Building a Wall 2 - Layout

A series of four wall studs with a cement wall in the background.

Now that you have an idea about the materials you’ll need as well as any mistakes you’ll need to be wary of making, it’s time to get to work on the wall layout.

Studs (wall framing members) are placed on either 16-inch or 24-inch centers. This means from the exact center of one stud to the exact center of the adjacent stud is 16 or 24 inches. Check with your local building code to see which distance is required for your area. It will often depend on any snow or roof load.

We find it less confusing to use the following symbols when laying out the different pieces:

  • X - Standard stud
  • T - Trimmer stud
  • K - King stud
  • C - Cripple stud (used above doors or windows and below windows)

The garage floor is the best choice for your work space, being large, flat, and in as close proximity to your walls as you can get.

Most Common Mistakes:

  1. Not adjusting 3/4 of an inch for your first layout mark.
  2. Not following a continuous 16 inch (or 24 inch) layout.
  3. Not using framing square for layout.
  4. Not using straight plates.
  5. Placing studs on the wrong side of the layout mark.
  6. Studs not nailed flush with plates.


Step 1 – Put Outer Frame Together

If possible, begin with a wall which contains no openings such as doors or windows. This will give you a feel for the work without adding any variables.

Choose your straightest 2x4 for the plates. Remember that top plates must break over a stud and all top plate splices must be at least four feet from any splice in the bottom or cap plates. It may be necessary to cut your top plates as you progress in your layout to be sure they meet over a stud.

Sight down each plate and turn it so the crown will be turned up. Then turn both top and bottom plates on their sides and put them together using large jaw clamps. You can temporarily nail the plates together also.

diagram of walls from above
Beginning at the end of a plate that goes all the way to the end of a wall, measure in exactly 3/4 of an inch and make a mark across both plates.

Note: This 3/4-inch adjustment is made so that the edge of your first piece of sheathing or siding will come to the outside edge of the corner stud rather than the center of it. All sheathing (except the first and last piece) needs to fall on the center of the studs to provide a nailing surface for the adjoining piece. By reducing your first measurements by 3/4" (one half the width of a 1 ½ inch stud), you shift the edge of the first piece of sheathing from the center to the outer edge of the first stud.

Drive a nail into this 3/4-inch mark so that you can hook your tape measure onto it when measuring for stud spacing in the next step.

Step 2 – Measure and Mark Studs

diagram of marking studs
Now measure and mark at 16-inch intervals (or 24-inch intervals if your code specifies) from this nail. The marks you make every 16 inches will not represent the centers of the studs as you might expect. They actually represent the edge of the studs instead.

Place an X on the side of the mark nearest the starting nail. This will indicate which side of the layout mark your studs will be placed. Make these X's on both plates. This spaces the studs so that the edge of the sheathing will fall in the middle.

Place three X's (representing three studs) at the end of the plates where you began the layout. These three X's mark the Three Stud Corner.

Step 3 – Nail Studs to Plates

After completing the layout, separate the plates by the distance of a stud length. By using pre-cut studs, you need only lay them out at the X's between the marked top and bottom plates, without any measuring and sawing.

Tip: Check local code and your blueprints for the proper height for standard walls in your area when ordering.

Nail the wall together as described in Nailing and Positioning the Wall.