Wall Framing Basics

An unfinished empty room with studs and plywood.
What You'll Need
Framing hammer
Framing square
Carpenter’s level
Tape measure
Safety glasses

Knowing how to properly frame a wall is an important skill to master if you're constructing a home or building an addition to an existing structure. An expertly framed wall will prevent bigger problems from developing and save you time, work, and money in the long run. Fortunately, learning how to frame a wall is easy and can be accomplished by following the general principles outlined in this article.

Step 1 - Get Started

Before you start framing your home or addition, make sure your plans are readily available and easy to read. The plans should give you a good idea of how much lumber you need to purchase for the project. If you're building an addition and have less than 50 studs to buy, then take the time to examine each piece for straightness. Furthermore, consider renting or purchasing a pneumatic hammer to lessen the work and save on time.

Step 2 - Decide on a General Layout

Blueprints for a house.

Every wall frame follows a simple layout that includes a bottom sill plate (or sole plate), vertical wall studs, and a double sill plate on top. The addition of windows and doors will change this layout, but only slightly. Remember, your building plans will inform you which walls have extra features and which ones will follow the same general layout.

Step 3 - Measure

You can eliminate unnecessary mistakes by chalking out the wall on the floor. Use chalk lines to create straight lines and make sure you double-check the measurements. Start with the inside edge of the wall and mark each corner. Check to ensure the corners are exactly 90 degrees and that the frame wall matches the dimensions on the plans.

Step 4 - Cut Sill Plates

Sill plates

Following the building plans and the full-sized chalk layout, start cutting the lumber for the sill plates. A miter saw is best for this job, though a good circular saw or hand saw will also do the trick. In order to double-check that lengths are correct, simply lay out all of the pieces on the floor and make sure everything is square before proceeding to the next step.

Step 5 - Set up for Windows and Doors

If the wall features a window or a door, then the setup process will differ slightly. After the plates have been cut, locate the center of the window or door and divide the opening in half, marking the right and left outside edges. Windows and doors contain a king stud—which runs the entire length of the plate—and a trimmer on both sides. Make sure the measurements account for the width of these boards before moving on to the studs.

Step 6 - Mark the Studs

Framing a house.

After the windows and doors have been laid out, start marking where the studs will go. The general practice is to space studs 16 or 24 inches apart. This ensures that the plywood will align properly along the edges of the studs. The studs that run between window or door trimmers are called cripples and are not full height studs.

Step 7 - Mark the Layout

With all the pieces laid out and marked, transfer those marks to the top and bottom sill plates with a square. Marking the inside face of the lumber, rather than the edge, will help align boards that are not quite square. After the sill plates have been marked, nail them together at the corners so they do not accidentally come apart.

Step 8 - Assemble Header

A piece of plywood going up on construction of a house.

Now that the plates are marked and nailed together, it's time to attach the full height headers. These headers will be attached to the top of each door and window. Remember to add an additional 3 inches to the length of the header to account for the king studs and trimmers. Then start connecting the king studs and trimmers. If the wall contains a window you will need to add a short sill, like the bottom sill of the frame, that runs the length of the window. These sills are usually supported with cripples.

Step 9 - Finish Assembly

Once all the doors and windows have been attached to the bottom and top sill plates, you can start nailing down the studs. Use the layout on the top and bottom sills as a guide for this process, making sure all the boards are lining up square. Once the frame is complete it's ready to go up and join the rest of the structure.

Tips and Tricks

A chalk line measuring on a plywood floor.

It's important that all framing projects begin as square as possible to avoid a crooked end product. Check the squareness of a wall with a string line or measuring tape at different heights. You should get the same measurement from the opposite corners of the frame. If a stud is warped or out of place, then remove it or adjust as needed. The goal is to achieve a tight and solid frame to ensure a structurally sound home.