How to Frame an Interior Wall with Metal Studs

Whether you're building a new house or adding a wall to an existing structure, you'll first need to frame the wall. We'll show you how to use metal studs for the job.

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Metal studs have a lot to offer a homeowner who's considering a remodeling project. Metal studs are straight when you buy them, and stay that way. They don't burn, rust, or rot, and termites and other insects can't eat them. They don't burn like wood and are lightweight and easy to cut and fasten. Plus, the factory-punched holes eliminate drilling for the installation of wiring and plumbing, which speeds along those tasks. There's a lot to like. 

We'll walk you through the process for framing an interior wall with metal studs. Most walls in remodeling projects are non load-bearing, meaning they don't help support the weight of the house. If you need to build a load-bearing wall, make sure your metal studs are rated for that use. If you're accustomed to working with wood construction, metal studs may initially seem flimsy. That' because they'e not designed for strength on their own—instead, they partner with the drywall as a systems approach to wall construction.

When working with a helper, allow at least one hour for a simple 8-foot-long wall that runs perpendicular to the home's joists. Framing openings such as doorways or windows will add time to the project. Also, make sure you're able to complete basic DIY tasks, like measuring, cutting metal, and using a stud finder.

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What You Need

  • Gloves
  • Metal snips
  • Chalk line
  • Plumb bob with nylon line
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Stud finder
  • Power screwdriver
  • C-clamp self-locking pliers
  • Metal studs and channel
  • Fasteners to attach channels to floor and joists
  • Assembly screws

Step 1: Lay Out the Wall

On the floor, lay out the position of the wall, and snap chalk lines to mark the wall's edges. Cut the runner at the edge of door openings. Attach the runner to the floor, using wood screws when working on a plywood surface. (Pan-head or flathead screws provide the best holding power.) Fasten to concrete with powder-actuated fasteners, concrete screws, or screws driven into expansion plugs.

Step 2: Transfer Runner

Transfer the location of the runner to the ceiling by twisting a stud into the floor runner and holding a level against it. Mark the stud's edges on the ceiling at each end of the wall, and join the marks by snapping a chalk line.

Step 3: Attach Runner

Attach the runner to the ceiling by driving screws into the joists. If the wall runs parallel to the joists, add blocking for a wood wall. If you attach ceiling drywall to the underside of a roof truss system, professionals recommend a special resilient channel design that accommodates the potential movement of the truss. Check with your steel-framing supplier for more information.

Step 4: Lay Out Stud Placement

Lay out the stud locations on the edge of the bottom runner, using a permanent marker and a length of wood that equals the stud spacing. Although you could mark the centerline of the studs, you'll probably find it less confusing to mark one edge, then mark a quick X where the stud goes. You don't need to mark the upper runner. Double-check the spacing of the layout before you attach any studs.

Step 5: Cut Studs

Cut the studs to length if necessary. Insert a stud into the upper and lower track with a twisting motion. Make certain the open side of all studs faces the same direction. Align the edge of the stud with the mark on the floor runner, and clamp it with C-clamp self-locking pliers designed for welders. Drive a screw to secure the stud to the runner.

Step 6: Make a Header

To make a header, cut a length of runner 4 inches longer than the opening. Draw a line square across the web 2 inches from one end, and another line square across at the opposite end to mark the length of the opening. Cut V-notches into the flanges, aiming at the lines on the web (see inset). Bend the runner along the lines and drive a screw through each tab and into the king stud.

Step 7: Make Room for Cabinets

Create an attachment surface for wall cabinets by notching a length of runner and screwing it to the flanges of the studs. Consult your cabinet installer to make certain of the runner's height and to alert him that he'll need sheet metal screws for the installation.

Step 8: Add Wood and Grommets

Add blocking of solid wood or plywood to simplify the installation of baseboards, crown moldings, shelves, and accessories such as towel bars. This also is an alternative strategy to the previous step for hanging cabinets. With blocking, you can drive nails or screws just as you can with a wood-stud wall. Without wood backing, install moldings to the studs with construction adhesive and trim-head screws.

Then, snap plastic grommets into the punch-outs to prevent the sharp edges of the stud from slicing the insulation on electrical wires. Alternatively, consider armored cable or conduit. The grommets prevent metal-to-metal contact with water piping—an electrolysis situation that can corrode both pipes and studs. If you can't find grommets, improvise with lengths of foam pipe insulation.

Tip: When you install studs, make sure the punch-outs align with each other to simplify the task of pulling wires or installing pipes.

Step 9: Add Grommets

Snap plastic grommets into the punch-outs to prevent the sharp edges of the stud from slicing the insulation on electrical wires. Alternatively, consider armored cable or conduit. The grommets prevent metal-to-metal contact with water piping—an electrolysis situation that can corrode both pipes and studs. If you can't find grommets, improvise with lengths of foam pipe insulation.

Step 10: Install Drywall

Install the drywall by driving type S fine-threaded screws into the studs. For best results, drive the screws along one stud before moving to the next one. Always work toward the open C-shape of the studs.

More Tips and Tricks

How to Choose Studs

You'll find steel studs and runners in sizes that are similar to wood. For example, a nominal steel 2x4 has a web depth of 3.5 inches, and a steel 2x6 has a 5-1/2-inch web. The minimum flange size is 1-5/8 inch, and the maximum is 2 inches. The lip on steel studs improves their rigidity. The flanges of the track usually toe in slightly so they firmly grip the flanges of the studs.

How to Splice a Runner

Join lengths of track by using the simple method shown in the drawing. Make sure the splice doesn't land at a stud location, and offset joints in the upper and lower tracks by at least 12 inches for maximum wall strength.

How to Cut Studs

Compound-leverage aviation snips are usually the most practical method of cutting metal tracks and studs. These snips usually have handles (or another part) that are color coded. Red is for left cuts (most useful for right-handed people), green is for right cuts (usually preferred by left-handers), and yellow is for straight cuts.

If you can't afford all three, buy the yellow plus the color that matches your working-hand preference. Slice through both flanges, then cut the web.

How to Pick the Right Screw

To join steel studs to the track, you need a self-drilling screw that creates a pilot hole through both pieces before the threads engage. You also want a head design that has a large diameter to spread the holding force. In addition, the head should have a very low profile so that it doesn't create a hump under the drywall. Last, you want a drive slot that's easy to use. The fastener that meets all of these specifications is a No. 8x1/2-inch modified truss head self-drilling screw with Phillips drive. You'll find these screws (or a very similar design) where you buy your framing steel.

How to Install a Door

When you fasten wood door jambs or molding to steel framing, use trim-head screws. These fasteners have heads that are barely larger than a countersunk nail. Drive them about 1/32 inch below the wood's surface and fill the hole with putty. Another strategy combines wood with metal framing. Line the opening with wood bucks as shown in the drawing, and you'll have a solid target for nailing. Substitute wood for the two full-length king studs that flank the opening to gain a broader nailing surface for the door's molding.

How to Fasten Metal and Cut Steel

If you get into a big project, you may want to consider the advantages offered by a punch lock stud crimper. This tool uses compound leverage to create a rectangular crimp that mechanically locks the stud and track together, forming a strong bond. The tool is easy to maneuver into tight quarters, and you never need to worry about running out of screws.

Cutting steel with hand tools isn't difficult, but extended cutting sessions can be tough on a weekend remodeler. You can put power on your side by fitting your circular saw or miter saw with a steel-cutting abrasive blade. Cutting is quick and easy, but it's extremely noisy and can produce an impressive shower of sparks. Be sure to wear eye and hearing protection, and help prevent a fire by cutting outdoors and making certain that sparks don't smolder on dust within the saw. A compound leverage channel shear is a possible rental item that multiplies your arm strength to slice through studs and channel without deforming the steel's profile.

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