A Wood Frame Wall is More than A Collection of Studs, Some Advice
After over a decade as a Scout, one of our sons, Chris, will soon achieve Boy Scout’s highest rank, Eagle. The road to Eagle has been exciting, challenging and rewarding – for both father and son.
In order to attain the rank of Eagle, in addition to a host of other requirements, a boy must earn certain merit badges and perform a service project in his community. Recently the Carey family had an opportunity to participate in the Eagle project for one of the boys in Chris’ troop. The project consisted of the construction of a windbreak wall and the extension of a roof on a small feed barn for horses at a nearby state park.
We created a plan, made up the materials list and helped the boys measure, mark, cut and nail the wood that was used to create the wall and roof. It was an exciting experience for all involved – scouts and adults. Everyone got something out of the project. Chris’ friend completed his Eagle Project, a bunch of scouts learned a little about carpentry and the park ranger was thrilled with the completed work, albeit the verdict is still out with the horses.
The expressions on the scouts’ faces were that of amazement and delight, as an unassuming stack of lumber was transformed into a wall and roof. When they learned that the walls in their homes were constructed in essentially the same fashion they became even more interested and impressed.
If you are planning to remodel or add on, you might find it helpful to know a bit about the ins and outs of wall framing. Perhaps you have visions of knocking down a wall between two bedrooms to create one larger room with a big walk-in closet. Or maybe you want to make an opening in an existing wall to install a door or window. Like the scouts, you might decide that this is a task you feel confident about taking on. By the same token, you may find that the best tool is your telephone to call in a pro. In either case, we hope that you find this information valuable.
A wood frame wall is a collection of vertical framing members called studs (2×4 or 2×6) equally spaced (usually 16 inches or 24 inches on center) and sandwiched between top and bottom plates. The top plate can be either single or double. A double top plate or “doubler” is used to add strength and stability to the wall. The added strength of a doubler is especially important for a “bearing” wall – where the wall supports floor joists, ceiling joists or roof rafters. The joint in a doubler should be located at least four feet from any joint in the top plate.
The bottom plate or “sole plate” is single thickness and is fastened to the subfloor. In the case of a concrete slab, the bottom plate consists of pressure treated material to prevent rot.
Aside from studs and plates, the other components of a wood-framed wall are headers, trimmers, sills, corner assemblies and diagonal bracing. A header is placed at the top of a rough opening where a widow, door or archway will exist. A header can consist of one solid piece of lumber or it can be fabricated out of several pieces depending upon the span and structural configuration. A fabricated header is usually made of two pieces of 2-by material with a ½” spacer sandwiched between the two. The spacer brings the width of the header to 3 ½ inches – the actual width of a 2×4.
A header is supported at either side of the opening by a “jack stud” or “trimmer.” The trimmer is nailed to the header and a “king stud.” The king stud is a full-height stud nailed to each end of the header. Where the header is other than one solid member, short pieces of 2x material called “cripples” are installed between the top of the header and the bottom of the top plate. Cripples are also used below the rough windowsill and the sole plate. As with studs, all cripples must be installed on “layout” to ensure that manufactured material such as siding and wallboard will have backing at all joints.
No matter how well built a wall may be, without proper diagonal bracing (and structural shear where required) it can collapse like a house of cards. Diagonal bracing usually consists of a 1×4 that is cut in to or “let in” to the wall framing. Metal straps nailed to the face of the wall framing have become increasingly popular in recent years.
Corner framing requires special attention for two reasons – structural integrity and solid backing to form an inside nailing corner. There are two popular corner construction configurations – three studs and two studs with blocks. We prefer using two studs with short blocks between them. The end stud at the adjacent wall is then nailed to the sandwiched corner.
While you may already have your hammer in one hand and a handful of nails in the other, we suggest that you “nail down” a couple of issues before banging away. First, don’t make any structural changes to your home without consulting an engineer. And be sure to check with your local building department to determine if a permit and inspections will be required for the work. Keep in mind that a permit IS NOT and engraved invitation to the tax assessor. It is for you safety and the safety of your family, neighborhood and community.
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