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How to Find a Ceiling Joist in a Plywood Ceiling

It all started with the need to have a hanging swing in our living room. My husband was on board with the idea of buying one, but he wasn’t excited about drilling through our ceiling to find the ceiling joists. I thought, “I can do this, there shouldn’t be anything to it.” You know what, there wasn’t! Let me show you how to find a ceiling joist in our plywood ceiling.

I think the idea of drilling multiple holes in a ceiling (or a wall for that matter) just to find a little wood joist can be daunting. That’s why you have to know a few things first like determining the direction that your ceiling joists are running.

how to find a ceiling joist in a plywood ceiling

How to find the direction your ceiling joists run

There are a few ways to do this, but a quick peek in my attic determined that the joists ran from the front of the house to the back. This is probably the easiest way to determine which direction they are running.

I assumed this is how they would run, but as a friend used to tell me,

“Never assume anything, because if you do you make an ASS out of U and ME.” Sorry for the language, but I had to share that saying because it has stuck with me for years. Mainly, it’s a good lesson; always be sure and never assume.

So now that we know which direction my ceiling joists are running, it’s time to gather a few supplies.

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A quick note about the stud finder. Make sure you have a good stud finder that locates not only the wood, but the beginning and the end of it. This way you will know for sure that you are drilling in the middle of the joist. This is important!

How to locate a ceiling joist

  1. Locate which direction the joists are running
  2. Run a stud finder perpendicular to the direction of the joists until it indicates that you have found one. Make note of where the center of the joist (or stud) is.
  3. “Knock” or “tap” on the ceiling where the joist is supposed to be. If the sound is not hollow, you have confirmed that you found your ceiling joist.
  4. Use the smallest drill bit that you have to slowly drill in the ceiling to ensure that you have found the joist. You want to make sure you are drilling as close to the middle of the stud as you can get.
  5. Now that you know where the joist is and what way it runs, install your hardware accordingly.

There are a handful of ways to locate a stud or ceiling joist. These two methods above are the only two that have effectively worked for me.

There is a way to locate a stud where you use a magnet and run it across the surface until it “pulls” or stops. The idea is that joist holders and nails (which are in the stud or joists) are made from metal so when the magnet runs over them, it will pull slightly. Some people swear by this method but I haven’t found it very effective.

Also, if you know exactly where one ceiling joist is, you can assume that the others are spaced 16″ or 24″ apart.

There I go assuming again and you know what I said about what happens when you assume. 😉

It’s best to know exactly where the joists are and not measure and hope for the best. I have done this before and it doesn’t turn out well.

how to find a ceiling joist in a plywood ceiling

There you go folks, the best way to locate a ceiling joist.

I hope this has been super straight forward and educational. I’ve got a handful of other home tip projects like this one. Let me know if you want to see more posts like this!

Lindsey**

How to Find a Ceiling Joist in a Plywood Ceiling

how to find a ceiling joist in a plywood ceiling

There are many ways to find a ceiling joist but I'm sharing two reliable ways I use to find a ceiling joist in our plywood ceiling.

Active Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Difficulty Easy
Estimated Cost 10-50 dollars

Materials

  • stud finder
  • pencil
  • hardware to install

Tools

  • drill
  • drill bit

Instructions

  1. Locate which direction the joists are running
  2. Run a stud finder perpendicular to the direction of the joists until it indicates that you have found one. Make note of where the center of the joist (or stud) is.
  3. "Knock" or "tap" on the ceiling where the joist is supposed to be. If the sound is not hollow, you have confirmed that you found your ceiling joist.
  4. Use the smallest drill bit that you have to slowly drill in the ceiling to ensure that you have found the joist. You want to make sure you are drilling as close to the middle of the stud as you can get.
  5. Now that you know where the joist is and what way it runs, install your hardware accordingly.

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