Careful Layout for Perfect Walls
Everything from rafters to kitchen cabinets fits better when you get the walls square and the studs in the right places.
Synopsis: Here you’ll learn how to check the floor frame for square corners, which is the first step in framing the walls. Then the author, a general contractor, walks you through the layout process, explaining the framer’s shorthand and offering tips for faster and more accurate framing.
Framing walls is one of the most fun parts of building a house. It’s fast, safe and easy, and at the end of the day, it’s satisfying to admire the progress you’ve made. Before cranking up your compressor and nail guns, though, you need to think through what you’re going to do. You need to locate every wall precisely on the subfloor, along with every framing member in those walls.
Layout starts in the office
For one of our typical houses, layout and framing for interior and exterior walls start in the office a few days before my crew and I are ready to pick up the first 2×6. First, I review the plans carefully and make sure that all the necessary information is there.
I need the locations and dimensions of all the rough openings, not only for doors and windows but also for things such as fireplaces, medicine cabinets, built-ins, dumbwaiters and the like. I also make sure the plans have the structural information I need for layout, such as shear-wall and bearing-wall details and column sizes.
At the site, one of Spier’s many corollaries to Murphy’s Law is that errors never cancel each other out; they always multiply. If the floor is anything but straight, level, flat and square, the walls are going to go downhill (or uphill) from there. So before you get to layout, do whatever it takes to get a good floor, especially the first: Mud the sills, shim the rims, rip the joists. Sweep off the subflooring, and avoid the temptation to have a pile of material delivered onto it.
Snap chalklines for the longest exterior walls first
I’ve learned over the years that it’s best to snap the plate lines for the entire floor plan before building any of it. Problems you didn’t catch on the prints often jump out when you start snapping lines.
When framing floors, I take great care to set the mudsills flush, square and in their exact locations. Because the edges of floor framing and subflooring are not always perfect, though, I use a level to plumb up from the mudsills and establish the plate lines, measuring in the stock thickness from the level. I generally start with the longest exterior walls and the largest rectangle in the plan. When I have the ends of the longest wall located, I snap a line through the marks.
Once I’ve established the line for the first wall, I move to the parallel wall on the opposite side of the house. I measure across the floor from the first line to the opposite mudsill (again using a level to plumb up from the mudsill to the floor height) at both ends; if the lengths differ slightly, I use the larger measurement. I snap through these points, which gives me two parallel lines representing the long sides of the largest rectangle. It’s okay if the plates overhang the floor framing by a bit, but I watch for areas that might need to be shimmed or padded for instance, where a deck ledger needs to be attached to the house.
For more photos and details on framing walls, click the View PDF button below.