What to Know About Wall Studs

Updated: Feb. 02, 2023

Wall studs are vertical pieces of wood or metal that help form the framework of a stud wall. New to building and renos? Learn about wall studs here.

Many homes have wall frames built with studs. These are vertical pieces of wood or metal positioned at closely spaced intervals to form the framework of a wall. Most non-masonry buildings rely on wall studs, so there’s an excellent chance your house has them. Understanding how walls studs work is vital for anyone interested in building and renovations, and when you need to find something solid for installing shelves and cabinets on walls.

How Wooden Wall Studs Work

Wooden walls studs are more common and less expensive than steel studs. They generally come in two dimensions: 1-1/2 in. x 3-1/2 in. (called two-by-fours), or 1-1/2 in. x 5-1/2 in. (called two-by-sixes). Both come at a standard length of 92-5/8 in., but you can buy them at various lengths up to 16 feet. Wooden studs can be purchased from any building supply store or lumber yard, and are usually made of spruce or Douglas fir. Typical houses are built using 2x6s for exterior walls and 2x4s for interior.

Studs are positioned perpendicular to the wall they’re forming to give strength and create space for wires, pipes and insulation. Studs are sandwiched between two horizontal boards called top and bottom plates. These boards are nailed or screwed to the top and bottom ends of the studs, forming the complete wall frame. Studs are usually spaced 16 in. or 24 in. apart. These distances allow them to line up with the edges of standard 4×8 ft. sheet materials, such as plywood and drywall, which are fastened to the stud frame after construction. Stud-frame construction isn’t new, and most new homes in North America are still built this way because it’s fast, inexpensive and surprisingly strong.

How Steel Wall Studs Work

Although most new homes in North America are framed with wood, steel walls studs are growing in popularity. They cost about 30 percent more than wood, but have some advantages: They’re lighter, straighter and offer more variation in length and width. They also won’t grow moldy or change shape as they dry, like wooden studs can. Steel studs are fastened top and bottom into specially made tracks that hold them in place. Cutting metal studs is a bit trickier than cutting wood studs, because you need to use special snips, or a metal-cutting chop saw. Metal studs are also harder to install and less forgiving in tricky situations.

Finding Wall Studs

Understanding wall studs isn’t just important for building houses. There are several situations when the ability to locate studs under drywall is useful: installing wall-mounted fixtures or appliances, trim work, hanging a heavy picture, repairing drywall or installing an electrical outlet, to name a few.

In these situations, knowing where the studs are located under drywall is important because the studs provide a solid place to drive nails or screws. Don’t worry — there’s no need to start tearing off your drywall to check for studs! An electronic device called a stud finder can help. Stud finders are small, handheld tools you slide along the finished wall surface. The stud finder scans the density of the wall, then shows where the studs are located. Simply make a mark on your wall where the stud finder beeps, and you’ll find something solid underneath to hold a nail or screw. However, if you don’t have a stud finder, here’s how you can find a stud without a stud finder.