How to Frame Walls Plumb and Straight
When carpenters use consistent and efficient methods for framing a house, it makes the entire build go much more smoothly.
Synopsis: Straight walls are important—for making a house look better and for making the construction process easier for everyone from plumbers and drywallers to finish carpenters and flooring installers. In this article, contractor Brian McCarthy describes his step-by-step process for making walls plumb and straight, including the right time to frame and straighten walls; the best lumber stock to use; and the sequence of mounting the bracing, plumbing the corners, and straightening the outside and inside.
Before becoming a full-time framing contractor, I spent some time in the Marine Corps, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I value becoming an expert through repetition. When my crew and I plumb and straighten the walls on one of our projects, we always follow the same steps and in the same order for two important reasons. First, when you do something the same way every time, it’s harder to forget a step. Second, knowing the steps makes a process more efficient by eliminating unnecessary and redundant movements. Straight walls are important. They make a house look better, and getting them right makes the construction process easier for everyone down the line. If you don’t get the walls plumb and straight, everyone from plumbers and drywallers to finish carpenters and flooring installers has a harder time making their respective parts of the house fit together and look good.
The right time
Although timing is not always something we can control, in general it’s easier to straighten the walls on frames that go together quickly in good weather. Walls exposed to multiple cycles of wetting and drying are the hardest to straighten.
There are two schools of thought among framers about the right time to straighten the walls. Some framers wait to straighten until all the interior bearing and nonbearing walls are in place, but I think the better way is to frame and straighten only the walls that are needed to get the next deck installed. This includes all exterior walls, interior bearing walls, walls with point loads, and any walls that might make framing the stairs easier. If you frame just what you need at this point, not only will you have less bracing in your way, but you will have more room to work when installing the floor joists or ceiling joists above. The remaining interior walls can be framed when the next deck is on and the ceiling is strapped. Plus, I find that the nonbearing walls go up faster and straighter when framed later because it’s so easy to transfer the layout to the ceiling with lasers and skip the straightening and bracing part altogether.
Where to start?
Making a house’s walls straight starts at the lumber pile. We use the longest, straightest stock for plates, and we pull our stud layout from an outside corner, almost always on the longest wall. We square and sheathe the exterior walls while they’re lying on the floor. We then stand the walls, plumb them, and tack the corners. Lightly nailing the corners allows us to straighten them later if things move, as they always do. When we install interior beams with multiple layers (either dimensional or engineered lumber), we tack the plies together with a framing nailer, but we don’t fully nail the plies tight. This means that they’re easier to push and pull when it’s time to straighten them. Once all the structural elements are in place, we install the second top plate.
From Fine Homebuilding #281
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