Building Confidence

Volume 9 Issue 11
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

My brother and webmaster, Dan, is nearing completion of his new site, on which he's been putting in long hours for the last year. Many of us will find it very interesting and useful I'm sure. He is thoroughly testing it before making it publicly available, but you should be hearing about it shortly.

Tip of the Month

When installing a new tub, insulate the cavity below and around the tub with fibreglass insulation to keep the water warmer longer for those long soaks. Ref: Plumbing and Ventilation 3: Questions on Plumbing and Ventilation.

Also, checkout a tip from a member at the bottom of Ask Dave.

Ask Dave!

Dave, How do you recommend attaching oak treads to the stringer? For cosmetics I don't want to have large screw holes to fill. Thanks, Martin

Hi Martin,

You could attach small angles to the side of the stringer, then attach screws from underneath to the treads. Use construction adhesive on top of the stringer runs.


Dear Dave, Have seen many questions on building from people in California, but none have questioned this. Where can I find copies of the California Building Codes? Have asked our County Inspector and he gives us the run around. We're in San Bernardino County. I think he wants us to build (whatever it is), and then he can come back & fine us. Saying its not up to Code. Any addresses? Please & thank you.

I went on your county website which gives excellent info on requirements. Click on this link:

You can probably find copies of your building codes in libraries, as a reference volume. The International Building Code governs the building codes of the 50 states. Each state and jurisdiction may amend the IBC to meet their state, county or city requirements. The International Code Council (ICC) reviews and publishes the code every 3 years or so and the state codes usually amend their copies the following year. The latest copy of the Calif. code is 2010. You can buy one here:

Your first step in applying for a permit is drawing up plans for your reno or construction. The inspector will go over these and either approve them or not. You should not start construction until you get your permit.


Hello Dave, I've been using your website for a few months now and its AWESOME. I am a teacher who, unfortunately, is out of work until the next school year. I've been doing odd jobs building things for friends and your site has been invaluable. I am trying to build bookshelves in a recess located on the side of our fireplace. The space is 65 6/16 wide, 108 inches from floor to ceiling, and the shelves will be 16 inches deep. I figured that I would frame the space with 2x4's with a 2x4 in the middle for support. Then just make little floors for each shelf and cover it with plywood. Is that right? My wife also wants me to include a cabinet that sticks out from the shelves. The entire space is 26 14/16 deep. Do I just frame the top of the cabinet like I did the outside of the shelves, and treat it as a big shelf? Then make a face with plywood and cut out the doors? Can I router the face of the plywood to give it a facade or do I have to cut a separate piece of wood and glue it to the door? My wife wants to paint it so the joints can't be interesting and the wood grain is going to be hidden. Am I close? To make the facia, do I just router 1x4's and tack them to the shelf edge? I hope this is even understandable. I hope you can help me. Thanks for a completely wonderful site. You guys helped me build steps for a friends deck, and they came out great!! I need to re-do a couple of things, but that's what I love about this stuff. I'm always learning. Respectfully, Jay

Hi Jay,

Good work on the stairs.

Have a look at this plan to give you an idea how we make cabinets:

I would make it with 3/4" shop grade birch plywood. This is the cheapest plywood that is good both sides and is paint grade. with the shelves being 65" wide, it should have a center gable, with shelves on each side. The plan gives you an idea how to router dadoes in the gables to support the shelves.

Are the walls and ceiling finished where you want this cabinet? You say a recess?? Is the measurement you gave me a hole in the wall? Could you send me a photo of the area you are talking about?

I would not run the shelves full height to the ceiling, but that is my opinion.

You can fancy the doors up both ways, routering grooves in the face or by applying molding to the face.

I'll wait for your pics.


Dave, Thank you for your response. Here are the pics of the space. I have the birch plywood and yellow pine 2x4s for the frame. Should I make joists for the shelving? They are going to be supporting a huge amount of weight (books). Thank you again. Respecfully, Jay

Hi Jay, thanks for the pics.

Usually , when making a cabinet or shelves, we use 3/4" plywood for the frame, as well as for the shelves and doors. The 2x4s are for framing walls, etc. For the shelves - load on a shelf is related to the span of the shelf. You can't put a bunch of books on a 3/4" shelf that is 65" long with a support at each end. But, a 3/4" shelf can support books for a span of half that - 32 1/2". To do this we design a center gable. A gable is the side of a cabinet or shelf that is the same width as the shelf. So you would have 3 gables at 16" wide by full height of the shelves - 7' or ceiling height, etc. Then the shelves go between these gables supported by cleats or strips of wood fastened under each shelf, attached to the gables. Or, better still, supported by dadoes into the gables. These dadoes are only 1/4" deep. When this is all glued and fastened together, it makes a strong unit. It becomes a piece of furniture. It needs a back on it to keep it square and to fasten it to the wall, near the top to keep it from falling over. The edge of the shelves and gables are covered with either solid wood trim or real wood edge tape that is glued on using an iron.

If you don't want a center gable you need to put a strip of plywood under the back of the shelf and the front of the shelf to support the load over the span.

The other way to build a book shelf that you want, is to frame it in dimension lumber and apply veneer over the lumber. This is much harder to do to hide the joints of the veneer and much bulkier.

Hope this helps,


Good morning Mr. Osborne, I have an interesting situation. I purchased a membership on your site to assist with a stair build up after seeing your YouTube videos and your years of experience. I am working in a very small rental unit, the house measures a total of 14' 3" wide. The stairs were unsafe and thus needed removal. I have framed the landing on the second floor to 3 feet. I have 104 3/4 inches from the top of first floor to the top of the second floor. The stair calculator shows a 16 foot stringer required for the height, which of course is more than I have available. Unless you may have another suggestion, I would assume I would need to make the stringer and where I have 80" of headroom, make a landing on the first floor, thus shortening the total run. I was wondering if the calculator can be manipulated for the total rise, with the shorter total run. I hope I have explained the situation clearly. Any assistance is greatly appreciated. Thank you, and make today a great day!

I am sorry about the delay in getting back to you. For some reason your email landed in my Junk Box. I just discovered it today.

Our Stair Calculator is only designed to do the math for you, it can't figure out landings or where the headroom is over which stair. This is the biggest problem with building stairs - having the required total run and the headroom.

We cannot manipulate the total rise, but we can play with the run to within tolerances.

If you have the stringer figured out by now, my apologies, again. If not, I'll try to help you.

I need to know some measurements:

  • The total run available - from the end of the 2nd floor landing to the wall or obstruction at the bottom.
  • The distance from the same end of the landing to the box joist - this is the length of the floor opening.
  • And the height of the finished ceiling of the first floor - underneath the box joist where your limited headroom is.

These terms are discussed and defined in our dictionary or in this article: How to Build Stairs at


This email is in response to our weekly tips:

I have one for you. I was just throwing away an air conditioner that no longer worked. It had a thick power cord with a GFI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) receptacle plug. I cut it off as long as I could and attached a female receptacle plug. I now have a 4 foot extension cord with a GFI plug end. Another good idea is, before tossing any electronic item, save the power cord. If you lose or break a power cord, you will have a collection of similar devices to find a match. Go online to the manufacturer's site to see the polarity, voltage, and amperage required and find a match. I have a collection of them and I have used a few in an emergency. J & M

Hi Jasmine and Mike,

That is a very good tip. In fact I have been doing that for years, now. I got rid of a lot of cords, just recently, since I was getting too much junk.

Good one on the AC cord with GFI. We don't use the AC up here as much as you guys do, so never saw a GFI on a cord before. I like that though.

Thanks for the tips,


Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Remodeling 15: How to Build a Door

You're planning on building a shop or backyard shed and would like to build a door a little wider or taller than a conventional door. You can go to the Door Shop and order a custom door and pay through the nose or build a door yourself.

Diagram of frame for a door with measurements.I've built exterior doors for buildings and garden sheds before without a problem. The door framing shown is for a 4' x 6'-8" door, perfect for a large storage shed. I found that the thickness should not go more than 1 3/4" if you are going to use standard locksets. One thing to watch is to rip nice straight boards. I use spruce 2x4s and rip them down to 1 1/4" x 1 3/4" (in half). Pick out nice straight ones with very few knots. Spruce is one of the strongest woods for its weight. For the outer skin 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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