An Overview of How to Frame a Stud Wall

Do-it-yourself home improvement projects have become one of the most popular weekend activities for many Americans today. While tackling a home improvement project can be a lot of fun, it can be a real challenge if you take on a project that you haven’t had adequate experience with. Learning how to frame a stud wall correctly is easy to do, but I see it done incorrectly over and over. I am a building inspector with a background in the construction trades. Let’s have a look at how to correctly frame a stud wall so that your project will be safe, up to code when the inspector drops by and give you a project to be proud of.

For the purposes of this article, we will assume that you will be framing a load-bearing wall. A load-bearing wall is built for exterior walls and whenever it is necessary to support a span above the wall. There are differences in framing load-bearing and non-load-bearing walls but that is outside the scope of this article.

A load-bearing exterior wall is usually built from 2 x 4 lumber. It is more and more common to build with 2 x 6 lumber these days for increased insulating capacity. Which ever you choose the steps and techniques are the same.

If you are going to build a wall with a standard ceiling height I recommend that you choose pre-cut studs for the studs. They are already cut to length which will save you time and reduce waste. The rest of your 2 x 4’s should be selected in lengths that are appropriate for the length of the wall.

The first step in framing a stud wall is to layout where studs will be placed. You will also need to give consideration to the placement of any doors or windows that will be placed in you wall. Determine the length of the wall and assemble or cut your 2 x 4 sole plate and top plate to length. Lay the sole plate and top plate next to one another. Now you will mark the location of all the studs.

Begin at the end of the plate and mark an “x” on each plate for the first stud. Now measure from the end and mark every 16″ to layout studs for 16″ on center. Make a mark for the edge of the stud and mark an “x” to indicate the location of each stud. Should you have any door or window openings in this wall you will want to mark the location of the rough openings for those.

When framing a rough opening for a window or door, remember that the opening will need to be larger than the finished size. You will want to have already purchased your doors and windows prior to framing the wall. Refer to the instructions provided with the door or window to determine the size of the rough opening. Generally speaking you will want to allow and extra 2 inches for the width of a pre-hung door to allow for shimming so the door sits square in the rough opening.

Mark out where the door will be located and mark the location of the “king stud”. The king stud will provide support from the top plate to the sole plate. Now mark the location of the “jack stud” right next to the king stud. The jack stud will extend from the sole plate to the door header and begins the width of the rough opening. Now measure from the jack stud the required dimension for the rough opening and mark for another jack stud. Next mark the location of the king stud past that. Don’t worry if a regular stud is within this opening; that is why you will be building a header later on.

Once you have all of the studs marked and the window and door openings marked you can begin framing the stud wall. Start out your framing by placing the sole plate and top plate about 8 feet apart on their edges. Keep the lay out marks you made earlier facing each other. Start at on end and place a pre-cut stud between the plates. Drive two 16D (D means penny when referring to nail sizes) nails through the bottom of the sole plate and into the stud. Do the same at the top plate, only drive the nail from the top of the top plate and into the stud. Continue placing studs in this manner including any king studs until you come to the other end of the wall. There should be a stud at each end.

Now you will need to place studs for a corner at each end if another wall will join this wall at a 90 degree angle. To frame the corner you will need two more pre-cut studs. Place these studs next to the end stud and attach as you did the rest of the studs and face-nail each stud to the next with 10D nails about every 24 inches along the length of the stud.

We are almost finished placing studs. Remember our door and window openings? We need to finish those. It is now time to build the headers and place the jack studs and cripple studs. Let’s start by building our door and window headers.

A header is used to transfer the load above an opening down through the jack stud so that the opening remains square. Most often you will build your headers from 2 x 6 material for load-bearing walls. If you will have a larger than normal span, say for like a large picture window, ask your local building official what size header you will need.

Measure between your king studs for the door or window to get the length of your header. Now cut 2 pieces this length from a 2 x 6. You will also need to rip a piece of Ã?½” plywood to 5 Ã?½” and cut that to the same length. The plywood will be sandwiched between the 2 x 6 pieces you cut. This allows the header to be the same thickness as your 2 x 4 studs.

Now cut 2 jack studs. For a standard door, cut the jack studs to a length of 82 inches. For windows, determine the proper height for the bottom of the window. You may want to contact your local building department for codes regarding the placement of required egress windows.

Place the jack studs flat against the king stud and face-nail using 10D nails about every 24 inches. Make sure the jack stud is well butted against the sole plate and nail through it with two 16D nails. Now place one of the 2 x 6 pieces on edge against the top of the jack stud and secure it through the king stud with 16D nails. Lay the plywood on top of this piece and then place the other 2 x 6 on top of that. Face-nail all of this together with several 10D nails, and then attach to the king stud like you did the first one.

All that is left before you can raise the wall into place is to place any cripple studs and double the top plate.

A cripple stud is put into place wherever a regular stud would have gone but a rough opening, such as for a door or window is in the way. Of course you will not be placing any cripple studs below the header for a door opening but you will place them above the header. You will also place a cripple stud above the header in the same relative location that any jack studs are placed. Face-nail and end nail cripple studs as before.

For window openings, place cripple studs above the header and below the cross plate in the same manner you used to place cripple studs in the door opening.

There you have it; your stud wall is framed and ready to be raised into place. Once it is raised into place attach another 2 x 4 on top of the top plate to form a double top plate. When building the double top plate be sure to allow a 3 Ã?½” space at the ends where a corner will be. Offset any splices by 24 inches with the top plate.

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