Rebuilding an older stair Part one

We got call from a gentleman regarding a 1980 ish stair that had half walls down to the floor. He wanted a more formal layout with exposed treads and hand rails.

Stair makeover

1980 stair before

open stinger stair

open stringer stair after



We do not do demo anymore because of lead based paint and asbestos rules. Not that we are against rules and safety, The liability aspects just don’t appeal to me. With that, the home owner took that part of the project. We had somewhat of a clean slate when we arrived.

The scope of the rebuild was to replace all the treads and risers. The treads were red oak. The risers were poplar that we painted white. The treads on the exposed sides had mitered returns on the treads and risers. We cut a new side boards on the inside walls at the top of the stairs because the side stringers were beat up. The handrail is continuous on one side per code. The other side was ended at the wall. Continuous handrails are required on one side on this stair width.

We removed the treads and risers from the old set. We cut the riser boards 45 deg on the ends to return against the the new  skirt board. I set the placement of the 3/4 inch skirt board against the studs so the skirt would be 1/4 proud of the 1/2 Sheetrock. The risers were set with a laser . You could also use string or a straight edge, after all the risers were set,we set the skirt board against them and scribed all the plumb and level cuts.

installing stair treads

stair building

stair building

installing stair risers you will notice I installed new skirts on the sides going down at the top of the stairs.




I cut my own miter returns. It can be somewhat intimidating to younger carpenters. If you can cut a straight line with the Skil saw then you can do this.I do the 45s on the ends first. I clamp them together edgeways on the bench. With the skill saw blade cut it at 45° angle. You will be adding a 1 1/4 inch bullnose to the side edges. You need to set the depth of cut to account for the 1 1/4.  With them all clamped to together you have a base to to support the skill saw. If you have less than four treads it is easier to cut the miter with a very sharp hand saw. The next cut is the long crosscut to intersect the back of the angle cut on the front. I use a skill saw then finish the last part with my hand saw.  Just be careful and take your time. Keep your saws square to the work. I leave the short return  off until I am installing the cove under the treads.




oak tread

oak tread with return






Thoughts on solar powered air conditioning for the Dolphin

I have been pondering the ac and solar system in the Toyota motorhome. Mental exercise at this point. I first thought about a window unit ala Pleasure Ways  and Roadtreks.  The idea is to have the batteries be able to power the rear ac going down the road. The problem is that air conditioners are energy pigs.

The small size of the dolphin has an advantage over the bigger motorhomes. I do plan to gut the entire box and rebuild from scratch. Giving this project another advantage. We can tighten up the envelope. We can insulate properly.  Get rid of large windows. Great for views but horrible insulation properties. R1 at best.  Most heat is lost through windows and doors. Then the ceilings. If you are going to need to park it in full sun. Better have a well insulated roof.

After looking at specs for 9000 watt units. Muddling through  ratings, Can’t  manufacture use the same formulas for all units? Anyway, I quickly came to the conclusion that window units used too much power even for the low cost. I did not consider downgrading to a 5000 btu unit. It was not going to cool us down except for a 80 deg night and I want this unit to keep us cool traveling down the interstate without a generator .

I am familiar with mini split systems. The run the spectrum from piece of shit to this might work. The important part here is SEER Rating. The higher the number the less amps or watts it pulls. I am not going to factor in inverter loses. Simply the SEER Rating is a ratio between the watts per hour and the BTU rating. I have found units from 13 seer to 27 seer in 9000 btu models.

lets do the math on the 13 SEER model first. 9000/13 equals 692 watts. Divide the 692 by 12 volts ( our battery working voltage) we get roughly 58 amps out of our batteries. Actually more amps are used because of inverter inefficiency. Working with 220 usable amp hours of  batteries,  3 hours will drain batteries without a charge.

When we check out the 27 SEER unit. 9000/22 equals 333 watts and by 12 we get 28 amps an hour out of our bank. Twice as efficient as the 13 SEER.  6 hours easy . That means on a sunny day 400 watts of panels can keep up with this load. The panel manufactures fib a bit on output .  Add 15 percent to your calculations to cover them. 9000/12 equals 33 amps .In the real world figure 26 -28 amps. Pretty sure a heavy duty alternator is capable of keeping up with that going down the road. May need to upgrade some extra components in the charging system. Relays etc.

The down side is this arrangement is two times the cost of the 13 SEER. You get what you pay for!

Another great feature is the ability to run them on smaller inverters. The larger inverters have higher standby losses. We don’t plan on a microwave so the ac would be the heaviest load on the system. A decent pure sine brand in the 1500 watt range , Samlex or equal.

I was going to upgrade the alternator to a heavy duty high output model. Still researching the charge controller from the alternator and the panels. I need a smart charger that can monitor the batteries and handle the ac load as well as a heavy charge rate from the alternator.


The added bonus is we get a heat pump with this package. I was looking at a diesel cab heater for the heat . Open flame heaters really don’t belong in a RV anyway. Another rant another evening.

i would love to hear feedback on this.




Cutting treads between housed stringers

How to cut treads between housed stringers

There is no room for error when installing treads between housed stringers. A little gap looks horrible and is a reflection of your abilities. Bad work won’t pay the bills down the road.

You can use a tread wizard. But for those who do not own one. The solution is still easy to do IF you are careful. I use a couple methods.

1 lattice strips and a hot melt glue gun- works well and doesn’t taken long. This is the same technique countertop builders utilize. Hot melt the strips on the four edges and transfer the lines to the replacement tread.

2 construction paper and tape- works for retro treads and tread replacement. Tape the paper to the tread creating a template to follow with the saw. Use blue tape, attach it first to the perimeter. Cut some construction paper a little smaller than your blue tape line. Tape that piece on your first tape going around the perimeter. Carefully pull it up as one piece and transfer to your board.



3 Bevel square and tape measure and 2 ft level- this method requires a little extra care. I only use if I have a couple treads. I check that the riser is straight along the long edge, if you can shim straight, do so. If not, use a straight edge against it to run your bevel square against. Transfer that mark to your new read. Then do the same for the other side.

Bevel cut the side and back edges for a tighter fit. Do not put a bevel on the last 1 1/2 inch of the sides where the front bullnose is. I use my saw set on a bevel for this cut. See below




This the side view of the bevel cut. I use a skill saw set on a bevel. Making sure not to cut the visible part of the front bullnose. If you did everything right it will just drop into place.


Here is the side view of the tread against the stringer. We primed and painted the stringer before we dropped the tread in. The tread was also stained and coated before installation. This method leaves a crisp line.



Building a curve handrail

Curved handrail on a stair. Part one

Curved handrail

existing curve handraiL

My client was in need of a new curved rail. The old one had a broken volute.There was nothing great about the old one.  It was pine and typical builder quality from the 80s. All the Newels were naturally loose from poor building practices and time.

The replacement rails are all red oak same as the new Newels. We will be installing iron balusters after the painters are done next week.

Normally we remove the rails on curved or radius stairs. Attach heavy L brackets to the treads then bend the railing on the L bracket hugging bottom of the treads to keep the rise in check. I always hate leaving a stair without a rail for safety concerns. This time I used the existing rail as the bender frame, without removing it.

curve rail stair

adding female form boardsM

Above I added a female form to a 6010 handrail. I put oak strips 1 1/2 x 5 inches on the sides for attaching my new 6010 bender rail. The metal brackets are 2 1/2 inch level clamps sold for curve rail installations. The level U clamps were very handy . It would have been somewhat difficult without them. The female form material is flimsy and deforms easily . The clamps kept that in check.

bending curve rail

curve rail bending

I have never tried to install curve railing on top of an existing rail before.Generaly its done on the treads with L brackets. Above, I test fit the bender rail prior to gluing it up. It was a tight bend. We started clamping from the center working to the ends. I removed the volute on the bottom. Cut the top  of the newel at the top of the stair so that I carry the bender rail past those points. So far….it’s working.

curve railing

glued up 6010 oak handrail

After we get it out of the clamps. the handrail gets a sanding and a volute added to the bottom. I will not go into detail on the volute. i assemble the cuts with the rail laid out on the treads. use a level on the volute to check the cut. I screw the volute to a flat board prior to cutting, The handrail is always cut at a 90 deg to the top edge. the easing on the volute is cut at the rake angle of the stairs. Around 37-42 deg on most stairs. Try not to dwell on the cost of the volute or the bend-a-rail you just spent a couple hours building. Another important factor is to cut the rail at the correct points at both ends as they set in the glue up. If you attach too far up or down it will affect the radias points on the treads. ie your balusters will not line up on the treads. Trust me on that.

6010 volute

Volute setup for cut, The volute is screwed to the board underneath for stability.


All done

curved railing

oak curved handrail







1983 Toyota Dolphin rebuild


1983 Toyota Dolphin

We picked up an older dolphin on a stair railing trade out. We had it towed out of the yard. The pieces to the engine were on the table in pieces. I did get it running after a trip to the wrecking yard. The carb was in tiny pieces, much like a jig saw puzzle.

We have been driving it around town now all spring. It gets around 16 – 18 mpg. Not bad for its size. I have been surprised at its handling abilities and we did get it up To 66 miles an hour on flat highway.

After months of analyzing the thing I decided to dump a boatload of cash into the project. Mechanically the thing is sound. It has the full floater rear end installed per recall. Without it the thing is unsafe to drive. Lives were lost  in the past from axles coming loose at speed. Toyota did supply owners with new factory axels to remedy the problem. Toyota also stopped the sale of the trucks for motorhome conversions.

The previous owner had replaced the roof completely. The walls have rot below the windows. The walls have a minimum of insulation. The roof seems to have 3/4 styrofoam. The exterior walls are Mesa design aluminum siding. That has seen its share of hail storms over the years.I pondered replacing the exterior walls and residing the thing. I have a local company that can make the siding, the cost was reasonable. In the end I figured for the amount of work I could replace the whole box and have a layout my wife and I want.

The existing layout had a rear side door with a kitchen and tiny wet bath in the very back. The bath was hardly usable for anyone over 5 ft tall. The bed over the cab was 4 ft wide. Not large enough for two adults. The lounge seats were uncomfortable with thin foam.  Someone had scavenged the water tank, heater, and barrel seats before we got it. The floor is 3/4 plywood that had settled over the years. Not really much to base a rebuild on so it will come off as well.

Next week we will be tearing this thing to the cab and frame. The advantages are numerous. The ability to inspect the frame. Acces to brake lines. Shocks. Water gray tanks etc.

We are making changes to the layout. Installing a double bed in the rear higher off the floor for extra storage underneath. Relocating the door to the front. Relocating the bath to behind the driver. Utilizing a sunken shower floor in the hall like the old pleasure ways used. I am not using a black tank. But going with a cartridge system. Keeping my gray tanks cleaner and better smelling.

The propane fridge is being dumped in favor of an Engels 12 volt chest. We will also build in a chest cooler in the kitchen counter like boats use. The engel will be setup as a freezer supplying frozen blocks for the cooler. I am wanting to rid the camper of propane. I will install a single burner induction burner for cooking inside. Most of our cooking will be outside anyway.

I plan to construct the walls with 1 1/2 inch pink foam with a 11/2 hardwood studs. I will attach 1/4 inch luan to both sides the outside will get a filon covering. The inside will get a heavy wall paper. The ceiling will get the same framing except I will use the white board ceiling and a rubber roof.

i plan to install a house window ac on the back wall. I want to keep the roof clear for solar panels and a kayak rack. I will have a fantastic fan above the shower area.

The solar system will consist of 400 ah AGM batteries and 400 to 600 watt panels on a tilt frame.  A 30 amp mppt controler and a 2000 watt pure sine inverter. This gives us a little under 200 ah of power daily. Enough to run the cooktop, lights, led of course, TV, computers,engel freezer, phones…..the truck alternator will also be used to keep us topped off.

Stay tuned




Wall Oven Tutorial

Wall Oven Tutorial

Ever done a budget kitchen? Drove on down to the box store to find the in stock cabinets lacking. No fridge end panels, etc. With a little work you can make make your own. I will do an article on color matching a little later. Thats not so hard either.

Most kitchen cabinets consist of a four or a five sided box and a face frame.
the box side attachments are your choice. Nails, screws, biscuits , pocket screws. I use pocket screws made by Kreg and their jigs. I have used all the above methods but pocket screws are fast and hold very well. In the world of production wood working, faster is a good thing.
Most wall oven cabinet units measure 33 inches wide to the outside width and 84 inches tall.
Wall oven appliances vary in height so check your manufactures cut sheet. Pay attention to electrical requirements and box locations! Get the cut sheet for the appliance. These are tight fits and you do not want an improperly placed electric box stopping you from pushing your oven in.

Use whatever sheet good works for you. I like maple plywood because it stains and paints well. If the sides are visible then you need to get whatever wood the other cabinets are. The budget brands are usually oak or maple. Below is an example of the build design. The top is cabinet storage space with doors added. the bottom is a drawer unit. Middle holds our oven. This article is a face frame cabinet with 2 inch styles and rails. The center rail size is dictated by oven height. You will need the dimension of your wall oven to determine the width you need. Most wall ovens are 30 inches wide and require a 29.5 inch opening. I made this cabinet 33 inches wide using 2 inch face frames. I went with 33 inches because that is a standard cabinet size. think 3 inch modules in the USA. I also had a factory 33 inch by 12 inch high cabinet to go on top of it. All that was required was to trim 1/4 off each side on the inside face frames of the oven opening. If you follow the math 33 inch wide box – 4 inches of face frame equals 29 inside opening, 1/2 removed from inside equals 29.5.


It should take 2 sheets of plywood to make this. You want to rip 23 1/4 wide pieces. two will be crosscut 84 inches long for the sides. The cross cut for the width pieces will be your outside dimension less your material thickness x2 . On my 33 wide cabinet that would make my inside pieces 31 1/2 using 3/4 sides .

On the cabinet back. I like to keep the stove area with out a back. I mark out the exposed area for a dado cut for a 1/4 pane or 1/2 panel  or you can also step in the panels the width of you material.

See pic below


I purposely left out the dimensions of the toe kick. You will need to calculate that off you existing boxes. Matter fact I left out most dimensions.




When assembling cabinets or shelves I use scrap wood cut to the inside dimension as an index.
If I have an inside space of 12 inches, I cut a couple 12 inch scraps and place them inside as I attach the next panel.
Because the Kreg screws push the panel over slightly as they go in. The panel spacing is perfect.The Spacer blocks will be tight to remove. The price you pay for accuracy.


Those sticks you see are the spacers for indexing the next panel. The key to this is setting the first panel perfectly.


The panel on the left is a panel already set. I am screwing in the right panel from the other side into the index stick. I moved it to the center to set the center screw  without bowing the panel.

When building up the face frame you can make it overhang the edges on the outside an 1/8 each. That helps attaching to adjacent cabinets.

I like to layout the face frame pieces on a large table for assembly. You can use kreg screws on them as well, just clamp both edges down before you screw them together. Otherwise they WILL offset from each other. still editing, give me a couple more days



Use glue,the pocket screws are not that strong by themselves.




Clamp you pieces before attaching your pocket screw

IMAG0269 IMAG0271IMAG0270


You will notice that I only made this 6 feet tall. This was done because I had a Cabinet sitting on top of it. That detail saved me from having to make a cabinet door to match.

Stair rail install part 3 metal balusters



installing the metal balusters

oak railing wit metal baluster

Oak rail with Metal Balusters

We do have a you tube video on how to install metal balusters on this site. Once you have the stair railings in it’s pretty much done. I will quickly summarize.  I had drilled the rails prior to installing between the newel posts. I loosen one of the newel posts so it will move far enough to install the railing past the rail bolt. About 2 1/2 inches will usually do. Connect the rail using a rail bolt wrench. Get the rail level and even before getting it tight. With the rail in, its time to drill the bottom holes. I use a laser to transfer the location to the floor. You can also set the rail to the floor and transfer the marks with a square. If you needed to cut the rail longer or shorter because of a  wall out of plumb, make sure to index the rail on a newel before marking.

I cut the metal balusters with a Milwaukee brand portable band saw. I have used angle grinders with cutoff wheels. Second option can be done but take extreme care. Hot metal sparks are dangerous on skin, eyes and clothing. Nothing like feeling a little warm, then discover the cause being your cotton shirt is flaming. Leather is recommended. Fire suppression equipment maybe in order. My advise now is spring for the bandsaw. Rental shops carry them for cheap.

Once again I digress.

Metal balusters come with one end rounded at the very tip. I cut that 1 inch off but leaving enough to see which end was round so you can orientate it to the top when we install. This is helpful to keep all pieces symmetrical as we put them in. You don’t want baskets or any piece with a pattern to be at different elevations with each other.



We use PC7 epoxy. It’s black to match the iron balusters. Cleans off easily with a damp rag. Watch our you tube video on the procedure.





Installing a stair rail part 2 of 4

This is a Stair Rail we did at

The newel for the stair rail fits over the top of the Sure-Tite bolt. After bolting in tightly. Check it for plumb on both sides. Cut the bottom to adjust and reinstall. This method of attachment takes a little more time. The results are superior to metal brackets with moulding to hide them. My objection to 4j anchors is two fold. The screws loosen over time. ( I have repaired many) The aesthetics are ugly to me. I like the plain simple connection of post to floor without adding a piece of moulding that looks like your hiding something.

stair rail parts

newel post anchored with a Sure-tite fastener


Determine the handrail length by measuring at the bottom between the points. Check that the walls are plumb and again adjust if necessary.   After cutting the stair rail to length we put in the rail bolt holes. Pics below

drilled for rail bolt

drilled for rail bolt


stair rail drilled for balusters

Using a 1 inch sharp paddle bit, drill the hole for the rail bolt captive nut. Forster bits work fine as well. You can use a forstner bit. I prefer the spade bits because they are easily sharpened. Then using a 3/8 bit drill the end hole for the rail lag bolt. Pic is below. From the bottom of the rail this is 7/8 to center. Try not to go much higher as it makes it tough to thread on the captive nut.

drilling rail bolt

Rail bolt hole in railing

Measure in on each end of the rail for the starting balusters. I use 2 3/4 inch, again this is the starting and ending baluster in your rail. Measure between these points to determine your baluster spacing. 4 inch on a guardrail and 4 3/8 on a rake rail. Those are the inside spacing between balusters.

Install the rail bolt lags into the newel post. You will need to calculate the height from the floor to the center line of the rail lags.

stair rail

installing rail lag into newel post with a rail wrench

Now you can install the rail between the posts. I keep the newel post bolts loose until this step. Tighten them down at this point. Then install the rail bolts into the railing. You will need a rail wrench like the one pictured above.

baluster layout

Baluster layout

We then use a laser to mark the floor, indexing on the rail holes above to the location on the floor for the baluster holes.

baluster layout

marking floor beneath stair rail for baluster holes


New stair rails part one


Newel Post Install

We started a new railing today. It is a L shaped guard rail with two full posts and a half wall post. It will have twist and basket series iron balusters. Clear coated by client. We gave a quick lesson on how to coat the wood with lacquer. He did a great job. This will save them about three hundred dollars. It all adds up.

First step is to layout the posts and get them drilled for the post anchors. I prefer to use the Sure-Tite brand utilizing a 5/8s threaded rod into the floor. It is a much stronger connection provided there is structure under the floor to grab it. (floor joist)

newel bolt

Sure-Tite newel bolt

Notice the first part of the hole is drilled wider. On floors with multiple layers, if you don’t. the screws in the Sure-Tite will wedge the oak floor up off the sub floor. Even lifting just a little WILL effect the connection of the newel post. The post will wobble if everything is not tight. ( sounds like experience ). The instructions have you drill a 5/8 s hole through the first 3/4 floor then a 3/8s bit down 6 inches. You can angle the hole to hit floor joists. Then use a hammer to straiten it. I use a paddle bit with an extension. I also keep a 3/8s high speed bit handy in case I hit a nail or Simpson tie.

 Now we calculate our height, IRC (International Residential Code) guidelines are 36 to the top of the handrail in residential construction. You are allowed to go higher. I set this one at 36 1/4 off the finished floor.

I layout and drill a hole in the center of the newel. Another one cross drilled to catch the nut and washer. Pics below.