Rise to the challenge of raising a well-framed wall


March 27, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

There's something elegant about a well-framed wall -- the graceful uprights with their cross-stitch of blocking, everything (almost) straight, level and plumb.

There's something elegant about the process of building frame walls as well: The rules are straightforward and everything goes together in a logical fashion. Whether you're framing walls, floors or ceilings, the studs, joists or rafters need to be 16 on center (16 inches from the center of one to the center of the next) and designed to carry the appropriate weight of the structure, occupants and objects.

The first step is going over your plans to identify what kinds of walls you need to build -- bearing walls or non-bearing walls.

Non-bearing walls, or partition walls, are simply dividers. The master bath of the house we're working on will be created from a larger space; what's left will be a hallway to the master bedroom. The walls that define the bath will be partition walls. They don't have to support anything but themselves and the weight of the drywall on both sides.

Non-bearing walls don't have to be as heavily constructed as bearing walls -- they need only a single thickness of 2-by-4 for top and bottom plates, and openings for doors and windows -- and don't need reinforced side pieces.

Bearing walls carry the weight of something above -- another wall, for instance, or part of the weight of the roof. They are built to be stronger. The top plate is doubled and door and window openings require extra support studs (called "cripple" or "jack" studs) on each side of the header to transfer weight to the floor.

Once you've determined what kind of walls you need, you're ready to start. Most of the framing we do -- because we are usually working in one of Baltimore's brick rowhouses -- is within existing masonry walls. Here's our procedure:

*Start with the biggest wall. You'll be building on the floor and raising the wall into place -- it's called "tilt-up" construction. If you have a lot of space and a helper, you may be able to build the wall in one piece. Otherwise, you're probably going to have to construct it in two or more pieces. Remember how heavy those 2-by-4s were when you loaded them on the truck and then carried them in the house? They don't get lighter when you nail DTC them together.

Be sure you have room to maneuver a finished piece into place. A wall as wide as the house, for instance, would be impossible to lift into place.

When you're deciding how to divide the wall, remember that you don't want a section to end in the middle of an opening, or right at the edge of an opening, or you'll weaken the support for the header.

*Cut the top and bottom plates to fit the wall or portion of wall you're building. Lay the plates on the floor (or on sawhorses) with the wide sides up, side by side with the ends even. Use a tape or framing square to mark the plates for the studs. Draw a line across both plates at 16 inches, 32 inches, 48 inches and so on.

When you spread the plates out, you can nail the studs with one 3 1/2 -inch side along the line top and bottom. If you work methodically, you should have no trouble figuring out where the next stud goes. With the 16-inch centers, it doesn't matter whether the drywall is 4, 8 or 12 feet wide, the edges will always fall on a stud.

*Figure out how long to cut the studs. It will be the height of the wall -- more or less -- minus the width of the plates. That's 3 $$ inches for single plates and 4 1/2 if there's a double top plate.

We say "more or less" because in a rehab the floor and ceiling are hardly ever exactly parallel. In new construction, where everything is being built level, you can cut the studs to the desired length and simply raise the wall into place. But in a rehab, you cut the studs to the smallest length and shim the top plate into place. Measure the wall in at least three places to find the shortest length. (If you're shimming a bearing wall, you need to use hardwood shims -- which you may have to make yourself.)

*Lay out the top and bottom plates and studs on the floor in the way they'll be nailed together. Then figure out where openings for doors and windows will be.

In new construction, where you're deciding where openings go, you build openings on the floor, then raise the entire wall into place.

In a rehab, where the openings already exist, you need to leave a gap, raise the wall and then match the new opening to the old one. Measure the existing opening and leave the framing open to the nearest stud; if you laid it out properly, the studs will be far enough away from the edges of the opening to give you room to put in headers, sills and jack studs. Remember to leave room for trim or drywall.

*Double-check all your measurements; nail the wall or wall section together.

*There are several tricks that make raising the wall easier if you don't have a helper.

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