Building Confidence

Volume 17 Issue 4
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

When attaching a beam onto posts, install scabs over the joints for strength.

And a Bonus Tip:

Before removing a wall during a renovation, be sure to determine if it can be removed safely, or is it holding up a floor, ceiling or roof.

Ask Dave!

Let's continue with my early construction experiences in the summer months of my high school holidays.

Photo of the mine site outside Tungsten, BC.It was the Summer of 1962, I just graduated from high school in June and had applied to attend first year at the University of British Columbia in September. Dad was working on a mine job in the Northwest Territory, not too far from the border of the Yukon Territory and farther north than Anchorage Alaska. The town was called Tungsten due to the mine, as shown in the photo. The buildings were completed, the Cantung mine, short for Canada Tungsten, was in partial operation since the concentrator building lacked equipment. This was our job, to install the following items: a wooden tank for water storage; 5 heavy sluice tables; 2 or 3 froth flotation cells and assorted piping, as required.

Since the roof was already on the building, we could not use a crane. Dad opted to use a two drum winch. He was familiar with this winch since he saw how they used it in the bush for logging purposes. One winch cable would lift the object and the other winch line would pull the load. This was called tight Iining. I was a millwright helper. My partner was a carpenter. We had the task of drilling and installing brackets to hold snatch blocks which would guide the winch cables to their position over where they would be installed.

The first items to be moved into position was the sluice tables. Their bases were already in place. The tables were outside the huge main doors. I was told to rig the cables through the blocks and take the end of it to the first sluice table. I hooked it up under the watchful eye of Dad. He went back to the winch and in floated the big table through the air and was lowered down to sit on its base. Then we adjusted the block over the next table and rigged it up, to repeat the process for all the tables. A supervisor from the US, whose company owned the mine, said to me that he's seen lots of mine equipment installations, but has never seen any of them go as smoothly as this. It was like magic those heavy tables floating in the door and resting on their individual bases.

The next job was to pull into place the froth flotation cells. Since they were too heavy to lift. Dad used steel pipes to roll the cells on top and pulled into place with the winch. As this was going on a crew of carpenters were assembling the approximately 10' diameter wooden tank. It came pre-fabricated as a kit, made from tongue and groove matching boards to form the base and the wall. The walls had steel bands which could be tightened. When complete the tank was filled with fresh water. It leaked like a sieve for a few days, until the wood swelled up and stopped the leaks. We were in a beautiful valley in the NWT that Summer. Some of the guys working outside without their shirts never got a suntan. I left August 31st for the trip back home and it was snowing ever so lightly.

That's the True North!


Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Deck 5: Deck Stairs with Returns

The construction of the deck stairs as shown in the above Floor Plan is a very complicated build, which incorporates the fundamentals of stair building combined with that of roof construction. If this is your first time in making stairs, refer to Stairs 1: How to Build Stairs on our web site. Also, details are given in How to Build a House 2: The Foundation.

I will compare the support of the miter of the steps with a hip rafter in a roof and the supports for the steps between the handrails with common rafters. Notice that the steps are 7' in both directions to produce a 45 degree angle with the deck line.

The height of the deck off the ground is 67", in our example; you can vary yours accordingly. The main thing I would like to accomplish here is to clarify the principle of building steps with mitered returns so you can apply your own measurements to suit your individual needs. I'll use this example of a set of return deck stairs throughout this article, but the chance of your actual project being the same is very unlikely, so I'll explain how the measurements are arrived at as we go.

The Foundation

Diagram of foundation plan for our backyard deck with measurements.

You can see the perimeter measurements are 20'-4" x 7'-0"; your footing will be inside of that. The top of the deck is the reference for these elevations, so measure 68 1/2" down to the top of the concrete, which is the total rise plus 1 1/2" for the thickness of the 2x8. Concrete should be a minimum of 18" below the soil, depending on the frost depth in your area. Drawing of an anchor bolt in concrete holding down a sill or bottom plate and sill gasket.The concrete should be 12" wide with a pressure treated 2x8 bolted to the top of it, flush with the outside edge of the footing. The stringer bottoms and supports will be nailed into this 2x8 sill plate. When the concrete is smoothed off on the top, insert 1/2" x 6" anchor bolts, leaving the threads up about 2" to bolt the 2x8 down. Place them no more than 6' apart. The footings in the middle are to support posts for the stringers, the two pads are for posts under the short stringers. Don't just rely on nails holding up the stringers; they should all be supported with posts—2x4 posts are good. Any wood laid down onto concrete should be protected with a 30 pound roofing felt or sill gasket under it or the wood pressure treated.

The Stringers

Diagram of stringer layout for backyard deck stairs showing jack stringers, 45 degree stringers and common stringers from plan view.

Under the mitered steps will be a stringer on a 45 degree. The other stringers will come off of this main one similar to jack rafters coming off a hip roof.

The rise and run ratio is 7.44/10.5 or 7 7/16"/10 1/2" on the common stringers. For the 45 degree stringers the ratio is 7.44/14.85 or 7 7/16"/14 7/8". Lay these out as shown in the article Stairs 2: How to Cut a Stair Stringer.

Here is a detail of the 45 stringer:

Diagram of a deck stair stringer on 45 degree with measurements.Notice the 45 stringer starts at the inside corner of the common stringers and has its end cut off on a 45 degree angle, similar to the plumb cut on a hip rafter.

Lay this stringer out with 8 rises of 7.44" and 8 runs of 14.85". After laying it out and cutting it out, remember to cut it off the bottom the thickness of the tread. Measure back from the first riser 11.98" and cut off the end plumb and on a 45. This is a compound angle of 45 and square with the top. You need two stringers like this, so copy one from the other. It's important to be very accurate with this.

Now cut the 7 common stringers; 3 will go in between the ones against the 45 stringers and 2 will be shortened by 1 1/2" at the top end to go up against the common stringers, against the 45 stringer. These are parallel to the deck as shown on the Stringer Layout drawing. These are laid out as normal, 8 rises at 7.44 and 8 runs at 10.5". Cut the bottom off by the tread thickness, 1 1/2" if you're using standard 2x6's for treads. (See How to Cut a Stair Stringer for more info on this.) Lay one out and use it as a pattern to copy the others. You need to make 12 jack stringers, so use the pattern for these, as well. Notice the plan for their different lengths, just subtract the number of runs at 10.5 each to make up the set.

Here is a detail of the Jack Stringers:

Diagram of deck stairs jack stringers with measurements.Notice how these stringers need to be extended by 1 1/2", then cut off on a 45 degree to fit the 45 degree angle of the 45 stringer. The rest of the stringer is the same as the common stringers. You need 4 sets of 3 with 2 of the sets cut off on the opposite 45 degree (mirror-image to the other 2 sets). The bottoms of these stringers are all alike since they all rest on the concrete pad, just cut them to different lengths.

When ready to assemble start with the common stringers and nail them into the deck starting at the inside edge of the 6'-4" measurement and nail into the 2x8 sill on the concrete. They come down from the deck surface 1 riser of 7.44 plus 1 1/2" tread or 8.94".

Before installing the treads and risers, place posts under the stringers next to the deck and in the middle of the span. This applies to all the stringers including the jack stringer, although a center post is not necessary for the two shorter ones.

The red lines next to this text show the backs of the riser, the same as the 10 1/2" run. Put the risers on first, then the treads over them to allow for a bit of overhang. The treads are mitered on the center of the 45 stringer, as are the risers. Two 2x6's will work well for each tread.

The treads should be 1 1/2" thick material for the spacing of the stringers. The stringers should all be made from pressure treated 2x10, except for the two 45 stringers which should be 2x12 pressure treated.

Dan and I thank you for your interest and support of our Website. We hope we can help you with your present and future projects.

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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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