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June 2005
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Steel Studs in Action

Light Gauge Metal Framing aka Steel Studs is one of the most wonderful inventions of the 20th Century.

For some things they are the cats pajamas.

Case in point, the coffered ceiling in the new world headquarters.

This was the back wall a few days ago.
The rafters are connected together above the horizontal 4×6” beam as the primary support. What you don’t see is the vertical 4×4” post hidden by the wood framing I have in place.

(a quick note: Post and Beam used to be the method of wood frame construction for many years. A Beam is a horizontal member Usually out of wood, above the ground. A Post is a vertical member whose job was to form the vertical corners and intermediate support for the Beams. Between the beams were either rafters which were thinner wood members that formed the roof, or joists, in the case of multi story or level buildings. ‘Studs’ didn’t show up until ‘Balloon’ framing became a standard construction method in wood. Then came Platform framing which is what you see today.

Platform framing like its ancestors was an attempt to enclose more space more efficiently at a lower cost.
Once you have a load bearing structure built, where you put your walls is pretty open. This is where steel studs enter the picture….)

There are a couple of challenges here.
1. I need to provide a place to run the heating and air conditioning [HVAC] ductwork. Since I am not a fan of postmodern industrial design, I am going to hide the ductwork.
2. The ceiling slopes from the front to the back. This means that I need to provide a surface that is level. I like flat ceilings.
3. I like coffered ceilings.

Since I have already figured out where my HVAC supply is, which starts 15′ feet away on the far side of the living room, which is why I built a soffit in the living room which crosses the entire length of the living room, to get it into the new office, I know what I need for ductwork as well as the register(the metal grille where the air comes out) this dictates a couple of design constraints.

A. The soffit needs to be big enough to house the boot, which is the sheet metal piece that the register attaches to, and B. deep enough to carry the ductwork, which in this case, will be flex duct, another great invention of the 20th century.

Armed with this information, I can establish lines to begin framing the soffit for the ductwork,
and start the framing for the coffered ceiling. In the upper left hand corner is the wall area we will be punching out to run the flex duct.( one concrete block is all we will remove)

One of the nice things about steel studs is there are only two pieces. Studs which have a ‘C’ cross section, and holes punched at regular intervals for running cables[phone,Cat5,CATV,etc] and romex for electricity. Track which has a ‘U’ shape that the stud fits into, and is used for all your horizontal runs.

A measuring tape, tin snips, and a screw gun, and you are ready to become a framer. It’s more complicated than that, but you don’t need a lot of tools to work with it.

One of the nice things about steel studs is that you can use whole lengths in certain cases. The photo below show using the track to go around the corner and along the next wall.

Where you see the line of track rounding the corner is establishing the lowest level of my coffered ceiling. This ceiling will have three levels. Two steps and the final ceiling.


Here is the backwall with the three levels completed. Yes you can count 4 here, but the last one is the HVAC soffit.

Gotta run the ductwork, electricity, phone, CAT5, and the CATV lines. More later.

Steel Studs

Steel Studs aka Light Guage Metal Framing.

I love steel studs. You can build walls for miles that are straight, flat and plumb, Mostly used in commercial construction, as despite the fact that they are cheaper, and easier to work with, they never really caught on in residential construction. A pair of tinsnips, and a screwgun is just about all you need to play with steel studs.

For this project we are using 1 1/2” steel studs. This is the same dimensions as a wood 2×2” that you would buy in the lumberyard. But there are no knots, warps, twists, splits or any of the other things that plague wood frame construction.

I will be using steel studs for creating the soffits to carry the extentions of the HVAC for the new world headquarters as well as a ‘Racetrack’ ceiling treatment in the office.


Here are some photos of the old world headquarters.

This is the ceiling using 3 1/2” steel studs. With three steps creating 4 levels.

Here we have the drywall installed and the first coat of mud before the cornerbead.

Here is the ceiling with the last coat of mud and the lights installed.

Here is the finished and painted ceiling. Note that the lowest level that meets the wall is a 7 feet, the center ceiling level is at 8 feet.

This treatment provides a lot of drama in a room and airy feeling. The down side is that it is real labor intensive and a ceiling like this will use as much cornerbead as the rest of a typical house combined.

I told myself that I wouldn’t do this again. It really takes a lot of work for something that is basically a design element. I guess I am just weak.

Drywall Tools

Drywall taping uses special knives. Yes, they look sort of like putty knives only a lot wider. That is not the only difference, they are also thinner than scrapers and in some varieties once you get over 6″ in width have stiff spines. They are made out of carbon steel, and will rust away if you do not take care to wipe them off after you use them.

Drywall Knives and Mudpan

Drywall Knives and Mudpan

Also shown is a mudpan. This is stainless steel and is 12″ wide on the bottom. It takes a while to get proficient with taping as it is more about feel and technique, than brute force. You are embedding tape in one coat, and applying smooth THIN coats in suceeding applications. Thin coats will minimize the amount of sanding you will need to do and prevent you from looking worse than this….

Speaking of sanding, this is the business end of a hand sander, using meshcloth, rather than traditional sandpaper, as well as red Scotch Bright pads.

Sanding Block and Scotch Bright Pad

Sanding Block and Scotch Bright Pad

If you put on too much mud, (and You will) you will be doing a lot of sanding and your arm will get real tired. I use mesh cloth, as it cuts well, does not clog or tear like sandpaper. It also lasts a lot longer. If you sand beyond the mud line, you will scuff the paper and will have another mess to clean up, as the scuff marks will show through your primer and paint coats like a big flashing WHOOPS sign. The scotch bright is great for smoothing your final coats as well as getting into corners, and curves. Yes you can curve drywall, but it is a proceedure best left to professionals.

This is an aluminum sawhorse. Everyone who is going to do any work on their house needs at least one.

You will need to find a Drywall Supply store for these. This is not the sort of thing you will find at the home depot. But it is worth every nickle, dime and dollar you pay for it.

Aluminum Sawhorse

Aluminum Sawhorse

This is a brand new one. It is made by the Wal-board Tool Company. It cost around 230 bucks. Walboard Bench will hold up to 400 lbs. Rubber feet to prevent slipping, Adjustable Height 18″ – 30″ 48″ Long and 9″ Wide.

I have two, My first one I bought in the early 70’s, and it cost 500 bucks. The new one is identical except for two features. The top has wider grooves and the top of the side rails are now grooved to prevent slipping off. Other than that it is the same unit that they made in the 70’s. There are not many things that got it right the very first time.