How To Frame A Wall

by Darwin Hall

neutral living room

In new construction, such as a room addition, framing is basically a textbook operation.

In remodeling an existing structure, however, you must be prepared to improvise and make adjustments for unique situations.

You may find unorthodox framing conditions inside a wall, under a floor, or in an attic, and you will have to work around them.

Your goal should always be to make the house stronger when you finish than it was when you began.

Framing Walls

Stud walls consist of a sole plate nailed to the subfloor, vertical studs, and a double top plate, with extra studs and blocking added where walls intersect.

Openings are framed with headers and extra studs.  The terminology for the parts discussed may vary in different parts of the country and carpenters and contractors may have their own vernacular but they all serve the same function.

Studs.  Studs are normally spaced every 16 inches or 24 inches, on center.  If the wall bears a floor, the studs must be spaced no more than every 16 inches on center.  Studs are usually 2 by 4s, but must be 2 by 6 if the wall bears more than two floors.  In cold climates, 2 by 6s are often used for exterior walls because they can hold more insulation.

See also:  Preparing Floor And Walls For Basement Remodeling

The standard height of most ceilings is 8 feet, so the studs are typically 92 ¼ inches tall.  Higher ceiling require longer studs.

If you are ordering studs for a large project, figure one stud for every linear foot of wall.

The extras will get used up fast for blocking and cripple studs.  A good practice is to use standard framing lumber for most of the wall, but to use kiln-dried studs to frame doors and large windows to ensure that they will be absolutely straight.

Plates.  The sole plate and top plate are the same size lumber as the studs, usually 2 by 4s.  Use long lumber for plates, splicing lengths together for long walls.

modern living roomAlthough the sole plate does not extend across doorways, if you are framing a wall on the floor and lifting it into position, it is easier to use a continuous sole plate and then cut out the doorway section after the wall is in place.

If you are building walls on a concrete slab, use pressure-treated lumber or a durable species of wood for the soleplates.

Bearing walls require a double top plate, consisting of a top plate and a cap plate nailed onto it.

A single top plate is allowed on partition walls.

However, if you are framing many walls at a time, you can avoid confusion and having to cut studs to different lengths if you frame all the walls with double top plates.

When framing a wall, first attach only the top plate.  Install the cap plate after all the walls are up.

This makes it possible to overlap the top plate and cap plate at the corners, making a stronger connection.  Any splice in a top plate must be centered over a stud, and splices in cap plates must be at least 4 feet from splices in top plates.

Openings.  Frame openings with a header across the top.

The header should be the same width as the studs, either solid 4-by lumber or two pieces of 2-by material sandwiched together with 3/8-inch plywood spacers between them.

The depth of the header depends on its span and the loads concentrated above it.

For instance, you can use a 4 by 6 header to span 6 feet if the wall has no floors above it, but this same header can only span 4 feet if it is carrying another floor as well as the roof load.

Watch the VideoEach end of the header bears on a shorter stud called a trimmer stud or jack stud, which must extend all the way to the soleplate.  Trimmer studs are flanked by full-length studs, sometimes called king studs.  Regardless of where an opening occurs, the 16-inch layout of joists continues from one end of the wall to the other.  Cripple studs, used to fill in spaces above headers and below sills, should follow this layout.

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