I'm always impressed when I drive by a framing site and see
rake walls up before the roof. In my opinion, that's a sign the
framers know what they're doing.
The carpenter who taught me was uncomfortable laying out rakes,
so he would frame the roof first, then fill in the rakes a
stick at a time. It worked, but it was slower than framing the
rakes and standing them up like any other wall — if for
no other reason than we had to do the work from ladders or
On the crew I run, we always frame the rakes flat on the deck.
We've come up with a way to lay out and build rakes that is
simple and about as idiot-proof as any framing method can be. I
can't claim to have invented it, since it's based on methods I
read about in the book "A Roof Cutter's Secrets," by Will
Holladay, and in trade magazines like JLC (see "Framing
Rake Walls," 4/98, and "Fast Layout For Tall Rake
Although this article describes our approach to simple rake
walls, these methods work equally well for complex rakes
— ones where rafters start from different heights or
where the pitch is not the same on both sides of the
Toss the Tape
What's most unique about our approach is that we try to avoid
measuring; instead we figure out dimensions by laying down
actual framing parts like studs and rafters. This simplifies
the work and greatly reduces the chance for error. Other steps
we take to save time are nothing out of the ordinary. For
example, we cut blocks without measuring and cut out window
openings with a router. We didn't invent these techniques and
we're not the only framers who use them — but I like to
think that we're better than most at consistently using such
There are a few things you need to know to frame a rake: the
wall height in that part of the building, the roof pitch, and
the size and location of door and window openings. Once you
have this information, it's pretty easy to lay out and build
Stud locations. I like to snap the entire
rake-wall layout onto the deck, because once that's done we can
put away our tape measures and mark everything in place.
We mark the stud layout in two locations — near the edge
of the deck and as far in from there as the peak of the rake
will be when it's lying flat. Then we snap lines between those
points to indicate where the studs will be when we cut and
assemble the rake.
Bottom plate. If the rake wall is less than 20
feet long, we can use a single piece of lumber for the bottom
plate. We mark the stud locations on the plate and use it as a
story pole to transfer layout marks to the subfloor at the top
and bottom of the wall (Figure 1).
Figure 1. The bottom
plate does double duty as a story pole for transferring the
rake-wall stud layout farther up the deck (left). After tacking
the plate to the deck, the crew snaps lines between the layout
marks (below left) to indicate where each stud will go. The
finished layout (below) is a full-size template for marking
cuts and assembling pieces. There's no stud marked in the
middle of this wall because there will be an opening
If the wall is more than 20 feet long, we'll need more than one
piece of stock for the bottom plate. In that case, we do the
stud layout directly on the deck, transfer it up to the plates,
and repeat the layout farther up the wall.
When we're done, we tack the plate or plates onto the deck on
the layout line for that wall of the house. If we use 2x6
studs, the plate will be 51/2 inches in from the edge.
We normally snap wall layout in black chalk because it won't
wash away in the rain. To avoid confusion, we try to snap
rake-wall layout in blue, but if it's rainy we have to snap it
Laying Out the Top Plate
In the past, we located the top of the rake wall by drawing the
rafter on the deck. We would calculate the rafter cuts, measure
the heel stand, and then figure out how far down from there the
bottom edge of the rafter should be. But for some reason, when
we did it this way the rafters on top of the rake wall never
quite lined up with the other rafters in the roof.
Tracing actual rafters.
Now, we cut
an actual pair of rafters instead and tack them onto the
subfloor (Figure 2). This tells us exactly where the top plates
should be in relation to the rafters and the bottom
Figure 2. The author
cuts a pair of rafters and tacks them down over layout lines or
against the actual corner pieces of the wall. On this layout
(top), the blue line represents the top of the wall and the
pencil line represents the face of a stud. With the rafters in
position (middle), the author scribes a line along the bottom
to mark the upper edge of the top plate. To mark the lower
edge, he removes the rafters and snaps a parallel line 11/2
inches in from the scribed one (bottom).
To ensure that the rafters are correctly positioned, we first
snap a pair of lines across the deck to represent the wall
height in that part of the building. We locate this line not by
measuring, but by taking the precut studs for that part of the
house, butting them to the bottom plate, and capping them with
a pair of top plates.
After doing this at each end of the wall, we snap a line across
the deck in alignment with the upper edge of the top plates.
This line represents the top of the wall; since it was laid out
with actual pieces, it's closer to reality than numbers off a
Checking the fit. When the rafters go
down, we align the seat cuts with the line representing the top
of the wall. We can tell right away if something's wrong
because the cuts will be off at the birdsmouths or ridge.
Lately, to speed layout, we've been cutting rake rafters long
and allowing them to butt at the center of the roof. When we
install the ridge, it butts to these rafters and lands on a
post in the wall.
Once the rafters are on the deck and all the fits look good, we
tack the rafters down and trace along the lower edge. This line
represents the upper edge of the rake-wall top plate.
To cut studs, we need to know where the bottom of the plate is,
so we scribe or snap a line 11/2 inches in from the line that
we just traced.
We are now ready to cut and assemble the rake wall.
Marking and Cutting Studs
We already have the regular studs for the ends of the wall, but
the rest of the studs must be bevel-cut, each to a different
length. There's no need to measure these cuts; all we have to
do is move the rafters out of the way, place stud stock on the
layout, butt it to the bottom plate, and mark where each piece
crosses the layout line for the top plate (Figure 3).
Figure 3. The full-size
layout is used to mark the bevel cuts on rake studs. These
studs have been placed on the stud layout; they butt to the
bottom plate so the carpenter can mark where they cross the
line representing the underside of the top plate (top). With
the saw set to the bevel angle of the roof, the author cuts
rake studs to length (bottom).
To prevent confusion about which way to cut the bevel, we mark
the edge with an angled line. Then we set a saw to the roof
angle and bevel-cut the tops of all the rake studs.
Besides making it easier to lay out the bevel cuts, working
from a full-scale layout helps us keep track of the pieces; we
don't always put all the rake studs down at once because
sometimes the short ones come from cutoffs of longer
The same is true for window openings — we cut the studs
over the header last so we can get them from scrap. Being able
to look at the deck and see what's there makes it less likely
we will miss something.
Assembling the Pieces
After cutting all the pieces, we nail the wall together (Figure
4). The only thing we haven't cut is the fire blocking. We do
this after the wall is assembled by holding scrap pieces of
framing stock in position and cutting them by eye (Figure
Figure 4. The layout is
used to position studs as the wall is assembled. After nailing
the studs between the plates (above), the carpenters nail the
rake rafters on top of the wall (right). Door and window
headers are installed as needed.
Figure 5. Rather than
waste time measuring blocking with a tape, a carpenter lines up
the saw by eye and makes the cut.
Once the blocks are fastened in place, we nail a pair of
rafters to the top of the wall. Normally, the next step would
be to square the wall — but we don't need to do this
because we framed it on top of a full-size layout that was
either drawn square to begin with or measured off a deck we
knew to be square.
Strapped to the deck. Before sheathing the wall, we slip a
short piece of metal strap beneath the bottom plate and nail it
to the deck. We bend the other end around the bottom plate and
nail it to the plate and to the edge of a stud. The strap will
prevent the wall from slipping off the edge of the deck when we
stand it up (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Metal straps
(top) function as hinges to prevent the wall from sliding off
the deck during lifting. On large walls, the crew installs
reinforcing straps (middle) next to the studs where the lifting
straps will go. Carpenters sheathe the wall in the usual way,
then use a powerful router with a flush trimming bit to cut out
Typically we install two or three straps per wall, but if the
wall is really big, we install them every 6 feet or so. Once
the straps are on, we sheathe the wall in the usual way, with
Fly rafters and rake trim. Framing rakes flat on the deck
allows us to easily install parts that might otherwise have to
be installed from staging or ladders. We like to install the
rake overhangs and fly rafters — or bargeboards —
before standing the wall. The overhang consists of a 2x6 nailed
to short studs toenailed 24 inches on-center to a 2x6 cleat on
the wall (Figure 7). The fly rafters are 2x10 trim, which we
nail to the overhangs. They run long at the bottom and are
trimmed off later when we run the fascia.
Figure 7.It's easier to
build overhangs while the wall is lying flat (A). Instead of
measuring the outer piece of the ladder, a carpenter laps the
stock, squares up to mark the cut, and cuts the piece in place
(B). Fly rafters — or rake trim — are installed the
same way. The first piece is nailed to the ladder, the second
piece is lapped over it, and the joint is cut in place (C). The
result (D) is a perfect fit.
Two cuts at once. To avoid measuring, we lay the long pieces on
the rake wall and trace the end cuts onto them. The outer
pieces butt at the peak; to get that cut, we lap one over the
other, square up, and draw the cut line.
We do something similar to get the miter cut where the fly
rafters meet. With the first piece nailed to the overhang, we
lap the second piece over it and use the 33/4-inch cutting
capacity of the Big Foot saw to cut through both pieces at the
same time. We then pull the second piece tight and nail it off.
There's no need to caulk the joint; cutting it this way gives
us a perfect fit.
If it weren't for the local inspectors wanting to examine the
shear nailing, we'd paper the wall before we stood it up. And
if we're doing the finish in-house, we might install windows
and some of the siding — though we'd have to be careful
not to make the wall so heavy we couldn't stand it up.
Lifting the Wall
Rake walls are typically tall and heavy, so they can be
dangerous to lift. Our four-man crew can safely lift small rake
walls by hand, but large ones are beyond our ability.
Fortunately, we own a forklift, which we use to lift all but
the smallest rakes. To prepare a rake for the forklift, we cut
a couple of holes through the sheathing near the top of the
wall and thread a strap through the holes; we try to put the
strap about one-third the way down from the peak and spread it
as wide as possible (Figure 8).
Figure 8. To prepare
this wall for lifting, the author's crew puts a heavy lifting
strap through holes in the sheathing, runs it across the inside
face of the studs, then loops the ends onto the forks of an
all-terrain forklift (top). A carpenter uses hand signals to
direct the forklift driver as he lifts the wall (middle). The
crew quickly plumbs and braces the wall with prepositioned
diagonal braces (bottom).
We're not concerned that the strap will break because it's
rated for much more weight than our machine can lift.
Strain of lifting. Lifting puts a lot
of strain on a heavy wall. Since the tension on the strap
squeezes sideways against the studs, we try to install the
strap near a run of horizontal blocking.
Before sheathing a really big wall, we take yet another
precaution: We use metal straps to reinforce the
stud-plate-rafter connections closest to the lifting-strap
holes. The sheathing would probably provide enough
reinforcement, but the metal straps make us feel better.
Even with a machine, lifting rakes can be dangerous, so for
this part of the job we make ourselves slow down and check
everything twice before moving ahead. We plan all our moves in
advance: where the forklift will go, where people will stand,
and how we're going to brace the wall once it's up.
Bracing the wall. The outermost braces can be
preattached to the wall; once the wall is standing, all we have
to do is nail them to the deck.
The center braces can't go in until the wall is partway up, but
we at least have the stock and framing guns there and ready to
When the wall is about 10 feet up, we stop lifting long enough
to nail center braces to it. We put two nails very close
together through each of the braces, so they can pivot down as
the wall goes up. The carpenter who directs the forklift driver
must pay close attention, because once the wall is partway up
the driver can't see what's happening on the other side.
After the wall is partially braced, we let some of the tension
off the lifting strap but do not remove it until the wall is
plumb and securely braced in place. Sometimes we leave the
strap and forklift there until the rake is fastened to the
adjoining interior and exterior walls.Tim Uhleris a lead framer for Pioneer
Builders in Port Orchard, Wash.