How Do You Build a Wall?

Just build a wall. What could be simpler?  There’s is a lot more to building a wall than you might think. Today I want to try and clarify a wall building concept that took me a long time to figure out and was really quite frustrating.  It boiled down to which style of wall building should you do:

  1. Build your wall on the floor of your basement and then “lift it into place”
    Or
  2. Build your wall “in place”, nail each board as you go (a.k.a. “stick-by-stick” )

Build a wall, then lift it into place

build a wall - lift

How do you build a wall? Not like this, if you’re doing it yourself.

Let’s talk about option “A” first, build a wall on the the floor and then lift it into place. Several of basement and construction books have photos of two people working together, building the wall on the floor of the room they are finishing and then lifting it into place.

From a visual standpoint this is the easier method to understand.  This was the first method that I used.  My “one small wall” was going to be about 8 feet long and I had plenty of room on the ground to build it.

It was a little tricky using this method solo because you need to hold the wood straight as you start to screw them together.  (Yes, I recommend starting with screws because it’s easier to back out of a mistake.  And yes… you will make a lot of mistakes at first.

4 Reason NOT to build a wall on the floor and lift:

  1. Can be difficult to do solo.
  2. Lifting into place means a gap that you’ll have to shim, no way around it.
  3. You won’t always have the floor space to build the wall
  4. It’s a slower method of building

I built about 3 of the walls on the floor and lifted them into place before I ran into a spot where I just didn’t have the room on the floor to do so.  Then I had to learn the stick by stick method.  Once I did, I never went back, it’s the only way to go. I highly recommended that you build your test wall on the floor but do the rest stick by stick.

Build a wall stick by stick (or “in place”)

how do you build a wall - kids room

I built all of these walls stick by stick. Once I knew what I was doing I could build a wall like this solo, in about 2 hours.

The tricky part about building a wall board by board is that it takes some practice and testing to figure out exactly how to do it.

The toughest part for me was understanding that I had to use a plumb bob to transfer the location of the top plate to the floor. This is the only way to know exactly where to line it up so that the wall was plumb (straight up and down).

I’m going to give you my version of the steps below but I would still strongly recommend reading 2 or even 3 books that have a framing section that shows you how to do this.  By reading it from several different perspectives, plus trying it out yourself, it should start to click.

(UPDATE:  I’ve been looking all week for a YouTube video on how to do this but everything I’ve found is build on the floor and lift, looks like I may need to be the first.  The books however, do have pictures and example)

[ I’ve included basement books that include this info at my Amazon store, an affiliate link. ]

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8 Steps to build a wall in place for your basement

  1. Line up the top and bottom plates and mark where the studs need to go, starting from the end make a mark every 16″.  (check your local code to see if this differs but 16″ on center is fairly standard). Don’t worry if you forget this step, you can measure each seperately, this just makes it easier.
  2. Nail your top plate to the ceiling joist. You may need some “blocking” if your top plates is parallel to the joists. If you’re working solo like I was then use a couple of quick-grip clamps to hold the top plate in place while you position it and secure it.
  3. Plumb down to the floor and mark two points for your bottom plate. Use a chaulk line to snap a line between these two points. Your snapped line will run parallel to the wall.
  4. Place your bottom plate on the floor and line it up on the line you just snapped.  Even though you don’t have any vertical studs in place at this point your top and bottom plates should be almost perfectly aligned.  DON’T NAIL IN YOUR BOTTOM PLATE JUST YET.
  5. Cut and install a stud (a vertical board for the wall) into the top and bottom plates.  The stud should fit snug in between the top and bottom. It should be able to stand up on its on.  If you have to really hammer on it to get it in then it’s probably to long. Take it down and trim a small amount off.
  6. Repeat step 5 until all of the studs are in place.  You may have less than 16″ between the last two boards, that’s okay.
  7. Take your 4′ level and double check that the wall is plumb (up and down) and relatively flush on the service.  By flush I mean that none of the studs are bowed so much that they stick out further than the other studs.  If they do then you’ll have a hump in your drywall and your wall will look wavy.  A bowed stud who’s hump goes towards the wall is better, the drywall will still be straight on the outside.
  8. Nail your bottom plate into the floor. I recommend a concrete masonry gun. Mainly because it uses tiny little bullets and you basically have a gun in your basement, very cool.  You may see some videos/books where they glue it down first, I didn’t do that.  Mainly because I messed up a lot at first and needed to be able to move the wall a bit.  The contractors I consulted with said it was not a big deal to skip it (for a basement project).

TIP:  If your bottom plate is not perfectly straight you may want to nail one end of the plate into the floor first and then use a small sledgehammer to knock the rest of it into alignment before you nail it down. You’ll know this because the bottom plate won’t line up perfectly with the chalk line that you snapped.

I hope that helps.  Building a wall on the floor by yourself can be really frustrating.  My second wall took me about two hours to prep and then when I lifted it into place it didn’t fit because one section of the basement floor was just slightly higher.  It was killing me that I had to undo most of it and guess what, I had nailed it together so that was not easy.

basement finishing jasonOnce you get the hang of how to build a wall stick by stick you can do it by yourself and it’s actually really fun.  I promise you you’ll be sneaking down to the basement before you go to sleep to get one last look at what you’ve created.

Good luck, ping me with questions, I’m working on a video to go along with this article because I couldn’t find any that I liked to share with you online. If someone finds one please tell me!

Cheers –  Jason

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Comments

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  1. David Lee says:

    This is such an awesome website, and such great advice. Thanks so much for documenting your learnings, mistakes, recommendations, etc.

  2. Great info. About to start my basement project and stumbled on your site. Unreal, there is a website for everything! It never occured to me to type in ifinishedmybasement.com! Anyhow a quick question…if you build stick by stick, what method are you using to nail in the studs? Obviously if you “pre build” the wall on the floor you can nail the studs directly into the top and bottom of the plates. If the plates are installed first you can’t do that. Are you toe nailing everything? I definately agree on the stick by stick method in the basement environment due to the uneven floors, but it seems nailing in the studs will be a bit more messy. Thanks again!

    • Chris – Did you see my other site? http://www.icutmyownhair.com? Just kidding, although… the domain is available. That’s great that you’ve started. Yes, toe nailing is the way to go. In fact it’s the only way, as you said, when you’re stick building (highly recommended). It’s rock solid and it’s all hidden by the drywall once it goes up. Good luck! – Jason

      • Hey Jason,
        To extend Chris’ question, how did you toe nail exterior walls to both the top and bottom plates? For a partition wall, it would make sense to “stick build,” considering the room to work with a hammer on both sides of the plate. However, when an exterior wall is just inches away from the concrete wall, how is it even possible to maneuver a hammer for the backside toe nail? Great site!

        • Dan – I think I’m understand this correctly, you’re asking how to nail in your outside framed walls to the joists and floor? The top plate of your wall will nail straight up into the floor joist above (no toenail required). Same for the bottom plate, except you’ll need a concrete gun, but again straight down. You’ll have to toenail the studs to the bottom and top plates but you should have plenty of clearance for that. The only part that was really tricky for me was when I needed blocking. For that, I couldn’t fit my nail gun in place so I had to use screws and an impact driver.

          My video series does the best job of explaining how exactly how to do framing. It’s definitely one of the trickier concepts to write about.

          Hope that helps! – Jason

  3. Hi Jason,
    Love the site! Getting ready to start on my basement!! Fortunately, it’s partially finished(WOOT WOOT!!) I still have to do the exterior framing on the walls. But all rough electrical, plumbing, etc is already in place. Once I get the framing done, I can run the outlets, lights, switches, etc. Then have the drywallers come in. My question for you is INSULATION? I see in your pics that you use the R13 Batt with a moisture barrier. Do you do this to save space or is it just preference. I was considering using the foam panels and gluing them to the exterior walls, then framing out from there. What’s your opinion?…

    • Rick – Thanks man. No preference really. For me it was just easier to work with and a bit cheaper but both are good options. Have fun with it! I love our basement. – Jason

  4. Jason,

    Have you used steel studs, or primarily lumber? Thinking of giving wall framing the ole college try, and thought I’d test it out on some crappy 2x4s from Lowes before graduating to the good stuff.

    Great website…thanks. Gives hope to hacks like myself.

    Thanks,

    Steve

    • Hello Steve – I’ve never used steel studs, I heard those are nice but they’re a whole different ballgame. College try? I don’t know about you but my college effort was sub-par at best. I want to see some astronaut effort out there, you either make it off the moon or you die trying!
      Good luck! That is all.

      Jason

  5. can I use regular 2×4 for bottom plate or should I use treated lumber.

  6. What you don’t make clear is that the end stud, at the corner or at the doorway, is not included in the 16″on center. The first 4×8 piece of Sheetrock must start at the EDGE, not at the center of that stud. So, the first space between the first two studs is smaller than the other spaces by 3/4 of an inch. If this is not clear, then the first piece of Sheetrock will end at the edge, not the center of the fourth stud.

  7. We are just starting the planning phase of finishing our basement and are very excited to start building. In our area we need to build a floating wall because of potential movement of basement floor. Can you still build it stick by stick in this way? If so, how does that work?

  8. Jason – Great site. I’m looking to finish my basement by mid-2013. I’ve started reading up on everything. One book I am reading says to use furring strips against the foundation walls, not 2x4s. What do you know about this? I think I would prefer 2x4s just to be consistent.

    • Hey Paul – That’s awesome – 2013 is your year! I also read about furring strips and I considered them strongly. But in the end the cost savings weren’t really there and things like receptacles and light switches seemed to all be standardized for 2×4 construction. The professional companies I talked to also all use 2×4 and not furring. It’s an option, and it’s not a bad one, but I would personally recommend 2×4 unless there’s a specific reason to go against the standard.

      Great question, good luck on your basement finishing project!

      Cheers – Jason

  9. Erik Nickel says:

    Hi Jason, really enjoying your site. Good work. I am just embarking on a scary big basement project, over 1500 sq ft. I have done a fair bit of outdoor construction before (decks, fences, etc) but havent done walls, and your site is very helpful.

    Couple questions: The basement walls (concrete) are not studded yet, but do have 3″ of spray foam applied to them. I’m told I neednt worry about vapor barrier as a result. This true? I’m in Canada, so cold is definitely a concern. Any other concerns framing inside of spray-foamed concerete?

    Other thing is by code I need to “float” the walls on big nails to allow for floor movement. Basically there are 2 bottom plates separated by 1 1/2″ and big-ass nails driven through them both so the wall can move up and down on the nails. Crazy. You have any tips or experience on doing this? It has me a bit freaked.

    Cheers,
    Erik
    Regina, Saskatchewan

    • Nice! 1500 square feet – you can do tons of stuff with that space. Okay, I’ve never built a floating wall but a few people have asked now. This video is the best explanation I’ve found on the web. http://videos.wisegeek.com/videos/362335358.htm Doesn’t look to bad, but definitely a bit more work that just nailing it into the concrete. Erik – There’s a free Gold membership (book and design files) for you if you’ll send me some pics and video of your floating wall, I really want to do an article on that! Cheers – Jason

  10. If it isn’t nailed down first, how do you keep the bottom plate from sliding around on the floor while you are standing up the studs? What is the benefit of waiting?

    • Nathan – The big benefit to me was that I wasn’t sure if I had built the wall straight and plumb, especially for my first couple of walls.

      I was worried that if I nailed it to the floor first and then had to adjust it that I would have to rip it out of the floor. Not easy.

      If you cut the studs the right length they will put enough pressure on the bottom plate to hold it in place. For me, a perfect length cut meant I needed to tap the top of the stud with my fist or rubber mallet to get it to fit between the top and bottom plates. That’s “Tap” NOT “Pound”. If I cut it too short I’d have to shim it or more often just toss it and use it some place else. I DID nail the stud to the bottom plate, so once you had a few in place the entire wall moved together. Then if it was not plumb I could just knock it with my foot or sledgehammer to line it up.

      Hope that helps. – Jason

  11. Brandon says:

    Which books at your store have the stick by stick method discussed?

  12. Brandon Drury says:

    Hmm, thought I already submitted this.

    Which of the books at your Amazon store have info about stick by stick framing? BTW, thanks for the deal on your book! Downloaded last night just in time…

  13. David Jonsson says:

    Jason;

    The guy at the lumber yard suggested I start my wall about a half inch out from the wall for some dead air space (like extra insulation of sorts). Looking at it now, I’m thinking it looks like a challenge. Hard to not have the wall to work against. What do you think?

    Cheers,
    David

    • Hey David – Yes, he’s right. You should have some space. And… you’re right too, it’s harder without the cinder block wall there as a reference. It’s a little tricky to explain in text and pictures. I have a step by step wall framing video as part of the package deal with my book. Of course, I’m a bit biased, but I highly recommend it! A lot of people have told me it’s worth 2 to 3 times the cost.

      Good Luck! You can finish your own basement.

      Jason

      • David Jonsson says:

        Thanks for the quick reply! Well, talking to some other folks and hearing from you, I’m gonna do that gap after all; a whole inch actually. One other thing- I’ve seen so many differing opinions on vapour barrier that it’s hard to tell which one is right. Right now, I’m thinking I will put the barrier over top of the insulation, on the outside of the studs before putting up the drywall. What say you?

        David

        • David – I can’t reliable comment on the vapor barrier question, at least not yet. I just haven’t done enough research on it nor have I had to install my own. I’m hoping to add some articles in the near future on this topic. Let me know if you find any good resources. Thanks – Jason

  14. You didn’t mention anything about securing the studs to the plates.

  15. Robert Diederichsen says:

    Great site. I would love to see a section or video on framing corners and corners less than 90 degrees such as 45 degrees. Keep up the great work.

    Bob

  16. danielle says:

    This was great information for starting on finishing our basement, but I’m really apprehensive about attaching the bottom plate. I would really rather not compromise the concrete floor for fear of water seeping up through. We have a very old home and something I’ve never seen in our basement. There is a 2inch wide trough around the perimeter of the whole basement. We have been here 3 year, had some rather significant rain and snow fall and never had standing water in the basement, sometimes the trough has a little water in it but never enough to overflow. It really seems like a pretty clever way of keeping any water out of the basement but kind of puzzles me about working around it to put up exterior walls. Do you think it’s ok just to place the wall a few inches in front of the trough? Is it possible to NOT attach the bottom plate?

    • Hi Danielle – Yes, you will have to attach the bottom plate. Not knowing the exact condition of your flooring I recommend you put up a small test wall to see how the nail adheres to your concrete. Does it break apart, etc. I also would recommend you use an adhesive in addition to nailing your bottom plate.

      As for the water trough, you should be able to build in front of that, just give it a couple inches of clearance so it’s no compromised. These days those are installed outside of the foundation, not inside.

      Your situation is unique and I would recommend have a few professional companies come out to give you a quote and an opinion on the water trough. You will also want to check with your local building department to make sure you’ll be up to code with that trough exposed behind the wall.

      I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it’s just the first step of many. Get these “hammered” out, so to speak and you’ll be on your way. You can do it!

      – Jason

  17. Thanks for the helpful tips. I took the plunge this week and started my first wall. I’m using your recommended stick by stick method. SO far so good thanks to my new 12″ saw (purchased from your amazon store) and new nail gun! Using real power tools makes a big difference.

    • Matt – That’s awesome! Thanks for purchasing through the store, I saw that go through. Good luck with it, stay safe and have fun.

      Jason

  18. I am in a newly constructed house and looking to finish my basement immediately. I’ve heard from various people that we should wait to do anything (including painting) until the house is settled. What are your thoughts on this particularly pertaining to the basement?

    Thanks!

  19. Lynette Jakins says:

    Hi Jason,

    This website is so informative, we really appreciate the effort you have made to enlighten us . We are keen to get started and hopefully save ourselves lot’s of money.

    Lynettej

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