How to Frame an Interior Wall with Metal Studs

Learn how to use metal studs when framing a wall—whether you're building a new house or adding a wall to an existing structure.

dining room
Project Overview
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Although you might instinctively reach for wood boards when installing a new wall, we're here to make a case for metal studs. As lumber costs rise, these steel alternatives to your typical 2x4s present an increasingly appealing option: For one, metal studs are consistently straight and won't warp over time, unlike wood. They don't burn, rust, or rot, and termites and other insects can't eat them. The factory-punched holes eliminate time-consuming drilling when installing wiring and plumbing, and metal studs are remarkably lightweight. If you're accustomed to wood construction, steel studs may even seem flimsy. That's because they're not designed to carry the load on their own—instead, they partner with the drywall as a systems approach to wall construction.

Ready to make the move to metal? We'll teach you the metal stud framing techniques you need—and can easily manage if you have a few basic DIY skills, like measuring, cutting metal, and using a stud finder. Keep in mind: Most walls in remodeling projects are non-load-bearing, meaning they don't help support the weight of the house; when building a load-bearing wall, make sure your metal studs are rated for that use.

If you're working with a helper, allow at least one hour for a simple eight-foot-long wall that runs perpendicular to the ceiling joists. Tack on extra time if you're framing openings, such as doorways or windows, or building it parallel to the joists.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Gloves
  • 1 Metal snips
  • 1 Chalk line
  • 1 Measuring tape
  • 1 Level
  • 1 Stud finder
  • 1 Power screwdriver
  • 1 C-clamp self-locking pliers

Materials

  • 1 Metal studs and channel
  • 1 Fasteners to attach channels to floor and joists
  • 1 Assembly screws

Instructions

  1. Lay Out the Wall

    SCDW_046_02.jpg

    On the floor, measure out where you want the wall to run, and snap two parallel chalk lines to mark the wall's edges. Attach the runner (a type of channel) to the floor. If you're working on a plywood surface, use wood screws; pan-head or flathead screws offer the strongest holding power. To fasten the runner to concrete, opt for powder-actuated fasteners, concrete screws, or screws driven into expansion plugs. Cut the runner at the edge of any door openings—you won't be able to do this later as you can with wood construction.

  2. Find the Runner's Place

    Put on gloves as you begin working with the metal studs. Twist one stud (cut to size; see Step #5 for instructions) into the floor runner at one end of the wall, then hold a level against it to make sure it's fully upright. Mark the plumb stud's edges on the ceiling; repeat at the opposite end of the wall. Snap a chalk line to join the marks.

    Know Your Studs: You'll find steel studs and runners in sizes similar to their wood counterparts. For example, what home-improvement stores call a steel 2x4 actually has a web depth of 3-½ inches, while a steel 2x6 has a web depth of 5-½ inches. The minimum flange size is 1-⅝ inch, and the maximum is 2 inches. You'll notice a lip running along the flange of steel studs—this improves their rigidity. The flanges of the runner are usually angled slightly inward, enabling them to firmly grip the flanges of the studs.

  3. Attach the Runner

    If your new wall runs perpendicular to the joists, attach the runner to the ceiling by driving screws into the joists. (You can use a stud finder here if the ceiling is intact.) If you need to splice the runner, join two pieces using the simple method shown in the drawing above. Make sure the splice doesn't land where a stud will be anchored, and stagger joints in the upper and lower tracks by at least 12 inches for maximum wall strength.

    Does your wall run parallel to the joists? If so, you'll need to add blocking: Cut wood pieces to fit the gaps between the runner and the closest joists, or use scrap pieces of steel runner, which you can easily fasten to the undersides of the joists.

    If you're planning to attach ceiling drywall to the underside of a roof truss system, professionals recommend a resilient channel design that accommodates potential movement of the truss. Check with your steel-framing supplier for more information.

  4. Lay Out Stud Placement

    SCDW_046_07.jpg

    Place dots with a permanent marker on the side of the bottom runner where the studs should be. To ensure equal distribution, cut a piece of wood to match the stud spacing (typically 16 or 24 inches), and use this board as your guide. Although you could draw the centerline of the studs, you'll probably find it less confusing to mark one edge, then mark a quick X where the stud will stand. You don't need to mark the upper runner. Double-check the spacing of the layout before you attach any studs.

  5. Cut the Studs

    Measure the distance between the ceiling and floor runners, then cut the studs to length (as needed). Compound-leverage aviation snips—a cutting tool designed to easily trim steel—are the most practical way to cut metal tracks and studs. To help you choose the right pair for every cut, these snips usually have color-coded handles: 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 don't want to spring for all three, buy a yellow-handled pair, plus the color that matches your working-hand preference. Slice through both flanges of the stud first, then cut the web.

    Expert Tip: Cutting steel with hand tools isn't difficult, but extended cutting sessions can be taxing for a weekend remodeler. To speed up the process, outfit your circular saw or miter saw with a steel-cutting abrasive blade. With this power tool, cutting will be quick and easy, but extremely noisy—and often accompanied by an impressive shower of sparks. Always wear eye and hearing protection, and take this step outside to avoid starting a fire. Watch where sparks land to ensure they don't smolder on the dust within the saw. Another option: Rent a compound leverage channel shear to slice through studs and runner without deforming the steel's profile.

  6. Install the Studs

    Insert a stud into the upper and lower track with a twisting motion. Align the edge of the stud with the mark on the floor runner, and hold it in place with C-clamp self-locking pliers designed for welders. Drive a screw into the metal to secure the stud to the runner. Repeat this process at ceiling height. As you work your way down the wall, make sure the open side of every stud faces in the same direction, and align the punch-outs to make it easier to pull wires through or install pipes.

    Know Your Screws: To join steel studs to the runner, you need a self-drilling screw that creates a pilot hole through both pieces before the threads engage. Look for a head design that has a large diameter (to spread the force that holds everything in place), a very low profile (so it doesn't create a hump under the drywall), and a drive slot that's easy to use. The fastener that fulfills all of the above is a No. 8x½-inch modified truss head self-drilling screw with Phillips drive. You can purchase these screws (or a very similar design) where you buy your framing steel.

  7. Add a Header

    SCDW_046_11.jpg

    To install a header—a beam that runs along the top of an opening for a window or door—cut a piece of runner four inches longer than the opening. Draw a line across the web two inches from one end, and another one at the opposite end so that the piece will match the length of the opening. (Make sure both lines are square with the ends of the piece of runner.) After trimming the runner, cut V-notches into the flanges, angling them toward the creases where the flanges meet the web (see inset). While holding the header in place, press the flanges against the surrounding frame and drive a screw through each tab and into the king stud.

    Expert Tip: If you're undertaking a big project, consider investing in a punch lock stud crimper. This tool uses compound leverage to create a rectangular crimp that locks the metal stud and runner together, forming a strong bond in lieu of fasteners. The tool is easy to maneuver into tight quarters, and you'll never have to worry about running out of screws.

  8. Make Room for Cabinets

    SCDW_046_12.jpg

    If you're planning to install cabinets on your new wall, you need to create a place to anchor them. Do that by notching a length of runner anywhere it will overlap with a stud, then screw it to the flanges of the studs. Ask your cabinet installer how high you should install the runner and request sheet metal screws for attaching the cabinets to the wall.

  9. Add Blocking

    SCDW_046_13.jpg

    Add solid-wood or plywood blocking between studs to make it easier to install baseboards, crown moldings, shelves, and accessories such as towel bars. (This also is an alternative to the previous step for hanging cabinets.) Blocking enables you to install these items with nails or screws, just as you would on a wood-stud wall. If you don't add blocking, you'll need to attach moldings with construction adhesive and trim-head screws.

  10. Close Holes with Grommets

    SCW_171_04.jpg

    Make way for wiring before you close up your wall: Snap plastic grommets into the punch-outs on the studs, so the sharp edges don't slice the insulation on electrical wires. The grommets will also prevent metal-to-metal contact with water piping (which is a risk factor for corrosion of both pipes and studs). If you can't find grommets, improvise with lengths of foam pipe insulation, or consider using corrosion-resistant armored cable or conduit.

  11. Install Drywall

    SCDW_046_16.jpg

    Hang the drywall by driving type S fine-threaded screws into the studs, aligning the edges of the panels along the centers of studs. Use the same installation techniques you would use for a normal wood-stud wall.

Related Articles