Q: I've decided I'm going to build an outdoor shed using wood, but I've never built a wall before. Is it just a matter of banging together some studs and covering it with sheathing? What secrets can you share that will save me time and ensure that the job will get done right. The last thing I need is my wife and neighbors chortling as they see me flail around with a hammer and saw.
A: Building a wall for a shed or a house is not that hard, but there are many places you can make a mistake. It's all a matter of how big your tolerance is for error. Some people don't care if a wall is out of square or uneven. Others expect near perfection, or as close as you can come to it working with rough lumber.
There are many ways to achieve your wall-building goal. You could talk with 10 different master carpenters and get 10 different sets of instructions. What follows are methods I've used to build walls that are square, plumb and level.
Let's talk about the basic components of a frame wall. You have a bottom plate, the vertical wall studs and the top plates. You may also have other larger lumber pieces used to create beams, or headers, over doors and windows.
The lumber of the top and bottom plates should be as straight as possible. I prefer to build walls on the ground so I can nail through the top and bottom plates into the ends of the wall studs. Use 16-penny sinker nails to connect the plates to the wall studs. These nails are generally 3.25 inches long and the shaft of the nail is about 1/8-inch thick.
The studs at each end of the wall need to be perfectly straight. Take your time and find these true studs. Using straight studs at the corners allows you to connect the walls together easily as you build your shed.
It's critical that the top and bottom plates be the exact same length. When I say exact, I mean it. The vertical wall studs need to be the same height. Doing this allows you to square the wall on the ground before you begin to add sheathing to the wall. Before you add the plywood or oriented-strand board sheathing to the wall, you must square the wall. Failure to do this will cause you great headaches and embarrassment.
I chalk a line on the floor and then temporarily toenail the bottom plate to the floor making sure the edge of the bottom plate is just touching the chalk line. The nails must be driven through the bottom of the plate so you can remove them after you have the sheathing applied to the wall.
Once the bottom plate is straight and secure, take out your tape measure and check the diagonal measurements of the wall. You do this by hooking your tape measure to the exact corner of the bottom plate at one end of the wall and stretch it to the corner of the top plate at the other end of the wall.
Undoubtedly the two diagonal measurements will be different. Gently tap the end of the top plate one way or the other until the two diagonal measurements are the same. When they are, the wall is perfectly square. Secure the top plate of the wall temporarily to the floor using a few nails. You don't want the wall to move as you apply the sheathing.
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