How to Find Studs in Lath and Plaster Walls

Zircon stud finders help you find studs in walls

StudSensor stud finders locate studs by identifying increases and changes in density behind the wall. To function properly, the wall surface must have a consistent density level, and be less dense than the wood stud. Stud finders, however, will not always return accurate results with lath and plaster walls because of the very inconsistent method by which they are constructed.

Although walls may have a smooth surface, some walls deceptively hide an inconsistent combination of wood (lath) and plaster, with deep and shallow levels of density among the plaster, lath and stud. To fully understand why these walls present such challenges, it’s best to first take a look at how they’re built.


First, wood laths, narrow strips of wood, are nailed horizontally across vertical wall studs. Two wet coats of plaster are applied to the laths. A rough, sandy “brown coat” is applied, followed by a smooth, finish coat on top. After the plaster completely dries, the walls can be painted.

Zircon StudSensor HD900c metal finder
MultiScanner® HD900C

The photo to the right illustrates how plaster oozes through the lath to create curls called “keys.” Keys keep the plaster securely attached to the lath. Through insufficient “keying,” the plaster falls off over time. This keying creates the inconsistencies that challenge stud finding technology.

Zircon M40 metal finder
MetalliScanner® m40

A MultiScanner® wall scanner with metal-finding capabilities or one of our dedicated metal scanners may be used to locate nails fastening wood lath to the studs. Mesh is also used to help secure the plaster to the lath in some instances. (In Scotland, they even used horsehair!) If metal mesh was used, even metal scanners may not find the stud.

Watch our Scanning Lath & Plaster Walls Tip Minute video or visit our Resources Blog for more information.

Zircon’s team of Tool Pro Experts provide superior customer service and know the ins and outs about tools, construction, and the challenges that DIYers and professionals face with a diverse list of projects. Rest assured knowing you can reach live, accessible, knowledgeable, honest people. At Zircon, we work with you.