Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Substandard Stud Finder: The Craftsman Basic Model Is The Bottom Of The Barrel.

The Good: Comes with battery, Sometimes finds the stud, Generally inexpensive
The Bad: More often than not does not find the studs.
The Basics: A conceptually-good stud finder, the Craftsman Electronic Stud Finder falls down in real-world testing over years as it fails to accurately find (or not find) studs 75% of the time.

Every now and then, I try my hand at a hardware review because I find a product that is either extraordinary or very much worth avoiding. In the case of the Craftsman Electronic Stud Finder, this falls much closer to the latter than the former. Rummaging through my toolbox, this is easily one of the first things I will replace when I have the funds.

The Craftsman Electronic Stud Finder is the entry-level stud finder and unfortunately, it is woefully inconsistent, which does not seem to be a problem with the product as far as the use or warranty as I am now on my third identical stud finder. All three that I have used have suffered from the same problem which is that they give varying information with no real sense of consistency. In short, this is an imprecise stud finder and one that is not likely to give the user accurate results, certainly not with any sense of regularity.

What is a stud finder? Behind all of our walls, there are wooden (usually) supports that run perpendicular to the floor and ceiling which support the drywall or other wall-forming materials. Those supports are called studs. Because most of us do not have completely accurate blueprints, when we need to find where those studs are, one uses a device that has limited wall-penetrating capability and it is called a stud finder. The stud finder responds to changes in wall density and if it is properly calibrated, it beeps or lights up when it encounters a stud. This allows those putting holes in their walls - like for hanging pictures - to find the most supportive place on the wall to mount their devices and decorations.

This is the essential theory behind all stud finders and the Craftsman Electronic Stud Finder is no exception. The five and one-half inch long red plastic tool is remarkably erratic, though. This stud finder is mostly a grip - at the base - with a flat bottom for dragging along the flat surface one is searching for a stud behind. The nice thing about the Craftsman Electronic Stud Finder is that it comes with the nine-volt battery needed to run the device. The head of the stud finder has four LEDs, a tiny speaker and a separate LED for calibration checking.

Use of the Craftsman Electronic Stud Finder is ridiculously easy. First, place the stud finder on the wall or flat surface one is looking for a stud behind. Squeeze the handle and depress the thumb-sized button on the left side. This causes the Trucal LED light to light up and when it does, one knows their stud finder is active and calibrated. Then, slowly drag the stud finder left or right (not up or down). When the stud finder begins to sense a stud, the bottom of the four LEDs - a red one - will light up. Continuing to drag the stud finder over the lights LEDs will light up toward the tip of the stud finder and the green LED. When the green LED is reached, the unit beeps and one knows they have found a stud! The Craftsman Electronic Stud Finder has a notch to allow one to mark precisely where the edges of a stud are (one usually mounts objects at the center of the stud). After one has marked one side of the stud, they may continue to drag the stud finder to the other side of the stud and the LEDs will stop lighting, with the green reverting to red and then no LEDs lit. The stud finder also stops beeping.

Another nice feature is that the Craftsman Electronic Stud Finder lets users know when it is uncalibrated. If the unit is no longer functioning correctly, the top green and lowest red diodes begin to flash and the speaker beeps. When that happens, simply stop pressing the activation button, move the stud finder to an area of wall where one knows there are no studs and depress again to recalibrate.

If I have so many good things to write about the basic design of this stud finder, why am I panning it? Quite simply, this is a conceptually well-designed product with clear indications of when it is working and when the stud finder has found a stud. However, in practical applications - using it for the last few years - I have found mine to be wrong more often than not. 75% of the time, the Craftsman Electronic Stud Finder either did not find a stud that was present or indicated a stud was present repeatedly when there was none (nor anything else!) behind a wall. This has led to many damaged walls in my house and a few broken picture frames. Those, alas, are not covered by the usual generous Craftsman lifetime warranty.

Unfortunately, as well, these defects are not the fault of bad units, low batteries or user error. I have gone through three Craftsman Electronic Stud Finders over the years trying to get one to work properly. I have replaced batteries and I have had others - including two professional contractors - use the stud finders with similar results.

That makes for a bad stud finder, one that cannot reliably find the studs or illustrate when no stud is present. It makes it easy to not recommend this product to anyone. Well, anyone but those who only want to find their studs 25% of the time!

For other tools, please check out my reviews of:
Adjustable Clamp Co. 1" C-Clamp
Soundbest International 8" Round File
Stanley 66-183 Screwdriver


For other hardware and household appliance reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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