How To Find Studs In A Garage Ceiling?

Using ceiling space is a great way to get extra storage and better organization in your garage (or any other build idea), but how do you find the ceiling studs (i.e. joists)?

Of course, the easiest thing to do if you have access to your garage attic would be to pop up there and have a look. While you’re there, you can just tap a very small, thin nail through the sheetrock, right next to the joist to mark the spot.

If you don’t have attic access, locating joists may seem daunting, but actually, there are several good, reliable methods you can employ. Your purpose and your garage ceiling construction will determine which method will work the best for you.

In this article, we provide instructions and tips to help you find studs in your garage ceiling so that you can eliminate wasted space in your garage. Read on to learn more.

Why Do You Have To Find The Ceiling Joists?

Why Do You Have To Find The Ceiling Joists

If your garage ceiling is finished, it is probably finished with sheetrock. This is a great material for disguising unsightly bare lumber, electrical wiring and the like, but it’s absolute rubbish at suspending heavy items.

If you drill into sheetrock and try to anchor a bike rack, for example, you’ll regret it very quickly.

You need to locate the ceiling joists and determine their exact center so that you can anchor heavy items securely and safely. For the strongest and safest application, you must drill straight into the very center of the joist.

Attempting to anchor anything to sheetrock or to the edge of a joist can result in heavy objects crashing down from your garage ceiling.

Garage Smart // How To Find Your Joists

What Must You Do To Find The Studs In Your Garage Ceiling?

Here are five smart methods for locating garage ceiling joists:

1. Tap it out

The tap test is an old-fashioned, low tech method for finding studs and joists behind sheetrock and paneling. If you have a very good ear, this method may work for you.

Use a mallet, your fingers or a hammer to tap along the surface of the ceiling. Listen carefully as you tap. When you are tapping between joists, you’ll hear a hollow sound. When you tap over a joist, you’ll hear a dull thudding sound.

TIP: If you are tapping sheetrock with a hammer, be gentle or you’ll have another job to do. On the bright side, if you knock a hole in your sheetrock you may be able to just poke your head through and look to see where the studs are!

2. Measure it out

When you’ve found one joist mark the spot and then continue seeking joists. Use a tape measure as your guide to the next one. You should find another one 16 or 24 inches away. This is standard, but some joists or studs may be off a bit for various construction reasons.

TIP: Each time you locate a joist, mark the spot with a pencil. By doing this, you are mapping out the joists across your ceiling. This will save you time in the future as you add to your garage ceiling organization project.

3. Use stud finder

A stud finder is a tool designed to help you locate studs and joists behind sheetrock or paneling. There are several different sorts. The most common type is electric and is able to detect the density of objects.

When you run it over a wall or ceiling surface, it lights up when it passes over a stud (vertical framing material) or joist (horizontal framing material).

TIP: Double check your measurements to be sure your stud finder is finding joists that are a consistent distance from one another. Remember that it will find any dense object that happens to be sitting on the other side of the sheetrock, so it could find a piece of stray lumber or a pipe. Taking measurements will help you determine that you are getting true and useful results.

4. Locate existing nails

You can look at the sheetrock to find the nails holding it in place. They are pretty sure to be driven into joists. You can also locate existing nails using a magnetic stud finder or any strong magnet.

5. Drive a thin nail

Once you have located studs or joists and marked their location, you can test your results by driving a very thin nail to see if you hit a solid surface.

A smooth, thin finish nail won’t do a lot of damage and will be easy to pull out whether you hit solid wood or not. If you’ve managed to locate a joist and have driven the finish nail where you will want some sort of anchor, you can just leave it there to mark the spot.

When you pull it out, you can use the resulting hole as a pilot hole for your anchor.

Be On The Lookout For Complications

When you find your ceiling joists, you will probably find that they are pretty straightforward, simple pine 2x4s. Sometimes they will be 2x6s or 2x8s, but this is unusual.

If the garage has been damaged in the past (e.g. a tree has fallen on it) those joists may be mended. In this case, you’ll need to examine them carefully to be sure that they will support the amount of weight you want to suspend.

Watch out for sagging. Clearly, if the weight you apply causes the joist to sag, you’ll need to distribute the weight more widely.

Ideally, each joist should be able to support approximately fifty pounds per square foot. No matter what the case, try to distribute the weight you want to suspend from your garage ceiling as evenly as possible. Employ several joists to suspend especially heavy loads.

You may find that your garage has metal joists, but that is pretty unusual. If this is the case, you’ll need to use the right sorts of tools and connectors to complete your job.

If you find that your garage has a drop-down false ceiling that separates the interior ceiling from the framing, this can really complicate matters.

You may end up having to remove and replace the ceiling (or just remove it and work directly with the rafters). Another alternative would be to go through the false ceiling and attach to the joists using cable.

What Do You Do If You Just Cannot Find The Joists?

What Do You Do If You Just Cannot Find The Joists

In some old or non-permitted construction, joists and studs seem to be strewn about willy-nilly. When this is the case, you may have to just cut a hole in the paneling or sheetrock so that you can have a look-see.

When you do this, you may be dealing with a number of unknown factors, so proceed with caution. You might end up with musty old insulation falling on you, or you might end up slicing through electrical wiring.

Start with the smallest opening you can. Once you’ve made out what’s on the other side, you can enlarge it so that you can have a good look.

You may want to make the opening into a trap-door later so that you can continue to have attic access, or you may just want to replace the sheetrock. Either way, keep in mind that you’ll have to do something about the hole later.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Garage DIY Ideas

6022 S Drexel Ave
Chicago, IL 60637

Amazon Disclaimer

Garage DIY Ideas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to


Garage DIY Ideas does not intend to provide any health related advice, and the content on this blog is not a substitute for medical guidance you may seek. For more information, please read our PRIVACY POLICY.