Building Confidence

Volume 9 Issue 8
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

Well, Summer is over, we are into our Fall weather, now. It is time to add some more articles and plans to our website. Hopefully, I will get some feedback from our members on ideas for articles and/or plans.

Tip of the Month

Attach stair gauges to the edge of the steel square so it can slide along the stringer or rafter, maintaining the same measurements. Ref: Stairs 2: How to Cut a Stair Stringer.

Ask Dave!

Dave, I was reading your profile; glad to see there is another "senior citizen" out there alive & kicking. Question: I will be putting up a wall on a new concrete pad. 2 X 6 studs [24" on center]. I plan on using pressure treated footer; do I have to use anything "under" the wood; between the board and the concrete. I was watching one of those home improvement shows and the guy said that you should always use something between the footer and the concrete, otherwise the woods will draw moisture up through the concrete. I have been home improvement for years and I just used pressure treated wood on the footer and nothing else and have never had problems. Any suggestions????

Pressure treated wood is good without anything under it. I prefer to use untreated with a styrofoam gasket under it when building a house, since it acts as a gasket to fill in spaces between the plate and the concrete as well as to keep the separation from the wood and concrete. Pressure treated wood is okay.


Dave, I'm putting a stairway between two walls. Do you normally install the stair treads before or after drywall goes up on the adjacent walls? Thanks, Martin

Hi Martin,

An important prep work is preparing the stringers for drywall. To do this we attach a 5/8" or 3/4" plywood strip on the lower part of the stringers before attaching them to the wall.

An alternate to this is installing the drywall or paneling to the wall before the stringers are installed. After the drywall is installed the stringers can be fastened to the wall through the studs. What we are talking about here is making it easier for the drywall to be installed.

Obviously, it is easier to install the drywall first, but in the meantime, you can't use the stairs. The electricians and plumbers would grumble about having to climb up and down the stair opening by a ladder instead of having proper stairs. That's the reason we install the stringers first, with the strip of plywood which gives a space for the drywallers to slip the drywall down the wall, on top of the stringer. Otherwise, they would have to notch out the drywall for each tread and riser.

Another option, which keeps the drywall from having to be notched around each step, is to install a skirt with the stringer. This would be in place of the plywood strip. Then the drywall comes down to the skirt, a straight line, as it would behind the stringer, if the strip was attached first.

Preparation is the key here, also saving money is a factor with the drywall guys.


Hello We bought a 1930's home that has probably been more work than we intended but here is my question: When we removed the old ceiling tiles in the living room there was a considerable sag in the ceiling that had been shimmed. We removed the extremely heavy compressed fiber board with about 1/2" plaster (cement) on finishing side. The ceiling has 2x4 16 OC construction that spans from an interior load bearing wall approx 15' to a hidden beam in the attic space (where old exterior wall was) then another span of 2x4 24 OC of about 5'. The 2x4s on the 15' span are bowed and we are planning to replace all 2x4's on this span with 2x6's as I don't think there is room for 2x8's. The attic space is unused and only holds the insulation of the ceiling. Should we replace the 2x4s or sister new 2x6s along side? If we sister we will still have a bow though so that is why we are thinking of taking out the existing 2x4s. The other question is these joists are attached to the hidden beam by what looks to be a block of wood approx 1 1/2" x 3" we would like to use joist hangers but the joist will hang below the beam as they do now. Is this ok or is there a specific joist hanger that should be used for this application? Thanks Robin

Hi Robin,

Spruce, pine, fir 2x6 joists #2 and better with strapping and bridging is good for a 16'-1" span at 16" o.c., so that works.

I would remove the existing 2x4 joists and replace with the above ones. Use a long joist hanger, suitable for a 2x10 or shorter depending on how far the joists hang below the beam. This will allow you to nail the hanger to the joist and to the beam. The missing nails below the beam should be nailed in above the joists through the hanger. The idea here is that the joist hanger is designed with a certain number of nail holes which you can't use below the beam so get a longer hanger which would allow you to put the 'missing' nails in above the joist into the beam.

The drywall on the ceiling would be considered strapping, just nail in a row of bridging between the joists at the center of the span if 14' wide or smaller. You need a row of bridging every 7' to tie all the joists together to keep them from bowing like the existing ones or laying over, which is worse. If over 14' wide put in a row of bridging every 7'.


What is the recommended height of the upper cabinet from the counter top. We are working with 7' 6" ceiling height with closet tops with crown molding.

The standard ceiling height is 8' with: 3' counter height; 1'-6" clearance above counter; 2'-6" upper cabinet and 1' clearance to ceiling. For a 7'-6" ceiling I would suggest 3' counter height; 1'-6" clearance above the counter; and adjust the upper cabinet to be a total of 2'-11 1/2" with a top rail wide enough to cover the crown molding plus a reveal of 1 3/4" or similar as the bottom and side rails widths.

The upper cabinet clearance over a stove should be 2'-6", which is cut out of the cabinet, then filled in with the range hood, bringing the clearance from bottom of hood to top of stove as 24".


Thanks Again Is it better to start with the top cabinets first and start in a corner? Ron

Hi Ron,

I usually do the base cabinets first then support the uppers off a 17 1/2" stand with wedges. Start in the corners first then go both ways. I know some pros start with the uppers, but they usually have lots of help.


Dave: Thank You I hope your not in path of the hurricane Irene. We live in Plymouth MA and are waiting for her to arrive. Be safe, if you are. Ron

Hi Ron,

We live on the West coast of Southern British Columbia, Canada, in a very beautiful part of God's creation. I have never been to the East coast, Canada or the States, which is one of my goals. My wife is from Texas, so I've seen the country back and forth and around there.

Your email suggests you are into boating. My wife and I have a small boat, but love fishing and boating around the Gulf Islands, most of which are marine parks.

May God protect you during this storm!


My deck total rise is 54" and the landing run is 80" from my deck to the concrete slab. How do I calculate it using your online calculator? Thanks!

Our stair calculator does not calculate the landing of a deck. Enter the total rise into the calculator with the chosen rise and run (start with the usual 7 5/8 rise and 10 1/2 run) or customize your rise. Plug in the tread thickness. Don't worry about the floor thickness and headroom, outside. Click calculate.

Your results are:

From Dave's Easy Stair Calculator at
Total Rise entered: 54 inches
Number of rises: 7 rises
Number of runs: 6 runs
Height of each rise: 7 23/32 inches
Length of each run: 10 1/2 inches
Total Run: 63 inches (5'-3")
Length of board needed for the stringer: 8 feet

This shows us that with this rise you have a total run of 63. You need to land the bottom step on the concrete slab, if I am understanding you correctly. So you can either build out your deck surface by 29" or so; you can put a wooden landing in the stairs of the width of the stairs (the code says that a landing in a stair must be at least as long as the width of the stairs); or you can make each stair tread wider and lower the rise, which would make the total run longer.

I get the 29" to extend the deck, as follows: 80 - 63 = 17 + 12" for the stringer to sit on the concrete = 29". You could have the stringer bottom step sitting on as little as 6", as well = 23".

What we want to do is play with the numbers a bit to lower the rise and increase the run: We can't change the total rise, but we can lower the rise enough to create extra steps. We want a set of stairs with a total rise of 54" - this can't change. We want a set of stairs with a total run of 92" = 80" to the concrete slab + another 6" to 12" for the stringer to be supported on the concrete slab.

So by playing with the numbers we come up with a 6" rise and a 11 1/2" run.

We plug into the stair calculator: total rise of 54; in the customize rise and run - 6 for rise and 11.5 for run.

Our results:

From Dave's Easy Stair Calculator at
Total Rise entered: 54 inches
Number of rises: 9 rises
Number of runs: 8 runs
Height of each rise: 6 inches
Length of each run: 11 1/2 inches
Total Run: 92 inches (7'-8")
Length of board needed for the stringer: 10 feet
Tape measurements (in inches) for the stringer (see diagram):
10 3/16 23 5/32 36 1/8 49 3/32
62 3/32 75 1/16 88 1/32 101
Will this work for you?


Good evening, Dave! Now that my 10x12 shed is (finally) nearing completion, I was hoping to find some plans to build my own shelves, rather than buy expensive ones at the hardware store. I saw the plan for the shop table, but it wasn't what I had in mind. I was looking for something 72x72x24 or so. Got anything up your sleeve? Thanks, Rick

Hi Rick, I have built storage type shop shelves for heavy parts or tools before, if this is what you are after:

Diagram of storage shelves with measurements.

The above drawing is just an example, it is easy to modify. Basically, it is 5/8" or 3/4" plywood shelves 2' wide, supported on 2x2s horizontally, screwed to the studs in the wall. The front is supported by vertical 2x4s, in your case at 3', screwed to the 2x2s. I usually start my first shelf at 2' off the floor, so boxes or larger items can be pushed under right on the floor. For this type of shop shelf, I don't put down the bottom shelf up from the floor to act as a kick space, as for a kitchen cabinet. I leave the floor itself as the first shelf.

These are very strong shelves. I've built these for transmission shops for parts, etc and for storage in a shed for day cares for kids. They are not the prettiest looking shelf, but very rugged and able to carry heavy loads such as auto parts or tools, etc. For very heavy parts, as for the transmission shop, I added vertical short 2x4s between the shelves, from the floor up.

Is this something you have in mind?


I am looking at using dimensional lumber to frame my forms. The wall will have three pieces of lumber (i.e. 2x10, 2x10, 2x6). I was going to put a vertical 2x4 every 2 ft and 1x4 cleats on top and bottom every 2 ft. What is your opinion of the bracing required? In regards to service conduits and pipes—everything is running to/from the house and the garage. I do not need drain tile for this build. Do I need to place all of the pipes and conduit needed under the forms before I pour or can I poke these underneath after the foundation is in? Any comments or articles on this would be greatly appreciated.

Hi Doug,

I would not use dimension lumber for a 2' high concrete wall, there are better choices. I would go with the 2' x 8' form ply. You can rent these forms which are already drilled for ties. With the dimension lumber there is too many braces needed. With the form ply and ties every 16" and tie bars to act as studs/whalers, going horizontally, is the best way to go. With this method a continuous row of 2x4s is at the top and bottom and bracing every 8' and at 4' where needed. The ties and bars hold every thing together. There is just too much weight to concrete to not support the forms, properly. I hope you are putting a footing under the wall.

I prefer to see electrical and plumbing go through block outs, through the foundation wall or footing, below the slab, rather than under the footing. The blocking, which can be a 3" plastic pipe sleeve, is large enough to allow expansion and contraction and allowing for any settling of the foundation, yet below the frost line.


Hi Dave, The motive behind my pondering about methods for forming is cost saving (as usual), but I don't want to be foolish and cost myself several more hours of time fiddling around cutting form lumber. I am attaching a photo of forming done with dimensional lumber for another project. With this method I would need (2x10 + 2x10, 2x6). Ties can be used between the lumber, cleats at the top and bottom, and some vertical pieces. What do you think? BTW, form rental would cost me about $200 plus tax plus delivery. Oh, I should also mention that it is likely the foundation will be poured from wheel barrows rather than pumping (saving me $500). I forgot to mention that the footing (facing the house) bottom is to be 21 inches below grade. Would you recommend running the electrical and plumbing through 3" plastic sleeves that would be placed in the lower 3" of the footing? That would place them at the min. 18" below grade. Is it allowed to place plastic sleeves through the footing? Thank you for the quick answer this last time. regards, Doug

Hi Doug,

I hear your concern with the cost. I formed my house forms, myself, and saved money by using 2x8 boards that were re-sawn into 1x8. Then I used these boards on the wall framing for sheathing. For some reason, we can't get those re-sawn boards anymore. I would imagine that 1x8 boards would be too expensive, even for both applications, now. The reason we go with 3/4" forms is that the ties are made to fit 3/4". I've formed quite a bit in my old 'heavy construction' days. We did bases, etc. with 2" lumber, but as I said before, you need a lot of bracing. You cannot expect the nails in the boards to hold back the weight of concrete. We usually had solid rock to brace to.

When I need to pour with a pump, I pour the footings and wall in one shot. There is no problem with leaving wood cleats between the footing and wall. I use 1x3 + or - cleats which were split from the re-sawn, I was telling you about. As long as the basement slab is above these cleats, no problem. I ran into concrete companies who would charge stand by time when you would wheel barrow the concrete to the forms, so be wary of that. I would always try to spout the concrete from the truck, if at all possible, so watch the placement of your bracing. Usually, you have so many minutes per yard to discharge the concrete. The pump is the way to go - better mix for workability, too, but expensive, alright.

I know I am "old school" when it comes to construction. I try to keep up with what is going on, though. When pouring house foundations, I like to use a vibrator, to compact the concrete. This means you have to be more vigilant for looking for possible concrete bust outs. That is something you do not want. When you stray from convention, you need to be innovative to make sure you don't miss anything.

Yes, plastic pipe sleeves are fine in the footing, just leave them in, no need to strip them like a wood block out.


Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Remodeling 12: How to Cut Crown Molding

The days of the back saw and miter box, I think, is a thing of the past. Today, we use compound power miter saws, also commonly called cutoff saws. Our discussion on how to cut crown molding inside and outside corners will be based on using these modern tools.

Think of the table on your cut-off saw as the floor or the ceiling. Baseboard is cut upright and crown molding is cut upside down. I usually have four sample pieces with me when I cut them, one for the inside right miter, one for the inside left, one for the outside right and one for the outside left. These are marked on them. It saves me cutting up expensive crown molding to get my head right every time. I'm referring, of course, to maximum 3 1/2" crown molding that will stand up vertically against the saw fence. Any larger crown molding would have to be cut on the flat, a very different procedure covered in my article How to Cut Crown Molding.

The first thing I do when cutting up to 3 1/2" crown molding 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 your emails and support.


(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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