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Wikipedia identifies three types of stud finders: magnetic (which pick up metal fasteners in the studs or drywall), capacitative (which detect changes in the wall’s permittivity that typically reflect density), and radar-based. Magnetic stud finders are usually just little mechanical widgets with a magnet that “clicks” audibly when it rolls over a buried fastener. Capacitative stud finders are by far the most common these days, and if you ask for a stud finder at the hardware store, that’s probably what they’ll give you. And as far as I can tell, nobody is actually manufacturing radar-based stud finders yet.

The Shinwa 78610 ($14.95 from Garrett-Wade) arguably represents a fourth type. It is entirely mechanical, requiring no batteries, and combines a classic magnetic “click” sensor with a spring-loaded pin, shielded by a graduated depth gauge, that physically probes the space behind the wall and confirms or denies the presence of a stud pretty much unequivocally. And unlike a capacitative stud finder, it will never have problems working through plaster, or foil insulation, or wire lath.

The probe does leave a small hole in the drywall, but it is tiny—a spot of paint will fill it without any spackle at all. Plus, as a bonus feature that is (I think) unique to this type of stud finder, the depth gauge provides an accurate measurement of the thickness of the drywall. This can be a crucial bit of information when choosing fasteners, whether they’re screws going into the studs, or anchors going into the drywall.

You can use the magnet to hunt around for metal fasteners as a starting point, or just start systematically probing with the pin. When you hit a stud, you’ll feel it, and you can read the drywall thickness off the scale. Once you’ve found the first stud, finding a second, adjacent stud is much easier, because you can probe at the common 16″ and 24″ stud spacings. And once you’ve found two adjacent studs, you know the distance between centers for sure, and you’re home free.

The tool breaks down by unscrewing in the middle, which allows for removal of the pin, in the tip, and/or for access to a store of replacement pins, in the handle. It ships with two replacement pins, and you can buy a set of 10 more from Garrett-Wade for another $8. I have no idea how long they last, since I’ve only owned the tool for a couple of weeks.

The pin plunger has a rotary safety lock to keep the sharp end safely covered when not in use. There’s also a lanyard hole in the pommel in case you want to hang it up (which I always do).

Overall, I like the Shinwa 78610. Even though I have a decent capacitative stud finder, I often seem to end up using a 1/16″ drill to probe for studs, anyway. And, if I’m looking for joists in the ceiling instead of studs in the wall, mechanical probing is pretty much my only option. The ceilings in my homes seem to have popcorn texture which prevents the use of any kind of instrument you have to slide across the surface. So for that use alone, I’m glad I’ve got the Shinwa in my toolbox and think it’s worth the $15.

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Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.


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Comments

  1. undeded says:

    Unless I used it daily it’s not worth the expense. A hammer and nail can accomplish the same thing without carrying more tools.

  2. Kris Kubitz says:

    We use these all time at my work. These models are actually kind of crappy compared to the previous design. They jam and break very easily, the old green ones were much more reliable. The plastic slider also doesn’t go all the way down, so you can get false positives if you’re not careful.

    Bar none the best stud finder I’ve found yet are small, high strength magnets. Use them to find the gyp nails and bam, you know where your stud is. It’s a quick, non destructive method, but you won’t get gyp thickness with them.

  3. That’s awesome. I need to hang the TV at home tonight, and that would be super handy.

  4. Alan says:

    It won’t replace my wonderful CH Hanson magnetic stud finder ($10 on Amazon). The rare-earth magnets in it will find any nail within a few inches of them, and it works beautifully on popcorn ceilings. It also has a built-in level, which is the kind of added feature that seems silly until you’ve used it and discovered that yes, in fact, you do usually need a level when you need a stud finder.