How to frame a house wall is not that complicated, if one learns a few basic home improvement principles of house framing.
The two main components making up a house wall consist of the vertical pieces called the studs and the horizontal pieces called the plates. For a standard ceiling height of 8', the studs are cut 92 1/4", with a bottom, top and double plate that totals 4 1/2", giving a total height of 96 3/4". The extra 3/4" allows for the ceiling finish, with a bit of room. Studs are usually placed on 16" centers for a bearing wall supporting a floor, ceiling and roof and 24" centers for a ceiling and roof only. To save time in cutting all the studs a home improvement person can purchase pre-cut studs for an 8' or 9' ceiling. Studs come in solid wood or are made up of short stock, which is finger jointed together using a mechanical process of glue and pressure. These, however, cannot be used for plates since they lose their strength when not vertical. For exterior walls, most are made of 2x6s to enable the extra insulation to be placed in the cavity between studs. Most inside walls are 2x4 construction except walls specifically made larger for plumbing stacks, etc. Some walls separating closets or such, may be framed on the flat, giving only 1 1/2" between finishes, to help in tight designs.
To frame in doors and windows, things get a bit more complicated. Standard sizes for doors and windows are usually chosen by home improvement people to keep home improvement costs down. Of course there are home improvement firms out there that would be happy to make a door or window to fit your home improvement requirements, at any cost. A standard exterior door is 2'-8", 2'-10" or 3'-0" wide with a height of 6'-8". The 3068 as it is called, is the preferred size. Interior doors are generally 2'-6" and bathroom doors may be 2'-4". All standard doors today are 6'-8" in height. Doors prior to the 70's were 6'-6" standard. We must be getting taller.
To transfer the load of a bearing wall to each side of a door or window, a header is placed over the opening and supported on each side by a stud nailed to a cripple or jack stud (see drawing), so named in some parts of the country. This opening bounded by the header and the two cripples and the sub-floor is called the rough opening of the door. With common inside door jambs, we allow 2" for the width and 2" to 2 1/2" for the height, depending on the finished flooring—carpet, hardwood, lino, tile, etc. Exterior doors have the same rough opening for width, but gain extra height with adding a threshold. These should be framed out with a clearance of 83 1/2" to 84". Usually we use 2x10 headers for doors and windows up to about 8', in exterior or bearing walls, wider than that, engineered beams should be fitted, or you get professional home improvement advice.
Windows are framed out similar to doors, except for the window studs below the window. After framing the rough opening width for the window, cut the window rough sill to length, hold it in the correct position along the bottom plate and mark the corresponding studs on it. Cut the height of the window studs to fit between this plate and the bottom plate to ensure the correct rough opening. This will let the studs through the window be on the same centers as the wall.
The rough openings for windows vary with manufacturers. The window salesperson has these figures. If installing a window in your possession, add 3/8" to the length and width for clearance.
To actually lay out a wall with its plates, studs, door and window openings, follow this home improvement procedure. On a floor plan, the outside walls have dimensions to the outside of the sheeting on the walls and on the inside walls to the center of the finished wall. In the diagram, the distance X" is the distance from the outside wall to the center of the inside wall. The distance Y" is the distance from the center of the wall to a door or window or another inside wall, etc. Start with the long side. Tack a 2x4 or 2x6 bottom plate in position on the floor where you want the wall, cutting it to its correct length. If it is a long wall, cut one end of the plate on the center of a stud and continue to the end of the wall with other plates, also joined on studs. Do the same thing for the top plate of the wall. Lay it out beside the bottom plate of the wall.
Now start at one end of the wall and layout the studs. Hook the end of your tape on the end of one of the wall plates. Either mark 3/4" before the stud centers marked on the tape, or measure 15 1/4 for the first stud and start over by moving the end of the tape to a nail driven into the 15 1/4" mark and carrying on from that point with 16" centers. (If you need help reading a tape measure, refer to my home improvement article How to Read a Tape Measure). With our studs marked along a plate, use a steel square to mark both plates at the same time putting an 'X' beside each mark where the center of the stud is. The 'X' marks the spot where the stud will be fastened. Make up a corner stud (see drawing), two studs nailed together to form a 90 degree. This is used for backing on the inside corner to fasten the wall finish to.
Go back and layout the doors and windows and any intersecting walls. For example let's say there is a 3' door, centered 5' from the outside corner of our wall. Scribe a mark at the 5' location. Since our door is 36" wide, the rough opening will be 38", so measure 19" on each side of the center line and scribe a mark. Past the mark scribe a 'C' for cripple, instead of an 'X' for stud. Next to the 'C' and nailed tight to it will be a stud. The cripple comes under the header to support it and the stud goes past the end of the cripple and header and is fastened into the top plate, as usual, as well as into the header.
Now we notice that here is a window marked 6040 on the plan 10 feet from the center line of the door. Doors and windows are always designated with their widths first and their heights second. The window in our home improvement example, therefore, is 6'-0" wide by 4'-0" high. With a standard window on the West Coast, the rough opening is usually 1" less than the nominal width and height. With this in mind we measure 10' over from the door center line, then 35 1/2" each way, giving us a rough opening width of 71" at these points place a 'C' on the outside of the marks to designate where the cripples will go, just like for the door. Mark the door and window rough openings on each plate with the square; don't worry about the stud marks. If they are covered with a cripple, no problem. Move the top plate a distance of the studs apart from the bottom plate which remains where it was laid out, both on edge. Nail the top and bottom plates to the studs with two 3 1/4" (12d) nails on each end. The nails go through the 1 1/2" thickness into the end of the stud. Keep the edges of the stud flush with the edge of the plate.
As your home improvement helper is nailing in the studs, continue to layout the rough openings of the door and window. Go to the door and measure the rough opening, add 3" to the opening (38" + 3" = 41"). Cut the header out of 2x10 material. We need two pieces 41" long. Nail these together using 3" nails, two rows of nails every 12" or so. The end nails are not more than 4" in from the end. Keep the pieces flush with each other. On a long header keep the crown on the top of both pieces while nailing them together. This is standard home improvement practice for any long structural member—keep the crown up. When the weight comes on the member it will tend to straighten out.
Determine the length of the cripple by taking off the height of the header from a stud, Usually 9 1/4" to 9 3/8", depending on its water content. Nail the studs and cripple together for the door on each side. Choose nice straight studs for door and window studs and cripples. The nails should again be 3", the first starting no more than 4" from the end and staggered from one side to the other of the stud. Keep the bottom flush. There are usually 5 nails in the length of a 92 1/4" stud when nailed together like this. Nail the stud with the cripple in position, between the plates. Notice that the cripple has a mark, but not the stud. We usually layout both for that reason on both plates. So while laying out the cripples measure over 1 1/2" and mark the stud.
When both cripples and studs are fixed the header should slip into the notch formed. Lift up the header 1/2" off the floor and nail it flush to the top edge of the studs and plates. Leave the bottom plate in the doorway intact until the wall is standing and nailed to the floor. A door rough opening height should be 83 1/2" including a sill or threshold. Usually for 2x6 home improvement construction we fasten a 2x6 under the bottom of the header. This gives us a rough opening height of 83" to the floor after the bottom plate is cut out. We need another 1/2", so instead of the 2x6 under the header use a 1x6 instead. This leaves us with a rough opening of 83 3/4", which should be good. Without a sill just put the 2x6 under the header and against the cripples. Don't put the 2x6 on top of the cripples, because this presents a problem with shrinkage and compression; the header should be supported only by the cripples.
Go over to the window opening and do the same thing. Let's go through this again together. Windows have the same header height as the doors, therefore they both have the same cripple length. Nail the cripples to the studs flush on the bottom with five nails staggered. Determine the length of the header by adding 3" to the rough opening width or 71" + 3" = 74". Cut the header and nail it together with the crowns up, two rows of nails spaced 12" apart. Lay it in the notch and fasten it through the studs and plates, keeping it flush with the top or outside face of the wall. Nail in a 2x6 under the header and against the cripples.
Now measure from this 2x6 down the cripples to the measurement of the rough opening height. In our home improvement example of 6040, the height is 4'-0" less 1" or 47" add another 1 1/2" to allow for the rough sill and scribe a mark. Measure from this mark to the end of the cripple to find the length of the window studs. Count how many you need along the bottom plate—count the stud X's, plus the two at the ends. Measure the rough sill required by holding the tape between the cripples along the bottom plate, it should be 71". Mark the studs on the rough sill by holding it in position on the bottom plate and transferring the stud marks to the sill. Nail in the end studs against the cripples. Nail in the sill plate tight against the studs.
I mentioned earlier about intersecting walls or partitions. A wall that intercepts another is nailed at the intersecting studs, as well as the intersecting double plates. An exterior wall that meets at a corner is fastened to each other at their studs, as well as their intersecting double plates. A partition stud for an outside wall consists of a 2x6 nailed to a stud on the outside wall at a 90 degree angle so the 2x6 acts as backing, in the corner, for the inside 2x4 wall.
When all studs, cripples, headers, etc are fastened well, nail the double plate into position staggering any joints between it and the top plate by at least 4'. Allow for the notch where the intersecting double plates will be over a partition or in a corner.
Now it is time to straighten and square the walls. Measure the width of the studs, 3 1/2" or 5 1/2" in from the outside of the wall and snap a line. While the framing is still laying flat on the floor, move it so the bottom of the bottom plate comes up against this line, tack securely into position along the bottom plate. Measure the diagonals of the wall and move the top plate until both diagonals are the same length. Tack the top plate to the floor. Start with the sheeting at the end where you laid out the wall and the bottom plate. Cut out for the door and window. Nail the sheeting every 6" along the plates and window and door openings and 12" in the center of the sheets, on the studs. For plywood or OSB, 3/8" is recommended for the walls. Allow space between sheets to allow for movement, the thickness of a 12d nail and stagger the joints of the sheets.
After nailing the sheeting securely, get some help and stand up the wall. Nail some temporary braces into the studs at the ends down to the end of the floor to help hold the wall plumb while the other wall is being built, which will intersect the corner. For long walls place some braces nailed to a stud in the wall and fasten the other end to a short piece of 2x4 nailed to the joist in the floor. Make sure the wall is in position and nail it down into the box or rim joist, through the bottom plate on 2' centers.
Start on the intersecting short wall, layout the studs the same except the first stud is nailed to the end of the plates to form the three corner studs for backing. The measurement from the end of the plate to the first stud depends on where the sheeting will require backing. Extend your tape out past the plate the width of a stud, 3 1/2" or 5 1/2" plus the thickness of the sheeting (3/8") and mark the first stud at 15 1/4". Place a nail on this point and continue marking your studs at 16" or 24" centers, as the case may be. This provides a stud at the end of the sheeting when the sheeting extends out past the other wall. This makes a good strong corner with the studs being nailed together, the intersecting double plates overlapping each wall and the sheeting nailed into the opposite wall.
Inside walls are laid out the same as outside walls except for no sheeting, of course. The walls are stood up without bracing which is fastened temporarily after they are all standing and the entire walls are braced ready for the next floor or ceiling to be installed. Headers for doors are not required in inside walls unless in a supporting wall, as shown on the home improvement plans. For the header, in this case, just nail in the same width of stud laying flat across the opening. this allows nailing or backing for the wall finish and door casing later on. A bi-fold closet has a finished opening of the size of the door, so allow for that when framing it in. That is, the rough opening would include the thickness of the wall finish, say 1/2" drywall, for example, plus the door. For a 3068 bifold, the rough opening would be 37" by 80 1/2" plus 1" for carpet or hardwood. So lay out accordingly.
When framing a wall in a basement after the floor is in, lay out the top and bottom plates as usual, but nail the bottom plate in place on the floor and stand up the wall with only the top and double plates attached. This way you can splay the studs out a bit to get it tight against the upper floor or ceiling. Kick the studs into position on the bottom plate and toe-nail them into position with two 2 1/4" nails on each side of the stud. Four 2 1/4" toe-nails are equivalent in strength to two 3" nails driven through the face into the stud. To support the top of a wall in a basement area which has an unfinished ceiling, nail into the floor joists if the wall is going across them. If the wall goes with the joists, nail in 2x4s every 2' between the joist and flush with their bottoms, then nail the wall to these.
Dave(Ask Dave) (About Dave)
Hi, I'm Dave Osborne. With over 50 years experience as a journeyman carpenter, foreman and contractor in heavy construction I enjoyed working with apprentices and sharing the tricks of the trade that others shared with me. Now I get emails from Members all over the world and we include many of my answers in our Free Monthly Newsletters. Some of my answers include drawings and instructions specific to a project, but may also answer your questions. I use correct construction terminology, so you can confidently inform your building supply dealers or contractors exactly what you need.
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