Building Confidence

Volume 9 Issue 6
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

For the latter part of June, my wife and I visited her family in Texas. Boy was it hot down there! Everyday we were there was over 100°. We were able to visit cousins that my wife hadn't seen for 44 years or longer. That was one vacation we were glad to be back from - getting out of that heat wave. I will never complain about 70° in the summer again!

Tip of the Month

To remove an oil spill from concrete garage floors, use cat litter and work it in well. Use a small piece of wood and rub it into the surface of the concrete. Amazingly, the concrete becomes white again. Ref: Remodeling 2: Moisture and Humidity Problems in the Home

Ask Dave!

I have a deck on the corner of a second floor condo. The deck is "L" shaped 14' X 8' and 6' wide. It is fastened to the building on the inside of the "L" shape and supported by 3 pillars at ground level. I'm trying to find out if the deck has dropped. Have measured the slope at the end of the 14' length and there is a 1" drop. Is that too much for a 14' span? The slope from the building to the 6' width is 1/2".

No, a 1" drop in 14' is not much of a slope at all - which is a bit more than 1/16" per foot. Usually, for a deck to shed water we use 1/4" per foot - which is 1" in 4'.

The posts probably did not sink at all.


On the stringer board where do you mark it. lets say the rise is 7" do I measure end to end 7" how do I measure. I am in Afghanistan and am helping to build a F.O.B. I am in the army and I will be on your website alot.

Hi. What do you go by, Charles or Chuck? Tell me about yourself, if that is okay - Canadian? Rank? Deployment time?

I'm not familiar with military terms - what is an FOB?

There are 2 methods of marking the stringer. The old way - step down the rise and run with a square. The Osborne method - hook your tape on the top end, nosing side and leave it there. Mark each measurement given in the stair calculator drawing. This gives the exact point of the nose of the stringer. So use the square and mark the rise and run as normal. The Osborne method just gives you very accurate positions for the square to be positioned so the rises and runs can be laid out.

Hope this helps,


I am an American, Sargeant First class. This will make my third deployment, twice in Iraq and this time in Afghanistan. A FOB is a Forward observation post. Normally where we live and work out of. We have porta potties no real bathrooms. Our showers are made out of a 15 by 25 foot metal container. The water has so much chemicals in it that it smells like rotten eggs. The air here is bad, lot of sand and dust. I go by the name of Chuck. I like my beer and Jack Daniels, but we are not allowed to drink any alcohol for our year deployment here. Which is okay it gives my liver a break. Thank you for responding I will be asking more questions soon. You take care. SFC Chuck

Thanks, Chuck for the info.

I don't know if you realize that I am Canadian, living on Vancouver Island on the West coast of BC. I know there are Canadians in Afghanistan, as well as other nations. I've had emails from members in Afghanistan and Iraq, both.

Let me know if I can help with any of your projects. I've been in construction camps in Northern BC, so have experience in innovative ways of using limited tools in building projects, some of which are shown on our website.


Dave, I am wanting to make a tree ring out of rounded 4X4's and without costing any more money. I am wanting to know what the exact cutting degree would be for a 4 ft diameter hexagon around this tree.


A hexagon can look complicated but once you know the tricks it is quite simple to cut materials for it. For an inside radius of 2', each side is cut 2' long on the inside. Each miter angle is 30 degrees, cut on the miter saw.

Refer to the drawing:

Diagram of a hexagon with measurements and angle.

Hi Dave. Can you tell me what the BCBC states about the dimensions for exterior stair handrails? Is 2x3 good? Is 2x4 have too great of a cross section or perimeter? regards, Doug

(BCBC stands for British Columbia Building Code an amendment of Canada's National Building Code)

Hi Doug,

Here is a link to an excerpt from the BCBC 2006 on handrail codes:

Here is a scan of the sections of recommended handrails.

Drawings of some handrail profiles.

Handrails are not limited to these sections only. Inspectors are not too strict in their interpretation of the code for exterior handrails, unlike interior ones.

In my experience, inspectors accept a 2x4 on flat for exterior handrails. 2x3 also would be acceptable.


Thank you, Dave. This is excellent info. Maybe a sentence or two to on your stair construction page would help other folks too. regards, Doug

Thanks, Doug. About 95% of our website members are from the US, so I need to be aware of the International Building Code, as well. The IBC is quite similar to the BCBC, but not quite as stringent in certain areas. I embed measurements in this article: Stairs 5: How to Install an Inside Handrail


Dave: You have a great site. The stair calculator is a great tool. I just signed on as a new member and tried out the calculator. I believe you have an error in the calculator. I entered a total rise of 98 3/4" with a tread run of 10" and a rise of 7 1/2 with a 3/4" tread and it calculated the top of the stringer step to be 10 19/32 below the top floor. I think the measurement should be 7". Maybe I am doing something wrong. Ron

Hi Ron and welcome,

I ran the calculator with your numbers and used 3/4 for the tread thickness. You don't really want a tread thickness of 3/4". Minimum according to code is 1". I think you confused our poor calculator. It happened to me, as well. The calculator thought 3/4 meant 3".

The calculator will work if you want to use a 3/4" tread by inserting .75 instead of 3/4.

Hope this helps,


Dave: Thank you for your timely response. Great site and happy to be a member. I look forward to being a long time member. Thanks Again Ron

Thanks, Ron for your nice comments.

Dan and I appreciate your support. We are here to help, so don't hesitate to email me.


(Dan, my brother and webmaster, modified our calculator, so a tread thickness of less than 1" can be used.)

Dave, On page 18 of the 10 x 12 garden shed plans, you state, "Tar paper is stapled to the studs, first. Use the proper type for walls." You don't have tar paper for the walls in the list of materials. For a shed, is it necessary? I've got 15 pound for the roof. Same stuff or 30 pound for the walls? Thanks! Rick

Hi Rick,

The difference between tarpaper and roofing felt is that tarpaper allows air to pass through, but not water. Roofing felt is non-perforated so no moisture will pass through either way. Notice that roofing felt goes by weight by the square and tarpaper goes by minutes without permeation of water.

For siding like vinyl and bevel, tarpaper is a good idea. For vertical plywood siding, tarpaper is not needed if you caulk the joints with latex paintable caulk. In a house with siding directly on studs, without any sheathing, 2 layers of tarpaper are required.

I agree, tarpaper is optional on a shed. That's why I don't include it in the List of Materials.


Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Remodeling 10: How to Lay Ceramic Tile

Floor Tiles

Ceramic tile is designed to be laid over concrete floors, but we can lay the tiles over wood floors if the necessary preparations are done first. In new construction, it is common practice to install a second sheet of 5/8" plywood over the existing sub-floor of 5/8" tongue and groove plywood, giving a total thickness of 1 1/4". Older houses that have 3/4" shiplap for their sub-floor and also a layer of 3/4" hardwood, don't need the second sheet of plywood. Just roughen the surface up with a belt sander for better adhesion of the mortar. For those floors with a layer of vinyl flooring or tile, rather than try to tear it off and leave chunks of tile and glue behind, I would cover it with 1/4" structure wood (or plywood) designed for underlay of vinyl flooring. Nail it down every 4" or 6" on center, according to the manufacturers instructions. The main point here is to have a good, strong, thick area for the ceramic tile to rest on. Ceramic tile does not have to bend or flex much before it cracks, so we want more at

Almost the End

Well, that does it for another month. We hope some of these questions and answers will help you with your own projects. If you need more advice, join our website, then send me an email.

Thanks for all the nice comments coming our way.


(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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