How to Find Studs in Your Ceiling

If you want to install a drop ceiling, a fan, or do just about anything else to your garage ceiling, you’re going to need to know how to find studs. 

Ceiling studs hold up the drywall or sheetrock that makes up walls and ceiling. But once the ceiling joists are covered up, they can be hard to find. If you’re planning any kind of ceiling-related construction or add-ons, it’s essential to know where your studs are. 

This article will show you several ways to do that.

Which Technique Is Right for You?

There are several methods and tools that can help you find your ceiling studs.

But it all comes down to two styles: manually or with a stud finder.

Whichever way you choose depends on how often you need to do it, the type of home you have, or how much time you have.

Often, it’s a combination of all three.


A stud finder can be great for hard-to-find studs, but not all homeowners own one. Those that do, don’t need it often enough to justify the cost.

If you’re doing a smaller project or a one-time add-on, you may want to find your ceiling studs manually. 

However, if you’re planning to do more DIY projects, it might be worth investing in a stud finder.

House Type

Choosing your method also depends on what kind of home you have.

Homes built pre-1940, with thick plaster ceilings won’t be able to use stud finders. They’re impractical, if not worthless.

By contrast, if you have a modern home with minimal insulation, it should be easier to use a stud finder rather than searching for them manually.


Stud finders are simply faster most of the time.

If you’re working on a tight schedule, a stud finder will help speed up the process so you can move on to the next part of the project.

Stud finder

Finding Studs Manually 

Thankfully, there are several ways to locate studs in your ceiling that don’t require a stud finder.

Personally, I think trying to find studs manually is a great way to get to know the ins and outs of your house. That helps make future projects easier. 

Here are a few simple ways to find studs in your ceiling. Best of all, they won’t require you to buy any additional tools.

Find the Joists

The first thing you’ll have to do for any stud finding is to discover what direction the joists run in. Most attics and basements have exposed joists.

It’s worth checking there first. 

If you can easily access your joists, make sure to measure their size. The measurements of the joist and the type of wood used can affect how much weight they can hold. If you are planning to put in a heavier item like a ceiling fan, you may need to check to see if you’ll have to add reinforcements of some kind.

However, if your joists aren’t accessible there are a few simple tricks to finding them.


The most popular way to find hidden joists is also one of the simplest: knocking on the ceiling.

With this technique, you must start in one corner and use a tape measure to mark 16 inches. Then, knock at the 16-inch mark. If it sounds solid, then you found the joist!

However, if it sounds hollow, don’t fret. You simply must measure out another 16 inches in the same direction and knock the ceiling again. If it still sounds hollow, repeat these steps from the same corner, but in the opposite direction. When you find a pattern, that means you’ve found which direction the joists run in. 

Heavy insulation or certain stucco finishes may make it hard to tell where the joists are based on knocking alone. Additionally, older homes, or DIY additions may mean that builders didn’t follow the exact same spacing for all the joists.

If that’s the case, you can use these other methods to manually find the ceiling joists and studs.

Follow the Outlets

This trick works best for finding wall studs, but it can also work when you have a ceiling outlet.

Those outlets will be attached directly to a joist.

You’ll want to double-check by knocking and listening for the hollow or solid sound, but outlets are a good indicator.

Another indicator is if you find any exposed nails. They’re almost always hammered into a joist, and usually give you an idea which way the joists are pointing.

Use a Magnet

Much like using a magnetic stud finder, a decent magnet will allow you to discover metal fasteners. The larger (and stronger!) your magnet, it’s more likely you’ll get correct results. 

A simple magnet, combined with the others in this section, make it easy to double-check your results before you start hammering.

While you can go and get a high-powered rare earth magnet, some of the stronger refrigerator magnets could do the trick if you want to test it out first.

If the drywall and stud are attached, there must be either a screw or nail that keeps the two together.

Find the metal screw or nail, and you’ve found the stud.

Similarly, you can use a metal detector to pick up stud locations. Be aware though that if your metal detector or magnet is too sensitive, they might pick up other hidden metal items in the ceiling.

Use a Nail

This may be one of the messier ways to find a ceiling stud, but it is effective! If you can see the joists in your attic (and they’re the ones you’re looking for) you can hammer a nail through the ceiling, next to the joist, so that you can see it from below. 

Using a Stud Finder

If you are thinking about investing in a stud finder, it’s important to get one that works for you. While there are all sorts of opinions about which Stud Finders are best, first you have to understand the three basic categories of stud finders: electric, magnetic, and phone-based.


Magnetic stud finders and inexpensive and battery-free, as they use a magnet to discover metal fasteners. Similar to just using a high-powered magnet, there are false positives for metal pipes or nail plates. 


These battery-powered stud finders do their job by sensing the changes of density in a wall or ceiling. A perk of electronic stud finders is that they find the stud itself – not the metal fasteners. Despite this, electric stud finders have been known to read more false positives, as it can be difficult to move the device as slowly as needed to get an accurate read.


Stud finders for your phone require you have a smartphone and a scanning device that is attached. After the scanner has been attached, you can run it over the wall – then when it passes a stud, a photo will appear!

However, beware of apps that claim to use the phone alone as a scanning device, as they are often unreliable and don’t always work the way.

Understanding How to Find Studs in Your Ceiling, Made Easy

No matter what kind of project you’re working on, understanding how to find studs in your ceiling is essential for a quick, clean update.

These techniques should make finding studs in your ceiling easier.

Photo of author

Tim Wells

Tim Wells, the founder of Garage Transformed, has been featured in dozens of home renovation publications, including, Home Stratosphere, House Digest, Livingetc, and SFGate. Since 2018, he has helped over two million people transform their everyday garages into something they can be proud of. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and bulldog.