finding studs behind plasterboard

1 Oct 2021
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United Kingdom
United Kingdom

I'm just getting into woodworking and I'm converting a 'log cabin' in the back garden into a workshop. I want to put up some French cleats as it's a relatively compact space (approx 16'x6'6") and I need more tool storage.

My pal built the cabin about 10 years ago but has since passed away, so I can't ask him for advice. My issue is detecting and attaching to the studs behind the plasterboard. I have an old stud detector that didn't give accurate readings & brought a new one from Amazon which works on a test setup but was giving inconsistent results on the walls themselves.

I've worked out that the issue is that behind the plasterboard is insulation (the foil-faced stuff with about an inch of fibrous material inside). I have no idea how the plasterboard is attached but I cannot locate the studs from the inside with either detector or by using a thin nail to make exploratory holes.

I think the gap between the plasterboard and the studs/outer panelling is too deep for the above method. I don't have any six-inch nails to hand and when I tried to probe with a six-inch screw, it got bound up in the insulation fibre & I had to cut the end off with bolt cutters.

I can see where the outer panels are attached on the outside (vertical lines of nails) and can see they are spaced 16" apart, so with a bit of measuring, I can mark up the approximate locations on the inside plasterboard wall.

What I want to know is if there is a better method to confirm I've got the correct location than banging in six-inch nails until they hit a stud?
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A suggestion that's been put forward many times on here previously: get a large neodynium magnet and find the screwheads with that! :)
I've tried using some magnets without a lot of success. They're small but powerful. Perhaps a bigger one is in order.
Any advice on how much weight you can put on plasterboard walls?

I'm still trying to locate the studs & use where possible but if I miss them, can I use plasterboard fixings to put up several long French cleats?

I use some the other day to put up a shelving unit for a friend & they seem pretty solid. They were the plastic swirly self-driving type. I'm planning on using the lower ones for tool storage but also plan on putting a lumber rack on the top ones, so it could get fairly heavy. I guess most of the weight would be downwards, but I've no real experience with working with plasterboard & wouldn't want them tearing out of the wall. Advice welcome
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The magnet works well for me. It often takes a while to find the first one, but once that's located you can then guess that the next one will be 400mm away and then it's straight forward.

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