How to Frame A Wall For Home Theater Builders
Enhance your Home Theater by Using the Right Wall Framing Techniques.
Some home theater projects require the addition of extra walls or other structures. You may want to finish a basement, convert an existing room, or build a small stage where your screen will be mounted. No matter what your design calls for, the science of wall framing is actually quite simple once you understand the basics.
The internal structure of a typical wall consists of three main parts, the bottom plate, the studs, and the top plate. The bottom plate is usually a 2x4 which rests on the floor "wide-side down". The studs stand on end on top of the bottom plate, and the top plate is attached to the other end of the studs. The top plate then generally comes into contact with the bottom of the ceiling joists (or floor joists if you're in the basement).
There are two ways you can frame a wall. You can take your measurements and assemble the wall on the floor, then raise it up into position. Another way is to simply assemble the wall in-place; you screw or nail the bottom plate to the floor and the top plate into the ceiling joists. You then fit each stud between the bottom and top plates one by one, building the wall as you go along.
It is easiest for the first-time framer to simply build the wall on the floor. This approach makes it easier to make sure your studs are straight. If you also happen to be building the wall on your own with no help, assembling the wall on the floor is definitely the way to go.
Lucky Number 16
When framing a new wall, you not only have to build the wall to be structurally sound, but you have to think ahead to when you'll be hanging your drywall. When attaching studs to the bottom plate of your new wall, it's important you position the studs 16 inches apart, relative to the center of each stud. The term for this is "16 inches on center". In other words, the center of one stud has to be 16 inches from the center of the next stud. The reason is to make hanging drywall easier later on.
We won't cover how to hang drywall in this article, but the point of mounting studs 16 inches on center is so you can screw/nail the edges of each piece of drywall to the stud.
To get a professional finish for your drywall later, its critically important to install your studs correctly now.
Hitting the nail on the head
Professional framers prefer using nails when assembling a wall. A good framer can hit a nail only two or three times to drive it into position. Portable compressors have made light-weight nail guns a more common occurrence than they were years ago and make the job of framing a wall much faster. Though you can purchase a nail gun, you can expect to pay about $500 USD for a framing nailer with compressor. Do-it-yourselfers however can rent the units at your local hardware store for about $40/day.
A word on nailers: A framing nailer and a finishing nailer aren't quite the same. Finishing nails are thinner and have a small head making them easier to hide later. Framing nailers generally use larger wood nails and are used for actual construction.
Another option is to use screws. They must be driven into the wood with a power drill and are typically more expensive than nails but hold better and eliminate the possibility of popped nails later on.
First-time framers are encouraged to use screws with a good power drill because an improperly driven screw can easily be removed. Power nailers can easily drive a nail, but removing the nail in case you made a mistake is a different matter entirely.
I can virtually guarantee that as a beginner, you're going to make mistakes. With that in mind, I recommend you use screws when framing any new walls for your home theater. You're likely going to make a measurement error or screw the wrong stud where it shouldn't so being able to easily remove the screw and try again will save you a lot of frustration. It certainly did for me.
Cutting Your Studs
Many people are surprised to hear that the dimensions of 2x4 studs aren't really 2 inches by 4 inches, but are actually closer to 1.5" by 3.5". During manufacture, the individual studs are cut from a log to 2" by 4" but the drying and planing process actually reduces the boards to about 1.5" x 3.5". The term "2 by 4" is easier to say than "1.5 by 3.5" so the name stuck.
If your ceiling height is 8 feet (the distance between the floor and the ceiling), then your wall should be a fraction of an inch shorter. In this situation, you'll have a 1.5" bottom plate and a 1.5" top plate (3 inches). If the studs you buy are 8 feet long (96 inches), you would have to cut off 3" off each stud so that once assembled, your wall will total 96 inches: 1.5 + 93 + 1.5 = 96 inches (8 feet). Since your cuts won't necessarily be perfect, I recommend you try removing an extra 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the studs. This will let you to easily lift the assembled wall into position.
Then just shim the walls into place and screw them in. It will be a lot harder to move the wall into position if its too tight. This is especially important if your basement floor-to-ceiling heights are uneven which is common.
It all comes together
The ceiling height in most homes is 8 feet. Some are 9 feet or more. The ceiling height (measured from the floor to the bottom of the floor joists above) in most "new-construction" basements is 7 1/2 to 8 feet. When selecting your lumber, its recommended you choose a length thats as close to your planned ceiling height as possible. This will minimize the waste you produce and leave more money in your pocket.
To attach a stud to a bottom plate, place the bottom plate on the floor on its side. Then line up a stud to the end of the bottom plate and drive two screws through the bottom plate up into the stud. We'll call this our end stud. The 16 inches on center rule applies to the studs spanning the length of the wall except the studs at each end. Depending on how you're designing your room, you'll want your drywall to reach the very end of the wall.
Measure 16 inches from the outer edge of the end stud along the length of the bottom plate and mark the spot. Place the next stud so the mark lines up with the center of the stud and drive a pair of screws through the bottom plate up into the stud. Measure another 16 inches from the center of our new stud along the bottom plate and make a mark there. Screw in your next stud so its center lines up with the mark. When you get to the end of the bottom plate, you'll likely find it will be less than 16 inches from the last stud you attached. This is fine. Simply screw in the last stud at the end of the bottom plate.
Your top plate is another 2x4 that you cut to the same length as the bottom plate. Place it at the other end of the studs and drive a pair of screws into the first end-stud you installed earlier. Again, measure 16 inches from the end of the top plate and make a mark. Screw the next stud to the top plate so the center of the stud lines up with the mark. Measure another 16 inches and screw the center of the next stud at that position and so on.
When your new wall is fully assembled, simply lift it up and move it into position. Then drive some screws every 12 inches or so through the bottom plate into the floor. Do the same into the top plate to attach it to the ceiling joists.
If your ceiling is finished, use a stud finder to locate the ceiling joists and screw the top plate into there. You don't want to arbitrarily screw the top plate into the drywall ceiling because you won't get any strength out of it.
There are other considerations if you're installing the wall in your basement. Its important that wood not come into contact with cement. Cement and concrete are porous materials which let water and water vapor through. Wood will naturally absorb the water causing the wood to rot over the long term. Mold may also develop and may cause serious health problems for you and your family. To get around this situation, you would have to lay the bottom plate of your wall on a plastic vapor barrier. Another option is to use pressure-treated wood as the wall's bottom plate. This will allow you to rest the bottom plate directly on the cement.
To attach your new wall to a cement floor, you can use a special construction adhesive that can stick to cement. You can also use a masonry drill bit to punch a hole through the bottom plate and into the cement floor. You'd then use special masonry screws to attach the bottom plate to the floor. You'll really have to put some muscle when drilling into your floor and you'll likely go through more than just one masonry drill bit.
Other articles in this section
- Introduction to Wall Framing for Home Theater Builders
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- Things You Learn When Building Your Home Theater
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- Drywall Pros and Cons
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- Tips On Building A Home Theater Stage
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