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Volume 2 Issue 9“Building Confidence”September 2004



Welcome to our new subscribers to this newsletter as well as our new members. I hope you are getting your Fall chores completed (see article). We have had a busy September answering questions and doing plans. I celebrated my 60th birthday on the 22nd with family and friends on the mainland (near Vancouver). My life was flashed before my eyes while watching a skit performed by Grandsons Noah (10) and Enoch (8) and Granddaughter Adoniah (6) of their Papa's life as they saw it. A talented group! One skit was of me shooting Dan in the stomach with a home made cedar arrow from a bow made from a maple branch. How innovative we were back then. Sorry, Dan. [The arrow must have made more of an impression on Dave than on me. I don't remember the incident! - Dan]

What's New

I added an article on Lapeyre Stairs (see article). You may remember that I discussed them in the July 2004 Newsletter. I've been getting a few questions on them. I also got a request from a member who wanted to put a cupola on her Gambrel Roofed Shed and wanted some plans. Any interest out there for these?

Ask Away!

Here are some of the email questions I have been answering this month:

Have an intermediate backyard wood deck stair with a run of 98.5" and a
true rise of 72" total.
Fairfax County VA allows max rise of 78" and min run of 9" per deck stair.
What's the best combination within those parameters?
Using the standard setup you have the best combination keeps coming out very
shallow little old lady deck stairs, and I'd like to see some other
Also, I have the choice of letting the risers set on the intermediate backyard
wood deck
or have the lowest deck stair match the surface of the intermediate deck,
which would
cut out one riser. The real problem is whether I should re do the stair
stringer I
made on new rise/run, or lower it by the height of one rise, so that the top
step rise is
the band board.

Last time I used your Stair Calculator to build a deck stair,
it came out spectacularly successful, but that didn't involve an intermediate


Hi Jake,

I just looked up the building code for Fairfax County and you can use a maximum
rise of 8 1/4" and minimum run of 9", for all of Virginia, actually.

With a total rise of 72" this gives 9 rises of 8" and 8 runs of 10" = 80"
which is in your parameters. If this is too high a rise, go with 10 rises of 7.2"
and 9 runs of 10.5" = 94.5", still within the 98.5".

You should always have the band board as the first rise, never have the first
step level with the backyard wood deck, unless you need to bring a stair landing
out or something like that.

The bottom of the stair stringer should always rest on the backyard wood deck or
floor or ground, etc. Don't come up to the deck with the stair stringer, this is
very difficult. In the drawing below notice how the stair stringer comes - against
the floor joist (band board) and on top of the stair landing (intermediate deck),
extend the backyard wood deck about 12" under the stair stringer. Remember to cut
off the thickness of the stair tread from the bottom of the stair stringer and
drop the stair stringer down from the top, the thickness of the deck. Don't rely
on the top of the stair stringer being supported by the floor joist, usually it
is not enough to fasten the stair stringer to. Place a post under the stair
stringer, a 2x4 is good. If it is a long stair stringer place a 2x4 under it in
the center to eliminate any bounce.

Drawing of deckstairs showing how to build a stair landing.



Thanks for the suggestion: the cantilevered joist as shown will exactly solve
my problem. Thanks for your help!

I'll check back in when I get it done-unless I screw it up again and need more
long distance help.

Your site is terrific and well worth the modest price to belong.




Dave, I read your article on ceramic tile floors, but have questions about
the sub-flooring. I'm working in a old farm house that we are putting an
addition on. In the old part there is a full 2x4 plate with full 2x6 joist,
with a full 1" planking on top of that (9" from foundation to top of sub-floor).
On my addition, so far, I've just got the 1.5 (2x6) treated plate. I'm trying
to decide how to match up materials so I have the same finished floor levels
on both parts. The old part is a kitchen that will be tiled, and the new part
is a pantry (off the kitchen though a door) and a bathroom which will both me
tile as well. Do you recommend using durarock under the tile? Are you supposed
to screw the durarock down or set it in thin set?? I've heard both methods.
I was thinking i would use 2x8 joists on the 1.5 plate with a 1/2 inch plywood
to bring me close to the old part, then use 1/2 or 1/4 inch durarock for the
next layer. What do you think?? Thanks!


Hi Brent,

I don't know how big this addition is, but suspect it is relatively small.
I would use the 1 1/2" plate with sill gasket, rip down a 2x8 for about 4",
just where it sits on the sill plates, to 6 7/8" then one layer of 5/8" Tongue
& Groove utility grade plywood. This equals 9", the same as the existing floor
system. Then put on another layer of 5/8" T&G over both floors. Don't use durarock
at all in this case. Durarock is used mainly in a shower. In my area, we are
required to put two layers of 5/8" T&G over the floor joists so the ceramic tile
has a good solid base. Screw and glue the first layer onto the joists with
construction adhesive from a tube. Then glue and screw the next layer onto that,
staggering the joints with screws every 8", some between the rows of joist,
the others into the rows of joists.

Durarock, 1/2", is usually screwed to the walls and floor around a tub or shower.
The floor tiles are then placed into thin set mortar, and the wall tiles set
in adhesive. 1/2" durarock is used mainly to match up with the 1/2" thickness
of drywall.

In your case the sub-floor will be 1 1/4" thick, then the tiles will be placed in
thin set.



Dave,I have recently purchased an old bus from my local city council with a view
to turning it into a motor home. I want to partition sections but am unsure of
the best way to accurately build the partitions to fit to the curve in the roof.
Can you help with some ideas.

Danny (Queensland. Australia)

Hi Danny,

I would laminate 1/2" plywood for the curves, so the partitions would be 1" thick
or thereabouts. Get it close then scribe it with a set of scribers, or use a
piece of cardboard and make a template first. Be conscious of keeping the weight down.



I am drawing a plan for a two story cottage. The stair well is open all the way
to the top ceiling. The stairs are 4 feet wide. The total rise will be 127 inches.
There is an 8 foot space for the stairs on the first floor before turning a
90 degree angle to go the rest of the way up. How long will the opening have to be
in the second floor?


What is your ceiling height for the first floor so I can calculate your headroom?


Wow! what a quick response. The ceiling height of the first floor will be 9 feet.


Hi Linda,

You caught me on my computer.

Here is a drawing to help explain, hope I got what you were describing:

Diagram of plan view of deckstairs with a landing showing measurements.

With a total rise of 127 you have 17 rises of 7.47 and 16 runs of 10.5. The 10.5 is
arbitrary, you can change that a bit.

Your landing should be 4' x 4' since the stairs are 4'.

Notice the shape of the stair opening in red. This will give you a clearance of
78.12" or move it a further 10.5" out and have a clearance of 85.59". 78 - 80
is the standard headroom clearance.

Hope this helps,



Is there any advantages to using "MDO" plywood in cabinet making??? It will be
painted, not stained. I have been using a 3/4" [multi-faced] and I like it but
it will splinter real bad if it isn't cut carefully. I heard "Ole Norm" talking
about using MDO instead. Since you are The Master and
know everything worth knowing; thought I would check with you.

Thanks, Kelly

Aw, shucks, flattery will get you everywhere!

Hi Kelly,

MDO is a fairly new product in the marketplace. It is similar to the old crazon
plywood that had a paper covering, except MDO or HDO both have a resin surface.
Both plywoods are good for exterior applications - siding, etc. It would be good
for cabinet work, but needs the edges taped or edged with molding or wood edging,
since it is a veneer product. I prefer MDF for cabinet doors and such that
require a routered edge since the MDF is solid. It machines like butter,
but is dusty and very heavy to work with in large pieces. The whole thing depends
on price, I have a feeling that MDO is expensive. When doing a cabinet for a
customer who wants quality work and paint grade I choose a factory grade maple
or birch plywood. Now this would depend on the price whether or not I would
choose MDO plywood.. Good question - I wasn't familiar with this product up to now.
Here is a pdf that is from the APA:
Speaking of Norm, he is one of the real craftsman on the TV, I enjoy watching
some of his projects.



Yes, you right again. I just checked with my local "Big Dog" home improvement
store and they will gladly special order it for me. My local lumber yard has it
for the home builders in the local area; BUT it is more expensive [$52.00/sheet]
[3/4"]. Like I said in my original message, I have
been using a "multi-faced" 3/4" [birch/maple] plywood that is around $30.00 a sheet
that I get from Home Depot. It is cheaper than solid birch plywood and can be worked
real good as long as you take the right precautions to cut it right to ensure that
you don't get a splintered edge. For box making it is great, but since it has a
thin veneer edge, it doesn't router very good and it doesn't take a dovetail jig
real good either. It is solid and has very few gaps in it and looks great and can
either be stained or painted easily. MDO is cheaper than solid birch or maple
plywood. I have found out
since I talked to you that MDO is used by a lot of sign makers because of the
paper covering making less likely to absorb water if used outdoors.

Like you, I do prefer to use MDF; but is it messy and makes a lot of dust. I use it
whenever I need to make a "template" or pattern. You are right about it being heavy:
it takes 2 men and a boy to pick up a 4x8 sheet of 3/4"!!!!! Ha! Ha!

Thanks again and keep up the great work,

Hi Kelly,

Thanks for the reply.

Do you remember the old solid core plywood of the 60s and 70s? It was great for
cabinets and routing an edge on doors, etc. A thing of the past, I'm afraid.
One thing to keep in mind is the different grades of plywoods. I use D-grade
sanded for a lot of things that need painting, not much good for rabbets since
the thickness is not exactly 3/4". Then there is a factory grade which is a
bit better than D-grade. I use 5/8" T&G select for counter tops under laminate,
the knots are filled and is quite inexpensive compared to 5/8" G1S. I very seldom
use 5/8" K-3 like the millwork shops do, especially under sinks. It's good to
ask your dealer about different grades for different jobs.

Just some ideas.

You're right about the MDF being heavy. I work alone so have a plywood table
at the end of my table saw to run this stuff onto when ripping.



And to end on a good note:

Dave---appreciate your help. At this point in my life the cost of tools and such
is moot-don't care. Problem here is finding competent people to do the jobs
reliably. I'm at an age or have so many miles on me that I tolerate fools poorly.
In order to get the work done as I want it done we have to do it ourselves.
Also has become a great source of immediate gratification and satisfaction.
Here in rural Mississippi we have no building departments or codes, no permits,
no-one looking over your shoulder or looking out for you if you will. If you don't
know something in the building trade then you'd better get into the books and
find out. Having some one like your self to direct questions to is an invaluable
asset. That said, thank you again. Bob

Thanks, Bob, appreciate your comments.

I've always built according to code whether my jobs were inspected or not. I know
what you are saying with lack of patience with shoddy workmanship. We can do better!

Glad you enjoy and make use of our site.



Thanks for the questions and comments, I appreciate them and glad to pass them along in this newsletter.

Enjoy the Fall, but be careful out there. As Norm says, "read understand and follow the safety instructions on your power tools."

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