10 Rules for Framing
Guidelines for working efficiently and knowing how good is good enough.
Synopsis: Veteran framer Larry Haun has been building house for over 50 years. And having started out in the housing tracts of Southern California, he has learned to be as efficient as possible about the process. Here he distills his experience down to 10 fundamental rules.
It was a coincidence that another contractor and I began framing houses next door to one another on the same day. But by the time his house was framed, mine was shingled, wired, and plumbed. It was no coincidence that the other contractor ran out of money and had to turn the unfinished house over to the lending company, while I sold mine for a profit.
Both houses were structurally sound, plumb, level, and square, but every 2×4 in the other house was cut to perfection. Every joint looked like finish carpentry. The other contractor was building furniture, and I was framing a house.
Unlike finish carpentry, framing doesn’t have to look perfect or satisfy your desire to fit together two pieces of wood precisely. Whether you’re building a house, an addition, or a simple wall, the goals when framing are strength, efficiency, and accuracy. Following the building codes and the blueprints should take care of the strength; efficiency and accuracy are trickier. But during 50 years of framing houses, I’ve come up with the following rules to help me do good work quickly and with a minimum of effort.
1. Don’t move materials any more than you have to
Hauling lumber from place to place is time consuming and hard on your body. Make it easier on yourself every chance you get, and start by having the folks at the lumberyard do their part. Make sure lumber arrives on the truck stacked in the order it will be used. You don’t want to move hundreds of wall studs to get to your plate stock, for instance. And floor joists go on top of floor sheathing, not the other way around.
When it’s time for the delivery, unload the building materials as close as possible to where they will be used. Often lumber can be delivered on a boom truck, so stacks of lumber can be placed right up on the deck or on a simple structure built flush alongside the deck.
Once the material is delivered, don’t move it any more than you need to. Cut studs, plywood, and anything else you can right on the stack. If you do have to move wood, plan so that you have to move it only once.
2. Build a house, not furniture
In other words, know your tolerances. Rafters don’t have to fit like the parts of a cabinet. Nothing in frame carpentry is perfect, so the question is: What’s acceptable?
You do need to get started right, and that means the mudsills. Whether they’re going on a foundation or on a slab, they need to be level, straight, parallel, and square. But there’s no harm done if they’re cut 1 ⁄4 in. short. A rim joist, on the other hand, needs to be cut to the right length (within 1 ⁄16 in.) before being nailed to the mudsill.
When it comes to wall framing, the bottom plate also can be 1⁄4 in. or so short, but the top plate needs to be cut to exact length (again within 1⁄16 in.) because it establishes the building’s dimension at the top of the walls. But the plate that sits on top of that, the cap or double plate, should be cut 1⁄4 in. short so that intersecting walls tie together easily.
Once you’ve raised the walls, how plumb or straight is good enough? In my opinion, 1⁄4 in. out of plumb in 8 ft. is acceptable, and a 1⁄4-in. bow in a 50-ft. wall won’t cause harm to the structure or problems for subcontractors. Take special care by framing as accurately as possible in the kitchens and in the bathrooms. These rooms require more attention partly because of their tighter tolerances, but also because the work of so many trades comes together here.
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