How to Drill Into a Wood Stud in 5 Steps

If you buy something through our posts, we may get a small commission. Read more here.

Share It

Embarking on a drilling adventure through wood studs? Whether you’re a DIY champ or a seasoned carpenter, nailing the art of drilling into these wooden warriors is key to achieving rock-solid installations. 

From stylish shelves to majestic picture frames, the proper technique ensures an unbreakable bond. Here’s how to drill into a wood stud successfully.

Should You Drill Into Studs? How Hard Is It?

Yes, you should drill into a stud because it is usually the best way to secure heavy objects or fixtures to walls for commercial buildings. 

However, when you drill into a stud, the process can be more challenging than drilling into drywall or other types of wall materials. It is because studs are made of dense and sturdy wood, which can be difficult to penetrate without the proper tools and techniques.

Is it Okay to Drill Screws Directly?

No. Generally, it is not recommended to drill screws directly into walls without a proper anchor or fastener. 

drilling cabinet wood

The drywall or plasterboard that makes up the surface of most walls is not strong enough to hold a screw straight by itself, and over time, the weight of the object being supported can cause the screw head to pull out, leaving a hole in the wall.

How to Tell if You’re Drilling into a Stud

Drilling into anything other than a stud can be a problem and potentially dangerous. Fortunately, there are several techniques that you can use to determine when you’re drilling into wall studs, including:

Stud Finder Method

One of the easiest and most reliable ways to tell if you’re drilling into a stud is by using a stud finder. Here’s how to locate wood studs with a stud finder:

  1. Turn on and place your electronic stud finder flat against the wall.
  2. Calibrate the stud finder before use. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to calibrate your device correctly.
  3. Position the stud finder where you want to easily drill into a stud and move it slowly and steadily across the wall in a straight line.
  4. The stud finder will emit a beep or a light when it detects a stud, which indicates the location of the stud and helps you to avoid drilling into it accidentally.
  5. Mark the stud’s location using a pencil and repeat the process until you have located all the studs in the area.

Stud Finder Alternatives

While a stud finder is an efficient and reliable tool for locating wood studs, there are alternative methods you can use to locate studs in your walls. Here are a few options:

stud finder
  1. Sometimes, you can locate studs by looking at the wall, such as an electrical outlet or switch box, which is usually attached to an exposed stud.
  2. If you have a strong magnet, move it along wall studs until it sticks to a metal or nail plate. 
  3. Lastly, you can use a tape measure and estimate 16 inches or the standard spacing between studs in most homes to find the next exposed stud.

Tapping the Wall Method

In addition to using a stud finder, there is another method you can use to determine if you’re drilling into a stud called the tapping method. Here’s how to locate wood studs with the tapping method:

  1. Identify the general area where the stud might be located. It is typically where the wall meets the ceiling or floor or where there is an electrical outlet or switch.
  2. Tap the wall using your knuckles or a hammer to lightly tap it to identify a solid sound or if it sounds hollow. A hollow sound indicates that you’re tapping on drywall or plaster, while a solid sound indicates tapping on a stud.
  3. Once you’ve located a stud using the tapping method, use a pencil to mark the location of the stud on the wall. Repeat the process until you have located all the studs in the area.

Mobile App Method

If you don’t have access to a stud finder or prefer to use your smartphone as a tool, you can use the mobile app method. Here’s how to locate wood studs using a mobile app method:

phone as stud finder
  1. Several stud finder apps are available on Android and iOS platforms that you can download with high ratings and positive reviews to ensure you’re using a reliable tool.
  2. Open the app and calibrate it by placing your phone flat against a wall with no metal objects nearby. 
  3. Position your phone’s camera lens facing the wall where you want to locate a stud. 
  4. Slowly move the phone in a straight line across the wall until the app displays a signal or alerts when it detects a stud.
  5. Use a pencil to mark the stud’s location on the wall and repeat the process until you have located all the studs in the area.

Drilling Into a Stud: Step-by-Step Guide

Although drilling into the stud can be intimidating, with the right tools and techniques, it can be done quickly and safely. Here are the necessary tools and materials for drilling into a stud.

drill bit tip dremel

Tools & Materials

Now that you know the tools and materials required, let’s get into the step-by-step guide to drilling into wood studs: 

Step #1: Find the Stud

Locating a wood stud is an essential first step when you drill into a stud. Whether hanging a heavy picture frame, installing shelves, or running electric lines, drilling into a stud ensures a secure attachment and reduces the risk of damage to the wall. 

In this process, there are several methods you can use to locate a wood stud, including using a stud finder, looking for visual clues, knocking on the wall, measuring from a corner, or drilling a small hole.

Step #2: Mark and Find the Center & Edge

When you drill into a stud, it’s important to not only locate the stud’s position but also find its edge and center point. Doing so ensures that your wood screws are properly anchored and that your installation is secure. 

marking initial drill hole

In this process, you can use a combination of tools and techniques to identify the edge and center point of the stud accurately.

Step #3: Choose the Right Drill Bit

Choosing the right drill bit is crucial when drilling into a stud because it ensures that the hole is the right size for the screw. If it is too small, the screw won’t fit, and if it is too big, the screw won’t have enough grip and will come loose over time.

Not all studs can compromise their structural integrity when you use the wrong bit. It can result in the wood stud splitting or breaking, which can cause damage to the outer wall or even pose a safety risk. 

Check some guide below for the right drill bit to use: 

Step #4: Start Drilling

After selecting the appropriate bit, insert it into the drill perfectly and secure it tightly. With the drill in one hand and the marked location on the wall in the other, carefully position the bit over the mark. 

drilling on a lumber

Hold the power drill straight and apply gentle pressure to the drill as you slowly start to drill hole and gradually increase the speed and steady pressure as needed. 

Step #5: Drive the Screw In

When driving a screw into a stud, it’s important to ensure that the screw goes in deep enough to provide a secure hold but not too deep that it damages the stud. The general rule of thumb is that the screw head should go about a third of the way into the stud. 

Most importantly, always double-check the screw’s placement and the stability of the attachment before finishing the job.

How to Make Holes in Wood Studs (Pilot Holes)

To drill a pilot hole, choose a brad point drill bit with sharp edges slightly smaller than the diameter of the screw you plan to use. Keep the bit perpendicular to the wood stud to create a straight hole before you drill pilot holes to a depth slightly shorter than the length of the deck screws. 

marking wood before drilling pilot hole

Once the pilot hole is complete, you can insert the screw, which should go in easily without any resistance. 

How Big of a Hole Can You Drill in a Stud?

The pilot hole size that you can drill straight into a stud depends on the size of the stud and the load-bearing requirements. Generally, for a standard 2×4 stud, you can safely drill directly up to 1-1/2 inches in diameter without compromising its strength. 

However, if the wood stud is load-bearing or part of a structural wall, we suggest consulting a professional engineer or contractor to determine the maximum hole size allowed. 

Recommended Screws and Drill Bits For Drilling Into Wood Studs

When learning how to drill into a wood stud, it’s important to use the recommended screws, typically #8 or #10 screws. 

In addition, the length of the screw should be at least twice the thickness of the material being fastened, and it should be coated with a corrosion-resistant material like zinc to prevent rusting. 

screw sizes

As for drill bits, it’s recommended to use high-speed steel or cobalt drill bits that are specifically designed for wood drilling. These drill bit sizes should be slightly smaller than the diameter of the screw to ensure a tight fit and prevent splitting the wood. 

How to Drill Into Drywall Studs

Drilling into drywall studs is a bit different than drilling into wood studs because drywall is much softer and more fragile. It’s important to use a low-speed setting on your drill and not to over-tighten the drywall screw to avoid damaging the drywall. 

Drilling into drywall studs requires a delicate touch and careful attention to detail to avoid damaging the wall and ensure a secure attachment.

How About Without Using Studs?

Drilling into drywall without studs can be tricky, but it’s possible with the right tools and techniques. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to drill into drywall without studs:

drilling on drywall
  1. Determine the location where you want to drill the straight hole. Use a pencil or marker to mark the spot on the drywall.
  2. Use a wood stud finder to confirm that there are no studs behind the spot you want to drill. If there are, you will need to move the location of your hole.
  3. Choose the appropriate drill bits for the size of the hole you need. For small holes, a ⅛ inch thick drill bit will suffice. For bigger holes, use a saw or spade bit.
  4. Attach the appropriate drill bit to your drill and tighten it securely.
  5. Hold the drill steady and push firmly the pointed tip of the drill bit into the marked location on the drywall. 
  6. Start drilling at a slow speed, applying gentle pressure to the drill. Gradually increase the speed and firm pressure as needed.
  7. Keep the drill bit perpendicular to the wall as you drill to ensure a straight hole. Stop drilling once you have reached the desired depth.
  8. Use drywall anchors to provide support for your drywall screw. Insert the drywall anchor into the hole you just drilled, ensuring it fits snugly.
  9. Insert your drywall screw into the anchor and tighten it until it is secure.
  10. If you plan heavy-duty drilling, use multiple anchors and drywall screws for added support.

How to Drill Into Metal Studs + The Best Metal Stud Anchors

Drilling into metal studs requires a different approach than drilling into wood studs because they are generally thinner and easier to drill. 

using drill bit to fix screw holes

Once you’ve drilled the hole, use self-tapping screws to secure the object you’re attaching. These self-tapping screws are designed to create their threads as they are driven into the metal, making them a reliable and secure option for attaching objects to a metal stud.

Is Screwing Into Metal Studs Without Drilling Advisable?

No, it is not advisable to screw into metal studs without drilling. Attempting to screw directly into a metal stud without drilling a pilot hole first can cause the stud to twist or buckle, resulting in a weakened structure and a potentially dangerous situation. 

Additionally, without a pilot hole, the screw may not thread correctly or could even break off, making it difficult or impossible to remove. 

Drilling Into a Stud With Electrical Involved: How Risky It Is?

When you drill into a stud with electrical involved, it can be risky if the electrical wire is not properly identified and avoided. It is important to turn off the power to the area and use stud finders with an electrical sensor to detect any wires behind wall studs before drilling. 

drilling closet rod support

Suppose electrical wires are present where you need to drill into a stud. In that case, it is highly recommended to hire a licensed electrician to handle the wiring or move the location of your intended drilling to a safer area.

Is it Okay to Drill Into Studs Over an Outlet?

No, it is generally not recommended to drill into studs over an outlet. It is because the electrical wiring for the outlet is often routed through the stud, and drilling into the stud could potentially 

damage the wiring and cause electrical problems or even a fire hazard. 

If you need to hang something over an outlet, it is best to use alternative hanging methods like adhesive hooks or hanging brackets that do not require drilling into the wall. 

Can You Possibly Hit Wires While Drilling Into A Stud?

Yes, it is possible to hit wires or electrical cables while you drill into a stud. Electrical wires often run through the studs of a wall, so it’s important to take precautions when drilling to avoid damaging the wires. 

Drywall Screwdriver

It is recommended to use a stud finder with a built-in wire detector before you drill into a stud, as it can help you identify the presence of electrical wires inside. 

Tips for Drilling into Metal Stud

Here are some tips for drilling into metal studs:

  1. Use a drill bit designed for a metal or steel stud, such as a high-speed steel or cobalt bit, to withstand the hardness of the nail or metal plates.
  2. Before drilling, use a center punch to make a small indentation in the metal to help prevent the drill bit from wandering and keep it in place.
  3. Start with a smaller drill bit and gradually work your way up to the desired size to help prevent the drill bit from slipping and damaging the metal plate or nail plate.
  4. Apply a lubricant such as oil or WD-40 to the drill bit to help reduce heat and friction and extend the life of the drill bit and make drilling metal easier.
  5. Go slow and take your time. Applying too much pressure or drilling too quickly can cause the drill bit to break or damage the metal plate or nail plate.
  6. Wear protective gear such as safety glasses, gloves, and ear protection to avoid injury.

Possible Reasons Why the Drill Bit Isn’t Going Into the Stud

It can be frustrating when drilling into a wall when the standard drill bit won’t go into the stud. There are several possible reasons, and here are as follows:

drill bit sizes

Securing Things on Your Wall Without Drilling: Here’s How!

If you’re looking to secure things on your wall without simply drilling, one popular option is to use an adhesive hook or strip. Another option is to use suction cups, which are great for holding lightweight items such as small mirrors or decorative objects.  

DURHAM'S Rock Hard Water Putty and patching materials

But if you have brick or concrete walls, you can use adhesive putty [1] or sticky tack to attach lightweight items. Finally, if you’re looking to hang curtains or other heavier items, you can use tension rods without the need to drill straight into the wood. 

Hiring a Professional vs Doing It Yourself

If you have experience with power tools and have tried drilling wood studs before, doing it yourself may be a feasible option. However, if you’re not confident in your ability to handle power tools or have never drilled into wood studs before, it may be safer to hire a professional.

Professional contractors or handyman services will have the tools and experience to drill into a wood or metal stud accurately and safely. 

Is Drilling Holes In Studs Weaken It?

Yes, drilling holes in studs can weaken them improperly or excessively. To minimize the risk of weakening a wood stud when drilling holes, the size and location of the holes should be carefully considered.

DEWALT DCD980M2 20V Cordless Drill

Also, when you drill a pilot hole, it should not be drilled in the center of the stud, as this can significantly reduce its load-bearing capacity.

How Many Times Can You Drill Into Studs?

As a general guideline, limiting the number of holes drilled in a single wooden stud to no more than three is recommended. Although it still depends on the wood stud’s size, the type of wood, and the size and number of holes being drilled. 

If you need to drill multiple holes in a single wood stud, it’s recommended to space them out and avoid drilling them too close together.


What area should you not drill into walls?

When drilling into walls, avoid electrical wiring, plumbing, load-bearing walls, and fire blocks to prevent damage or injury. It’s always best to consult with a professional if you’re unsure if it’s safe. Overall, it’s important to exercise caution, identify hazards, and determine the right direction before drilling. 


So there you have it, the basics of how to drill into a wood stud. With the right tools, technique, and precautions, you can confidently tackle this DIY project and hang your favorite pictures, shelves, or TV mount on your walls. 

Remember to take your time, measure twice, and follow the guidelines to avoid drilling too many holes in the studs. 

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
Related Articles
Join our community on facebook and get 3 woodworking plans for free!

Join Our Woodworking Community on Facebook And Get 3 Woodworking Plans for Free!