Building Confidence

Volume 14 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

Tip of the Month

An important thing to remember when building stairs is that there is one less tread than riser. Some builders ask me why our Stair Calculator doesn't show the step flush with the upper deck or floor. I feel that this is redundant - the first step from a deck or floor should be one riser down. Why enlarge your deck with a step at the same level? For those who are persistent, I will draw the top step flush with the deck or floor, grumbling as I send it. A professional carpenter usually does not have the top step flush with the upper floor, unless the client demands it. Even though the customer is not always right, they are the ones paying the bills and should be listened to, given an explanation of the correct way of doing a job, so they can make an informed decision. Our job, as contractors, is to do the work to the best of our ability, safely, according to code and to satisfy our clients. If all these criteria are met, everyone goes home happy.

And a Bonus Tip:

When constructing a project outdoors, use pressure treated lumber for pieces within 12" of the ground or directly on concrete.

Ask Dave!

FROM A MEMBER Attaching finishes to ICF walls: Hi Dave, My son and I are in the process of starting to attach drywall/cupboards to his ICF basement walls. What in your opinion would be the best way to go about this task? Thank you. Regards, Dennis

Hi Dennis,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I was on a short fishing trip.

Personally, I would construct a 2x4 wall about 1" away from the concrete wall, insulated or not. The ICF doesn't really provide enough insulation. I did this with my regular foundation walls in the basement. I installed 3 1/2" fiberglass batt insulation and put the studs on 24" centers, with vapor barrier on the warm side of the studs, under the drywall. Single top plate nailed to the ceiling joist. The bottom plate screws anchored or nails shot into the concrete floor.

The other option is to strap the ICF walls with 2x2 or 2x4 on the flat, either shot on or with screws and anchors. This is more work, probably just as costly, but without the added insulation value.


Note: ICF is insulated (with Styrofoam) concrete forms, as in this pic:

Photo of ICF (Insulated Concrete Form).

Hi Dave, My girlfriend is a beekeeper. When she takes honey she always has a lot of wax residue left over as part of the process. She uses this wax to make candles, lip balm, hand lotion, etc. In order to do this she needs to melt the wax and run it through a strainer a couple of times to eliminate dirt and the organic debris associated with a hive. Wax melting can be accomplished by heating on a stove. She would prefer to do so in a box which melts by collecting solar energy. The theory is exactly the same as a hot house for gardening but on a smaller scale. I've looked on the internet and there are all kinds of ways to do this. On the low end is what I'll call the Missouri Trailer Park Special - start with a Styrofoam cooler, spray paint it black on the outside, duct tape aluminum foil on the inside. Place an aluminum turkey roasting pan on the inside, poke a few holes in it, tilt it up on one side, put a collecting pan under the holes, place wax in nylon stockings, lay that in the roasting pan, put glass over the entire contraption, face the sun and melt away. However, I'd like to start with a wooden box. I'd like for it to look fairly nice, be durable and do the job. I don't have cabinet making tools - just a compound miter saw, circular saw and a jig saw and a finish grade air nailer. I'm thinking of using 3/4" or 1/2" plywood. My concern is that it will be outdoors. So, what type, grade and thickness of ply wood would you recommenced? I envision a box about 24" x 24" X 8". Can I just nail edge to edge? Should I add a supporting structure such as quarter round and nail to that? I'd like to add legs; the front shorter than the rear so it tilts on it's own. I could just forge ahead on this and probably come up with something that works. Or I could follow what some other bee keepers have put on YouTube. But if I could trouble you for a few thought before starting this, I'd appreciate it. May as well do it the right way the first time. Thanks, Dave. Best Regards, Trace

Hi Trace,

Sounds like a neat little project.

I would go with 3/4" plywood. I usually rabbet the edges of plywood to increase the surface area for glue, but without a router or tablesaw that is pretty difficult. Most plywoods, today, have exterior glues, a marine plywood has no voids in the laminates. A cabinet grade plywood would be best since it is a full 3/4". I would also seal the end grain and the plywood with an oil (alkyd) paint to help keep the plywood veneers from delaminating. Use an exterior glue - Carpenter's wood glue should be fine. A trick I use to seal the end grain is to smear glue on the end grain before I paint it. For the leg on one end, an idea is to extend the box end a bit longer, as shown below.

Drawing of a box for melting beeswax.


FROM A MEMBER riser height Dave, this is a simple question, yet I can't seem to get a straight answer out of anyone. I am pouring a concrete patio with two stairs up to the sliding glass door. I want my rise to be 8" with a 10" run (this works well for the homeowner and gives me two perfect stairs down to the patio). Is this okay or is 8" too high?


I'm on our boat, right now and noticed your email from 3 days ago. Sorry about that. An 8" rise is not too high, although the code max is 7 7/8 - 7 3/4. For two steps it definitely is not too high.


Thanks Dave. Turns out that underneath the sliding glass door the plywood, rim joist and bottom plate are all rotted out and have to be replaced before we can pour the concrete anyway, so we're still a good week away from pouring cement. Enjoy the boat! Marc

Hi Marc,

We are back home now after 2 weeks in our boat visiting the Islands and inlets where Vancouver Island almost touches the mainland at its northern tip. Amazing the number of Americans who visit this region, taking a week, or more, to get up there from their home ports in WA, OR and CA.


I'm so jealous! My brother says Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities he's ever been in. I'm stuck here in middle America where we just had a 5.6 earthquake this morning due to the fracking in Oklahoma. I was out back at the time and was watching my chimney sway at least 1 - 2 feet (the top is about 35 feet in the air - three story house). I was certain it was coming down but it didn't. I mean, that chimney has been in place for 104 years! I still think I should have someone come out and take a look at the mortar though. The homeowner, by the way, decided that the steps we poured are too narrow! Now she wants them wider, but I told her that it probably wouldn't be the same color due to different pours and the structural integrity of it wouldn't be as strong even if we drilled and put in re-bar. So she ultimately decided to just have treated wood stairs built on top of the cement ones that are there. Won't look very good, but at least she'll be happy. I'll send you a picture when it's done (I designed it, but our crew is building it). Marc

Thanks, Marc, I'd like to see the pics.

I was brought up in Vancouver. As soon as we could drive, it seems we were going across the border for a cup of coffee in Bellingham. It was a 2 hour drive then, now about 1/2 an hour.

Victoria is another beautiful city on Vancouver Island, the capital of the province, not as big, but the weather is a bit better. Good boating over here with our Gulf Islands and the US San Juan Islands. Victoria has its British connections!

Hope you get those stairs to satisfy the homeowner.


FROM A MEMBER Attaching stringers I used your stair measurement calculator to replace the stringers and stairway for an outdoor second floor entry door on my garage. There is a 4X6 platform in place supported with 4X6's to grade and lag bolted to the building . My question is, can I attach the stringers so they are level with the existing decking on the platform with the 1 inch (5/4) decking? This is how the old stairway was constructed. It makes attachment to the 2X8 front joist easier and more secure. I'm just not sure if doing this changes how to calculate the stringer's. Thank you in advance for your advice. Best regards, Kent FROM A MEMBER building stringers I sent a question yesterday regarding stringers which may have not been very clear. My total rise is 104 1/4 inches, but in the calculation it assumes the stringer will be attached the distance of one "rise" measurement down from the upper deck or floor. I need to design a stringer in which the top run is level with the upper deck or floor . I am thinking the way to do it would be to add the distance of one rise to the total rise of 104 3/4 and then use your stair calculator to plan the stringer. Is this a good plan . Please , could you get back to me today if possible. I am ready to lay out at least one stringer for trail and cut. Thank you in advance. Best Regards, Kent

Hi Kent,

Sorry about your email, both landed in my Junk folder. I was away, as well, on vacation, for two weeks.

Yes, you add an extra rise to the total rise and you will get the correct stringer. We usually don't add a step level with the upper floor or deck. This is just redundant! There are different ways to attach the stringer to the upper deck and support the stringer, without putting the top step flush with the floor. I discuss these in my articles on stairs:

Here is a drawing for your stairs, I amended for you:

Diagram from our Stair Calculator of 14 stair stringer with measurements.

Hope this helps,


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 to lay it on a surface that is solid. Concrete floors can be patched and any depressions filled with floor levelling compound made specifically for concrete.

If the floor you are covering is in the bathroom, lift the toilet up and clean the area around the floor flange well. After the grout is dry re-install the toilet with a new wax seal. Refer to my article Removing and Replacing Plumbing Fixtures for more details. Don't bother trying to... Read more at Remodeling 10: How to Lay Ceramic Tile.

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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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