Woodshop Wednesday: Anatomy of a Stud Wall

Stud walls are the bread and butter of a carpenter’s trade and form the structural skeleton of your house. It takes only moments to learn the steps to build one (you’ll know too after you read this post), but the skills to actually assemble one straight and square are not easily acquired.

The width of your wall dictates the lumber you’ll need. The Barn uses 2x6s with studs spaced 24 inches on center, which is pretty typical construction and results in walls just over 6 inches thick depending on the surfacing. You can also use 2x4s for a narrower wall, but you’ll have to space the studs closer together (16 inches on center is common in older houses) and you won’t be able to insulate as well.

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Let’s run through the parts of a stud wall from the bottom up. The sill plate or bottom plate is a continuous 2x lumber that forms the bottom edge. If the wall will be longer than a single piece of lumber (the longest 2×6 on our site is 18 feet), you’ll need to butt adjacent pieces against each other and nail a temporary splice plate on the outside to bridge each discontinuity. The studs themselves are the parallel vertical pieces. Horizontal blocks provide the studs with lateral support at midspan, halfway up the wall. Rough openings for windows and doors are framed by double or triple studs, with a deep header beam on top to transfer loads. Jack studs and cripple studs are shorter studs that fill gaps between a rough opening and the top and bottom of the wall; space them the same as the full-height studs. The top plate is another continuous 2x that forms the top edge, and should also be built with temporary splice plates as necessary.

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It’s easiest to assemble the wall flat, placing shims under every piece to hold them off the ground all at the same level. First, mark the locations of the studs on the sill plate and transfer them to the top plate. Plan stud locations carefully if the wall will support a floor or roof, so the joists or rafters will frame directly over studs. Once the studs are laid out, assemble the wall from one side to the other, nailing each stud to the top plate and sill plate as you go. Complete the puzzle by nailing in the blocks, alternating above and below midspan so you don’t need to toe-nail.

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Check dimensions early and often, and make sure all angles are square. (I’ll write a post sometime on how to fix mistakes.) And be proud! Not many people know how to build a stud wall, and few projects offer a greater sense of accomplishment in such a short time.

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