There are many ways to make partition walls, but the most popular is timber frame & plasterboard. Frame walls are known as stud walls.
Timber framed Walls
Timber framing consists of:
- horizontal wood top and bottom, known as the sole plate and header plate, and vertical wood attached to the wall at each end of the new wall.
- Wooden Uprights anything from 1.5"x2.5" to 2"x4" spaced typically 16" or 24" apart
- short horizontal noggins joining neighbouring uprights for increased strength and stiffness.
- Plasterboard attached each side
- Mesh tape over the joints, though this can be omitted.
- Usually plaster skim both sides, though this is sometimes omitted and the joints and screwheads filled.
The 4 strips of wood making the outer frame are needed to secure the wall in place.
Uprights are needed to provide the wall's strength.
Noggins prevent uprights twisting after fitting. Twisting would make small tears in the finish. Twisting may occur if no noggins are used. Noggins also increase the rigidity of the wall, and give the PB some extra support.
Mesh tape over the joints before filing prevents any loose pieces of joint filler falling out. It is sometimes omitted.
Plaster skim turns the cut & screwed PB into a nice smooth surface.
- 1.5"x2.5" will give minimal sound absorption and is not recommended. However it does work and can be used where space is critical. The closer such uprights are spaced the better for sound insulation, but even 2' spacing is functional. Should only be used for rooms where sound insulation is unimportant. Such thinly framed walls are not suitable for plaster skimming. If you can spare another half inch, choose staggered isolated frames to gain some sound insulation.
- 2"x2" Many have been tempted to cut corners with 2x2 framing. Once skimmed, the wood moves enough to pop little pieces of plaster off over the screws. 2x2 is therefore not recommended.
- 2"x3" is a common choice and makes a wall suitable for skimming.
- 2"x4" gives quite a solid wall, and is recommended where space permits.
Quality of timber
Quality of timber used for framing may be low. Timber frame walls are an opportunity to use up some of the junk wood.
Wood may be twisted to some degree. Once the PB is on a few mm undulation is not normally noticeable.
Badly twisted wood may be used if trimmed. To ensure a nice flat wall, the high edges of warped wood can be sawn or planed down. Generally this is a waste of time, but if its that or drive out for more wood, planing is probably quicker.
Warped wood is fine, just fit it so the warp is sideways rather than outwards when possible.
Small splits are unimportant, as is the appearance of the wood.
Wood may be rough sawn, planed, or scrap wood with paint on. None of it will be seen once the wall is done.
Wood may be damaged or have holes. Just avoid holes of such size as to significantly weaken the timber.
Badly twisted, split or damaged wood may be cut to short lengths for noggin use.
Broken wood can be screwed together and used if necessary.
In a pinch one can even use thinner bits of wood glued & screwed together as an upright.
Thinner scrap wood may be used for noggins if there is not enough full size wood in stock. Full size noggins will perform better though.
Wood slightly too short can be padded at the top or bottom with an offcut.
2 pieces of wood much too short may be screwed together to make one upright. Just put 2 screws through the overlapping section to create the length desired.
The 4 pieces of wood around the edges of the wall may be thinner than the rest. It wont flex as its screwed to walls, ceiling, etc.
Wood with rot or woodworm should not be used.
Improving the stud wall
There are some ways to improve the performance of these walls
Plasterboard walls are prone to being holed, and resonate when tapped, making them sound thin and hollow, which they are. Use 12mm PB not 9.5mm for better strength. The extra cost is tiny, and 12mm PB can be recommended in almost all cases. The only real plus of 9.5mm PB is its easier to hold up for ceiling use.
By supporting each PB side on its own isolated framework, a main sound transmission path is broken. This can be achieved by providing twice as many framework studs and staggering them by at least half an inch.
Use of noggins is no longer possible. Uprights can be held true by using short pieces of wood at 45 degrees at the top and bottom of each upright.
sound absorbing fill
Filling the cavity with rockwool deadens sound and gives longer fire resistance.
Pink fireproof plasterboard contains glass fibre and gives longer fire resistance.
2 layers of PB
2 layers of plasterboard give a more solid feeling wall with less resonance, less sound transmission and longer fire resistance.
Half inch plywood skins (instead of plasterboard) make these walls fairly much nutter proof. Ply may be lined with lining paper to give a smooth paintable surface, after filling joints and screw heads.
When good soundproofing is required, google for Camden walls as developed by the BBC for studio work.
Nails or screws
Always use plasterboard screws and not nails. PB nails give lousy performance. Even after many nails PB can very easily come loose, and is prone to popping plaster over nailheads and cracking up at joints. Plasterboard nails are one economy not recommended.
Always use bugle head PB screws and not ordinary countersunk screws. Standard screws cause the plaster to ruck up, ruining the finish. They also rust when plastered. If for some reason you need to use a standard screw or two, predrill the plaster with clearance holes for them to prevent rucking, and prime the screw head after fitting to avoid rust.
PB screws will screw directly into 0.5mm steel framing.
There are 2 ways to resolve this.
- Make the first paint coat diluted 50/50 with water.
- Brush on a coat of water, which can be done very rapidly due to no need for care. Give it a few minutes then apply normal strength paint.
The 2nd option has advantages:
- no mixing, no container to clean up
- first coat is full strength not half
Other wall types
As timber frame but thin steel framing is used. The framing is bought in kit form. Ordinary plasterboard screws will go straight into the metal.
Hollow concrete blocks
Once a popular form of mediumweight internal wall construction.
Aerated concrete blocks aka Breeze blocks
A popular mediumweight alternative to framed walls. Better performance all round, but more work and cost to build.
A low cost thin wall with good sound insulation but poor strength. Quite possible to fall through such walls. Consists of thin uprights, straw infill and PB.
Poured concrete & Dense concrete block
Two heavyweight types of wall. Generally unsuitable for supporting on ceiling/floor woodwork due to high weight. Suited to ground floor use on concrete floors.
Thinnest possible wall
The question sometimes comes up, what is the thinnest wall I can build. There is no fixed answer in the sense that it is a continuum, the thinner the wall the weaker it is, the more sound it transmits, and the less durable it is.
If very poor performance were acceptable, a single layer of half inch ply would make a wall, screwed at top and bottom with many screws from each side at a 45 degree angle into floor and ceiling. Or a sheet of 6mm fibre cement sheet could be supported on brackets top and bottom.
The question then is one of trying to achieve passable performance with minimum thickness. There are a few main approaches to this, though doubtless there are others:
- replace PB with plywood or fibre cement sheet. Screwing this every 6" to the wood frame helps stiffen the structure up.
- Use many noggins, so that the horizontal woodwork substantially stiffens the structure as well as the vertical.
- Make a wall from sapele veneered doors. Cut to required height, put in place and screw into the sides through the corners and into floor and ceiling. Fix the blind sides with glue. These don't make ideal walls, but are a quick easy method with acceptable sound absorption, and are very thin.
- Use wide uprights. 2"x4" the wrong way round will give twice the stiffness of 2x2. Care needs to be taken to prevent misalignment and future twisting of the uprights.
- Use hardwood uprights
- Use uprights more closely spaced, eg 1' or less apart.
- build a 2" or 2.5" solid block wall, or poured concrete wall.
- Build a steel reinforced fibre concrete wall less than 2" thick, anchoring it by fitting many corrosion proof screw heads round all 4 sides first.