Building Confidence

Volume 20 Issue 3
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

Tips of the Month

If you have a multibit screw driver, use the bits in your variable speed drill to make a power screwdriver.

If you spill a drop of paint on concrete, quickly grab a handful of dirt and rub it over the paint before it dries. Later you can wash off the dirt.

Ask Dave!

Working on a deck that has corrugated, 2X12, plastic panels installed to run water from the back of the deck to a gutter on the front. The problem the panels were installed level, no slope. Water remains on top of the panels and bulges due to the weight. What would be the best way to slope the panels? I was thinking of ripping a shim from 0 to maybe 1/2" for the 12' length. Harlon

Hi Harlon,

These panels require a 3 in 12 slope. For a 12' span you need a drop of 3' for the required slope or raise the back end 3'. This is the requirement for a roof. For a floor the minimum requirement is 1/4" per foot. This would work out to 3" slope in 12'. A water drain pipe minimum slope is 1/4" per foot of slope.

Sorry about this, but 1/2" in 12' would not do anything. The least I would do is to lift the back side up by installing a 2x4 on edge under the framing.


Thanks, you have a great site here. I signed up for a year. The info about stairs and saw blades really helped out. Your site will be my #1 go to site. Thanks, again Harlan

Thank you, Harlan, that's good to know.


Shop Work Bench Table Why not 48" wide, that is the width of the MDF

We don't limit our designs by the size of material. If this workbench is in the middle of the room, then reaching from both sides is not a problem. If against the wall in a shop, which it will be most of the time, 4' wide is too wide, in my opinion.


Dave, My questions are about putting an "open" staircase into an addition - the staircase will bridge the upper/lower level that you see in one of the pics. Your stair calculator is very helpful and has given me the following based on my entries: total rise 17.25 inches; # of rises 3; # of runs 2; height of each rise 5.75 inches; length of each run 12 inches; total run 24 inches - along with measurements for the stringers. Your example on the web site talks about ripping plywood to make the treads and risers because they will be covered in carpet. I assume that because I want to have white risers and finished oak treads, that I attach same right to the stringers? Or do I still build a plywood staircase, then "cover" it with paintable risers and the oak treads? Another question, do you have any examples or suggestions on how to "close" in the staircase on both sides, since it will be in an open area? Just use paintable plywood, something fancier, etc.? Another question, my plan was to make the staircase fairly wide, perhaps 5 feet, but all of the pre-made treads that I have seen are only 4 feet - is that a standard stair size? Should I go bigger, and if I do will I need to make my own custom treads out of longer oak boards? And if so, how do I "finish" the exposed end grains? I have a router so I can round off the noses, but can I also round off the end grain? Final question (hopefully) - on the bottom stair I wanted it to be even wider than the others (or longer I guess), to try to match my other staircase (the second pic) - obviously it would need to be rounded on both sides instead of just one like the picture, because it is not against a wall. But how do I make that curved bottom "riser"? Is that too far outside my paygrade for an amateur? Any answers you can provide (and maybe pics/examples) would be most appreciated. Mike

Hi Mike,

Usually, we build stairs at the framing stage of the house. We use 1" plywood for treads and 5/8 ply (sub-floor material) for the risers. This holds the stairs together, as well as provides backing for the treads and risers, whether carpet, hardwood or whatever. If you use the same thickness on the treads as on the floors, you don't need to worry about different thicknesses, etc on the steps. Building codes require 1" treads.

If installing hardwood directly to the stringers, get the pre-fab treads that are 1" thick with the nosing built in.

In your situation, with the treads open and 5 feet, I would sheet the treads and risers with 5/8 standard sheathing plywood and cover with 3/4 hardwood flooring material. Use the proper 1 1/4 nosing that matches the flooring. I wrote an article on this:

Miter the nosing in the corners, orient your pieces to match the groove in the nosing. At the one side put the two grooves together with a spline that you rip yourself out of hardwood. Make the spline snug but able to slip into the grooves as easily as the tongue does.

On the rounded out tread for the bottom step. We usually buy this part to match the hardwood flooring. These parts, including stair handrail parts are available at Wood Finishing stores. Checkout my article on handrails.

Here is a pic of my stairs:

Stairs built by Dave

Hope this helps,


Hi Dave, I am planning for the vinyl siding on my cottage. Here is the problem. There is a 3 foot wood pony wall, and the pony walls are covered with 1/2 inch plywood on the exterior. These are actually full 4x8 sheets, and they cover the pony wall and the rim joist. So on 3 sides of the cottage the plywood is 1/2 inch wider than the walls. I want to cover the exterior walls (not the pony wall plywood) with either 1/4" or 1/2" fanfold insulation prior to installing the vinyl. I also want the vinyl to cover everything from the base of the pony wall to the top of the walls. How do I install the siding so that the 1/2 inch difference is not noticeable? I was thinking that I would just get the 1/2 inch fanfold and install it from the top of the plywood to the top of the wall, but the windows are already installed, and the windows have integrated j-moulding. If I install the 1/2" fanfold, then I think the vinyl around the windows will be too tight. I could install 1/4" fanfold, but then I would still have a 1/4" gap and I don't know if the vinyl siding and the vinyl outside corners will look ok. Any suggestions/thoughts? Thanks

Hi Andy,

I can think of 2 possible solutions:

Install a belly band around the cottage, on top of the 1/2" plywood. You would also need a row of flashing on top of the belly board and another row below it. This would be an easy solution. Belly bands are very popular around here, between different or the same courses of siding, vertical to horizontal. They are also used to break up the look of a tall wall. Belly boards or bands are usually combed face 2x10. Miter the corners around the house.


Rip tapered strips from 1/2" to 0 about 18" to 24" long (at least the length of 2 rows width of siding). With vinyl siding being hollow, it is very forgiving in relation to uneven surfaces, vertically. Horizontally, this is a different story. You should be consistent horizontally. Even a 1/4" shim will help between a couple rows of siding. Install these strips on top of studs, above the 1/2" plywood.


Thanks Dave, for #1 - sorry but I don't know what a belly board is, or what a combed face 2x10 is. For your answer #2, all of the siding is going to be installed horizontally. I think I understand about the tapered strips. You threw me with 'horizontally this is a different story'.

Hi Andy,

#1: A belly band is a board usually, 2"x10" that is installed around the walls of a house in a continuous band. There is flashing above and below it. It breaks up the look of the wall, a bit. Around here, most of the corner boards and belly band boards are combed face. This combs come from describing the face of the board, which looks like someone took a comb to it and left small ridges and valleys in the surface. It usually comes primed, as well.

#2: 'horizontally this is a different story' means that in the horizontal plane, or the length of the board plane, the wall surface should be consistent and flat. In other words if the wall is wavy, the siding attached will look wavy. On the other hand, vertically, it is not that big an issue. If the wall has a 1/4" board sticking out between rows of the vinly siding, it is not that noticeable as it if the 1/4" was sticking out all the way up the wall.

Does this help?


Ok Dave I have been doing more thinking. What if I use this vertical base flashing on top of the plywood? This should provide the transition from the plywood on the pony wall to the wall sheeting.

Drawing of base flashing

I like it. I would install the flashing on the wall first, then install the tarpaper over the flashing on the wall side. This would force any moisture to go out along the flashing. Dave


Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Electrical 2: How to Wire a Three Way Switch

VERY IMPORTANT! Before working on any electrical modifications of your home read the first article in this series: Electrical 1: Electrical Safety.

A three-way switch is used for turning one or more lights on or off from two different places. For example, turning the light on or off from the top of the stairs and turning it off or on at the bottom of the stairs.

The trick with wiring switches is that you only switch the black or hot wire. You'll notice that in both diagrams, the white or neutral wire goes through the switch boxes and connects to the light - it is not switched. On the 3-way switch, the white wire is used as an extra switch wire and is said to be colored black. Whenever an electrician uses a white wire as a hot wire, he/she will put black tape or colorant on it to distinguish it as a hot wire, rather than a neutral.

Diagram of how to wire a three way light switch with the hot wire entering the light box

Notice in both diagrams that the black wire is used for switching purposes in combination with the red and white wires. The white wire connected to the three-way switch is colored black to show it is not a neutral wire. The black wire from the power source is shown connected to the three-way switch at the common terminal of both switches. This common terminal usually has a red, copper or black screw and the word COMMON stamped on the back of the switch. The other terminals usually have brass screws.

The first drawing shows the wiring of a three way switch with the power source entering the light box.

This second drawing: How to Wire a Three Way Switch Power to Switch shows the wiring for a three way switch when the power source enters one of the three way switch boxes.

Diagram of how to wire a three way light switch with the hot wire entering one of the switch boxes

Almost the End

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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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