In our childhoods, most of us played with building toys like Lincoln Logs. Since the Tower of Babel, it seems to be built into human nature to want to build things. Regardless of what you or I do for our day job, building things with lumber, framing house walls, has a certain appeal to many of us. This Basic Construction Framing 101 article is intended to help bridge the gap between building with Lincoln Logs as a kid and building a real wall or framing an addition to an existing house with dimensional framing lumber – but now building the real deal in adult scale.
Table of Contents
- Framing 101 – Basics in Construction
- How to Frame a Wall
- Framing Doors
- How to Frame Windows
- Framing 101 to Convert a Garage to an Apartment
- 2-Story Framing a Whole House
Framing 101 – Basics in Construction
What is framing in construction? Framing is the process of building the structural frame of your house or addition. When you finish the frame, you will attach 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood to cover exterior walls and the subsurface of your roof; for interior walls, you will likely attach gypsum wallboard to the completed frame you have built.
Framing is putting together the Lincoln Logs so you have walls and floors and ceilings and a roof over your head. Remember, building and framing are just like playing with the kids’ toys—only bigger!
How to Frame a Wall
Let’s say you want to frame an interior wall in a larger existing space, like in a basement, part of which you want to convert into a bedroom. What type of wood is used in framing a house, or a single wall in a house? Most residential house wall framing is done with Douglas fir or Hemlock 2 x 4s and 2 x 6s. Here’s framing 101 for how to frame a wall:
1. First, determine the size you want the room to be. If it will be 10’ in one direction, you will need 10’ long 2 x 4 plates; if the room will be 12’ in one direction, you will need to buy 12’ 2 x 4 plates. Hemlock 2 x 4s are usually a bit cheaper than fir, and work just as well for interior walls.
2. Next, take two 2 x 4 plates and lay them on edge (the 2” side up) right next to each other. These will be the top and bottom plates of your wall, through which you will nail the vertical studs. Measure the exact length you want the wall to be and make a mark on both 2 x 4s with a pencil. Turn the boards on their side and use a square to scribe a straight line on the flat side of each board (the 4” side). Then cut each board with a circular saw (often called by the product name Skilsaw).
Another framing 101 tip: It’s a good idea to have a healthy respect for a circular saw. If you’ve ever seen the Red Cross’s First Aid for bleeding video, you know how dangerous a poorly handled circular saw can be (give it a miss if you’re queasy). To make things perfectly safe, place the 2 x 4 on saw horses on their flat sides, leaving the cut-off end hanging free from any binding of the saw in the wood. It’s when a circular saw binds that it gets really rambunctious and can wreak havoc. Take hold of the board firmly with one hand, then, with the other hand, guide the saw along the cut-off side of your scribed line. Cut the second board so that both 2 x 4s are exactly the same length. You now have your top and bottom plates for your wall.
3. Place both 2 x 4 plates on their edges with their ends flush with each other. If this will be a wall with no doorway, the next part is straightforward. With your tape measure, mark off 16” centers (16”, 32”, 48”, etc.) on your top and bottom plates. I use a black sharpie. These will be the center lines for where you will nail each stud.
4. Next, measure from floor to ceiling and subtract 3” for your top and bottom plates. This is the height of your vertical studs. the narrow side of a 2 x 4 is actually only 1 ½”, so, the flat sides of two stacked 2 x 4s equal 3” (when it was rough cut at the saw mill, a 2 x 4 was 2” x 4”, but after it was put through the planer to make it smooth, it is actually only 1 ½ x 3 ½, not a true 2” x 4”—but it’s still called by its pre-planed dimension). Count your center-line marks and precut the same number of studs plus one. For new construction of a whole house, you would add a second top plate, so your studs would be 4 ½” shorter than the finished wall height.
5. Clear away enough floor space so there’s room for you to build the wall while it is lying down on the floor. You will lift it into place after you’ve finished nailing it together. After you’ve set a stud at each center mark on your plates, pick up the far plate and place it at the other end of the studs (be sure not to cartwheel the plate or your stud layout will be off). Place your foot at an angle on the stud and plate (wear boots for this), then nail two nails through the plate into the end of each stud. You can hand nail the studs old-school—which I highly recommend—or you can rent a compressor and nail gun, or buy them at a big-box lumber store. Be sure the center line on your plate is centered on the 1 ½” edge of each stud.
6. Remember that extra stud you cut? Nail it on its side, forming an “L” shape, with the last stud that will make up the inside corner where the next wall will join this one. This corner section is designed to be the backing for nailing or screwing the wallboard when it’s time to finish the surface of the framed walls for your new room.
7. Snap a chalk line on the floor, or use your bottom plate to scribe a line. Now, lift the wall into place, positioning the bottom plate on the line. Make sure the wall is plumb straight up and down, using a 4’ level. Scribe a line where your new wall joins the existing basement wall; level the other end of the wall, and scribe a line on the ceiling. Nail the top plate of your wall to the underside edge of the ceiling joists.
8. Lastly, attach the bottom 2 x 4 plate to the concrete floor using heavy-duty concrete nails, and some pretty hefty swings with a sledge hammer. Or you can rent a powder-actuated nail gun that drives a fastener through the bottom plate into the concrete floor, using the force of a .22 round. I did mention that framing 101 is fun! These are called a shot tool; a common trade name is Ramset.
Repeat this same process to frame the other wall.
1. After laying out the studs on 16” centers, decide where you want to place the door into the new bedroom or office. You can purchase a pre-hung interior door in a variety of sizes, but remember when you’re framing the rough-in opening for the door, add 2” to the width and at least 1” to the height. So, for example if you are going to use a 32” pre-hung door, your rough-in opening will be 34” wide by 81 1/8”. Standard door height is 80” but be sure and measure your pre-hung door’s height; depending on the thickness of its built-in threshold, its height could be taller.
The rule of thumb is, your rough-in framed door opening should be an inch wider on either side of the door frame and at least an inch taller than the height of the actual door; this allows room for the door jamb to fit in the rough-in opening with a little bit of room to spare, and it gives you room to fine-tune the plumb, level, and square of the door frame.
2. With both door and window framing, you will use two full height studs on either side of the door or window opening.
3. Next, cut two trimmers 7 ½” shorter than your wall studs. Nail the trimmers flat against the wall-height studs, called king studs, and flush with the bottom of each king stud. The trimmer forms the structural support for the horizontal header over the door or window.
4. Lastly, if you are framing in your existing basement or garage, you will make a header by simply cutting a 2 x 4 the length of the width of the rough-in door or window opening plus 3” (3” is the width of two 2 x 4s nailed flat together, in this case, the king studs and the trimmers). You will nail this header 2 x 4 horizontally into the top end of both trimmers; then nail through each king stud into the butt ends of your header.
How to Frame Windows
Unlike door framing, rough-in framing 101 for windows does not require over sizing the rough-in opening. For example, a 48” commercially manufactured vinyl window is undersized by ½” to fit into a 48” rough-in opening in the wall. No oversizing needed. Check local building codes for the minimum opening size of windows needed for egress from a bedroom in case there’s a fire.
Additionally, unlike framing a door, most windows don’t extend all the way to the floor. Just as you used trimmers for framing the sides of the door and for nailing the header over the door opening, so with framing windows you will use what are called cripples to frame in the short wall below the window opening.
1. Let’s say you are going to frame an opening for a 36” x 48” window. Measure 48” inches down from the top of the trimmer and make a mark, then make another mark at 49 ½” inches; this gives you space for a 1 ½” sill plate to frame the bottom of the window opening.
2. Next, cut a 36” 2 x 4 to be your sill plate (note: this is the same width as the rough-in window opening); place it by your bottom plate in between both trimmers and transfer the 16” layout marks onto the sill plate.
3. After you’ve placed the sill plate where it will go to support the bottom of the window, measure the height of your cripples, or the short studs that form the wall going under the window; count how many you will need. Place the 2 x 4s on the saw horses and cut them to the length of your cripples. Now, nail the cripples into the bottom plate and into the sill plate. Be sure to nail the two end cripples to the edge of the trimmers.
Let’s say you are converting a garage into an apartment or master suite. You will install the vinyl (or wood) windows in your pre-framed openings from the exterior of the apartment before installing the exterior siding. Back inside, you will trim out the inside of the windows by installing the window sill first, then the upper trim piece secured with finish nails to the header; then you will secure the finish trim material (1 x 4 ripped as needed) to both sides of the window, nailing it to the trimmers. Apply silicon caulking to the inside edge before installing the trim material. Finish by installing header trim above and on the sides of each window.
Framing 101 to Convert a Garage to an Apartment
Let’s move from framing a single room in the basement to converting a garage into an apartment or master suite, or framing to convert a car port into living space. Converting your garage, you will have the advantage of having the four exterior walls already framed for you. When converting a carport, usually you will only have a roof with posts in the corners and will need to frame the walls yourself.
Let’s begin with framing 101 for converting a car port into an apartment.
1. You will frame the walls with either 2 x 4s (less expensive, but with less space for insulation and plumbing) or 2 x 6s. Most building codes will require exterior walls to be framed with 2 x 6 studs; this is largely for energy efficiency as more insulation can be installed in a 2 x 6 wall than in a 2 x 4 wall. Studs for walls should be spaced on 16” centers. In a garage or carport, the ceiling rafters will likely already be spaced on 24” centers. A Stanley tape measure makes it simple; it lays out the increments of 16” centers (16, 32, 48, etc.) in red. Remember that this is where you will nail the center of the 1 ½” edge of each stud to the top and bottom plates.
2. If you are converting a garage with existing walls, you will need to cut holes in the walls with a reciprocating Sawzall for doorways and windows. If you are converting a car port, you can frame the windows and doors as you build the walls, as described above for making a bedroom or office in your basement.
3. When framing walls or ceiling rafters, be sure to provide solid backing around the edges of walls and ceilings for nailing or screwing the wallboard to when you finish framing. Whether you finish the walls with gypsum wallboard, or tongue-and-groove pine or cedar boards (my personal preferences), you will need the 2 x 4 backing for attaching the perimeter of the wallboard. Build inside wall corners when framing walls as described above when turning part of your basement into a room; simply nail the edge of one stud to the flat side of another stud, forming an L; the 4 ½” side of the inside wall corner leaves 1 ½” of material extending past the inside corner for backing to attach the ends of the wallboard.
4. What about the floor? Though concrete makes a solid floor, it can also be a very cold subfloor in the winter months; plus, in an apartment or master suite you will need space to run water supply lines and plumbing drain lines. When I converted a carport into a master suite, I decided to raise the floor. Most garages and carports have taller ceilings than standard indoor space, so I used 2 x 10s stood on edge to create a wood floor over the existing concrete. I could then fill the space between the new floor joists with R-38 insulation, thereby creating a warm floor for my wife’s bare toes—and I had plenty of space now to run new wiring as well as plumbing, both water supply lines and drain pipe. All without using a jackhammer.
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5. Lastly, after running wiring for plenty of outlets in the stud walls, I sheeted the wood-framed underfloor with ¾” tongue-and-groove OSB (oriented strand board), gluing the top edge of each joist with Liquid Nails before nailing to avoid creaking in the finished floor.
And there you have it! Framing 101 for converting a car port into an apartment.
2-Story Framing a Whole House
For the more ambitious do-it-yourselfer, you can actually frame your entire 2-story house. It’s just Lincoln Logs built two stories high. Framing is framing. You just get to do it on a larger scale. If you’ve worked through this framing 101 article, you may be ready for basic construction framing for a whole house!
1. Step one, begin by attaching pressure treated 2 x 6s (called mud sill) to the anchor bolts embedded in the top of the concrete foundation wall.
2. Next, you will build post-and-beam support in the underfloor (what will be the crawl space under the finished first floor). Depending on the dimensions of the main floor, you may need to have more than one row of post-and-beam support under the floor. Make sure the top of the beam (usually 4 x 8s or 4 x 10s) is level with the mud sill 2 x 6 on top of the foundation wall.
3. After this, with your tape measure, lay out the mud sill and support beams on 16” centers.
4. Next, tilt the floor joists on edge, nailing them to end caps that sit on top of your mud sill; toenail the joists to the mud sill. Floor joists are usually 2 x 10s, but check local codes to make sure you are using the proper dimensional lumber for the load on your floor joists.
5. After you have framed the floor structure, blocking where your joists join in the middle, attach tongue-and-groove OSB sheeting with glue and nails to the floor joists.
6. Following the blueprint for the exterior and interior walls, lay out the top and bottom plates as described above, placing rough-in openings for windows and doors. Use 4 x 8 headers over windows and doors on load bearing walls. You will use a second top plate to tie all the interior walls together with the exterior walls. Longer exterior walls, usually framed with 2 x 6s, are heavy to raise. But you can rent wall jacks to save your back. Use diagonal bracing and a string line to make your walls straight.
7. Once your walls are top plated, straight, and secured; frame the second floor as you did the main floor. When you’ve finished with the exterior and interior walls, you will roll manufactured trusses for framing the roof, or you will use stick framing with dimensional lumber for framing the roof gables.
How Long Does it Take to Frame a Whole House?
That depends on the size and complexity of the house design. I worked my way through college framing houses for a general contractor. A crew of three of us framed a whole house in five ten-hour days, but it was a pretty simple floorplan, and it wasn’t the first time we had framed a house together. If you are reasonably able-bodied—and have some vacation time stored up—you may be able to do-it-yourself. Or you will at least have a better idea of the process and can supervise those you hire to work with you or for you on framing a house.
Ready to get started? Have fun playing with the big-kid Lincoln Logs!