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Light-Gauge Framing

Frame curves with less time and labor

“No way! Not another job full of curves! That last job just about ate our lunch, and then the architects still complained about the quality of the curves we framed. Why do they have to draw such weird stuff nowadays? What’s wrong with a good straight and square wall?”

Does that scenario sound familiar?

Conversely, perhaps you’re that framing contractor who not only loves a challenge but actually relishes the thought of building the impossible dream curve! Wavy soffits are barely a bump in your production road. Undulating and interlocking layers of curving drywall are what you live for. Some people work to live, you live to frame curves! “Give me your best shot,” you say.

As much as some framers may yearn for the good old days of straight, plumb and square walls, designers know that attention grabbing curves are also comforting and soothing—so we really can’t blame architects for adding that special architectural touch to their projects. Someone is going to build that job for them; you might as well figure out a way to frame it quickly and easily while producing a finished product of which you can be proud—regardless of whether you’re a framing novice or an Überframer.

So how do you make sure the curves will be smooth and uniform, just like the architect drew them? One option is to use curvable track products instead of the traditional method of “cutting and snipping.” Simply stated, these innovative, hand-curvable tracks allow workers to make better curves in less time.

Bright Lights, Curvy Site

Consider the case of subcontractor Green Country Interiors of Tulsa, Okla., which used more than 11,000 linear feet (3,353 m) of hand-curvable track on the Cherokee Casino Resort Hotel in Tulsa. Green Country Interiors used the flexible track product as opposed to cutting and snipping for a number of reasons but most importantly due to time and labor savings. Cutting and snipping can take 20 to 30 minutes per 10-foot (3-m) piece. Using the flexible track product, the subcontractor’s labor was cut down to as little as five minutes per 10-foot piece. Labor is one of the major expenses in a project, so it is recommended that contractors compare overall costs of both methods before beginning their project.

Task at Hand

“The project was demanding,” said Billy Tobey, vice president and general manager of Green Country, commenting on the Cherokee Casino Resort. “We were challenged to find a way to save money without sacrificing the integrity of the final appearance.”

The hotel has an elaborate interior that was designed to look and feel like Las Vegas. The interior design features traditional Cherokee symbols and incorporates art deco in its styling, which is a common architectural movement in Tulsa. Its floor plan features numerous curved soffits and theme elements that rely heavily on compound radii. The seven-story hotel includes 80,000 square feet (7,432 m2) of gaming space.

Green Country was faced with day-to-day design modifications that had to be accommodated within an already tight schedule. The first hurdle the subcontractor overcame was the design and value engineering process. In the original set of drawings, the details were found to be incomplete. Challenged to avoid incurring additional costs without compromising the original plans’ integrity, Green Country met the day-to-day modifications to the framing. The company’s foremen were heavily relied on to display their “know-how” while working closely with the general contractor, Flintco Cos. Inc., Tulsa.

Installation

The curvable tracks helped to move the project along, as the products can be shaped by hand on the job site to form whatever curves are necessary. Once the track is formed, tabs in the web are hammered fl at to lock the shape. The track is then anchored to the floor. Additionally, Green Country installed an identical mirror image curved track to the structure above. From there, the studs slid into the track and anchored with screws through the track flanges.

For curved soffits, contractors building a similar type of project should approach the framing similarly but suspend it by the top track.

Good Curves

Another reason the subcontractor used hand curvable track was to help create the best looking finished product. When tapers and finishers are given a smooth curved surface on which to apply their mud, they usually return the favor and make everyone proud.

Final Tips

Here are several suggestions I make to subcontractors using curvable tracks:

  • Don’t skimp on the quantity of studs in curved framing. A closer stud layout assures the gypsum board has the needed support so that it won’t crack or bend unevenly.
  • Most gypsum board manufacturers offer a high-flex version. It costs a little more, but helps produce smoother curves with less labor, particularly when the radius is small. These high flex sheets are 1/4-inch (6-mm) thick so you’ll need to install two layers. Be sure to stagger the joints.
  • Suppose you need to frame a curve that is too large or difficult to lay out—such as a 400-foot (122-m) radius or an ellipse—for a nominal fee, we can mail to you a 10-foot-long, full-scale printout to use as a template.
  • There are a number of curvable corner beads to follow your curves and give tapers an easy edge to float to.
  • Applying decorative trim to the wall can be very easy or very tedious and expensive. A rubber base or flat trims are easily curved. However, a cove or crown trim where the profile view is asymmetrical or leaning out can be a challenge. In these cases, you’ll need to purchase one of the brands of synthetic or wood precurved trims. These can be expensive but necessary.

Frank Wheeler is a partner in Flex-Ability Concepts, Oklahoma City, and is the inventor of Flex-C Trac. For more information, visit www.flexabilityconcepts.com.