When hanging a picture, putting up shelves or attaching anything to a partition wall, it is important to find and fix into one of the wooden studs that make up the wall structure. Trying to fix into plasterboard alone is a recipe for disaster.
Wall studs, the pieces of timber which make up the frame of a stud partition wall, are usually spaced at either 400mm or 600mm intervals. If you have built the wall yourself, you should know which measurement was used and will be able to work out where the studs are located. If the wall is part of the original house or was built by a previous owner, the spacing will not be so certain.
There are several methods you can use to find the studs in a partition wall, depending on what tools you have to hand.
Using an Electronic stud finder
This is certainly the easiest method of finding the positions of studs on your walls. An electronic stud finder works by measuring the relative density of the wall. Move it over a stud and it will display a higher density than when held over a cavity, even if filled with insulation material.
To use an electronic stud finder, hold the sensor against the wall and slowly move it horizontally until it either displays a higher density or it beeps (depending on the device you have). You can then mark the edge of the stud using a pencil. Run the sensor towards the mark from the opposite direction to find the other edge of the stud.
Using a Magnet or Magnetic Stud Finder
It is possible to buy magnetic stud finders very cheaply. These devices work by detecting the nails used to fix the plasterboards to the studs. This method is a little bit hit and miss, and only really works well if you already have a rough idea where the stud is located.
If you have a small, strong magnet laying around, you can attempt to use it to find the nails used to affix the plasterboard. Tie the magnet to a length of cotton or fishing line (or something similar) and let the magnet hang against the wall. Slowly move the magnet along the wall, holding the cotton so that it can swing freely. Repeat this at various heights across the wall until the magnet is attracted to something. Mark the position of the suspected nail and then move the magnet upwards and downwards from the mark to confirm a row of nails and the stud they are driven into.
Finding Studs without a Stud Finder
If you do not have access to a stud finder, there are still a few methods you can use to locate the studs. The first is by tapping the wall at intervals and listening to the sound it makes. If you tap a stud, the knock should be deeper and sound less hollow. Using the smallest drill bit you have, drill a small hole at the bottom of the wall near to the skirting board. If you hit wood, you have found a stud.
If this sounds a bit too random, you can usually work out the rough location of a stud by measuring 400mm out from the end of the wall. Studs are usually fixed at 400mm centres, so this should give you a pretty good idea of where the first stud is (if you have no luck at 400mm, try 600mm instead). Drill a small hole to confirm, and then you can continue to measure 400mm centers until in the area you want to affix something.
You can sometimes find the location of a stud by looking at any electrical sockets on the wall. In a stud or partition wall, the backplate of electrical sockets if often screwed into the side of a stud for strength. Tap the wall on either side of the socket and if the knock sounds dull, you have found a stud.
If no stud is close to where you want to place the fitting or fixture, you may have to resort to fixing into the plasterboard itself. To do this, make sure you use the correct type of plasterboard fixing. All plasterboard fixings are designed to do basically the same thing: Increase the area of plasterboard which is put under stress by the object hanging from it. However, not all of them do this in the same way and not all of them are suitable for all applications. As a general rule, use plastic or metal screw in fixings for light loads, plastic anchor or spring toggles for medium loads and metal spring toggles for heavy loads. You can read more about plasterboard fixings in our complete guide.