Just about any framing job goes faster if you break it into
small, simple tasks that can be worked on in parallel by
different carpenters on the crew. This is definitely true of
wall framing, which on our jobs begins after we snap wall
layout on the deck.
I divide wall framing into three main stages: cutting and
laying out the pieces, assembling the walls, and sheathing and
standing the walls.
Cutting and Layout
This stage has three distinct tasks, each of which can be done
by one framer. There are currently three framers on our crew,
including me. While I cut and lay out plates, the second guy
cuts headers and window packages, and the third builds corners
and king stud-trimmer combinations.
The exterior wall plates and window packages are cut from the
same pile of 20-foot 2x6 material. We position it on horses in
the garage, so it's within easy reach of both the layout guy
and the sawyer who cuts window packages (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. The crew positions a pile of
20-foot 2x6s within easy reach of both the sawyer — who
uses them to cut window packages and blocking — and the
layout person, who uses them to make plates.
Laying out plates. I cut the plates in place, working
to the snapped lines on the deck, and mark stud locations on
them as I go. That way, if the other carpenters finish their
tasks before I do, enough plates will be ready for them to
begin assembling walls.
I cut the plates two at a time with a 10 1/4-inch Big Foot saw
(Figure 2). If there's time, I also cut the double top plate.
If the wall is shorter than 20 feet, I run the plates full
length; if it's longer, I make the break at a 16-inch layout
mark so that a stud centers on the joint.
Figure 2. The author cuts exterior wall
plates two at a time with a Big Foot saw (left). After marking
the location of door and window openings, he uses a layout
stick to space the studs (right).
On the plates that run through, I make a reference mark where
they cross the intersecting wall, measure out another 5 1/2
inches, and then cut them to length. Later, when we assemble
the wall on the deck, we simply align the reference marks to
the snapped layout so that the wall is automatically square
when we nail it together. We still check diagonals to be sure,
but we rarely have to rack the assembly.
After cutting plates, I mark door and window locations, then
use a layout stick to mark stud centers. On eaves walls (those
that run perpendicular to the floor joists), I always put the
first stud at a joint between sheets of subflooring; that way
the studs stack over the joists. We do this as standard
practice because it makes the building stronger, leaves open
bays for mechanicals, and provides continuous nailing for metal
An important part of the layout person's job is to determine
the most efficient order for framing and standing walls. The
goal is to build as many walls as possible before standing any.
I always start with the longest wall (usually the back one) and
those parallel to it.
Cutting window packages. The sawyer does more cutting
than anyone else, so he typically works in the garage with a
miter saw and outfeed tables. Most of the windows are the same
height, so he can set a stop and cut all the cripples at the
same time (Figure 3). This is the fastest way to cut multiples
— much faster than marking each piece and cutting it with
a circular saw.
Figure 3. It's faster to cut short pieces
with a miter saw and stop than to measure and mark individual
pieces and then cut them with a circular saw.
Many framers say you should never move material to the saw
because that's too much handling. In general, I agree —
but not in this case: With 20-foot stock to work with, the
sawyer might cut 12 cripples for each piece handled. Because
the stock is nearby, all he has to do is grab it and put it on
When he's finished with the doors and windows, the sawyer cuts
the scrap into 14 7/16-inch pieces for fire and panel
Assembling trimmers and corners. Working at a pile of
studs in the center of the floor, the third framer builds all
the corners and king stud-trimmer combinations with a nail gun
and a circular saw (Figure 4). If we're using precut studs, he
only has to cut trimmers. It's not just a cut-and-nail
operation; he also culls badly crowned pieces and opposes the
crowns when nailing trimmers to king studs. If there is wane on
the trimmer, he faces it toward the king stud so there's a
straight edge to follow later, when we use the router to cut
the sheathing out of the openings.
Figure 4. A carpenter cuts trimmers from a
pile of studs in the center of the deck (left). The finished
corners and king stud-trimmer combos (right) are stacked next
to the stud pile — close to where they'll be needed when
the walls are assembled.
After nailing trimmers to king studs, this framer makes up
double 2x6s — or cuts 4x6s — to use at hold-down
locations in shear walls. He then builds the two-stud L-shaped
corners we use, which are sometimes called "California
In the past we used these two-stud combinations where interior
walls butt exterior walls (it was one less stud than the
traditional three-stud channel and allowed the insulator to
insulate the entire exterior wall).
Currently, we don't install any partition nailing; if the
sheathing breaks at a partition, the nailer makes it difficult
to install a stud exactly where it's needed.
We frame exterior walls without regard to partitions and nail
up scrap for drywall backing after the partitions are in.
We stack the corners and king studs on an area of the deck
where they're out of the way, or put them on a cart so we can
wheel them to where they're needed.
Assembling Exterior Walls
We work together when assembling the walls (Figure 5). One
carpenter nails framing together while the other two haul
material, position door and window parts, and scatter and crown
Figure 5. Working as a team, one carpenter
packs material and crowns studs (top) while the other tacks the
bottom plate to the deck (bottom left) and nails walls together
Though the traditional way to join walls is to lap the top
plate over perpendicular walls, we no longer do that. Instead,
we use galvanized steel tie plates, which are permitted under
the IRC (section R602.3.2). The plates must be at least 3
inches by 6 inches by .036 inch thick (20 gauge) and nailed on
either side of the joint with six 8-penny nails. We use Simpson
TP37 tie plates and, with our engineer's approval, eight 1
1/2-inch metal connector nails per side (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Instead of lapping double top
plates, the author's crew installs tie plates at the ends of
walls (left) and uses them to hold the corners together
(right). This method is permitted by the IRC, provided the
plate is at least 3 inches by 6 inches by .036 inch thick and
fastened on either side with a minimum of six 8-penny
This approach allows us to cut and install both top plates and
nail the sheathing to them while the wall is on the deck. We
still occasionally lap top plates in some locations — for
example, where a metal tie plate would make it hard to fasten a
beam or framing connector.
Check with your building inspector and engineer before
switching to tie plates. Some inspectors aren't familiar with
them, and when they're covered by framing they're hard to
inspect. We address this by installing the tie plates at the
edge of the top plate so the inspector can see them from the
Sheathing and Standing Walls
When we sheathe walls, two framers pack material and one does
the nailing. The material packers place sheathing on the wall,
tack it down, snap lines at the studs, and cut out openings
with a router.
Because our area is seismically active, we're required to block
all edges of sheathing panels. To reduce the amount of blocking
needed, we run panels vertically and use material long enough
to span from the top plate to the rim joist and mudsill below
— or, if it's a second story, long enough to tie into the
wall below. We use 9-foot panels for 8-foot walls, and 10-foot
panels for 9-foot walls.
On long walls in two-story buildings, we align the sheathing
with a line snapped 3/4 inch down from the top of the double
top plate (Figure 7). This keeps the top edge of the panels
perfectly square to the studs; otherwise, small errors in
placing the panels can accumulate and push a panel edge off a
Figure 7. Sheathing will run off layout if
it's nailed flush to a plate that isn't straight. To avoid this
problem, the author aligns sheathing with a snapped line 3/4
inch down from the top of the double top plate (left). After
nailing it off, he cuts out openings with a router
If the wall is short enough, we stand it with manpower alone.
For walls too heavy to lift by hand, we use either a forklift
or, if we can't reach with a forklift, pump-style wall jacks
Figure 8. An all-terrain forklift can
stand walls too heavy for a small crew to lift (top). When
there isn't sufficient access for the machine, the author's
crew uses wall jacks (bottom).
Interior Wall Framing
While the crew finishes exterior walls, I lay out plates for
interior walls. Around here, no one distinguishes between
bearing and nonbearing interior walls — both get double
top plates. While this method uses more material, it takes less
labor because we can use the same precut studs in all the
interior walls. And since we don't overlap the top plates, I
can use the Big Foot saw to cut all three 2x4 plates on edge at
the same time.
As I cut plates and do layout, the other carpenters frame
behind me — one nailing and the other packing material.
Once the walls are up, we plumb and align them (see "Plumbing
and Straightening Walls," 8/07), then move on to the floor or
Tim Uhler is a lead framer for Pioneer
Builders in Port Orchard, Wash., and a JLC contributing