Are You in Trouble with Your Stud Finder?

Trying to determine the best use of your tool and not sure who or how to ask? After many decades of experience in working with pro users, I’ve consolidated some common FAQ’s that should help pros and DIYers alike get the most from their stud finder. These troubleshooting tips are designed to save you time, money, and headaches.

Top 5 Stud Finder Troubleshooting Tips

1) Check Your Battery. If your stud finder worked previously, but no longer seems to work, about 9 times out of 10, the problem is a weak battery. You may swear that the battery is still good, but it’s not.  Is the battery new from the store or new from the drawer?  Many people don’t realize batteries are no longer functional after their expiration date, even if they have never been used and that 9V batteries do not hold their charge as well as other battery types.

Each of these batteries has a printed expiration date, but they are all in different locations on the battery.
Each of these batteries has a printed expiration date, but they are all in different locations on the battery.

Many batteries have an expiration date printed on them; however, those dates are often an estimate, as batteries can often wear out earlier due to extreme hot or cold. One recent customer insisted his battery was good because the battery could still open his garage door, and “those garage doors are heavy!” Haha. Compared to garage doors and many other devices, stud finders require a very strong battery. When customers realize that the battery really isthe problem, they are usually relieved that it was such a simple solution, and that their stud finder still works! You can find more battery tips by visiting the Zircon in the Real World blog, How is Your Battery?

2) Place First, then Scan. Put the tool up against the wall first, then press and hold the button to start scanning. Stud finders work by measuring the density behind the wall. The density over the stud is greater than the area away from the stud. Your stud finder automatically calibrates to your wall as soon as you turn it on.  If you mistakenly press the calibration button before the stud finder is placed on the wall, the stud finder will calibrate to the density of thin air instead of calibrating to your wall.

The Zircon® MultiScanner® i520 is an example of a center finding tool.
The Zircon® MultiScanner® i520 is an example of a center finding too

3) Are You on the Edge or on the Center? Determine if your stud finder is an ‘edge finder’ or a ‘center finder.’ A Zircon center finder will indicate both edges and the center of the stud. With an edge finder, the user must mark both edges of the stud to determine the center.  A common mistake is for a homeowner to mark only one edge of the stud which often leads to a screw placed at the stud edge and not at the center of the stud.

4)  Is it Drywall or Lath and Plaster? Your stud finder is designed to work with sheet materials like drywall or plywood.  If the wall is lath and plaster or some other material, you’ll need different solutions that you can find on my blog, The Secret to Finding Wood Studs in Lath and Plaster.

5) Mark it. Make sure to mark the stud edge on the wall with a pencil. Although DIYers often carefully locate the stud, they just eyeball where to place the screw. By doing so, they are only approximating where the stud edge actually is located -they miss the stud, and think the stud finder does not work effectively. I recommend using masking or painter’s tape on the wall, so the marks are not permanent. It’s also a good idea to use longer pieces of tape so you can ‘map out’ multiple stud locations in your work area (studs are normally spaced 16” or 24” apart on center).

We’re here to help!  In addition to these troubleshooting tips, Zircon has an online searchable knowledge base on many stud finding and scanning topics available 24/7. We also offer DIY personal end-user support Monday – Friday, 8 am – 5 pm PST.  Call, email, or visit us online for the help that you may need. Help us help you.

One of Zircon’s long-time consultants, Kurt Stauss works with the pros who need and use Zircon tools on the job. A seasoned tool and industry expert, Kurt travels across the globe to demonstrate how Zircon tools is the solution to everyday problems.