Framing Day

The first day of framing can set the pace for the whole job. Here’s how to get off to a good start.

By Don Dunkley
Fall 2002

Framing jobs that get off to a good start, have the best chance to build momentum and stay on schedule. Start off slowly and you’ll never make up the lost time. Time is money, and you’ll waste both if your crew has to sit around while you figure out the house plans and framing details, or wait for you to snap chalk lines or figure stud lengths. So the time you spend getting organized and ready for the first day of framing will really be worth it.

Getting started.┬áTo start any job with a bang, I’ll assign specific jobs for each crewmember to do the minute we get on site. I usually run a five-man crew, but you can adapt these tasks to your crew size. I have two guys sort through the lumber piles and stack them according to where material will be used, while another starts cutting various parts of the framing package. That leaves me and one other framer layout wall locations, cut wall plates, and layout any detail work.

First, we’ll check how square the deck is and adjust the wall layout to deal with any areas that are not square. Then, starting in the garage, we’ll snap chalk lines where the walls go, cut the top and bottom wall plates, and define details for the garage. By the time I have this done, the rest of my crew will have sorted the lumber package into different piles and stacked material at the radial arm saw so the cut man can get started with his work.

With the crew set up to frame the garage, I can now start laying out the walls and work out the details for the main part of the house. At the end of a good first day we’ll have cut, labeled, and stacked the entire framing package, framed the garage, and laid-out the main house. But this can only happen if you get organized. Spend some serious time studying the blueprints, prepare a cut list for your studs, corners, trimmers, and headers, and then make a good plan for your crew. Here’s my system for making the first day a success.


Study the blueprints. If you are the builder, you should have read every word on the blueprints by now, and looked for any problems that could slow you down when you start framing. Your lead carpenter should be familiar with the blueprints too. Right now you need to know:

  • rough openings for all doors and windows
  • header heights for every opening
  • all wall heights so you can figure stud lengths
  • locations and details of things like holddowns, beam pockets, posts, transom windows, etc.
  • locations of openings or rough-ins for plumbing, heating and cooling pipes and ducts (HVAC), and electrical wiring

At this point you should also have a complete understanding of the roof framing plan, rake-wall requirements, exterior elevation details, and staircase layout for straight-run or circular stairs. These are the parts of the frame that take the most time to figure out on site, so you need to be able to work quickly when it comes time to lay them out.

When you make your material list for the framing lumber delivery, organize the lumber list according to where each type of material will go in the building. For example, list the 2 x 10’s as floor joists, 2 x 8’s as headers, and 2 x 12’s as rafters – and you have a better chance that somebody won’t cut up your joists to use for blocking. Make copies for your crew so they’ll also know how the lumber is to be used.

Make a cut list for rough openings which shows:

  • header sizes and the total number of each size header
  • the length and number of jack (trimmer) studs required
  • the length and number of king studs required
  • the number of window sills of each size
  • the length and number of cripples and studs for special height walls

Make an assembly list that shows:

  • the number of openings for each rough opening size and the wall height if this varies anywhere
  • the number of pieces needed for wall intersections
  • the number of corner posts that need to be made up

Lumber Delivery

I always try to have a man on site when the lumber truck arrives so he can show the driver where I want each lumber pile to go. If you can’t have somebody meet the truck, make sure you have marked the site clearly where you want the lumber units to be dropped. Leave enough room around the lumber piles to sort through the stacks of lumber without crowding yourself. Get the lumber dropped close enough to the building that you don’t have to walk too far, but not so close that it’s in your way. The package will usually be stacked for the driver’s convenience, not yours. Most often, the plate material and the floor joists that you need to use first will be stacked on the bottom, under the plywood.

While you are snapping lines with one of your helpers, the other two workers should be breaking down the package and sorting it out. Have them sort out the lumber by size into separate stacks. Pay attention to what it’s going to be used for as you do this, and keep the materials you’ll need early in the framing the easiest to get to. As you work, remove any framing materials that are damaged or otherwise unsuitable for use. Restack these “culls” near the driveway for lumberyard pickup. At the end of the day, make a list of bad materials to be picked up so the supplier can bring the replacements with them from the lumberyard.

As you sort through the piles of wider lumber, like 2 x 6’s, 2 x 8’s, 2 x 10’s, and larger, mark the crown on each piece now with a framer’s crayon. Make your crown marks an arm’s distance in from the ends of the board so you won’t cut the crown mark off from the end of the lumber when you start cutting. As you mark the crowns, stack the boards with crowns facing the same way. I crown all studs, too, especially 2x6s. Stack all materials on “stickers” spaced four feet apart, to keep the lumber off the ground. After the lumber is sorted, and re-stacked check it against the delivery ticket and the original list to make sure you got everything you ordered.

Start Framing

Set up a cutting station right next to the piles of lumber, and have a couple of guys load the cutting bench with material. I still prefer using a radial arm saw with roller tables on either side, but a lot of framers will use sliding miter saws or even just cut with circular saws. Give the cut-man the cut list you’ve already prepared and turn him loose on the lumber. First, cut all headers, and mark crowns on each one. Write the length, and opening location (Window A, or Door 7) on each one with the crayon as you go, and stack each size separately. If these are built-up headers made from three pieces of lumber, have somebody start nailing them together at this point.

Next cut all the jacks (trimmers), and stack them according to their length. Do the same for all the window sills, cripple studs, and anything else you can pre-cut and pre-assemble now. Make sure to cover anything you aren’t going to use right away to protect it; the sun is just as bad as rain on lumber.

While two carpenters are loading the cutting bench with material you can square up the deck or slab and layout, plate, and detail the garage. The layout crew should go around and knock all the concrete chunks off the anchor bolts and sweep the slab or wood deck clean. Check the slab or deck for elevation, level, and square, and for overall dimensions. You want to know early if you’ve got a layout problem to fix. If everything is square and level you can start snapping chalk lines for wall layout. If the weather is questionable, or it’s late in the day, spray clear lacquer over the chalk lines to protect them in case it rains.

Once the carpenters are finished sorting lumber they can start framing the garage. While that is going on, the cut-man should be preparing all the rough opening packages for the garage and house, including headers, window sills, and cripples. These should be clearly marked so they can be distributed to the proper location during framing. With the cut-man busy and the rest of the crew framing the garage, I move on with my helper to snap-out the main house. By the time the garage is framed, I’ll have the main house snapped-out and ready for the full crew.

Don Dunkley is a former framing contractor from Cool, Calif.

What to Show Up With

Besides your regular carpentry tools, here’s what you’ll need to get started.

Must have:

    • two 100-ft. steel tape measures
    • transit and/or laser level
    • two dry string lines minimum
    • two chalk lines of different colors, Spanish red mortar dye for permanent lines, blue or other color to mark layout changes
    • framing crayon for everyone on the crew, one color for marking crowns on materials, two other colors for layout
    • calculator (Construction Master IV is ideal)
    • anchor bolt marker or combination square
    • different sized auger or spade-style drill bits for anchor and hold-down bolts
    • material to cover framing package (6 mil plastic is fine)

Good to have:

  • spray paint, any color
  • clear lacquer spray (keeps lines from being washed away in rain)
  • masonry chisel
  • two-pound hammer
  • electric demolition or chipping hammer
  • extra sawhorses