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Volume 6 Issue 1“Building Confidence”January 2008



Welcome to the Newsletter of, the website that builds confidence so you can build it yourself. We are starting our sixth year of writing these free newsletters with our subscribers reaching over 10,000. Dan, my brother and webmaster, and I thank you for your support over these past years and hope we can continue with our correspondence.

What's New

We have added a new article this month: How to Build a House 3: Services, Slab and Backfill. Coming up next will be building the sub-floor and walls.

Ask Away!

These are the questions and my answers from January:

Dave, I'm wanting to picture frame or wrap a window opening with Oak
Moldings and Jam extensions. The deal is my old house has plaster walls
and marble seal plates. Ok what my idea is to maintain the marble seal
plates and run jam extensions around the inside the window opening
against the window frames, then cover the outside with the custom
moldings that I had made for this project.
The main question is how to I attach the wood to the plaster walls, as
behind the plaster coating is 6" concrete block, and I don't think that
My air nailer or pin gun will shoot deep enough into the block to hold.
I know that the jam extensions can be glued and I can use my adjustable
clamps to hold them until the glue dries. I just don't know how I can
hold the face molding. I realize that I'm covering the 3/4" jam
extension with the face molding. I just don't see a pin gun holding the
face molding even if I glue it to the wall from the jam extension on the
face side. Can you give me some ideas Please.....

Hi Brandy,

In the old days when plaster was the main covering for walls and ceilings, carpenters used to install plaster grounds. These were strips of wood nailed in place before the plaster was applied. They had two useful purposes. One was to form a straight edge for the plaster to finish to. The other was to nail wood trim onto after the plaster dried. The best thing for you to do would be to remove some of the plaster down to the block and replace it with wood nailing strips. Keep the nailing strips back from the molding edge about 1/2"to 3/4" depending on how wide the molding is, so the molding will cover the entire nailing strip as well as some of the plaster. The nailing strips should be the original thickness of the plaster. Fasten these nailing strips into the block with anchors and screws, then you can fasten your molding to them with air nails.


I am building a home on piers and beams. the floor is 40" from the
ground. I need to build (quickly) 2 sets of temporary stairs for
construction purposes. Do you have any kind of plans for this type of
construction? e.g., should I use plywood instead of stringers, etc.

Hi Fred and welcome to our site.

I wouldn't use plywood for stringers. Plywood tends to delaminate in the weather and it doesn't hold nails or screws in the edge grain very well. I realize this is temporary, but I would go with 2x10 stringers and make a decent set of stairs. Don't worry about handrails for 40". Go with 5 rises at 8" and 4 treads at 10". Use 2 - 2x6s for treads which will give a 1" nosing.


Hi Dan,
I need stair info for the following:
rise = 111.25"
total run = 156"
I want one step up to a 48" square landing, then turn left and continue
to the second floor. I do not have enough room to go more than one step
to the landing.
Thank you for your assistance.

Hi Jim,

Dan forwarded your email on to me.

For a 111.25 rise you need 15 rises of 7 13/32 and 14 runs of 10.5 (ideally) As such, you don't have enough run for a 48" landing. If your stairs are 48" wide then the rule is a 4' square landing. But if we make the landing 36 x 48, you will get another 12" for your 12 runs. Here is a drawing to help explain:

Diagram of wide stairs with measurements.

A wide staircase in this case is a disadvantage with limited run. Leaving the 48 landing square, the size of runs are 9", a bit steep for a 7 13/32 rise. A run of 10" is acceptable. When finishing the stairs install 11" treads to give a 1" nosing and a bit more tread as a step.


Am building a home and I want to purchase a heavier duty drill and a
circular saw than I currently own. Can you give me any insight as to
what I need to be considering when purchasing?

Hi Fred,

I've tried all the major brands, Skil, Black and Decker, Dewalt, Makita, Ryobi, Porter Cable, Delta.

My choice is Makita for quality and fair price for portable power tools. For a circular saw get a 7 1/4", so you can use the most popular size of blades. Get a 14 or 15 amp model similar to this one shown on

I have a Makita 1/2" drill and have had it for many years, using it for drill with large bits and mixing drywall mud in a 5 gal pail. It is the same as this one shown on

The main thing to watch for in power saws is common blade size of 7 1/4", around 15 amp, options are light, electric brake, pro grade, ball bearings price range $125 to 150.

Drills - the higher the amps the stronger the motor - 6 to 8 amps, large drill like this should have a chuck key to be sure drill, etc is tight, ball or needle bearings as opposed to bushings, around 550 rpm, reversible is important - if you get a ship auger stuck, you want to reverse it.

Hope this helps,


Hi Dave,
I'm planning to build a toilet/shower inside a converted garage to a
living room. The distance from proposed shower/toilet location is
approximately 70 ft away from the sewer line. I would like to know what
would be the effect of the flow of waste towards the main sewer and the
prescribed slope for this long sewer line.

Hi Mel,

The lowest slope should not be less than 1/8"per foot. The desired slope for plumbing is 1/4" per foot. At 70' the elevation drop is 17.5". So try to stay between 10 to 18" fall. A steeper slope than 1/4" per foot is not recommended since the solids start to separate from the liquids. For underground sewer systems the pipe should be 4" minimum.

In 70 feet you should be okay as long as the run is straight. If a 90 or 45 is needed, cleanouts are needed.


Hi Dave,
I have a soffit replacement RFP [Request for Proposal] in the works.
One of the contractors, who looked at the site (my house) suggested
vinyl soffit material rather than the aluminun product that I have
specified. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
Which do you recommend (putting aside the fact that most bauxite
comes from Canada!)?

Hi Russ,

The aluminum is more popular for soffits here than vinyl. Vinyl is more popular for siding than alum. Go figure!!

The thing to watch with vinyl is the amount of expansion room needed. I have vinyl siding on my house and don't like how each winter it gets covered in mildew. Our winters here are very wet and humid, mostly rain with a little snow added in to make it interesting. I have the aluminum soffits and they do not get covered in mildew even though they are not in direct sunlight. I've done work in the interior of my province where the temperatures are quite extreme from Summer to Winter. A friend of mine had vinyl soffits and fascias and ended up replacing them with alum. The vinyl fascias eventually cracked.

My choice would be aluminum soffits, Canadian or not. <grin>


How do I determine the size of an air compressor needed when i'll be
using a framing gun as well as other pneumatic tools - at times using
multiple tools simultaneously?

What you should look at is the size of the air tank. I have 2 compressors:

  • Ingersoll-Rand (IR) 2 HP; 20 gal tank; on wheels
  • Airmate by Emglo 1 1/2 HP; 4 gal tank

The IR is for lots of volume of air used, such as painting, using auto air tools - drilling, grinding, etc. I also use this for air nailing 2 to 2 1/4" nails in sheathing where you use a lot of nails and air in a short time.

The Emglo is a lighter machine, with carry handle. I use it for brad nailers and framing. It has no problem with driving the large framing nails, since it is not continuous, like sheathing. When sheathing with this compressor, I stick an extra 50 ft. of hose on which acts as volume storage. When sheathing, I have to wait for the compressor to catch up sometimes. If this were my only compressor, I could buy an air tank to place in the line for extra storage. I used these for contracting, so you don't want to be waiting too much for the air to build up.

The only time I used multiple tools is when laying hardwood flooring. We had 2 nailers off this one compressor without any problem. As I said, it is volume of air needed that may hold you back a bit.

For a home handyman, the Airmate is an excellent all-purpose compressor. Most of the compressors out there will put out 120 psi, which is what you need to run most of the framing and finishing guns. Too much pressure is just hard on the guns.


I asked you about what I need to look at when purchasing an air
compressor. I am trying to purchase based on budget and future use. I am
not a professional cabinet maker but rather, a diyer. I'm getting the
major things done on my new home but I'll be doing quite a bit as well
(within my physical abilities (strength)). Things like trim work,
installing shelving, cabinets in the kitchen and utility room, a few
windows, flooring (wood), etc. I would like to know if you believe a
1hp, 6 gallon tank would be enough for me to lug around and do work. I
live next door to the house and will be working in the evenings and on
weekends until I complete the house. I only plan on spending 2-4 hours
max working at any one time. At 60, I just don't have the stamina I did
at 30 (can't understand why!). Do you think this will be fine? Also, am
looking at the Craftsman pancake model.

Hi Fred,

Craftsman is a good brand. I still have a 4" belt sander from 1967. I dropped it a while back, breaking the front roller support. I keep it around for old times sake, seems like an old friend.

Yes, this choice is a good one, good price, too. One advantage of Sears is their repair and parts facilities for their tools and appliances, as well as their excellent guarantee.



Would like your input. I'm thinking of going with tankless water heaters
in my new home. I believe this is the most cost efficient and energy
efficient way to go. do you have any thoughts regarding this?

Hi Fred,

The first time I saw tankless water heaters was in Portugal, last summer. This one was in a 3 bedroom home, feeding a kitchen sink, a power room sink and a bath/shower and sink. The fuel was propane. I noticed that the flow rate was a bit slower than what I was used to at home. We had a full house with 6 adults and 2 kids. I never noticed a loss in temperature or pressure when taking a shower. I felt bad running the shower for too long, so I only ran it to wash the soap off. This in itself saved energy - awareness.

In your case with a new house you will have experienced plumbers to calculate the flow rate of each appliance in a multi-use system compared to the size of your unit. You need to determine the fuel choice - electric or natural gas or propane. With gas remember the cost of a pilot light being on all the time. The temperature of the incoming water should be known. You should know this stuff when choosing the unit. In a big house, you may want to separate the house into zones, each with their own heater.

Checkout this government website on the subject: Demand (Tankless or Instantaneous) Water Heaters.

Any specific questions, just ask.


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