Building Confidence

Volume 21 Issue 6
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 We are into our 21st year putting out this Newsletter. Dan and I would not be able to do this without your input every month. Thank you and keep the questions coming!

Tips of the Month

Formica is applied to the plywood top with a solvent based (not latex) contact cement on both surfaces applied in an area with lots of fresh air.

Erecting batter boards is a good idea to help get an excavation square and accurate.

Ask Dave!

Hello Dave, Man, am I disappointed! My screen door was scraping the floor. I decided to rehang it with the same self-closing hinges (which never worked) that had been on the jam since I moved in 20 years ago. I checked several on-line videos on how to hang a screen door, re-installed it but got the same result..door still scraped. Bought new hinges, extra shims and very carefully centered the door (not perfectly, but the bottom of the door cleared the floor and the door looked level) before attaching the hinges. Then I attached the hinges, using a level. I removed the shims, opened the door, and voila! It hung cock-eyed exactly as it did before. Next morning it was worse! I did check your video on hanging a door that was not pre-hung (will be getting a Stanley center punch!) but it didn't give me any clues about my problem. Please HELP! I'm still shaking my head on this one. Thanks, Trace

Hang in there Trace, we can fix this!

Could you send me a photo of the entire door. I suspect the problem is that the door was not built correctly. You need a brace in the door which keeps it from coming out of square. The hinges are not the problem.

Please send me a pic of the door and I'll show you how to brace it to keep it square.


Dave, Full door pic as requested, plus a picture of the stairs you designed to get from the porch to the deck and a brace a guy at Ace sold me. Trace's screendoor full picture. Trace's screendoor closeup of bottom half. Photo of a brace for a screendoor. I can hear the hoof-beats of the Calvary now! Trace

Thanks, Trace.

This is the way the door should have been designed, something like this. Notice the main brace is the one shown solid. The other brace is just to balance it out. Always go from the latch side top to the hinge side bottom.

Diagram of how a screen door should be braced.

If you can incorporate the metal brace in such a way, you could leave the vertical strips in place and use the store bought brace. Shim the door inside the frame first to get it square with the frame.

Hello Dave, Thanks for getting my screen door operating properly last week. I smile every time I hear it slam, (though I am seeking a solution to mitigate the noise). This Saturday a buddy of mine is going to help me build a couple of insulated small dog houses (actually will be for cats). I've been clicking around on your site but have not found plans for an insulated house. This is what I've been looking at after clicking on the link above:

Plans of a Doghouse for Small Dog

If there are more detailed plans for the insulated house, could you kindly direct me to them? Thank You,Sir, Trace

Hi Trace,

Since this is for a cat: I would go with the Small Doghouse. Before you put the roof on, insulate the wall and floor with 1 1/2" or 2" ridged styrofoam, glued to the plywood. Then insulate the roof. Allowing for where the roof attaches to the walls. For the from entrance, instead of the curved opening, maybe put in a solid piece and install a cat door.

Hope this helps,


[Trace later sent the following photo of his cat houses.]

Photo of two small dog houses.

WoW! Good job, Trace.

Thanks for the pic.


Hello Dave, I live in a modest, story and a half house with no particular design style, other than some faux tudor beams in stucco on a portion of the second story. Stained cedar siding covers the rest of the house. I had a contractor take a look at the weathered boards and white window frame pictured in the attachment. I asked him to replace any damaged wood with more of the same cedar, then I'd have it painted. To the left of the window is additional damage: one split board and several boards with holes about 2 1/2 " in diameter. Bluebirds and starlings are nesting in them. He was willing to replace the damage with cedar but recommended replacing all of the cedar on this side of the house with vinyl or Hardie board. He said vinyl would eliminate the need for further maintenance in the future. My question is one of aesthetics: Should a house that was designed with cedar, stay with cedar? Or, when the cedar needs replacing, it's ok to transition to vinyl. Something inside me is saying stick with the cedar, despite having to paint it every 10 years, because I fear the aesthetics police may view the mixture of vinyl and cedar on the same house as being in poor taste. Or, if I continue to replace siding with vinyl, be guilty of destroying the original, rustic beauty of a house designed to fit in nicely with the deep woods surrounding it. As you might be able to see from the cat house picture, the entire house needs painting again, so this seems like a good time to either have it painted or re-sided. What would you do? Thanks, Dave...

Hi Trace,

Where I live, on the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada, we have gradually changed from cedar to Hardie plank. In some municipalities, they have actually banned vinyl siding on their houses. Locally, cedar is the most expensive, then Hardie Plank and vinyl being priced the lowest.

It is a fallacy to think that vinyl is maintenance free. I built my house in 1992 and installed vinyl siding with cedar trim. See attached.

Photo of Dave's house.

Every year I need to power wash the siding to remove mold that is built up on the North and East sides of the house. Granted, when the power washing is finished the siding looks like new. I was told by a painter friend of mine to stain the cedar, when new, then in a couple of years or so when the sun has bleached the color, go ahead and paint it with a solid color, house paint. I did that and it continues to look good.

If I was doing it again, I would go with Hardie Plank. You need to have it painted before you install it, on the back, front and all edges. Then after it is installed apply a final coat of paint. Most Building Supply Stores can arrange to have it painted a number of stock colors, then deliver it to your home.

You don't need to replace all the cedar at the same time, you can choose to do a wall or two at a time, then next year do the same.

I prefer the Hardie siding with cedar trim over it, around windows and doors and on the corners, as shown in my photo.


That's a beautiful home, Dave! Thank you for the Hardie Board endorsement. Your explanation of how to proceed gives me a plan I can have confidence in. trace

Thanks, Trace

I had 3 plans that fit the slope on my lot and I asked my wife which one she wanted. Of course she chose the biggest one. I told her that is a big house. Later as I finished the framing, she said, "This is a big house."


Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Stairs 8: Lapeyre or Alternating Tread Stairs

I received an interesting email from a member who was enquiring about Lapeyre Stairs, which I wasn't familiar with at the time. These may be the answer to some of you with limited run for regular stairs, especially for a loft area.

He asks, "I'm looking for information on Lapeyre stairs. Some people call them Monk's stairs. They are the steep alternating stairway that allows for angles over 50 degrees. Do you know how to calculate the rise and run for these type of stairs? Here are a couple of pics that show what I'm referring too."

This shows a metal version, notice how the treads alternate on each side. Make sure you start off correctly.

Here is a wooden version. The handrails are quite low compared to the metal steps.

Notice how the stringer goes up above the floor level to support the handrails. Also that the top step is flush with the floor level.

This was new to me, so when in doubt, I always draw a picture. To calculate the rise and run wouldn't be hard, though. I confered with Dan, my webmaster and brother. Dan loves a good math puzzle. I also enquired on the web at a site that was suggested to me by the member who lives in Washington State.

Below is a summary of Washington's specifications on Alternating Tread Stairs:

Alternating Tread-Type Stairs

Alternating tread-type stairs have a series of steps between 50 and 70 degrees from horizontal, attached to a center support rail in an alternating manner so that a user of the stairs never has both feet at the same level at the same time.

1 Alternating tread-type stairs shall be designed, installed, used, and maintained in accordance with approved manufacturer's specifications, and shall have the following:

(a) Stair rails on all open sides;

(b) Handrails on both sides of enclosed stairs;

(c) Stair rails and handrails of such configuration as to provide an

(d) A minimum of 17 inches between handrails;

(e) A minimum width of 22 inches overall;

(f) A minimum tread depth of 8 inches;

(g) A minimum tread width of 7 inches; and

(h) A maximum rise of 9 1/2 inches to the tread surface of the next alternating tread.

2 Alternating tread-type stairs shall not have more than a 20-foot continuous rise. Where more than a 20-foot rise is necessary to reach the top of a required stair, one or more intermediate platforms shall be provided.

3 Stairs and platforms shall be installed so the top landing of the alternating tread stair is flush with the top of the landing platform.

4 Stair design and construction shall sustain a load of not less than five times the normal live load, but never less strength than to carry safely a moving concentrated load of 1,000 pounds.

5 Treads shall be equipped with slip-resistant surfaces.

6 Where a platform or landing is used, the width shall not be less than the width of the stair nor less than 30-inch depth in the direction of travel. Stairs shall be flush with the top of the landing platform.

Our member continues, "It's ironic that it's for Washington state (WA) since that's where I'm located. It seems to be okay to use one of these as long as it isn't the primary means to access another level UNLESS it's to storage or a loft. Mine would be to a loft so I should be okay. From floor level to floor level is 8' 3" and the upper floor thickness is 8.5". I'd really like to keep the total run to as close to 3' as possible. Thank you."

Here is the layout for his stairs according to my drawing:

Diagram of a right andle triangle with mesurements.All I knew at first was that the height of the triangle was 99" (total rise) and the angle I wanted was 70 degrees, from the Washington State building code.

I know that the length of the staircase (the hypoteneuse in the diagram) is 99 inches divided by sin 70 = 105.35 inches.

Then I solved for the base of the triangle using Pythagorus's theorem (the height times itself plus the base times itself equals the hypoteneuse times itself) to get 36.03 inches. Wow exactly what he wanted.

I then divided up 105.35 inches into 11 rises at 9.58 inches each. The maximum rise according to Washington State codes is 9.5 inches. So I went the other way and got an angle of 71 degrees with 104.5 inches. I figured they wouldn't belly-ache about 1 degree if he was getting this inspected. Our cutoff saws call 90 degrees 0 so 71 degrees is 19 on the cutoff saw. This gives you the bottom angle as well as the angle of each step.

The total run is 36", but the total distance used is 36 + 9 (tread depth) = 45. That is what the opening in the floor should be. This gives a bit extra, so you won't be hugging the stairs when climbing them. Remember that this set of "stairs" is really a ladder and the conventional way of laying out stairs is not appropriate here. Remember also that the top tread is flush with the upper floor. This is specified in the Washington State code, too.

Total rise is 99" Total run is 36". Length of stringers is 140.5", allowing about 36" for the stringer to go above the top floor level to attach handrails. This is the same idea as pushing up the ladder above the roof to give something to hold onto while getting on and off the ladder. 11 risers at 9.5" equals 104.5". Stringers to be made from 2x10x12' long, ripped to 8 7/16". Treads are 9" wide.

I allowed the tread 1" longer so he can dado the stringers 1/2" on each side. This will be stronger than just the treads screwed to the stringers as in the picture. Also, I told him to put the handrails on the inside of the stringer, as specified by Washington State code, not like the picture, which has theirs on the outside. The end cuts and treads are on a 19 degree angle, so the length will fit. Where the 5" side of the tread is on the stringer, just rip a small filler to fill the dado. A blind dado would also work, here. The treads on the angle should be a bit longer than the width of stringer to fill in the dado nicely and overhang the stringer a bit.

Here is my drawing for the "stairs" :

Diagram of the stringer detail of lapeyre stairs with measurements.

And a drawing of the actual tread, the one above and below will be reversed:

Diagram of tread detail of lapeyre step with measurements.

Apply the theory as above to your particular set of stairs. I remind you that these should not be used throughout your house, just in areas with limited runs, such as bedroom lofts or attics.

Try the math first and if you are having trouble, you know I'm not far away along the cyber highway.


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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