan to scan. This allows you to mark where your wiring is after you have detected it. Let your stud finder calibrate and make sure there is no interference nearby. Then slowly move it horizontally along your wall. When you hear it beep, you’ll know it has detected a stud or wires and you’ll see the reading on its digital display.

How Can I Find My Studs?

Let me repeat, the most efficient way to locate your wall studs is with an electronic stud finder. How does it work? It uses sensors to detect density changes in your wall or variations in an electrostatic field. It can detect edges, centres and locations of multiple studs simultaneously with pinpoint precision. It will also alert you to live electrical wires that may be hidden and buried deeply below your walls.

Stud Finder – How Do I Use It?

If you want to hang a picture you need to be sure you don’t end up screwing into live electrical wires. That could prove deadly. Here’s how to use your stud finder to avoid this dilemma.

Look to see if there are any electrical outlet close to where you’d like to hang your picture. Such electrical outlets had to be attached to the side of studs, either to the left or to the right of them.

Hold your stud finder firmly against your wall and push the on button. Once you’ve found one wall stud just move 400 mm to the left or right to find the next stud.


A word of warning: if you have doors and windows in your wall the studs may be irregularly spaced. Why? Because doors and windows require extra framing around the opening. These frames support the door or the window.

It’s best to doublecheck to be certain that you found a wall stud. Try this trick: drill a little hole where you think the stud is. Then you’ll be 100% certain that you’ve hit wood or metal and not air.

One thing to pay attention to if you have an older home is that you may have non-standard distances between your wall studs.

Stud Finder – Tips for a More Accurate Reading

If you want to get an accurate reading from your stud finder don’t wear any rings on your hands and make sure your mobile phone is far away from the stud finder; they can both falsify your readings.

Make sure you’ve placed your stud finder flat against your wall. Hold your stud finder with one hand and put your other hand flat against your wall about 25 cm away from stud finder. This grounds you and gives you a more accurate reading.

Another word of warning: if you’re using a battery-operated stud finder make sure it’s fully charged. Low batteries may give you wrong results. Moisture in your walls can also stop you from getting correct readings. So, if you’ve just freshly painted your walls wait for 2 to 4 weeks until they are completely dry before you get going with your stud finder.

How Can I Find My Wall Studs If I Don’t Have a Stud Finder?

If you don’t own a stud finder, and aren’t up for buying one there, there are some nifty solutions which will let you find your wall studs just by using things that you’re likely to have lying around the house.

Here is what you will need

  • a torch
  • a tape measure
  • a nail
  • a hammer
  • a wire coat hanger

Shine your torch along your wall at an angle. Search for small dimples or bumps.


These irregularities are caused by those nails that help hold up our homes and prevent them from collapsing on us while we sleep peacefully. They secure the Gyprock sheets to the studs. They are a great clue, because below them you’re highly likely to have a stud.

Here’s another trick: check your skirting boards for any nails or outlets. Search for nails. The purpose of the skirting is to cover the joint between the wall and the floor. It is nailed to the studs. Electricity outlets also usually attached to the side of the studs, so keep an eye out for them as well. Any electrical switches that may be positioned higher up your walls will also be both the mounted to the sides of the studs.

find-wall studs-hang-logic

So, you found your first stud. What next? Get out your tape measure and measure about 400 mm from it. Can you see any dimples or bumps? Give the wall a rap with your knuckles. Does it sound solid in comparison to elsewhere along your wall where it sounds hollow? If it doesn’t sound solid your next stud maybe 600 mm away from the first stud you found. Take a look and rap.

Once you’re pretty sure you’ve found your stud it’s time for the final test. Hammer a small nail into the location where you believe the stud to be. If you’ve hit wood under the drywall you found a timber beam. If you don’t get lucky first go get your wire coat hanger (or a long needle or screw driver) and slide it into the hole. Twist the coat hanger around. Maybe you’re just slightly off and by twisting it you’ll find that stud. Hallelujah!

Stud Finder – How to Locate Ceiling Beams

We’ve explored how to find wall studs. The beams in your ceiling can also help prevent paintings, light fixtures, fans or hanging sculptures from falling down.

If you want to attach a top rail to your ceiling these timber beams (also called joists) will allow you to do it. Then you can hang pictures from your ceiling.


If they are exposed beams, you obviously won’t have any difficulty finding them. However, the structural beams also known as joists are hidden behind the paint and Gyprock ceiling sheets. Just like wall studs there usually spaced at 400- or 600-mm intervals.

If your ceiling is flat and its density is consistent you can just use a stud finder. However, if you have an acoustic ceiling that has a spray-on or paint-on treatment, you need to take a different approach.

This is what you will need

  • a torch
  • a tape measure
  • a nail
  • a hammer
  • a ladder
  • a stud finder

Place a ladder near your room’s wall and climb up on it. Raise your stud finder up to the ceiling and calibrate as described in the stud finder manual’s guidelines.

Use your tape measure to measure 400 mm in from your wall. Then slide your stud finder over that part of the ceiling. When it lights up you will know it’s reached the edge of your joist. If it doesn’t light up run it a little further, up to 600 mm from the edge of your wall and cross your fingers.

You got lucky and found it! Now you’ll know whether your first joist is positioned 400 or 600 mm from the wall. Your next joist is highly likely to be the same distance from the first joist. Keep running your stud finder all the way across your ceiling until you’ve discovered all your joists.

You can also use the same method I described before: use a torch and look for dimples or bumps in your ceilings. Behind these bumps are nails and where there is a nail, you’re bound to find a joist.

What if you don’t find any joists using the above method? Perhaps your ceiling beams run in the other direction! Try measuring the other way round; measure in from a perpendicular wall instead.

Stud Finder – How to Know if There Are Electrical Wires Behind your Wall

One last tip to stop you dying of an electrical shock!

Beware! Installing your picture hanging system can be hazardous if you don’t know what lies hidden behind the wall’s surface. It’s important not to drill through any wiring. This could cause damage and trigger a variety of problems including fire alarms going off in the house (more hazardous than you think), or worse, electric shock for both you or anyone who may be lending a helping hand.

This is the golden rule: before you launch into a do it your own project make sure you know where all your wiring is located. So how can you find your wiring?

Here is what you will need:

  • a pencil
  • a roll of painter’s tape
  • a stud finder armed with AC detection

The good thing is that electrical wiring in a home usually follows an organized pattern. In areas around light fixtures and switches, there are wires that run vertically as well as horizontally!


Another way you can find out where these outlets go inside your house is by looking up in your roof – they’ll be exposed so just follow their path along the framing.

Vertical wires are a little more avoidable than horizontal ones because they’re usually located above outlets and switches, while the latter run alongside studs. And keep in mind the thumb of rule: wall studs are normally 400 to 600 mm apart unless there is a spacing change due to doors or windows.

Horizontal wire is trickier to find but unless you drill into a stud which has wires passing through it, Bob’s your uncle!