Building Confidence

Volume 20 Issue 12
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

Sprinkle Borax powder, lightly, on carpet or furniture to kill flees in the home.

Clean vinyl siding with a solution of 1 cup of bleach in 5 gallons of warm water, plus a squirt of liquid detergent. Use a window or deck brush with an extension handle, brushing lengthwise on the siding, let stand for 2 to 3 minutes, then gently rinse off with water from a garden hose with nozzle. Start from the top working down in about 4-foot-wide sections. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves with protective clothing and boots. Protect plants with a covering of polyethylene.

Ask Dave!

Since our website is almost completely do-it-yourself, and I don't get too many questions from our members, I'll review some questions that I received for our December 2012 Newsletter. I found these questions interesting, hope you will as well.

Hi Dave, I was told by my school mate about putting up the plastic barrier between the crawl space ceiling joists with the black goop and how messy that job is when you're working on your stomach in cramped crawl space. I asked Ross if there was anything newer than this method I used in the 1990's, he said to contact you guys, but I didn't see anything on your web site that addressed this problem? Jim Ed

Hi Jim,

In crawl spaces we usually put the rigid styrofoam against the concrete. This acts as the vapour barrier, as well.

Between the studs in a crawl space including the cavity of the floor box joist, after insulating with fibreglass insulation, we still apply the black goop, called Acoustical caulking. It is applied with a caulking gun and the 300 ml tubes.

The trick isn't to touch it. Just apply a bead to the perimeter of each joist space and along each stud and plate. This is only done if the wall isn't covered with drywall or paneling. Don't apply too heavy a bead - just enough to seal the poly to the wood as you staple it in place.

Remember that vapour barrier is never installed on the cold side of the floor joists, always on the warm side of the room.

If you choose to insulate the floor, rather than the walls, of a crawl space, don't install any vapour barrier - the floor covering inside is considered the vapour barrier.

Hope this helps,


As a new woodworker I have lots of questions , but first - how did you go about making the "routed" molding around the bed?

This question is referring to the Plan: Bedroom Furniture: King Size Bed on our website.

The molding isn't necessarily routered. I left it up to the builder. One way of installing molding is layering up a series of different purchased moldings. When I make custom moldings, panels, etc. I put my router under a table and push the piece against a fence with the router bit in its center. This bed was originally a custom plan. He wanted it to fit his mattress.


Editor Comment: I don't know if we had disposable latex gloves back in the day, or I would have suggested using them, rather than "The trick is not to touch it".

I am currently remodeling my bathroom and in the tail end of it. I am attempting to install trim around my bathtub area. before I make my cuts I want to be sure of what I am doing. I think in each corner a 45 degree cut would be what I need to make to match the ends up, is this correct? Also how do I measure my lengths when measuring with these angles (if that makes any sense).

Hi George,

Checkout my article on this: Remodeling 11: How to Cope and Install Crown Molding

Try coping the inside corners, following the instructions in this article. The first piece of molding is cut square into the corner - a snug fit. The second piece, coming into the corner is coped. the outside corners have to be mitered. This means that each side of the molding has the same angle. If the corner comes to a 90 degree angle then each molding is mitered at a 45 degree angle. If the corner is a 45 degree angle then each miter would be 22 1/2. Check with a framing square and see how close the corner comes to a 90. If it is a bit larger, make the miter a bit larger, same thing if it is tighter than a true 90. Remember that the extra angle over or under a 90 is halved, so adjust only slightly over or under a 45.

To measure the outside corner, measure to the outside of the 45 degree angle of the molding. We call it the long angle. When I measure a door casing I measure the short angle and add 3/16", off the floor or 2 times 3/16 = 3/8 for the header.

Hope this helps, or did I confuse you more?


Editor Note: As mentioned in my article on Cope Joints: We generally cope the inside corners of baseboards and crown moldings. This started in "the old days" when air nailers were not invented yet. A carpenter would nail everything by hand. He noticed that in an inside corner of molding, if the base molding was mitered the opposing corner of molding would have a tendency to open up with the hammering process, making it tough to get a nice tight joint. Mr. Cope came along and thought that if he could easily cut the profile square on the opposing crown molding, as he nailed it in place, it would remain a tight joint because it would slide along the crown molding instead of opening up. This was explained to me, at a very young age, by my father and I never forgot it. The part about "Mr. Cope" is writer's privilege, sorry about that.

Hi Dave! I hope you remember me. I think we last corresponded back in Oct. I was the one with the badly built and narrow staircase. You helped me get started on a path towards new stairs, and you also gave me an initial plan, with some new winders, and some guide measurements on how to proceed. Well, I thought it was appropriate at this time to give you an update of my project, along with pics. Here a series of photos on that. The first one is of the old staircase, which didn't even have proper stringers to support them: Photo of Andres old stair case. And now the new build: Photo of Andres newly built hardwood staircase. Photo of Andres new hardwood staircase from the top. Photo of Andres new staircase from the backside. The last photo is taken from the cellar looking up, so it's kind of an upside down view. But you can get a good idea of the winder landings, along with the new set of stringers (3 2x12"). The whole staircase is now a lot more solid. Not only that, but the treads are wider ( 9 1/2" with nosing), and the winders make the staircase look a lot better. I will also attach a handrail on the opposite wall going upstairs. (not yet shown in the photos). What do you think? (Confession: I got some help with this. A carpenter friend of mine helped me with getting the landings and stringers structurally sound. Without his help it would have been very difficult for me to accomplish this.) Speaking of the winders and the new post and handrails: I've been staining a set of 12 square shaped balusters that I will attach to each rail. What's the best way to attach a baluster? Can I just nail them in, or is it better to use some kind of two way dowel? Or can I just glue them with liquid nails? Any hints on that would be much appreciated. Thank you Dave, and hope all is well with you. All the best, Andre

Wow! I am impressed, Andre. Looks like you can run a Sherman tank up those stairs and they won't fall down. Good job. Nice to a have a friend who is a tradesman to help with the layout. As soon as I saw those pics, before reading your comment, I thought, wow, Andre is good!

With the balusters always use glue. Either toenail them in place or use handrail screws, which have small heads, screwed in like toenails from opposite sides. The top of the baluster is cut on the angle and the bottom is cut square to fit on the tread. The trick is to layout the spindles evenly, and to space them out no more than 4" between. I go into this in detail at: Stairs 5: How to Install an Inside Handrail

Thanks for the photos, Andre, appreciate them. I'm glad everything worked out well.


Thanks Dave! Yes, getting some solid help was definitely crucial for me, but I did learn a lot along the way, starting with finding your website! Thanks for that article and additional hints. That's what I was looking for. Back to work to finish things up. Some staining and sealing with polyurethane, and then mounting the balusters and handrail. If all goes well I'll be done by Christmas, or at least New Years. And, speaking of which, my very best to you and family for the Christmas and New Year Holiday season! Thanks again, Andre

Thanks, Andre. All the best for you and yours.

Have a good Christmas and great new year.


Dave: I have been asked to build a ramp for a car. The car is being built in a large shed. The rise of the door opening is 6 1/2" the car road clearance is 4 1/2" the wheel base of the car 9 1/2 ft. What should the length of the ramp so the car doesn't bottom out when entering and leaving the shed. Thank You Ron

Hi Ron,

I laid out your ramp and slab full size and came up with this drawing:

Diagram of vehicle ramp into a shed or garage with measurements.

So the ramp length is 7'. Since I don't know how level the bottom of the ramp is on the site, the critical height is the 2" up from level or 4 1/2" below the surface of the slab, 4'-8 1/2" away from the edge of the nose of the garage floor, as shown. This ramp should give the car a clearance of 2"+ over and above the 4 1/2" above the tires of the car. This gives a bit of a margin when the car is loaded more heavily or less air in the tires. If this is a concrete ramp, I would recommend a pea gravel mix of 3/8" aggregate, instead of the usual 3/4 minus. This would facilitate a finer finish at the bottom of the ramp. I would also go with the glass fiber reinforced concrete made up of chopped strands of alkali resistant fiberglass. More at this link:

I used this type of concrete for my new exposed concrete driveway, last year and am very happy with it. They say this fiber reinforcing is as strong as rebar. I'm thinking of particularly for the tapered area at the start of the ramp.

Hope your Christmas was Merry and your new year will be a good one.

Hope this helps,


Dave: I hope you don't mind me asking, how did you come up with the numbers? My guess it Geometry formula. Thanks Happy 2013 Ron

Hi Ron,

Yes, I tried geometry, at first to get an idea of what I needed. I then drew up a scaled sketch. Then to be accurate I laid out the sketch full size and came up with the drawing I sent you. Here is a better drawing showing the tires and the clearance.

Diagram of vehicle ramp with vehicle tires and frame superimposed to see clearance of vehicle frame.

The position of the car with the least clearance to the hump, is shown. As the back tires move up the ramp, the clearance gets greater. I found that you need 2" down the ramp at the halfway point of the wheelbase. I then just extended the ramp line to come up with the 7'. That's why I said to make sure the 2" or 4 1/2" from the slab level is accurate, depending if the area in front of the garage is level or sloped.


Hi Ron,

Thinking of your ramp - I solicited help from my daughter and her husband. My daughter, Jacqui, is a Math wiz, - tutors Math, etc., but loves practical math challenges. So her and Mario, her husband, got right into this problem. I wanted to know how realistic the numbers were that you gave me. They have a 1965 Mustang with very similar measurements as yours. The Mustang clearance is 5" with a 9' wheelbase. What surprised me is that its bumpers are extended 3' in front of the center of the wheels. Now this may be a problem with your ramp. I went to my full scale layout on my garage floor and found that with a 4 1/2" clearance at 3' in front of the wheelbase your front bumper had only 1 1/2" clearance above the ramp. The rear bumper had no problem clearing the ground as it started up the ramp. Jacqui figured out that if the front bumper was extended out 3' with a 4 1/2" clearance at that point the best length of ramp to give a full 2" of clearance is closer to 8'. So you may want to consider this. There are things we don't know: if the driveway is sloped or level; how far are the bumpers in front of the wheelbase measurement and what is the clearance under them? If you want to verify these measurements, I can ask Jacqui to verify the ramp length for the new data. Also, you may want to consider them buying a new or another car in the future, so they need a longer ramp to accommodate more average vehicles.

Something to consider talking over with your client.

All the best in the new year.


Dave: Thank you for taking a second look and also thank your daughter and husband for their help. I will look into the distance of both the rear and front bumper from the front and rear wheels and there clearances. Wishing you all a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2013. Ron

Okay, thanks Ron.

All the best,


Note: Thanks to Jacqui (my daughter) and Mario (my son-in-law) for their help with Ron's ramp.

Here was a question on our weekly tip:

"When cutting a machine screw to length, thread on a proper size nut first, cut the screw and back off the nut which cleans the threads in the process."

Dave: Never thought I could cut a machine screw to length. This tip would have saved me a lot of time and aggravation earlier this week on a light fixture installation. So what is the best way to cut a machine screw? How do you secure it and what kind of saw or cutting tool? Thanks, Trace

Hi Trace,

We had a special tool when we owned a hardware store in which we would screw the machine screw into the appropriate sized hole then close the plier jaws and screw out the shortened machine screw. Now I screw on a nut, put the end I want to cut off in a vise, cut the machine screw off with a hacksaw and screw the nut back off, which cleans it. You also can screw the nut on and cut a small machine screw with a good set of cutting pliers. The pliers really crimp the threads up though. The best way is with a fine blade hack saw. If you don't have a vise, just hold it with pliers on the end that is coming off or get a helper to hold it while you cut it off with the hacksaw.

The trick is putting the nut on first. On a large bolt it is handy to have a bench grinder setup to grind the end of the bolt off smooth.

Dave: Had visualized doing as you suggested - only backwards - with head in vice and screw sticking out - which seemed like trouble. Your way makes much more sense.

Yes, I put the head in the vise, as well, but it moves around too much.


Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Stairs 1: How to Build Stairs

Building stairs is a job that experienced carpenters know requires accurate measurements and diligent work habits. I'll attempt to guide you through the steps, pun intended, of staircase construction in a 'dwelling unit'. Diagram showing correct stair rises and runs compared to incorrect stairs.

Knowledge of how to build stairs is very important not only in the stairs being useful and looking good, but also in preventing accidents. Besides needing to be sturdy and wide enough, stairs need to be consistent. Each step must be exactly the same size as every other step. (see Figure 1)

Stair Definitions

The first thing to do is to measure the height where your stairs will go. Diagram showing total rise between the surface of the upper floor to the surface of the lower floor. This is your most important measurement. It is called the total rise. Every other stair measurement depends on it. The total rise is the vertical distance between the surface of the higher floor and the surface of the ground, sidewalk or the lower floor that the last step will be on (see Figure 2)

The total run is the horizontal distance between the edge of the upper floor and the end of the bottom step.

Diagram showing the components of one step in a stair cases including tread depth, nosing run and rise.

Each stair step has two basic measurements. The horizontal or flat part of the stair is called the run. The vertical height difference between two stairs is called the rise. The riser is the vertical part of the stair between a tread and the underside of the tread above it. The part of the stair that sticks out past the stair riser is called the stair nosing. The dimension of each stair depends on a number of factors. Your stairs can be steep or gradual. The rise of each stair can vary as well as its run. (see Figure 3)

Building Codes

Stairs and accidents often go together. Carrying a heavy, awkward load down stairs is an exercise in trust. Trust that the builder did a good job, that the rise of each step doesn't vary by much, that the next step down is where it should be, that the stringer is strong enough, etc.

Building Codes help the builder and everyone who uses his or her stairs. That's their purpose; not to make your life difficult with a lot of rules. A good builder knows his local building code.

The following table gives a summary of the 2015 International Residential Code for Stairways (Section 311.7). Your local building code is likely very similar.

Width of stairs36914
Width handrail to wall31 1/2*787
Width between 2 handrails  27*698
Rise between landings1473734
Riser height7 3/4196
Variation in risers3/89.5
Tread depth10254
Variation in tread depth3/89.5
Nosing radius9/1614
Nosing projection3/4191 1/432
Handrail height on slope3486438965

*   The two starred measurements (Width handrail to wall and Width between 2 handrails) have a length in inches that is different to their lengths in millimeters. This is in the original document. All other conversions between inches and millimeters is correct.

The two variation items in the table refer to the maximum difference allowed between the smallest and largest riser or tread in the staircase.

For more info on Building Codes see my article Useful Stuff 5: The National Building Code

Relationship Between Stair Rise and Stair Run

To prevent the stairs from being too steep or too gradual (see Figure 4), there is a relationship or proportion between the stair rise and the stair run. The British Columbia Building Code (where I live and work) says the stair rise must have a maximum of 200 mm (7 7/8") and a minimum of 125 mm (5"); the stair run has a maximum of 355 mm (14") and minimum of 210 mm (8 5/16"); the stair tread depth has a maximum of 355 mm (14") and minimum of 235 mm (9 1/4"). The tread depth is the stair run including the nosing. The stair nosing cannot be more than 25 mm (1"). You should check the building code of your own region before building or renovating anything structural for your home.

An old adage says that for older people Diagram showing stairs that are too gradual in their rise and stairs that are too steep. the ideal stair rise is 6" with a stair run of 12". An intermediate stair rise is 7" and the stair run is 11". The steepest stairs should be no more than a stair rise of 7 3/4" and a stair run of 10". Notice that in each case the stair run plus the stair rise equals 18". This is the simplest way of determining stair rise and stair run but the size of each stair is totally up to you as long as they are within Building Code ranges. The ideal stair run and stair rise for a dwelling based on a 92 1/4" stud, 3-1 1/2" plates, 2x10 floor joists and 5/8" subfloor is 14 rises of 7 5/8" and 13 runs of 10 1/2" with a 1" stair nosing.

The preferred angle of stairs is around 30 to 35 degrees. There are three generally accepted rules for calculating the ideal stair rise to stair run ratio:

  1. The sum of two stair risers and one stair tread is 24" to 25"
  2. The sum of one stair riser and one stair tread should be 17" to 18"
  3. The stair rise times the stair run should be between 70" and 80".
An important thing to remember when building stairs is that there is one less stair tread than there are stair rises. (See the diagram below on deck stairs to see why that is.)

Calculating the Exact Stair Rise

To keep each stair rise the same size, you'll need to make some calculations. Follow these steps:

  1. Measure the staircase's total rise (distance from the surface of the upper floor to the surface of the lower floor). If your measurement is in feet and inches then convert it into inches only. Example: 8'-10 3/4" is 8 x 12 + 10 3/4 = 106 3/4 or 106.75
  2. Decide on the size of the stair riser you want for your stairs, say 7 1/2 inches.
  3. Divide the staircase's total rise (measurement from 1 above) by the size of the stair riser you decided on: 106.75 / 7.5 = 14.23.
  4. The result of the calculation will probably not be a whole number (one without a fraction). There will most likely be a remainder or fraction. Choose the nearest whole number to the answer of your calculation (in our example it would be 14). This is the number of stair rises in your set of stairs. Now to calculate the exact stair rise, divide your staircase's total rise by the number of stair risers (in this example it is 14 risers), i.e. 106.75 / 14 = 7.625 or 7 5/8".
  5. As we previously mentioned, there is one less stair tread than stair riser, so in our example of 14 stair rises there would be 13 stair treads.

Dan, my brother and webmaster, made a simple stair calculator for you to find the exact measurements of your stair rise and stair run. See our Stair Calculator

Enough Room for Your Stairs?

It's a good idea before you start building the staircase to make sure the planned staircase can fit within the space that you have. Calculate the total run of the staircase by multiplying the length of the run of each stair by one less than the number of stair rises you calculated in step #4. I like a stair run of 10" to 10 1/2" for a stair rise of 7 5/8". At a stair run of 10.5" for 13 stair treads, the arithmetic is: 10.5" x 13 = 136.5" for the staircase's total run. Then measure the physical space within your house to make sure there is enough room for the staircase. Hang a plumb bob from the edge of the upper floor, where the stairs are going to be attached. Measure from the plumb bob to where the bottom of the stairs will be. Make sure there's plenty of room so the stairs don't run into a wall or other obstruction.

Allow at least 36" between the end of the bottom stair and a wall, if inside a house. If your measurement is too tight, try a stair run of less than 10.5" down to 10". Our total run in this staircase would be 10" x 13 = 130". We just saved 6.5". These calculations show the versatility in choosing different stair runs and stair rises. If room is still limited try taking off a stair riser, thus eliminating a stair. Remember though that you must stay within the maximum and minimum parameters for stair rise and stair run. Maybe move the obstruction or move the stair opening back in the upper floor if you have reached your maximum stair rise and minimum stair run. Installing a stair landing will change directions of your stairs, which can give you more room in many cases. (For more info on staircase landings see Installing a Landing in a Staircase)

Watch the staircase headroom also. (see Figure 5). Diagram showing a stair opening and the headroom from the ceiling to the stair below the end of the stair opening. If the stairs are in an opening cut out of a floor area, headroom is a factor. The staircase opening must be long enough to allow adequate headroom when coming down the stairs. The minimum staircase headroom under a beam or joist is 1.95 m.(76 7/8"). Now that we have determined our stair rise and stair run and checked for adequate staircase headroom, we can cut the stair stringers. (For more info on stair stringers see How to Cut Stair Stringers.)


Width of the Stairs

Nail the stair stringers in place, securely to the top floor trim joist and to the bottom floor, or to the side walls. Next is installing the steps or stair treads. In our stair example we chose 1" plywood for the stair treads. Since our stairs are inside a house and will be carpeted, we will choose a stair nosing of 1" giving us a stair tread width of 11 1/2". Rip the 1" plywood 11 1/2" wide and the length to match the width between the walls less 3/4" on each side for the drywall to slip down. The width of the staircase is important as well. The minimum width is 860 mm.(33 7/8"). I prefer a width of 36" if appliances or furniture have to be moved up or down the stairs. If your staircase is wider than 36" put in extra stair stringers to support the longer stair treads.

Outside Stairs

In an inside staircase the stair riser is usually closed, there is a board for the stair riser to attach the carpet or other finish to. This is different to an open riser staircase such as outside off a deck where the stair risers do not have a board attached to them. In this case the stair treads should be made from 2 x 4, 2 x 6, or larger to stand up to the weather. Also, on this type of staircase overhang the stair step 4 1/2 inches from the outside edge of each stair stringer on a 3 foot or wider staircase. (Example of stairs off a deck.)

Putting the Staircase Together

Back to our project. We have 13 stair treads ripped and cut to length now.

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

Let's rip the material for the stair risers. This can be 1/2" to 3/4" plywood. In new construction, there are usually scraps of 5/8" left from the sub-floor. Since our stairs will be covered with carpet let's use these. Rip the stair riser pieces 7 5/8" and the same length as our stair treads. Now start assembly at the bottom of the staircase. We discover that our first stair riser is too high, that's because we cut 1" off the bottom of the stair stringer. Adjust the first stair riser to fit the stair stringer. It should be 6 5/8", unless the depth of the floor covering on the bottom floor is different from the depth of the covering on each stair tread and on the higher floor. What you want is to have the exact same height of each step all along from the lower floor to the upper floor. In other words, if the depth of the lower floor's carpetting or tile is thicker or thinner than the material on the stair treads then subtract or add the difference to this lowest (first) stair rise.

Nail the stair riser on with some construction adhesive or use the adhesive and screws. Nail the next stair riser on, then put some adhesive on each stair stringer at the bottom stair and put some adhesive on the back edge of the stair tread where it meets the stair riser. Nail the bottom stair tread down to the stair stringer placing it tight against the second stair riser and from the back of the stair riser nail through into the stair tread. You can see that the stair tread is now supported by the stair stringer on each end and the lower stair riser supports the front while the upper stair riser supports the back - no squeaks here. Continue up the stairs following this procedure. When you arrive at the top stair riser, it will need to be trimmed to fit. If there is no nosing on your top floor to match your stairs, now is the time to put one in. I usually rip a nosing from solid lumber, say a 2 x 4, to match the overhang and thickness of our stair nosings. Glue and drill and screw this nosing on securely.

Stair Stringer Support

If your stairs were built outside and the stair stringers have no support under the middle of them now would be the time to put 1 or 2 posts under the stair stringers for added strength. Also if these stairs are hanging off a deck with a 2 x 6 trim joist, not much is there to secure the stair stringers to at the top. What I like to do is support the stair stringers with a 4 x 4 that goes from a concrete block or footing right up to above the deck level to form the stair handrail post. Below the stair stringers and tight up to them, nail a 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 ledger across the posts. Then nail a 2 x 4 across the posts near the bottom to prevent the posts from kicking out.

Diagram of deck stairs with hand railings showing stringer, treads, ledger post, scab, ground grade, concrete or treated wood pad and footing with measurements.

Stair Handrails

Stairs need handrails. These should be between 800 mm(31 1/2") and 965 mm(38"), measured vertically from the edge of the stair nosing (see Figure 6) to the top of the stair handrail. I suggest 32" as a comfortable height.Diagram of a balcony and a landing showing typical Building Code minimums.At a staircase landing, the stair handrail should be 36" high and at a balcony edge should be 42" high. These measurements are for single dwelling residential construction (one family house).

N.B.: Maximum and minimum stair measurements are quoted from the British Columbia Building Code 2006.

Almost the End

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(Ask Dave) (About Dave)

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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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