How to Drill into a Stud? A Step-by-Step Guide

Learning how to drill into a stud is one of those basic DIY skills that you’ll need to master to complete any sort of heavy-duty mounting task. It’s not as complex as it might look at first, in fact, with a little practice you’ll have it figured out in no time.

When most of us think about drilling into a stud we picture traditional wood studs. This article will cover both wood studs and metal studs – which are increasingly popular in commercial buildings and residential bathrooms, basements, and other moisture-prone areas. 

Let’s look at how to drill into a stud in closer detail, so you can hang that shelf, TV mount, or mirror. 

Drilling into a Stud – Guide 

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Stud finder
  • Drill 
  • Drill bits (for a pilot hole and full diameter hole)
  • Pencil or marker
  • Screws

While you can certainly drill into a stud successfully without using a stud finder, they are so cheap and effective nowadays, there is no excuse not to use one. 

As far as screws are concerned, generally, you’ll want to use screws long enough to penetrate one inch into the stud. You don’t want to go much longer than that, as too long of a screw can punch through the stud and damage electrical cable or plumbing 

Step 1: Locate the Stud(s)

The first step to drilling into a stud is rather obvious – locating the stud. Do this by placing your stud finder flat against the wall and slowly moving it in a straight line until the indicator noise starts beeping. Some stud finders have additional functionality like the ability to detect electrical wiring, so consult the manual for specifics. 

Using a stud finder is the most surefire way to locate studs.

If you don’t have a stud finder handy, you can always use the old ‘tap the wall’ method. While this is not as accurate as using a stud finder, it should give you an idea of where the studs are. 

Simply tap the wall at short intervals until you hear a “hard” noise. Tapping against drywall will create a hollow sound, whereas tapping against a stud will create a more solid noise. You can verify the stud location by drilling a small pilot hole in the wall. 

Keep in mind that in most houses and buildings studs are located at 16” intervals from the wall edge. You can use a measuring tape to measure this distance to give you an area to start. 

Step 2: Mark Stud Midpoint

Once you’ve found the stud’s location, you’ll want to find its centre point for drilling. 

This is significantly easier to do with a stud finder than by hand, as you’ll be able to pinpoint the stud’s exact endpoints and then mark the midpoint with a pencil. You can still do this by hand, but the odds of missing the midpoint and drilling through the side of the stud are much higher. 

Step 3: Select the Appropriate Drill Bits

Next, you’ll want to choose the right-sized drill bits for the job. No matter what you’re hanging, using a smaller drill bit is recommended to create a pilot hole before drilling the full-sized hole. This will not only make the full-diameter hole easier to drill, but you’ll have confirmation that you’re drilling in the right spot and not through the edge of the stud.

Additionally, the full hole diameter should be slightly smaller than the diameter of your screw. This will give the screw threads something to bite into while fastening. 

For wood studs, the drill bit type is less important, but for metal studs, you’ll need titanium, cobalt or carbide-tipped bits. These bits are capable of piercing through metal without being dulled or breaking. 

The same principles apply to drilling through metal studs as with wood studs. You’ll still want to locate the stud’s midpoint and create a pilot hole first. 

Step 4: Drill Pilot Hole

At this point, you’ll want to insert the drill bit for your pilot hole into your drill. Drill through the drywall and into the stud slowly using gentle pressure. You’ll know you’ve passed through the drywall and hit the stud when the resistance becomes significantly stronger. 

Step 5: Drill Full-Sized Hole 

After you’ve drilled your pilot hole to the desired depth, swap out the smaller pilot hole bit for the larger bit. Then repeat the process above until you’ve reached your desired depth. 

At this point, the process is done. All that’s left to do is drive your fastener into the hole you’ve just made. 

Drilling into a stud is the best way to mount anything heavy on drywall. It ensures that your fasters are secured to solid wood or metal, meaning they have a very low chance of failing. 

You don’t always need to drill directly into studs when mounting something. If you’re hanging something light (less than 20 lbs. or so) like a picture, decorative shelf, or small mirror, you can use drywall anchors without worry. There are also specialized anchors like toggle bolts and molly bolts that can handle significantly more weight than regular drywall anchors – think 50 to 100 pounds. 

Denis Gardner

I've loved tinkering and fixing things for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, I gravitated towards DIY and home improvement when I bought my first home. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or messing around with my newest tool!

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