Building Confidence

Volume 8 Issue 11
ISSN 1923-7162

Welcome to Dave's Shop Talk's Home Improvement Newsletter of questions from our members and Dave's answers, as well as a Tip of the Month and a Home Improvement Article, both from our website at

What's Happening

I noticed we are getting more and more questions every month, so I have more to choose from for this Newsletter. Thank you for the nice comments I received, as well.

Tip of the Month

Apply finish to hardwood before grouting ceramic tile that's touching it. This prevents the grout turning the hardwood black: See Remodeling 9: How to Lay Ceramic Tile at )

Ask Dave!

Here are the questions and my answers for the month of November:

Dave: How do you install the decorative ball at the top of a newel post that is located at the top of the stair? The post is positioned in a way that people just automatically reach to put their left hand on the top of the newel post as a handhold as they come around a corner and start walking down the stairs. I want to make sure the decorative ball is attached so it won't come off. Thanks for the assist.

When I wanted a ball top newel post, I bought a ball top newel post. If you bought a square newel and want to put a ball, acorn or mushroom on top, you need to put a dowel between the ball, etc. and the newel. Drill a hole the same size as the dowel, as shown:

Photo of the top of a newel post.

                                                        Ball Newel Cap            Acorn Newel Cap       Mushroom Newel Cap

Insert with glue coated on the sides of the dowel and the insides of the hole. Don't fill the hole with glue and expect to be able to insert the dowel into it, due to hydraulic affect.


I am rebuilding a set of stairs down to the basement. The stringers and skirt boards are done and now I am ready to install one piece oak treads and painted risers. The skirt board is also to be painted. I plan to install the 3/4" risers with a finish nailer first and then cut each 1" tread to fit. I do not have access to the underside since the drywall has already been hung. How do you recommend attaching the treads? glue and finish nails? I want to avoid squeaks and want to limit any nail holes on the finished surface. Also, should I sand and put one coat of poly on both sides of the treads before installing and then put the final coat of poly on after installation?

I recommend using the construction adhesive in a tube for gluing the treads down. It fill voids and prevents squeaks. For 1" treads use a 2 1/2", minimum, galvanized finish nail or the same length finishing screw. I like these "finishing" screws. They are a small headed screw made of hardened steel, like a drywall screw, with a small, square, Robertson head. They are found at finishing stores, particularly stores that sell handrail parts and accessories.

If the basement is dry and heated, there is no need to coat the bottom side of the tread. Usually 3 light coats of urethane are applied for hardwood floors, including stair treads.


Would you do all 3 coats on the treads before installing and then fill the screw holes with matching putty after installing? I would rather not worry about getting poly on the surrounding wood. Thanks!

Usually, in those circumstances, I put 2 coats on before installation, then fill, lightly sand and apply the 3rd coat. You may need to apply another coat over the fill spots, depending how it absorbs.


Hi Dave, As a total novice I'm finding your site a super resource: keep up the good work! I live in Calgary Alberta. Our home was built with a wood foundation and cedar siding in the 70's. We have a set of 6 wood stairs running down to our basement which is 45" below grade. Our rain gutters over this area drain into buried plastic drain pipe underneath the stairs. The ground over this area is insulated by about 6 inches of pink poly board which is always wet. My questions are: 1) What is the purpose of this insulation (to keep the drain pipe from freezing)? 2) If we re-route the eaves trough to drain elsewhere and not into the drain pipe do I need to replace this insulation on the ground or is it needed to protect the wood foundation in some way? Thanks, Tibor

Hi Tibor,

I don't know why they put the insulation in this way. I hope I have your picture correct. The 6" styrofoam insulation is laying flat above the drain pipe, not vertical against the wood foundation wall.

You don't need to insulate the perimeter drainage system around a house. This system collects run-off rain water that falls on the roof and also surface water that works its way down the side of the foundation wall. When it gets below freezing, there is no rain water or surface water, so there is no sense in insulating the drain pipes. Sometimes, we connect inside floor drains to the perimeter system rather than to the waste and vent plumbing system. This is usually an emergency system when a water tank leaks, so doesn't continually run.

My daughter lived in Cochrane for a while. The building code there was to run the downspouts away from the house, rather than into the perimeter drain. I have done work in Surrey, BC which has the same code.

The wood foundation definitely needs insulation either on the outside or the inside or both. I've built wood foundations that require pressure treated plywood as well as poly on the outside, used as a dampproofing.

Hope this helps,


Thanks Dave, Yes, you got it right, the insulation is lying on the ground. The drain is for the eaves trough from a short section of the roof over the stairs and it drains into this coiled section of drain pipe. The strange thing is that even the short 36' X 42" landing by the basement door has about 6 layers of carefully cut rigid foam underneath it. Very strange! Tomorrow, I'm using your stair calculator to cut my stringers for the steps down to the landing. Thanks for the great website!

Hi Tibor,

That coiled drain pipe sounds like what we call Big O pipe, a flexible 4" pipe made for that purpose.

Glad to hear you will be using our Stair Calculator. Let me know if you have any other questions.


Dear Dave, I am very excited to see your wonderful website. It is so helpful and informative that I visit it everyday. I am now constructing a staircase from my first floor to my daylight basement. Not experienced in construction, I have a question on placing the 2x12 pine stringer. I attached my drawing, pictures with questions in a PDF file. Would you please take a look at it and share your opinions with me? For your convenience, I put my questions on the left of the page. The pages are numbered so that you can refer to them when you respond to my questions. Would you please let me know if you cannot get the attachment? Thank you very much. Best Regards, Sean

Hi Sean,

I got the PDF okay which is well done.

Page 4:

Yes, support the stringers wherever possible. The posts should be 2x4s on flat to fit under the stringer, nailed to a bottom plate fastened to the concrete (no footing required). The code requires either a pressure treated wood plate on the concrete or a sill gasket made for this purpose. Also, accepted is roofing material between the concrete and the wood plate.

Is the long joist, which supports the header that the stringer top is attached to, doubled up on each side? It looks like it, but just making sure. Oops, on Page 5 I think you ask that about the supporting joist closest to the door. Yes, it should be doubled up or a support placed under it, if that works better. The joists on both ends of the header should be doubled up or supported with a 2x4 post, etc. I see you tripled up the far supporting joist from the door. That's good, if the joist is nailed securely together. At least 2 - 3 1/4" nails, top and bottom at 12" centers.

Page 6:

Yes, fasten the stringer to the joists and any wall studs. Usually, if you want to stiffen the stringer by fastening a 2x4 under the treads, it should be placed on the inside. We also may want to leave clearance for drywall to slip between the stringer and the wall. This is done by fastening a 3/4" or 5/8" strip of plywood on the outside of the stringer, under the treads with 3 1/2 # 10 wood screws. This way you can still fasten the stringer to the joists and wall studs on the side. If you drill the stringer and use a 4 1/2" lag bolt, you can still do this. Or an option is putting 2x4 supports under the stringer. Supporting the stringer in either of these two ways should be done. The stringer top should be toe-nailed or screwed to the header, as well.


Hi Dave, I got it now. As you see, I already put a 2x4 on the outside of the stringer. I suppose this will also allow the drywall to slip in, although the clearance is wider than plywood. If I keep this way, do you see any problem or inconvenience later on? For the post issue, I have another question in the attachment. Would you please take a look at it? Thank you very much. Best, Sean
I want to reverse the swing of a door that is constantly in our way at work. It is a simple hollow core door (with window). I figure I should remove the trim from one side, work the jamb loose from the rough opening, turn it around, then reinstall the door in the rough opening. Is this best, or should I simply remove the door and hinges, chisel out for the hinges on the opposite side, and rehang it?

Hi Larry,

If it is just a matter of taking the jamb out and reversing it, leaving the door in the same place, remove the jamb. You should remove the casing on both sides. The casing is usually fastened to the jamb and the wall, both. It is easier to remove the jamb and flip it around rather than re-rabbet the hinges. I like to cut the nails or screws holding the jamb in place with a reciprocating saw with a metal blade. Notice if the casing has caulking around it. If so, cut around the caulking with a sharp utility knife. When pulling the finishing nails out of the casing, I find it better to pull the nails through the back side of the casing.

This doesn't leave a hole or chip the front of the casing. Checkout my article on hanging a pre-hung door, which maybe helpful. Remodeling 15: How to Install a Prehung Door


Feature Article of the Month

Remodeling 3: Home Improvement Ideas

With home remodeling, home improvement or home repair, it is always nice to get some ideas. Good home improvement ideas can come from magazines, TV programs and the Internet. Here are a few different home improvement ideas that may be of interest to you. I got these when I built my house.

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Almost the End

We hope that this newsletter has been useful to answering some of your own questions on home improvement. Remember, as a member of, you can research many articles on construction jobs, as well as getting individual support with your projects from me.


(Ask Dave) (About Dave)

Your source for building tips, woodworking & furniture plans, house plans and building advice directly from Dave...

Hi, I'm Dave Osborne. With over 50 years experience as a journeyman carpenter, foreman and contractor in heavy construction I enjoyed working with apprentices and sharing the tricks of the trade that others shared with me. Now I get emails from Members all over the world and we include many of my answers in our Free Monthly Newsletters. Some of my answers include drawings and instructions specific to a project, but may also answer your questions. I use correct construction terminology, so you can confidently inform your building supply dealers or contractors exactly what you need.


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