Building Confidence

Volume 11 Issue 2
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 We are into our 11th year putting out this Newsletter. Dan and I would not be able to do this without your input every month. Happy 11th!

Tip of the Month

The drain for a bathtub is 1 1/2" and tied into the tub overflow. Install the control 15" above the rim of the bathtub with the hot supply on the left and the cold on the right. Install the spout at 4" above the rim of the tub and the shower head, if included, at 78" from the floor. Install the shower curtain rod brackets 76 1/2" from the tub floor centered on the curtain rod. Ref: Useful Stuff 5: The National Building Code.

And a Bonus Tip:

Install toilet tissue holders at 24" from the finished floor and towel bars at 45" to 48" above the finished floor. Ref: Stairs 8: Lapeyre or Alternating Tread Stairs.

Ask Dave!

Hi Dave: My deck is surrounded by a railing with lattice work underneath (instead of balusters). I have purchased new lattice to replace the old but am having a problem removing the old railing. It was screwed in. The screws don't want to come out even after being soaked with WD40 and oil. They are rusty Phillips heads and I'm sure a power drill will ream our the grooves where the bit fits. I'd replace the railing too, if I could find any like it: rounded off 2X6 cedar with two 1x1's nailed in underneath to form a groove for the lattice to fit into. Would prefer to use the old railing rather than fabricate new but am in a pickle as to how to proceed since I can't seem to remove the old. I'm about to junk everything and replace with new rail and balusters...but don't want to if there is a way to work with what I have. Any ideas? Exasperated (again), Trace

Hi Trace,

Try cutting the screws off with a metal blade in a reciprocating saw. Try to pry the lattice down as much as you can so you don't scar the rails with the saw. Even a hack saw would do the trick, but renting a recip. saw would pay in the long run, if you have lots of screws. Then just hammer the end of the screw back into the rail, flush.


Hi Dave, I am a DIY and I am replacing my existing stairs to meet new code in my village. Inspector recommended adding a new step. So I will now have 6 steps instead of the present 5. As you can see, I have side stringers(if that's how it is called). I have already printed out my stringer measurements from your website. I did not see any articles for side stringers though. How do you cut and install these? The stairs leading to upstairs has side stringers so I wanted to have some uniformity in design. Thanks.

Hi Pancho, welcome to our site,

Please reply to this email address and send the picture. I think I am limited to 10 MB through this email address.

Where is your village?

The best time to put in a side stringer or closed stringer is when you layout the stringers, for the first time. The closed stringer is nailed onto the open stringer which supports the stairs, before the stringer is nailed to the wall. It is usually a 1x12. That way you don't need to cut out for every tread and riser, as if done afterwards.

If you give me your total rise and available space for run, I can help with your layout.


Hi Dave, Thanks for your prompt response. Attached is the stairway I am working on. The property is located in Morton Grove, Illinois. My total rise is 48 1/8 (with 5/16 porcelain tile on lower level floor) and my total run is 60. I am using 6 7/8 as my rise and 10 as my run (minimum for Village nose to nose). Additional info in case you need these. I plan on a 1 1/4 nose, 3/4 in rise thickness, 1 in thread. Present side stringer used 3/4 in. Many thanks again for your help. Pancho

Hi Pancho,

One word of caution is to allow for different heights of flooring on the top and bottom floors and the steps themselves. If everything is to be covered by the same thickness, there is no problem. So make sure the total rise is to the finish of the bottom and top floors if the 1" tread is the finish also.

Here is a question and my answer to finishing the skirt board, after the fact rather than install it with the stringers:

I'm going to be installing yellow pine over the stairs inside my house. They are between two walls and I would like to put stair trim boards along the walls on both sides, down the stairs. How is this typically done?

I take it you're covering an existing set of stairs with the pine. In this case the trim board (also called stair skirt) is put in before the stair risers and treads. If you are building the stairs from scratch, nail this trim board to the stair stringers before attaching the stringers to the walls.

If the stairs are in place you have to scribe each stair tread and riser and cut them out. You don't have to be too accurate here because the tread and riser will butt up against this trim board hiding any gaps up to their thicknesses. When installing the stair treads and risers of pine make them tight to the trim board.

Wood has very little expansion on its end grain. Before installing hardwoods or finishes allow them to lay in the house for 48 hours to acclimatize to their new environment. Professional installers actually have a moisture meter to measure the amount of moisture in the subfloor as well as the hardwood.

And one more:

I need to cut in a stringer with out the rise and run for trim before I put the treads and risers inside the stringer not on top of the stringer. I went to home depot for advice. No luck. You're my last hope. Thanks

Follow the same directions I give for cutting the stringer out, except either dado the stringer to accept the treads and risers or glue and screw a ledger under the treads. I don't like to do it this way, as explained in my article How to Build Stairs at

Read the two articles following this one as well.

A better way to do the closed stringer idea is to make an open stringer as in the article, then screw this to the closed stringer and install them both together. In this case the closed stringer can be 3/4" material, while the open stringer can still be 1 1/2" material.

Hope I answered your questions,


Hi Dave, Thanks for the info sent. I have attached a rough sketch of what I plan to do with the stairs I am working on.

Handdrawn sketch of stairs.

As I have mentioned in my previous email, I am adding an additional tread to my existing stairwell. As such I will have to cut an existing joist to accommodate it. On the Before sketch, the opening is supported by two 2 X 10 sister joist (if that's how its called-two joist nailed together). There are existing electrical pipes going through on one side of this sistered joist. Instead of removing the old sistered joists, I am thinking of adding additional sistered joists as seen on the "after" sketch highlighted in yellow. Will my plan work or do you suggest a different approach? Thanks for your input. Pancho

Hi Pancho,

Here is my suggestion:

Drawing of stairs with instructions from Dave.

The longest double joist carries the load for the other cut off joists. There should be a wall under the perimeter of the opening, which shows in the first photo sent to me, at least a support under the open ends.

You need to remove the short joist and replace it with a longer one, that connects to the double joist near the top of the stairs. This holds those short tail joists up. You don't need to double this extended joist because it is less than 6' long.

Make sure you install joist hangers at all new intersections. The inspector will like that!

What do you think?


Hi Dave, Thank you for your usual prompt attention. I will go for your excellent suggestion. I am sure I will have more questions along the way. It gives me great confidence knowing I can get guidance from experts like yourself when I encounter problems in my remodeling work. Pancho

Thanks, Pancho,

A real handy tool for reno work, like this is the reciprocating saw with a 12" blade. You can sharpen these blades, as well with a little three cornered file, to fit the teeth. Also, you can get metal blades for them which is good for cutting through the nails holding in a door jamb, etc. I also use it for cutting the bottom of casing and door jambs off, to lay flooring under them.

Just thought I would throw that in.


Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Concrete Work 1: Exposed Aggregate Driveway

My wife and I recently put in an exposed aggregate driveway. We waited about 19 years after we built our house until we got our new driveway. Here are a few tips that I will share with you if you intend to put in a similar driveway.

Exposed aggregate concrete is batched with sand, cement and pea gravel, along with water and the necessary additives. There is no difference in how the concrete is poured but it is not troweled to a smooth finish. After the bullfloat is dragged across it to give it a level and straight surface a retardant is sprayed on to slow down the extreme top layer of the slab from hardening.

This is where the professional guys come in - it is all about timing... Read more at Concrete Work 1: Exposed Aggregate Driveway

Almost the End

I enjoyed the questions this month, especially from Pancho. I'm glad I was able to help him in his stair reno.

If you need advice on your projects at work or home, please become a member of our website, then send me an email. Check out our website!


(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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