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Frame a door rough opening

A pro teaches you his three simple rules for framing rough openings efficiently

If you can cut a 2x4 and drive a nail, then you have all the skills you need to frame a rough opening for a door. As with most homebuilding tasks, however, there's a fine line between getting it done and doing it efficiently, without causing headaches down the line.

Whether framing a rough opening in a new home or on a remodeling project, I follow the same sequence. I always frame rough openings before I install the surrounding studs. This gives me plenty of room to nail the trimmers to the king studs and the king studs to the header. If the wall is load-bearing, I refer to the plans for the proper header size. If not, a 2x4 on the flat replaces the header. In this case, the plans called for a double 2x8 header. I added a 1/2-in. piece of plywood between the 2x8s so that the header width matches the 2x4 stud thickness.

Most new doors are 6 ft. 8 in. tall. Add 3/4 in. for the jamb, 3/4 in. for finish flooring, 3/8 in. for underlayment, and 3/4 in. for wiggle room at the top of the door, and the top of the trimmer (the bottom of the header) needs to be 82 5/8 in. above the subfloor. This height can vary slightly in a remodeling project depending on what's happening with the existing floors. Door widths vary, but an easy way to size the rough opening is to use the door width plus 5 in. as the distance between the king studs.

There are three simple rules to framing rough openings efficiently: Minimize layout marks; maintain a simple, consistent nailing pattern; and avoid toenailing when possible.

Mark all the plates at once

Measure the distance between the king studs (door width plus 5 in.). For efficiency, I mark only the inside edge of the king studs on the bottom and top plates. To the inside of the marks, I write T for trimmer. To the outside, I mark an X to indicate the king stud.

TIP: Mark and measure at the same time. The rectangular shape of a carpenter’s pencil makes it easy to hold against the end of the tape.

Mark the cripple locations. I save myself a little time and the potential confusion of too many lines by marking the cripple locations only on the top plate. The crow’s foot indicates the layout mark, and the X tells me which side of the line to locate the cripple. Later, I transfer these marks to the header.

Assemble the parts, then transfer the layout

Keep edges flush. When assembling the king studs, the trimmers, and the header, I use my fingers, my eyes, and a Speed Square to keep all the edges flush. I alternate pairs of nails with single nails (like the #5 pattern on a domino) when nailing along the length of the trimmer or header. I separate nails by 16 in. for studs and by 8 in. for headers.

Transfer the layout marks to the header. Before nailing the header in place, I align it with the king-stud marks I made on the top plate and transfer the cripple locations to the header.

More Info
Photo by: Krysta S. Doerfler

Is framing with a hatchet not for you? There are hundreds of hammers on the market with everything from skulls and crossbones on the side to $180 price tags. If you’re looking for a straight-up framing hammer with good features and no frills, the Vaughan Bluemax (www.hammernet.com) should fit the bill. The 21-oz. hammer has a strong fiberglass shank with a curved handle designed to resist arm fatigue. If your aim isn’t perfect, there is a high-impact overstrike guard under the head to protect the shank. The head itself has straight claws for prying and striking framing lumber. The oversize striking face comes smooth or milled with a nail-gripping waffle pattern. A magnetic nail holder is incorporated into the head to help you start nails with one hand when you’re stretched out on a ladder. The hammer costs about $35, which should leave a little money left over to buy some nails.

—John Ross is an associate Web editor.

Sequence assembly to avoid toenailing

First, fasten the header to the king stud. Before installing any adjacent studs or the top plate, I connect the header to the king stud. Again, I use the #5 domino nailing pattern. To stay friends with the finish carpenter and to avoid creating bumps in the wall, I keep the edges flush

Add the cripples before the double top plate. Through-nailing is faster, stronger, and tidier than toenailing. Before adding the double top plate, I can through-nail into the king studs and the cripples. I nail the king studs on each side of the door before adding the cripples.

Nail the plate next to the studs. To save the plumbers and the electricians from ruining their drill bits, I keep nails close to the studs when fastening the bottom plate to the floor.

Magazine extra: Watch a video of Scott framing this rough opening and hear why he uses a rigger's hatchet instead of a regular hammer.
Photos by: John Ross, except where noted; drawing by: Dan Thornton
From Fine Homebuilding201 , pp. 98-100 January 14, 2009
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