How To Sheathe Top-Framing

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Top-framing? Whazzat? Couldn’t you have just said, “How To Sheathe A Stud Wall”…or something?

Sure. Could have. But where’s the fun in that?

Nah, it’s a lot more enjoyable to coin a word no one ever heard before, such as top-framing, and then see how long it takes for the Internet search engines to find it….

Since our new home is a true “hybrid” with earthbag walls for the first six feet of height and heavy 2″ x 12″ lumber framing for the final 18 inches, there’s no sheathing to do except “up high”. When it warms up enough this year to apply stucco, we’ll do that. Wire netting will be hung on the upper sheathing and lower bags, the concrete-based glop will be applied, and the house will finally take on a monolithic appearance. Said glop will adhere directly to the earthbags where applicable but will need a “wooden wall” as a substrate above that six-foot mark.

So, the steps:

1. Cobble together four low “saw benches”. Each bench is a four foot chunk of leftover 2″ x 12″ lumber with on-edge 2″ x 4″ crosspieces under each end . These add up to a rather low “workbench area”, but they’re very effective. Spaced about a foot apart, they’re an ideal “platform” on which to mark and cut piece after piece of OSB (oriented strand board) sheathing. Which is good, because from here on in, there’s a lot of marking and cutting to do–stud wall sheathing, interior walls, and more

These low benches keep the Skilsaw blade from impacting the ground and, with variable spacing, allow for full cuts without "dropping" either end of the board being cut.

These low benches keep the Skilsaw blade from impacting the ground and, with variable spacing, allow for full cuts without “dropping” either end of the board being cut.

T2

Get Enough Nails, Measure, Cut, And Hammer

2. The ubiquitous 8d nail is the only way to go for applying sheathing board, and I use a lot of them. At Home Depot, they come in boxes…and the boxes come in two sizes. Just applying sheathing to this top-framing looks like two full boxes of nails (the large boxes) will be required. Folks, that’s a bunch of nails! After all, one box more than half-fills a gallon coffee can. But hey, better to overnail than undernail. Too many? No one will ever know but you. Too few? Be prepared to explain to youy wife why part of your house just caught a ride with the wind to the next County over.

3. Measure your starting point. I chose to start just to one side of the attic vent at the “front end” of the house, then work out to the nearest edge.

4. Calculate your roof “drop” in inches. Ours is a low-pitch, “two-in-twelve” covering. Which means: In twelve feet of lateral roof “run”, one edge will be two feet lower than the other. You need to know this, obviously, so you can cut the strand board to fit properly. But your board isn’t twelve feet wide, is it? (Except for Paul Bunyan and maybe Hulk Hogan, and those would be special orders.) No, usually you’re working with a four-foot width of board. There’s no point to running the board “sideways” and working with the eight-foot dimension. For one thing, that would be an awkward situation physically. More importantly, though, these boards are designed by the manufacturer to go “up and down” on vertical (i.e. wall) surfaces.

Okay. Four feet is one third of twelve feet. So, divide that two-foot drop by three, and you know you’re going to want the “lower” edge to come out exactly eight inches shorter than the “high” edge. If you’re working with steeper roof pitch–three in twelve is common, for example–the formula is the same. That one would be a three foot drop, divided by three, and bingo: One edge will need to be exactly one foot shorter than the other.

5. Grab the Skilsaw, get to cutting, start nailing, and hope the sun doesn’t go down before you’ve made any progress.

Our latest pallet of OSB (strand board).

Our latest pallet of OSB (strand board).

Grab the Skilsaw...oh, all right, the Black & Decker....

Grab the Skilsaw…oh, all right, the Black & Decker….

Not bad so far...go! Go! Sun's not down yet!

Not bad so far…go! Go! Sun’s not down yet!

Not bad so far...go! Go! Sun's not down yet!

Not bad so far…go! Go! Sun’s not down yet!

Note the less than perfect fit between boards--which will not matter, as stucco will hide that perfectly.

Note the less than perfect fit between boards–which will not matter, as stucco will hide that perfectly.

Okay, front side done, look out for that sun....

Okay, front side done, look out for that sun….

Better light out back, with the lowering sun behind us now....

Better light out back, with the lowering sun behind us now….

Time To Solve The Puzzle

Yes, I think…I’m pretty sure…it’s a house! Or at least it’s finally starting to look like one. Pam was ecstatic when she finally saw those sheathing boards beginning to cover the studs.

Confession time: The above text deliberately implies that this (sheathing) was all done in one day. In truth, I only got 3 hours of available build-a-home time yesterday, and to get the front plus half of the back done took parts of two afternoons, or about seven total hours of cautious labor. Finishing out the backside will probably take another three or so…and it’s hard to say just how much time the sides (up under the eaves) will need. Reason: Those (the sides) will be cut-to-fit in and around each and every rafter. Nailing time is minimal, the board pieces are fairly small and easy to handle, but the detailed measuring and cutting can chew up a lot of minutes.

Once that’s all done, I’ll post a few more photos. For now, this should be enough to give you the idea….

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