Building Confidence

Volume 13 Issue 5
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 New

Be sure to check out our ebooks! We have finished 6 of the 10 eBooks in our Building Confidence series and are being told how helpful they are to do it yourselfers! Let your friends know about them!

Tip of the Month

Have you ever admired the staircase in a well built house with its flowing balustrade? The parts for this type of handrail system are readily available in most wood working finishing stores and can be assembled with a little determination, perseverance and guidance.

And a Bonus Tip:

When installing a large ceiling fan, make sure the box is secure enough to support it while spinning around at 90 miles an hour. If need be, remove the old plastic box and install a new steel box, mounted securely to the floor or ceiling joist.

Ask Dave!

Hi Dave, Hope your have great weather like we have been having in Plymouth Massachusetts. I have a long time friend that has a sagging porch. I was done over about 10 years ago with Trex decking and a PVC railing system and vinyl lattice around the base. When it was finished it looked fantastic but over the years the porch started sagging along with the shed roof attached to the main house roof over the porch. My plan is to take the roof load off the porch by using temporary supports that can be jacked to take the sag out of the roof and load off the porch deck. Roof is currently supported by six re-enforced round PVC posts, Next is to remove buckled lattice and the stairs and inspect the porch supports. My guess there isn't proper footing or rotted supports. Temporary jack and level porch. From here install the proper footing and supports for porch deck, My questions are should I remove the PVC railing systems from the porch and does this high level plan go in-line on how you would attack this project? Thanks Best Regards Ron

Hi Ron,

Our weather here is mostly great if you don't mind the rain. Even though we are in Canada, we are in a very moderate climate zone here. It very seldom freezes here and the temperatures very seldom go above 80. Once into May we usually have pretty decent weather.

Sounds like quite a repair job. I am concerned about the PVC posts for structural support. The trouble with PVC is that the sun breaks it down and it crumbles. I don't like plastic handrails or lattice. Having said that, I have vinyl siding on our house which is into its 23rd year and still pliable. BUT, we don't get the very hot sun here!

Yes, your footings may be rotten or non-existent. One year we had 3' of wet snow on my back deck, which compressed the ground and sank the footings into the earth a bit. I just jacked up the deck left the footings where they were and lengthened the posts and never had any more problems.

Sounds like you are on the right track, make sure the posts are supporting beams which spread the weight over more area.


Hi Dave, I am a new member and I am planning on building a small two step staircase in my house this weekend. I have a couple of questions that I am hoping that you could help me with. Here goes: I read on your website that it isn't a good idea to use 2x12 to construct the treads. Why is that? What about 2x10? On to the more difficult question. Background: The total rise that I am hoping to cover with my stairs is 28" with the top step being the landing. So in essence my two steps will need to cover two thirds of the total rise. (Yes I realize that the stairs aren't code but I am going to go with it so that I can minimize the wasted space in a bedroom). I computed the rise in the staircase to be 7 and 13/16 w/ a 1.5" tread on it for a total rise height of 9 and 5/16. The run I would like to make 10" so that I will be in the room about 20" when complete. Removing 1" for the overhang of the tread puts me at 9" run. My question is regarding the outside stringers. I would like to build the kind of staircase that has a flush stringer on the outside. I saw on another website that they used metal brackets to place the treads on. Is this a good approach? I would have thought that I should build three stringers and then nail one on the inside of a 2x12 to get the same effect. Please advise. I also would like some direction on how to calculate the length and angle (which I assume is 45 degrees) for the outside stringer. Thanks in advance. Tom BTW - Nice website. I have already learned a lot!

Hi Tom,

A 2x12 or 2x10 usually splits when it dries out. If this is the finish I would go with 2 - 2x6s spaced about 3/16" apart.

You should read the article on stringer layout again. Your calculation of rise is wrong . With a total rise of 28" you need 4 rises of 7" each, forget about the treads for now. If you went with 3 rises of 9.33" each, this is way too high. With 4 rises you need 3 runs of 10.5 to 11". Never come out from the top floor with a step flush with the floor. This is redundant. Start the first step one riser below this floor. This riser is calculated in the number of rises but is left off the stringer, so the stringer actually has 3 rises and 3 runs. When you install the stringer, the stringer is nailed into position 1 riser down from the floor level plus the thickness of the tread. The bottom of the stringer is cut off the thickness of one tread, so this drop nullifies itself. Then the treads are nailed on the bottom step giving a finished rise of 7" and on the top step giving a finished rise of 7". The steps in the middle of the stringer are all 7" risers because the treads are added above and below the treads. That's why the tread thickness is not worried about until the bottom of the stringer is cut off that amount, and everything works out right.

With the run of say 10.5" and using a tread of 11" this would give a nosing of about 1/2" tight or 11/16" with the space.

I agree with the closed stringer on the outside of the open (cutout) stringer rather than metal brackets or wooden cleats to support the treads. Usually the closed stringer can be a 1x12 or 3/4" plywood cut accordingly with a cap or molding on top to hide the edge grain. This is nailed in place before the stringer is attached to the wall. This closed stringer comes up and down the slope and is cut vertically at the correct height of the baseboard which joins it.

Your last question tells me you missed a part of the procedure of laying out the stringer. Don't think of angles when doing stairs. Think of 7" rise and 10.5" run. This is laid out with a framing square. Remember the rise is vertical and the run is horizontal. Always lay out and cut the stringer, then try it in position, to be sure. Once satisfied cut the other stringers out by using the first one as a pattern.

Hope this helps,


Hi Dave, You were right on every one of the suggestions. I figured out the whole thing about cutting 1.5" off the bottom of the stringer. Long story short this is my first staircase. I ruined a 10' 12x2 figuring out what I was doing but those are the breaks. The staircase I built is totally non-code but I didn't want to take up too much room in the room. I will have more questions in the future. Thanks for getting back to me. Tom

Thanks for the reply, Tom,

Glad everything worked out for you. Nothing to be ashamed of learning a new procedure and making mistakes. At least you had enough sense to ask. I've been a carpenter for a long time, now and I have to realize, too, that what is easy for me is brand new for many people. I used to enjoy working with apprentices, years ago.

You know where I am if you need anything else.


Do you know how to shingle a roof with what's called California cut?

I'm not familiar with that term. Are you referring to a closed valley, the way the shingles overlap at the valley rather than showing the flashing??

Yes, I guess that's what they do. I've been talking to some other friends and they say they overlap from one side in the valley. Then you chalk a line from the top of the valley to the bottom and cut them. It gives you a straight line down the valley.

Yes, we just call it a closed valley. According to the code, here is what you do.

Get some 30 lb non-perforated roofing paper or felt. Start at the top and roll a length out the length of the valley. Cut it off and cut it in half widthwise. Lay one half into the valley and nail or staple in place. Lay another full width piece over this half piece, and fasten, as well. Start laying your shingles, as usual and have them go up the opposite side of the valley about a foot, let them run wild.

When laying the other side of the valley, let the shingles run wild as well, as long as they are to the center line. When finished the roof, go back and trim the shingles in the valley. Snap a line about 2" back from the center line of the valley. This leaves a bit of a trough for the water to run down without coming to the edge of the shingles. I usually find a 12" x 8' piece of 3/8" roof sheeting and lay it under the snapped cut line and the shingles.

Use a utility knife with a hooked blade and cut down to the board along the line. I find this method works well. I've never had a call back on a roof where this was a problem. If you don't like the idea of the 30 lb felt flashing you can use metal valley flashing, too, just more expensive. We have to put the 30 lb felt at all the eaves anyway, so just allow a bit more for the valleys. We have to sheet the remaining deck with 15 lb roofing felt, too.


The above chat shows the different terms used for the same procedure in different parts of the country. We must love California or its people, because I've noticed we call a few things after this state: California overhang, California Closets, etc. My daughter was driving me somewhere the other day and came to a stop sign, paused without coming to a full stop and continued. I asked her what kind of stop was that? She replied, "A California stop".

My readers out there are not the only ones that learn things from this web site. I've learned about French drains, California roof valleys, a soldiers life in Afghanistan, among others.

Keep sending those questions, comments and pictures. Together we can Build Confidence out there.

Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Jigs 8: Circular Saw Cutting Jig

When you find it necessary to cut or rip large pieces with a circular saw, a handy cutting jig helps keep the circular saw cuts straight. I use my circular saw cutting jig mostly for cutting gable ends for cabinets to length, as well as, trimming doors, etc.

This circular saw cutting jig is simply a 4' or 8' strip of 1/4" plywood with a 2" ripping on one side. The circular saw is placed... Read more at Jigs 8: Circular Saw Cutting Jig.

Almost the End

Hope you enjoy the Newsletter this month.

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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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