Framing a wall—or building a basic wall—is a basic skill that will help you change the footprint of your home in substantial ways. Framing is a simple, inexpensive project that doesn't require many specialized tools or materials: just a framing hammer, nails, and two-by-fours. Once you have framed the wall, you're all set to add doors, windows, siding, or drywall.
Before You Begin
A framed wall is a simple yet flexible design. Precise placement of the studs horizontally and vertically is what makes the design so strong.
Bottom Sole Plate (Horizontal)
The entire framed wall rests on one bottom sole plate made of a two-by-four. This two-by-four runs horizontally and rests on the floor.
If the floor of the house is concrete, this bottom plate must be made of pressure-treated wood to prevent moisture from decaying the wood.
Seven vertical two-by-four studs per 8 feet of wall run perpendicular to the bottom plate. At the top, they will connect with the top plates.
Studs are spaced every 16 inches or 24 inches, according to the local code and the requirements of the project. Generally, it's safest to space the studs every 16 inches.
Top Plates (Horizontal)
Paralleling the bottom plate are two top plates, also two-by-fours. This plate connects to the tops of the vertical studs and to the ceiling.
All wall frames will eventually have some type of sheathing (or outer layer) attached to them, whether that's drywall panels for interiors or plywood or OSB sheets for exteriors. While sheathing technically is not part of the framing process, it does play an important role in strengthening the framing.
When to Frame a Wall
Framing a wall is a necessary component of so many home remodeling and improvement projects. Whether you're converting a garage to an apartment or creating an addition, you'll need to frame a wall. Even small projects like building a walk-in closet or dividing a large room require you to build a wall.
Permits and Codes
Most communities will require you to apply for a building permit before building a wall. When you check with your permitting department, wall framing may fall within the scope of a larger project such as converting a garage to living space. Or, it may come under the broad designation of changing the interior space, either structurally or nonstructurally.
In any case, whether the wall you are framing will be load-bearing or not (such as in the case of a partition wall), most likely you will need a building permit and related inspections.
If framing the wall also involves removing another wall, be sure to create a support system prior to removing the wall. Use adjustable steel columns (also called lally columns or jack posts) with two-by-fours above and below the steel columns, or you can build a temporary wall from two-by-fours.
Equipment / Tools
- Framing hammer
- Speed Square
- Chalk line
- Electric miter saw or circular saw
- Powder-actuated nailer (for concrete floors)
- 10 premium two-by-fours, each 8-foot
- 16d (3 1/2-inch) nails
A framed wall requires vertical studs every 16 inches (or 24 inches, in some cases) and two top plates and one bottom plate. For large projects, calculate the number of materials with an online calculator or manually. Prepare a large section of floor to work on. The floor should be perfectly flat.
Choose the two-by-fours that you intend to be the wall's plates. Lay them on edge, side-by-side. With the square, make sure that the ends are perfectly lined up.
Temporarily hold the studs in place with a C-clamp or a bar clamp. While this is not necessary, it does help to hold them aligned and to prevent them from tipping over.
Mark Center Stud Locations on Plates
Hook the end of the tape measure on one end of the stacked plates. Run the tape measure the entire length of the plates to the end and lock it in place. With the pencil, mark every 16-inch increment on the stud until you reach the end of the board. With the Speed Square, run the mark across both plates.
These are the on-center locations for each vertical stud. Do not remove the tape measure.
Mark Front Edge Stud Locations
To make it easier to place the vertical studs, mark the front edge of where each one will begin. To do this, mark backward 3/4 inch from each of the previous on-center marks.
So, an on-center measurement of 16 inches would also be marked backward to 15 1/4 inches. Leave the on-center marks in place but "X" them out to avoid confusion.
On-Center Front Edge of Stud 16 inches 15 1/4 inches 32 inches 31 1/4 inches 48 inches 47 1/4 inches 64 inches 63 1/4 inches 80 inches 79 1/4 inches 96 inches 95 1/4 inches
Continue Measurements to Face
Rotate the two-by-fours a quarter-turn each so that they are now laying flat. With the Speed Square and pencil, continue the edge marks across the faces.
Using the electric saw, cut the vertical studs to the desired height of the wall, minus the thickness of the three plates. So, if you would like your wall to be 8 feet high, cut the studs to 91 1/2 inches long (96 inches minus 4 1/2 inches).
Dry-Fit Studs and Plates
Loosely lay out all of the two-by-fours on edge, with two plates on top and one at the bottom. Sight down each of the vertical studs to determine the crown or curvature direction. Lay each stud with the crown facing upward. If any stud's crown differs from that of the other studs, remove it from this project.
Step Back Top Plate for Corners (Optional)
If this is a single wall, align the two top plates one on top of the other. If, instead, the wall will join 90 degrees to another wall that you are framing, step back the topmost plate.
Leave the lower of the two top plates full length. The plate that rests on top of that plate should be cut 3 1/2 inches shorter. So, if the lower top plate is 96 inches, the plate on top of that should be 92 1/2 inches. This allows the adjoining corner wall to interlock at the top.
Attach All Pieces
Nail the studs into place between the top and bottom plates, using two nails per end. If you are attaching the topmost top plate at this time, nail it into place above every vertical stud location.
Snap a chalk line on the floor where you want the wall frame to run. With an assistant, tilt the wall frame up and move it into place along the chalk line.
If the wall will meet up with another framed wall at a corner, butt them up against each other to form an L-shape. Drive nails about every 24 inches down the two adjoining boards.
Attach to Floor
For wood subfloors with joists, nail the wall frame through the bottom plate to the floor with two nails at every available joist. Joists are not visible. They are located under the subfloor. Nail between the joists, too, wherever possible.
If the floor is concrete, use a powder-actuated nailer to attach the bottom plate to the concrete.
For wood subfloors, check underneath ahead of time to see where you will be nailing to prevent piercing electrical wires or pipes. Generally, neither service will be located directly under the subfloor within reach of nails—but it's always safest to check.
Finish Topmost Top Plate (Optional)
If the wall will continue straight for a long run, multiple wall units will need to be attached to each other. If so, attach the topmost top plate at the end, stepping it back by 4 feet.
The best way to accomplish this is to leave the topmost plate unattached until the framing is up and in place. Then, run full-size two-by-fours across every wall break, centering them over each break at their mid-points.
Tips For Framing a Wall
- Be meticulous when measuring and marking the stud locations on the plates. When you later install sheet goods, such as plywood or drywall, these materials depend on hitting precisely aligned studs.
- If the wall frame will have windows and doors, build these in while framing rather than adding them retroactively.
- For small installations such as a shed, it can be beneficial to install the sheathing on the wall frame while the frame is still flat on the ground. The sheathing will help you force the wall frame into square.
- When attaching the top plates, nail only over stud locations. If you nail between studs, it's more difficult for electricians and plumbers to drill holes in the plates.
- For inside corners that will receive drywall, nail on an additional two-by-four on the back to provide an attachment surface for the edge of the drywall.
When to Call a Professional
Small interior installations that will not bear weight from above are ideal for do-it-yourselfers. Large-scale wall framing projects, especially those that involve exterior walls, are often best left in the hands of professional framers or carpenters.