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 staging.
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 Walls," 4/01).
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 ridge.
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 labor-saving tricks.
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 the rake.
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.
The bottom plate does double duty as a story pole for transferring the rake-wall stud layout farther up the deck.
After tacking the plate to the deck, the crew snaps lines between the layout marks to indicate where each stud will go.
The finished layout 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 there.
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 in black.
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. This tells us exactly where the top plates should be in relation to the rafters and the bottom plate.
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, the blue line represents the top of the wall and the pencil line represents the face of a stud.
With the rafters in position, 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.
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 tape.
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.
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.
With the saw set to the bevel angle of the roof, the author cuts rake studs to length.
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 pieces.
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.