Building Confidence

Volume 9 Issue 1
ISSN 1923-7162

Welcome to Dave's Shop Talk's Home Improvement Newsletter of questions from our members on their construction projects, a Tip of the Month and a home remodeling article, both from our website at

What's Happening

We are back on the basement reno job that we started in the Winter. We are finishing up the ceramic tile on the concrete floor. I'll send you some photos, when we get finished. Dan came over from the mainland to Vancouver Island, where I live. He got some photos to replace some of the older ones on our website, as well as photos good enough for our up and coming ebook. Yes, we are still working on the editing of the ebook.

I'm anxious to get outside and finish our landscaping, especially, pouring our driveway. They say Spring is just around the corner!

My brother and webmaster, Dan is quite excited about the site he has spent the last half a year building with two partners. It's a terrific way for local businesses to get new customers right in their own neighbourhood.

It's a great deal! We put a coupon on it for Dave's Shop Talk. You can see it at

Dan needs salespeople and he is offering an excellent compensation. You can see more at Coupon Sales Info

Tip of the Month

When installing a tall, narrow book shelf, make sure you secure the top to the wall to prevent the whole thing from falling over: (Ref: Jigs 4: Feather Wedge Table Saw Jig)

Ask Dave!

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

Hi Dave, Maybe I missed someone already asking these questions but, I am starting to plan a staircase that goes through a back bedroom (currently there is no staircase or opening), down some stairs to a landing (to change directions) and then down some more stairs to the garage floor. The staircase will be enclosed between 2 walls. Question#1 Should I install the drywall first or use some sort of spacing between the stringers and the wall studs. If so, what do you recommend to accommodate the drywall and skirt board? Question#2 I know that you recommend to toenail the top of the stringers to the bottom of the floor joist but, do I secure the stringers (possibly via the spacers) to each wall stud? Question#3 Should I secure the 48"x36" landing (using 2x10s to match Floor Joists) directly to the wall studs or should it be framed underneath (I had read about using 2x4's as posts)? Thanks, Jeff (MA)

Hi Jeff,

#1 - Either way is okay. It is easier to install the drywall first, as long as the studs are marked for fastening the stringers. If fastening the stringer first, you should attach a strip of 5/8" to 3/4" plywood at the bottom of the stringer, below the risers. This procedure enables the drywaller to cut the bottom of the sheet on the correct angle to fit against the strip, rather than have to notch out the drywall to fit over every tread and riser. Article on installing stringers:

#2 - Toe-nailing the top of the stringer to the floor joist trimmer is mainly to get the stringer into the correct position. With the stairs going between 2 walls, like yours, the stringer is fastened to the wall on both sides. It is good practice to put posts under the stringer to the floor, rather than just rely on the fasteners for support.

#3 - Here again a frame is made, depending on the span, of 2x4, etc. and posts are place under it for support. Since your span is short, 2x4s would be suitable for the landing platform. The landing joists are installed at 16" centers. I discuss this subject in this article: Also:


Hi Dave, #1 This makes sense to me now. But, what about the Skirt Board? Is there a way to install this as well, between the stringer, to make you not have to notch out each step, etc.? #2 When you say posts, I am assuming you mean a single 2x4 right? If so, would it just rest against the floor and screw through the side of the stringer and into the 2x4? I am having a little trouble visualizing this one. #3 I was going to make my Frame out of 2x10's to match the Floor Joists and allow myself to attached the 2x12 stingers on the second set of stairs (going to the concrete). I read you article about the posts and have the same questions as #2. Wouldn't fastening it to the walls be enough? New Question: How should I deal with the Stringers touching the concrete? Should I use pressure treated stringers (2x12's) on the second set of stairs that go to the concrete? Thanks, Jeff M.

Hi Jeff,

#1 - Sorry, forgot to mention the skirt. Attach the skirt, first, to the stringer, then fasten them both to the wall, together. Yes, this eliminates the need for the plywood strip on the back side of the stringer to hold it out from the wall so the drywall can slip down. If a skirt is added after the stringer and stairs are attached to the wall, this means you need to notch out the skirt for each riser and tread - no fun.

#2 - No, the single 2x4 is attached to the wall under the stringer. The idea here is to support the weight of the stairs with a post under the stringer. We don't rely on screws or nails for total support. If we can, we support stringers, ledgers, ribbons, etc. with a post directly under the structural member. If we can't, we need to engineer the size of the fastener (like 1/2" lags or bolts) to support the structure.

#3 - No problem using 2x10, at all. Always go stronger than weaker. Yes, fastening the stringer to the walls will probably be enough. It is the off chance that something heavy is dropped on the edge of the stairs and causes the stringer to drop a bit. It is very easy to support the stringer with a post rather than relying on just nails or screws. Over time, the wood dries out, pulls the stringer away from the wall, the fastener is no longer tight, or the stringer may crack at the fastener, weakening its support. Spend a couple of bucks on a 2x4 and a couple of minutes in time and support the stringer for contingency circumstances.

I don't like using pressure treated wood (PTW) inside a house. The building code allows us to put either asphalt roofing shingle material or sill gasket material between wood and concrete. PTW does not cut as well as untreated and there is a lot of cutting on stringers. Outside, yes use PTW, inside I would use the alternatives.


Hi Dave, Thanks for the quick responses. #1 Would the Skirt Board (1x12? I believe) have the same top and bottom cuts as the stringer? #2 & #3 Got it, straight cut 2x4's under the platform and angle cut (to match stringer) 2x4's under the stringers. Is there some special brackets or something to attach the 2x4's to the stringers/platforms? Do they just rest on the floor? #4 All set!

Hi Jeff,

Drawing of a staircase skirt.The skirt is not notched out, but is run parallel to the slope of the stair nosings and a bit above them. The skirt is attached to the stringer, then both are fastened to the wall studs. Here is a drawing:

If the floor is wood, put a 2x4 plate down and have the post come onto the plate, in case the post comes between 2 floor joists. For a concrete floor, either a plate is used or the post comes down on the concrete, with sill gasket under it, of course.

Here is a drawing on securing stringers. It also shows the posts and plates under the stringer:

Diagram showing how to secure stair stringers to a box joist or header.


I've been a carpenter for 10 years and done lots of different jobs but never interior railing. I cannot figure out how to cut stair parts like volutes, up easing, etc. on a miter saw.


You'll notice that the angles already are on the volutes and up easings, risers, also, all have a 90 degree angle or close to it. So when the handrail comes to the volute, etc. it should be cut close to a 90, that is a butt joint. You may need to trim the ends on both pieces to perfect the miter, a bit. If this is the case, always cut both pieces the same angle. When cutting the volutes on a miter saw you can't really place the piece against the fence, like normal. You will need to lift the volute up off the deck of the saw so the handrail will match the same angle. Push the blade across the piece very slowly when cutting the ends and hold it as firm as you can. I know it is not the best scenario, but just go extra slowly so as not to get the blade to grab the piece and pull it out of your hand. Take the least bit off the end of the volute as necessary. When you line up the volute and the handrail in the position they will go on the newels, you get a better sense of the angles involved.

Hope this helps,

Hi Dave, When framing an Outside Basement Wall, what is the correct stack-up of Materials? In the past, I have: 1) used 4mil plastic to cover the concrete wall, then 2) built the 2x4 wall against the plastic, 3) Insulated with standard face batted insulation (with kraft paper facing inside), 4) sealed the kraft paper edges with tape & 5) Installed the drywall. Is this sufficient? As far as I know, I don't have any major water or leaking problems. The only things I've noticed is that during anytime where the weather had caused flooding in my state (MA) or local areas, the worst has been some seepage from any tiny cracks in the concrete floor. Thanks, Jeff

Hi Jeff,

You should not put any poly against the concrete. You want the poly on the warm side of the wall otherwise it just creates condensation.

I build the 2x4 wall about 1" away from the concrete wall so there is air movement back there. Then insulate the wood wall with fiberglass batt insulation. We can't use the stuff with the kraft paper, anymore. Then apply 6 mil UV rated vapor barrier poly, then apply the drywall.


Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Remodeling 5: How to Install a Window in an Existing Wall

The main thing to be aware of in home improvement when installing a window into a wall is that you will be removing studs, which are the parts of the wall that support the upper floor or roof.

Let's use, for example, a 2'x4' window. You can put in a window that is 2' wide without a header. If the studs are on 16" centers, you will have to remove one or two studs and put a stud by each side of the rough opening.

If you are not too fussy about the exact position of the window, use one of the existing studs for the side of your opening.

Usually for a vinyl or aluminum framed window, check your size of window. The rough opening for a 2'x4' window is 23"x 47", ie. 1" under the named size. The actual size should be... read more at

Almost the End

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(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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