Building Confidence

Volume 15 Issue 7
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

Dan and I are enjoying your reaction to our Videos in your comments and watching the number of views rise, incredibly over a million, now. Can you think of another video that would be helpful to you to put on our website that could better explain a question you may have in building your projects. Dan is itching to direct me in another video!

Tip of the Month

When making stairs, to save your carpet, round over the top edge of each nosing. Do this with a router, a belt sander or a block plane. It is easier to do this before installing the treads.

And a Bonus Tip:

Don't install doors on a floor standing cabinet, until the cabinet is placed in its final resting place. And attached to the wall.

Ask Dave!

Thank you! I just wanted to take a few seconds and say thank you for the great printout and the calculations for the stair stringers. While I understand the rise/run, that darn angle was messing me up. There are free calculators on the web, but none as simple as yours. By being able to mark the "points" of the steps along the edges, I could easily find the rest of the angles. Even with my old Pythagorean Theorem, I understand how to find the length along the board, but that top step was messing me up still. I find the money for the membership WELL SPENT just for this one thing. It allowed me to do the stringers for the deck in short order. Thank you again!!

Thanks, Misty for your email.

Dan, my brother and webmaster of our site, luckily loves his Math. He did a good job of putting the Stair Calculator together and then coming up with a new, almost radical way of stepping down the stringer with points rather than with a Steel Square, the more conventional method.

Just remember: The stringer should have one less tread than riser; cut the thickness of tread off the bottom of the stringer and install it the thickness of the tread down below the riser height at the top.

Don't hesitate to ask me any questions you may have on our site or with your projects.


We got them in and level (even more amazing). It was still the best money we spent on the deck so far. Thank You again! mv

Thanks, Misty, for the update. Glad everything went well.


Retaining wall on hills the are not level Hello Dave! What great site you have here! Best investment I have made! I have a question about retaining wall on unlevel land, when you dig for a footing, is it ok to dig and keep the ground unlevel? Such as a hill that slops down, how would the brick lay out if I kept the same consistency with the ground? Would that cause a problem as I'm laying the brick? Should I dig to make the footing level all the way across?

Thanks for your nice comments.

When laying blocks/bricks on a concrete footing, the footing must be level. We step the footings, which means we raise the low end at least 6" and start off again. The code says that each footing step has to be a minimum of 6" vertical and 24" horizontal. With bricks have the length of each step coincide with the number of bricks, so the brick will be flush at the end of the step and the vertical drop be equal to an even number of courses of the brick.

Here is a drawing to explain:

Drawing of concrete steps on a variable slope.

Hope this helps,


I'm trying to make new stringers for this porch. I actually need them to sit flush with the landing. I know that seems odd, but if you can tell by the photo the stairs had 7 runs and 7 rises. It comes up flush to the landing. I tried using the stair calculator and cut the stringer, it was then that I figured out why the stringer was too short. I was hoping to just take out the old stringer, but they disintegrated and are untraceable. I can't seem to get the math right. Any ideas on how to cut the stringer? I'm using 2x6 for treads, and 1x8 for the rise, that is what it had originally, the total rise is 55 1/2. Any help you could give would be appreciated. I loved the stair calculator by the way, I just have an unusual problem with needing the same number of rise and run to sit flush. Thanks, Ashley

Hi Ashley,

Yes, I can help with this. Since you need to have the bottom step stop on the concrete landing, could you give me the total run that you need. Just plumb down from the edge of the deck and measure to the bottom rise.


The total run is 74 1/8.

Diagram from our Stairs Calculator of a seven step stringer for a member of our site.

Okay, your rise is 7 15/16" and run is 74 1/8 / 7 runs = 10.59 or 10 9/16".

If you make your stringer like this, it should work.

We need to trick the Stair Calculator that the total rise is 63 7/16 or add 1 rise to 55 1/2.

We know that you need 7 runs at a total run of 74 1/8 = 10.59 each.

The attachment shows the new measurements and drawing for your stringer.

Hope this helps,


That is perfect. I can't thank you enough for all of your help! We've spent an entire day trying to figure out what you did in a few minutes! Thank you so much!!!

Oh, good, glad I was able to help.


Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Remodeling 21: How to Build a Wheelchair Ramp

[For our Wheelchair Ramp Plans, see Wheelchair Ramp Plans]

I have noticed an interest from members of our website about the specifications of building a wheelchair ramp for a disabled person entering their home. Most Building Codes are very specific about the requirements for wheelchair ramps. In the United States, there is The Americans with Disabilities Act, which outlines the dimensions for wheelchair ramps. Let's go over the key points for building a wheelchair ramp to gain access to the interior of your house, in simple terms. It is always a good idea to check out your local building codes, as well.

Ramps are necessary for individuals in wheelchairs, as well as those pushing strollers, grocery carts and the elderly or infirm to access the entrance to a home. A wheelchair ramp should have a level area at the bottom as well as the top and at changes of direction. Some long wheelchair ramps over 20 feet should have a level spot in the middle. These level areas or landings should be the width of the wheelchair ramp and at least 5' long. This allows the wheelchair driver to negotiate a turn and the chance to slow down or just to stop and rest. The ideal width of a wheelchair ramp is 36" between handrails. Handrails are installed on both sides of the wheelchair ramp. This allows the wheelchair driver to grab the handrails and pull himself or herself along. The preferred height of the top of a handrail is also 36", another rail at 18" is helpful for those unable to reach the higher rail, children, for example. The handrail should be continuous and returned into the wall, floor or post or the end rounded to avoid someone running into it.

The slope of the wheelchair ramp should be not less than 1' in 12', except for very short wheelchair ramps. This means that if the vertical rise in the wheelchair ramp is 1' high the horizontal distance should be at least 12' long. Curved wheelchair ramps should be avoided due to difficulties negotiating curves in a wheelchair; better to have a landing instead.

The wheelchair ramp should have a 3" high curb to prevent the front wheel of the wheelchair from going off the edge. This curb can be incorporated with the handrail, having a bottom rail not more than 3" above the deck. Any difference in height or projection on the wheelchair ramp should not be more than ½", for example where the plywood sits on the sidewalk at the start of the slope.

Wheelchair ramps can be constructed of wood, concrete or steel. Make sure the surface is slip resistant and that level areas cannot hold puddles of water and will not build up ice during the winter. In many areas, the cost of building a wheelchair ramp for the disabled can be deducted from your income tax.

Hope this helps.

For our Wheelchair Ramp Plans, see Wheelchair Ramp Plans

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I hope you enjoyed the Newsletter this month and that your summer was a good one.

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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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