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Volume 3 Issue 9“Building Confidence”September 2005



Welcome to the fall issue of our newsletter. As a reminder to our members, it's time to review the Fall checklist in

I hope your projects are on time and on budget. This newsletter is a free publication from, a website devoted to construction consultation for the home handy person and professional. Our website offers memberships for three months or for a year, we do not sell subscriptions to this newsletter.

I received an email from someone who said they canceled their subscription, but had another payment paid. We looked into it and found out the person just canceled their free newsletter. I asked Dan to add a "cancel" link at the bottom of our web pages so there won't be any confusion about paid memberships to access the site and the free newsletter.

What's New

We have added three new plans this past month, check them out: a wishing well for the front yard, and two variations of our popular gazebo hip roof - both 12'x12' and one with a 4' square skylight for over the hot tub. I started a new series on electrical work, the first article is Safety Concerns and the second is on the wiring of 3 way switches. Thanks to our members for these suggestions.

Ask Away!

Below are the questions and my answers from members in September:

Hey, Dave
I'm redoing a nursery and my main improvement is I'm replacing the
normal 28"x80" door with a bi-fold door for a more modern look.
My question is do you have any advise on how to repair the cut away
sections of the door frame where the hinges and latch were located?
I'm hoping not to have to replace the wood. The door and frame are
white so that should help hide the fix, I would hope

Mike in Arkansas

P.S. We're due with twins for November, so I hope I somehow got this
to you in time to do the job...thanks double :)

Hi Mike and congrats on the twins, I think!!

I've done this many times in making a door opening out of an existing jamb. I rip a piece of wood the same size as the hole and a bit thicker. Glue it in place, tack some small finish nails into it to hold it in tight until the glue sets. I use a belt sander to sand it down smooth, fill with drywall compound or plastic wood. Re-sand and prime and paint.



Just wanted to say that it worked great. My wife thinks I'm a
carpentry god now. can't even tell where the old hinges were.
Thanks again and take care.


I am trying to construct an exterior door 36 X 96 inches to take the place of a window. I would like it to have as much insulated glass as possible. Above the door I will have to place some sort of fixed light of glass. The overall space is 19 inches more that the 96 already mentioned. Perhaps you can suggest a solution and materials.


The standard height of doors are 80" or 84" for commercial doors. The beauty about a custom door is that you can make it any height you want. A front entrance door should have safety glass in it. To save the cost of a custom door try to build in standard sizes. Most wooden doors in my area are framed in Douglas fir. The standard thickness of an exterior door is 1 3/4" with jambs available to fit. A custom door and jamb, of course, is any desired thickness. If you are going to use standard hardware, keep to the standard thickness. The heavier the door the heavier the hinges should be to support it. Some hinges come with bearings, others with bushings, three 3 1/2" is standard, four 4" is probably better for a 96" door.

You can order thermopane glass in any size. These are available through window manufacturers in your area. We refer to them as sealed units, just drop them into the door or window space. Also with doors and windows you can order muttin bars either internal (between the two panes of glass) or external on the outside of the glass.

I would suggest getting brochures from your local building supply store for design, sizes and shapes of glass inserts, types of locksets and hardware, choice of hinges, availability of wood species in your area and their water content.

The joinery in making a wooden door is important. The frame of the door is also its finish, it should be full thickness - 1 3/4". The door is made from stiles, vertical pieces and rails, horizontal pieces joined together at the corners. The joints should be either mortise and tenon or wood dowels, giving lots of surface area for the glue to hold everything together. The stiles and rails should be at least 5 1/4" wide to facilitate the lockset.

For the glass above the door, use jamb material and design stops for the glass unit to fit in. Usually the outside has a solid stop with weatherproof tape and the inside has a removable stop which is nailed or screwed in. If the window is broken, the inside stops are removed and the window unit replaced.

Hope this helps,


Hi Dave,

I'm replacing an old windowsill with a 2x8 piece of redwood.
On the old version the windowsill angle was created by putting a
1x2 strip of wood under the inner edge of the window sill.
This seemed to be a bit unstable to me so I'm wondering if you can
suggest a better, or even several better ways to do this.

Regards, John

Hi John,

This is the way it was done in the old days to get a slope on the outside sill. Actually the better wooden window manufacturers still slope the entire sill similar to this. When I replace a sill. I usually rip the top of the sill on a 7 degree angle so the water will shed and not lay up against the window stops or jamb. This keeps the bottom of the sill level, as shown:

Drawing of detail of window sill showing the drip cut.

Notice the small saw cut for drips to drop off and not be carried to the siding.


Hello Dave,

I am installing a fireplace mantle that is made from a solid chunk
of 4" thick walnut. It is 36" long and 7" deep. It will recess a bit
(3") and rest against drywall. The drywall is not yet on.
I have installed a 2x4 strip on either side of the cavity and the
mantle will rest on top of these 2x4's at each end (3" of it will
rest on the 2x4, the other 4.5" extends past the cavity). There are
also two 2x3" that form the frame to which the drywall will be attached.
(these suspend from the ceiling and are not against any wall as the
fireplace flu is behind them by a few inches and eventually the back
wall is about 20" back). My question is how should I fix the mantle
into place? Should I put screws (or lag bolts) in from the backside
of the hanging 2x3's into the back side of the mantle? Should I also
put screws (or lag bolts) into the mantle from the underside of the
side-mounted 2x4's? The mantle will also rest on a front face of 3/4"
veneered plywood that covers the space between the fireplace and the
mantle. This 3/4" piece is attached to the side-mounted 2x4's
(on their ends). This piece is already in place and would make it next
to impossible to put a screw into the bottom of the mantle from the
underside of the I would have to remove it and put it back

Perhaps there is an entirely different and better way to affix the mantle?

Hi Lisa,

I would remove the plywood face and install a 2x4 or 2x3 between the 2x4s supporting the mantle, which can be screwed up into the mantle at the appropriate spot. I would then install the plywood facing and screw it into the 2x4 ends as before, but also screw it into the piece you just put in. This will hold the mantel in place at the front and also provide backing for the plywood between the end 2x4s.

I would also tie the 2x3s hanging down into the back of the mantle. If these 2x3s are at 16" or less, good. If not I would install additional backing between these pieces and secure the mantle to them. This is extra backing for the drywall in case you later want to nail in some molding on top of the mantle to cover the drywall edge.


Dave, I am an amateur builder. I am building a table. I have a pedestal
from another table I would like to use with the new table top I just
built. I would like to use bolts that connect into a threaded
"something-or-other" to hold the table and pedestal together.
I do not know what the name of the "something-or-other" is (and no one
seems to carry them either) but it is inset into a piece of wood that
is attached to the bottom of the table and it is threaded and takes a
bolt into it from the pedestal. You said there was no such thing as a
stupid question!!


Nothing wrong with this question!!

I think you are referring to a T-nut. These are used in furniture quite a bit. The European furniture such as Ikea have come out with all sorts of wild and wonderful bits of hardware for assembling their stuff. Most of the materials they use are made from fiberboard which does not accept fastenings very well.

Here is a picture of what I'm describing:

Photo of a tee nut.


how long should you wait before applying stain to a new deck?


You need only to wait long enough for the wood to dry out. It really depends on how much water content the wood had when purchased. If the wood is cedar and some of the colors are purple, wait until these colors are gone. Watch the temperatures at night, they shouldn't be less than 50 degrees.


Dear Dave,
I didn't sign up for the newsletter because I'm overwhelmed with
reading resources. My brain (and schedule) can only absorb so much.
I was surprised your site didn't offer comprehensive information
on wood. It's very difficult for novices to find out the best
choices and why, and what are considered standard sizes.
Wood shopping, especially in larger lumber yards is a daunting
experience. I live in Manhattan and my apartment has a long and
narrow terrace. I'm considering building a small storage chest
that will house a small air conditioner and maybe some tools.
I think I may ask you for help with that.
Thanks for writing,

Hi Marc,

I understand about time and amount of reading. Are you talking about the sizes of lumber and their lengths, such as 2x4, 2x6, etc x 6', 8' 10', etc? or the sizes of plywood and species of wood?


Actually, I'm talking about all pertinent information that a woodworker
takes for granted but a novice needs to know in order to make the
smartest decisions. The sizing issues with wood products drives me
insane. Its history has been explained to me by professionals but,
in my mind, that doesn't justify why a 2x4 shouldn't measure exactly
2 inches by 4 inches. this logic should apply across the board,
so to speak. Then there's the issue of wood species, soft vs.hard,
and which application is best for each. I just discovered that 4x8
sheets of 3/4" oak are available for purchase. I never knew that.
It just seems reasonable that your very charming website should
feature an education on how to decipher and select wood products
sold in a typical lumber store, such as Home Depot, Lowes, etc.
This storage bin I need to create for my terrace is cedar the best
choice to avoid wood rot or will pressure-treated wood suffice.
What sizes are standard for these types of wood. This is the kind
of information that's difficult to find. My terrace faces north and
I'm on the 17th floor with no view obstruction. When it rains or
snows, my outdoor bin will get hit by it all. I need to find something
that will last as long as possible and keep the interior contents as
dry as possible. I'm also making indoor floor-to-ceiling cabinets,
which is mostly why I joined your site. I'm much more interested in
3/4 inch plywood structures than I am in MDF. I plan to edge band,
stain and poly the frames. I'm still trying to determine what's the
best choice for backing. Is 3/8" thick plywood sturdy enough and
does one side come smooth like cabinet grade birch? Does a template
exist to create uniform shelf holes inside the cabinets?
What's the best way, in your opinion, to create these holes and
guarantee sameness on both sides of the cabinet? Sorry to hit with
all this but you asked and my mind is racing.
Thank you,

Hi Marc,

You're right I never think of this as a problem. I was brought up by a father who was continually fixing up his house. I learned at about age 12 how to cope a joint for molding and why and never forgot. Construction was just in my blood, I guess.

I'm going to write an article on this subject and put it on my To Do List!! I appreciate you bringing this is my attention. Any other suggestions will be considered, also.

In the mean time, I'll answer your question on the storage bin. Pressure treated materials are treated with toxic chemicals to protect the materials from pests in the soil which attack wood. PTW (pressure treated wood) does not protect the wood from the elements. This is best done with the use of exterior finishes such as stains, paints, and clear finishes containing UV (ultra violet) inhibitors, Thompson's Water Seal comes to mind.

Cedar is a good choice of wood species as a finish material on an exterior surface. Cedar has natural oils which stand up, to a certain extent, to the weather. Cedar has a tendency to grey as it weathers if unprotected. This is a natural protection to a point. Cedar is best stained rather than painted.

A painter once told me that on my house he would stain the cedar trim and in 2 years or so, when it weathers, cover it with an exterior acrylic latex paint, which I've done. Cedar comes in most of the same sizes as dimension lumber. It is quite common in fence board sizes of 1x6, 8, 10 inches, actual sizes if purchasing the rough sizes or trimmed down to 3/4" x 6 1/2, 7 1/2" and 9 1/4".

Cedar is not a structural material. In other words it doesn't have the strength to support loads such as hemlock, Douglas fir, some of the pines and spruces. For a storage bin of a larger size, I would frame it with 2x3s or 2x4s and cover it with cedar boards such as a siding material. Make a shed roof, (sloping one way), and cover it with a roofing material, either rolled or shingles. Shingles have to have a slope of at least 3 in 12.

On your cabinets, 3/4" plywood is better for the gables, we call them, the frames of a cabinet. MDF doesn't hold screws very well in the edges, but is great for moldings and doors, if painting them. For the back of the cabinets I use 1/4" nailed to the sides and shelves. Along the top I put on the inside of the cabinets a strip of 3/4" plywood or solid wood (1x4) so I can screw the top of the cabinet to the wall to keep it from toppling over.

Another popular product to use for the box of the cabinet is melamine. This doesn't hold nails very well and can't be glued to the melamine surface. Its advantage is that it is a very hard surface, good for cleaning. I always dado the shelves and gables into the backs and each other, providing more surface area for gluing. I use drywall screws in place of nails and use 5/8" melamine, throughout - sides, shelves, backs. I use 1/2" melamine for drawer sides and bottom along with bottom mount slides. For the doors I like 3/4 melamine framed in oak moldings or MDF if painted - routered with an edge profile. This stuff machines like butter.

Checkout my articles on kitchen cabinets, starting with this article:

For the cabinet shelf adjuster holes: they do make a template for the holes, but is very expensive, more for a shop tool. I make my own out of 3/4" plywood, being very careful to layout and drill each hole the same. Usually these holes are 1 1/4" apart and within 1" from the sides of the shelf for greater stability. I've seen some shops just put in two or three holes above and below the shelf rather than a continuous row of holes.

For custom cabinets I find out beforehand where the customer wants their shelves and just drill in the one hole. A hole can always be drilled after the fact if adjustment is needed. With doors with glass in them the shelf should be situated to match up with the mutin bars anyway.

Hope this clarifies a few points.


Dear Dave,

Your email was worth more than the price of membership. Thank you
for taking the time to write it.

My dad was a self-taught builder. He bought the how-to books and
added an addition onto our Ohio home which included two master
bedrooms, one bath, and a basement recreation room. It took him
seven years. He did most of the work himself, including all the
finishing. Unfortunately, I was too young and my father had too
little patience to answer each and every question of mine
(as I helped him) with any substance to assist me now. I have
not-so-fond memories of asking many a question only to see my dad
point to his brain and not say a word.

Now that I'm 40, I see I have the builder spirit, the will, and many
fine tools but what I lack is room for a workshop and professional
knowledge. When I look at the pro books, the language and the logic
makes no sense to me so I get my info from varied sources like a
good hardware store or lumberman.

For my cabinets, I'm thinking about using the grade of plywood that
has one good side. The cabinets will be placed under a soffit and
the two ends will butt up against the opposing walls. The exterior
sides will never be seen. The top gables will have adjustable shelves
while the lower portion will feature drawers on slides. Therefore,
the insides will be mostly viewable from the tops.

Even though the gables are custom sized for depth, the widths are
American standard: 30 inch and 15 inch. My plan is to purchase
full-overlay doors and drawer fronts from a professional manufacturer,
such as Omega or Kraftmaid, because I can't possibly make the doors
myself and I want the doors to be perfect with perfect stain finishes.
I can live with less than perfect gables (within reason, of course).

I can't dado or jig anything because I don't have a table saw,
I don't have a router, and I have no experience with either tool.
I own a circular saw, a jig saw, and a reciprocal saw, all Makita
brand. I've made smaller gables and drawers before and developed
a method to make sure the boxes are square before I finish securing
everything with drywall screws. I know it's not professional but
it works for my simple needs.

I plan to use 1/2 inch solid white oak for the drawers. I plan to
stain them along with the interior gables and hope the color will
go nicely with the professional door and drawer-front color I've
chosen (a reddish cherry stain on cherry wood).

I will send you a photo of the terrace storage bin idea. It's much
smaller than you imagined. My terrace is only four feet wide.
I want the storage bin to have a flat top, serving as a quasi table
to hold a flower pot or potted herb. Access to the interior will
come from doors on the front. My plan is to pay you to help me draw
up plans for it.

Thanks again for all your input. I'll be in touch.


Hi Marc,

The cabinet plywood grade is G1S (good one side), fir plywood among others comes in this grade. Another grade to consider is shop grade or D grade, especially if the cabinets are for a shop or utility room for storage. Pick the sheets carefully, D grade sheets may have started to de-laminate, they are also not exactly 3/4" if sanded D grade.

When building cabinets for a kitchen I try to use cabinet grade plywood which is G1S but is exactly 3/4" for dado purposes. As mentioned earlier melamine is also a choice for the boxes. One thing to watch in buying plywood, other than the grade, is that the sheets are not warped. They are laying flat on the pile without a corner lifting up. Remove sheets like that. These were probably removed by someone else knowing better and returned to the pile by the clerks.

Fir plywood is our cheapest plywood where I live. It comes in G1S and G2S. G2S is almost as expensive as a shop grade birch plywood which is graded as a G2S. A G2S sheet of plywood always has one side better than the other. Some sheets are hard to tell the difference. I use only fir plywood for shop cabinets which will be painted. I've seen fir cabinets stained and it just goes against my grain. Fir has a very definite grain to it and no matter what stain colour you use it still looks like fir plywood.

The cheapest hardwood plywoods in my area is birch. Ash is priced not too bad and is a good choice for staining to look like black walnut, which is one of the most expensive. Oak is cheaper than pine, mainly because it is so popular the price is kept low. The plywoods that are unique in themselves is the open grain woods such as mahogany (Philippine and African) and oak. Japanese mahogany is used mainly on doors and is ugly for a finish, it's paint grade such as is fir.

These are my opinions only on the species of plywood in my area of the west coast of Canada.

With your cabinets, you may want to go with 5/8" rather than 3/4". Get a G1S grade. If using European hinges and frameless cabinets the two gables are back to back, which hides the bad side of the plywood.

It is tough to design cabinets to fit the doors. Usually we do it the other way. I did it this way myself because I wanted the oak panel doors. I got all the sizes from the salesperson before I started. They vary in about 2" increments. So plan this design of the cabinets very carefully. Always use glue with nails or screws for the joinery.

Did you read about using a circular saw as a table saw? "To make a table saw, place a portable circular saw under a table with the blade through the board. For the fence use a straight piece of board held with C-clamps." (One of the tips in Useful Stuff 4: Some Helpful Tips at




If the wall runs length ways of the house and is in or near the center of it good chance it is a bearing wall. A bearing wall can support floor or ceiling joists, as well as the roof. If you can uncover them in the attic, good. If you notice in the attic that you have trusses, this is a good indication that the wall is not a bearing wall, unless a girder or something like that is over it.

In your particular case if you are changing an opening already there into an archway you shouldn't have a problem. If the wall is bearing it will have a lintel or header over the opening or possibly could have the lintel in the attic as a flush beam. Either way, no problem, just don't take it out. If the wall is a bearing wall, there are beams you can put in after the fact, such as a flush beam in the joist space or a beam below the double plates in the wall if you want to widen the opening.


I found a starter house plan on a website but when I tried to get them
to mail me the plan they never would send me an answer. If I was a
member of your club could you help me with such a plan?

Sincerely: Shirley

Hi Shirley,

I don't get into drawing up house plans. I can however help you with something you don't understand on the plans. I have framed many houses in the past and built two for myself. If I were you, I'd try to find a local plan supplier. They know your local building codes, including depth of frost, snow and wind loads. I wouldn't even consider working with someone who won't reply to your emails.

Actually, our website is not a club. People buy a membership of our site which helps to cover our expenses to run the site. You can choose a 3 month term for $12.99 or a year term for $29.99. The membership will automatically renew itself unless you cancel it before the end of the term, but you can cancel any time and still have full access for whatever time you purchased. Once you are a member of our site, you can download small project plans, read my articles on building new construction and renos, and ask me questions on any type of construction from building houses to doing renos as well as cabinetry. Most of our members don't even ask me questions, they get the information they want just from the articles.

You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter for free. In it I discuss the questions I answered each month. Click on this link: You can view past issues for free as well, you can read about the site and view our bios for free, too.

Good luck with your house.



Several years ago the home I presently live in was extensively remodeled
by previous owners, changing what was a typical Florida concrete-block
& stucco ranch into a split-level (of sorts).

We own the house so, obviously, we basically liked what was done,
but have found numerous areas that have needed "tweaking".

One of the more troublesome problems has been an addition, which is a
street-level garage with a studio above. The garage, which houses my
office and workshop, is not air conditioned nor is the ceiling
insulated, except for my office, which occupies 1/4 of the total area.
This section of the home has its own central air unit and it runs
constantly during the hot summer months trying to keep the studio
above cool. I've investigated several methods of insulating the garage
ceiling (aka "studio floor"), but every method I've looked at has
apparent downsides.

Due to the Florida humidity, I don't think fiberglass batt insulation
would be good. My research indicates a little bit of moisture will
significantly reduce 'R' value. I've looked at using rigid insulation
panels, EPS and other things, but I'm concerned about the fire hazard.
I could cover it with drywall, but then there's the mildew issue due
to the humidity. Plus, I would have to drywall between the joists since
the electrical is in the way of mounting across them. There are
foamed-in-place options, but again I'm concerned regarding fire hazard.

There is some foil-foam-foil insulation that claims an 'R' value of
14+, but here I'm skeptical. I'm equally wary of "insulating paints".

Now there's another aspect to this. The floor the previous owners put
down in the studio above the garage is tongue-in-groove CEDAR over
3/4" plywood subfloor. The cedar is much too soft and takes a beating
from normal use. At one time it was finished with some sort of varnish,
but that is failing. Plus, it's a pain in the neck to keep the spaces
between the cedar boards clean.

In an ideal world, I would like to find a simple solution to my
insulation needs and a way to refinish the cedar floor that will be
durable. Considering nothing with this house has been simple
(or cheap - "money pit" comes to mind), I'm suspecting major surgery
will be better in the long run, such as pulling out the cedar and
going to a laminate or tile floor and incorporating some rigid
insulation from above between the sub & finish floor.

My apologies for the length of this e-mail. I was going to send some
pictures, which would have saved some words, but I couldn't figure
out how to do it using your "Ask Dave" page.

What do you think?


Hi Dan,

I would suggest insulating with batts of fiberglass insulation with a 6 mil vapor barrier on the inside of the wall. These two go together.

Insulate the floor, as well, but don't install the poly vapor barrier on the floor. I would leave the cedar in place and apply a layer of tar paper between the cedar and the laminate floor. Sometimes the laminate floor comes with a 1/4" styrofoam blanket which would be ideal. Apply this in place of the tar paper, use red Tuck tape to seal the joints.

If the electrical wiring is in the way of drywall, maybe strapping the ceiling in the garage would solve this. Use 1x2 or 1x3 common (#3) for strapping. The garage ceiling should have 5/8" fireguard drywall to get the extra protection needed in case of a fire in the garage.

To send pictures, just insert them into the email from your hard drive. [Dan has since this added the ability to send a photo or drawing to the Ask Dave page.]


I am interested in making a plant stand, however, I want a bit of a
challenge to it. I am looking to make one with 6 sides.
Using 1x3x2 pine. I've made many 1x4x2 with butt joints but it is
like I said I want something a little more challenging. They turned
out great by the way once embellished with moldings!!
My problem is, I don't know how to get the angles needed to miter
the 6 pieces together. I am sure there is a formula, however,
I missed that day in school!
Can you tell me this formula and/or the angles required for me to
complete this little project.

Thank you for taking the time to read my e-mail.

Kindest Regards,

Hi Denise,

There are 360 degrees to a circle and you are dividing up the circle by 6 which equals 60 degrees. The pieces are then mitered, so will each have a 30 degree angle on each end.

Hope this helps,


Hello Dave,

I am sorry that my credit card was declined, you certainly can't run
a business like that, and you were unable to renew my membership.
I would gladly renew my membership at this time as I have found both
the news letter and your e-mails very valuable and an integral part
in my learning. However. in light of recent events with the Katrina
Disaster on the Gulf Coast, I am donating my money that I would use
as 'pleasure' and 'play money' for the next 3 months. So many people
need food and water, necessities - which I've taken for granted.
I feel selfish, for 'wasting' any money now, except for paying bills!
A child is crying for milk, I can forfeit a movie for a little while
or plans to make a tree house.

I do hope this makes sense. As to why I have told you all this
- I don't know, I truly don't know....

So, keep up the great news letters and keep updating your web site.
I will be back.

Kindest Regards,

Hi Denise,

Thanks for your email. I do understand.

Our newsletter is a free publication to anyone who wishes to subscribe to it. This is different from a Membership to our site. Membership includes full access to our website for information from our articles, plans and the ask Dave feature.

You can still receive the newsletter and ask me any question you like. When you feel like renewing your membership of our site, we'll be here.


I'll end on that note. We need more people like Denise in this world!


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"Just wanted to drop a quick line saying "Thank you" for your website! My wife and I just bought a fixer-upper and the resources we have found in your site have been invaluable. We appreciate the service that you are offering. We have used information from your site to do many things. Next on our plate is a stairway. And thanks to you, we're not going to have to pay $4000 to have it done. Keep up the great work, and keep'em coming!" NL

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