DIY Deck Stairs

DEAR TIM: I need to build some simple outdoor steps to replace ones that fell apart and rotted, even though they were made with treated lumber. I’m fairly handy and have a decent grasp of the math but would love some tips to get professional results. I’d also like to prevent the new steps from falling apart so what can be done to ensure that doesn’t happen. Blondie C., Raleigh, NC

DEAR BLONDIE: Most weekend warriors shudder at the thought of having to build steps because it appears to be fairly complex. In reality, you just need some simple grade school math skills to master the process. As for the rot issue, there’s good news as to how to prevent or eliminate it.

Over the years, different companies have developed all sorts of products that allow you to take regular lumber and add metal brackets and connectors to simplify the construction of stairs. These are not as easy to install as they seem, but some of them are perfect for the average person. Just realize there are many many options when it comes to DIY deck stairs.

You can even purchase precut stringers from some lumberyards and home centers. Some old-fashioned lumberyards may even make custom-cut stair stringers for you if you provide them with certain measurements. You then assemble the parts at your home.

If you have the ability to modify the landing area where the bottom of the stairs will rest, then you can take advantage of my most valuable tip. I’ve discovered over the years, and some of this was from input from master stair builders and architects with decades of experience, that the most comfortable stairs to go up and down are ones that have 7 and 1/2-inch risers and 10-inch treads. These are also some of the safest steps to travel.

These are custom-cut stair stringers. It requires some thought and math to make them work. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

These are custom-cut stair stringers. It requires some thought and math to make them work. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

Decades ago the building code had a very common-sense approach to the formula used to build code-compliant stairs. Because there’s an infinite amount of possible riser / tread combinations the code said something like, “The combination of any two risers and one tread must not be less than 24 inches and not exceed 26 inches.” You’ll note that the 7.5-inch riser and 10-inch tread produces the sweet spot between the two extremes coming in at 25 inches.

Realize that the wood stringers used to support the flat treads and vertical risers are the beams that support the weight of the steps and anything that travels them. Think about hauling a heavy refrigerator or piano up a set of steps. To ensure the stairs don’t collapse, it’s wise to have the stringers spaced around 12 inches on center.

This is vital if you take giant 2 x 12’s and notch them to create the flat tread area and vertical riser. When you cut away lumber to create these 90-degree cuts or notches, you transform the 2 x 12 into a 2 x 6 or less! Long sets of steps may need support mid span so they don’t feel spongy as you go up and down them.

The rot issue has perplexed many a homeowner because you’re not the first person to ask for help about this. When you take regular dimensional lumber like 2 x 12’s and cut notches into them for the treads and risers, you expose, at an angle, the tiny vertical tubes that make up the average tree.

If you were to use a microscope and look at the end of a log, you’d see thousands of tiny tubes. Imagine taking a handful of drinking straws and holding them in your hand. That’s what a tree looks like on end.

If you glued the straws together and then put them in a miter saw set at a 37-degree angle and cut them, you’d end up with enlarged openings for water to enter. This is exactly what you have on each flat space you cut for a stair tread after you cut the lumber with your saw. Water that gets under the stair tread then easily flows down the open tubes in the lumber.

Even though the lumber was treated, the treatment process may not have reached deep into all the tubes and now you’re allowing water to seep into the wood. This water promotes the growth of fungi that eat the wood fibers.

One way to stop the water from entering the wood is to cover the flat and vertical cuts with a continuous piece of joist protection tape that stops water from getting into the wood. This tape is readily available and I prefer the ones that use butyl adhesive rather than asphalt. You can purchase this tape at most traditional lumber yards and online at

If you can’t locate this tape, then you may want to apply two coats of paint to the notched cuts of your stair stringers. This paint will plug up the tiny tubes and prevent much of the water from entering the wood. Three coats of paint is better than two.

Finally, be sure to use screws instead of nails when fastening all the lumber. Nails tend to lose their holding power over time because most exterior lumber expands and contracts from the endless cycles of getting wet from rain and then drying out. This causes cracks to develop in the lumber and the cracks get wider and wider with each successive wetting.

Column 1159

Rustic Industrial butcher block table with metal base

IKEA items used: Numerar butcherblock and Karpalund underframe

I started off with a Numerar butcherblock table top which I purchased from IKEA about a year ago. It had been sitting in my garage ever since. The Numerar is not available anymore but you can purchase the Karlby. I wanted something large so I loved the size of the Numerar which is actually meant for a kitchen island. The dimensions are about 73 inches by 39 inches. This made it perfect for my kitchen since I wanted a large table with plenty of room for everyone.


Now the reason the tabletop sat in my garage for so long was because I had no idea what base to get or build. I knew what I wanted it to look like but couldn’t find a base that wouldn’t break the bank. Then one happy day an IKEA catalog arrived on my doorstep and I saw the Karpalund underframe and knew my search was over.

Work began by first gathering what supplies I would need or thought I would need. I tested wood conditioner, application methods, finish colors, sanding methods and more all on the underside of my table. In the end all I needed to get this done was an orbital sander, foam brushes, 320 grit sandpaper, tack clothes, rags and Waterlox (to seal). And of course a table top and base.

Before I began any testing I needed to sand the factory finish off. This was an important step in that if you don’t sand it completely off the wood will never absorb the stain. Trust me on this since I found it out myself. Sand it with an orbital sander until you feel it is all off. Then sand it a bit more!

Once that was done I tested wood conditioner to see if I wanted to use it or not. I had done some research and was on the fence. In the end I think this is a personal preference. I liked the way the wood soaked up the stain without the wood conditioner. I wanted the grain in the wood to show. When I used the wood conditioner it seemed to not absorb as well. So no wood conditioner for me.

Next I tested stain colors. I had two that I was choosing between. I wanted the color of my table to be exactly what I imagined in my head. Dark, warm and the perfect shade of brown. Not orangey and not too dark to seem black. I stained two sections of the underside of my table with two coats of the stain I was testing and decided on Minwax Dark Walnut which is the stain on the bottom right square in the image below. You can see one coat on the left and two coats on the right. Please excuse my dirty garage floor. It became my workshop for about two weeks while I sanded, stained and sealed!

I was then ready to start on the actual table. I flipped it over (with some help since it weighs a ton!) and sanded down the entire top along with the four sides.

After sanding I wiped it off with a tack cloth. A couple times. I didn’t want any specks of wood stuck under the stain or finish. Tack clothes get this done. They are slightly tacky to the touch and will get every last bit of sawdust.

I then applied my first coat of stain. For all those that think staining butcherblock is a sin I was told I was nuts by my father in many different ways during the planning phase. His exact words when he first saw the dark yummy stain that had just been applied to the entire table were “You killed it.” Now that the table is done and in my kitchen he is on Team Stain Your Butcherblock A Dark Color since he recently told my sister she should do the exact same thing for her new desktop. True story.


I had tested on the other side some different methods of doing this. Some sites suggested using a natural bristle brush. Others said a foam brush worked best. Still other recommended a sock wrapped in nylon. Of all three methods the foam brush was my favorite. It was inexpensive so I didn’t feel bad to dispose of it when I was done. I bought a couple for each coat of stain and sealer. The stain went on smooth and evenly. I don’t have any images of the process since I covered the table with stain as fast as possible. I then went back over the table and sides and wiped off any excess stain with a rag. I did sections at a time since I wanted the stain to absorb evenly.

I let the first layer dry about 4-6 hours and applied the second coat. The number of coats depends on how deep and rich you want your color. I wanted deep and warm so two coats got me that coverage and tone.

The next day I began applying Waterlox. I knew I wanted a great sealer that was food safe. I wasn’t using this as a cutting board or countertop. It is for our kitchen table. If a blueberry rolled off my kids’ plates I wanted to feel comfortable with them popping it in their mouth. I knew I would be applying a couple coats of Waterlox to get the finish I wanted. I used the gloss finish since I wanted to see the wood clearly. I had read in some different sources that using the satin finish creates a cloudy coat.

I applied the first coat using a foam brush. Waterlox is thin (think watery maple syrup) so you need to work fast and make sure there are no drips. I let the coat dry for 24 hours and then lightly sanded the entire table and sides with 320 grit sandpaper. This step was a little scary since I was sanding down a glossy and smooth surface. These were a couple bubbles which is where I focused my sanding. I had tested steel wool and although it does sand very lightly I did not like the small pieces of metal left behind. I didn’t want any of these pieces getting stuck under the following layer of Waterlox.



After sanding I wiped it all down with a tack cloth to remove the remnants. Once it was clean and ready I applied my second coat of Waterlox. The Waterlox spread and filled in everywhere and covered perfectly. No evidence whatsoever that I had sanded the layer underneath. Once you sand it turns a bit white. Once you add the next coat that white sheen disappear. I poured the Waterlox from the container each time into a glass cup to avoid bubbles. It is pretty stinky so make sure you are in a well ventilated space. The garage worked really well for me since I kept the garage door open to the outside while applying each coat.

I applied a total of 4 coats of Waterlox with the foam brush with a 24 hour drying time between each coat. After the fourth coat I lightly sanded again and applied a thinner coat using a clean rag. This last coat had no bubbles whatsoever since it was applied with the rag. This was my last coat. I let the tabletop sit and “cure” in the garage for a week. We then brought it upstairs and attached it to the base in the kitchen.

For about $250 total I was able to put together a table that I’ve seen online for up to $1500. It cleans up easily with just some soap and water. Everyday I can wipe it down to get back to that glossy surface that was so worth the time it took. This was a long-term project that is finally complete and enjoyed on a daily basis in this house!

Rustic Industrial butcher block table with metal base

Rustic Industrial butcher block table with metal base

Rustic Industrial butcher block table with metal base

~ Christina Katos

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Mini cactus garden in an IKEA BLOMSTER bowl

I just created a mini cactus garden with IKEA BLOMSTER bowl.



Just organize mini cactus pots in the BLOMSTER bowl and then cover the mini pots with white pebbles you can find in any garden center.

Water just once or twice a week and put in bright light but not in direct sun.

Enjoy your mini desert garden :-)

Mini cactus garden in an IKEA BLOMSTER bowl

~ Ileana

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Hackers Help: Please, need advice painting the BESTÅ



Hi, I want to paint a BESTA furniture because it’s not in the colors I want. So I bought some paint and tried to apply the paint on the furniture. The problem is, went the paint is dry, if I scratch it with my nail it comes off. It’s like the paint is not adhering to the furniture.

Anybody can help me? Do I need to buy a different paint or a primer to apply on the furniture before painting?

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Decadent Dark Chocolate Hemnes

Dark chocolate HEMNES with gold trim

I have not actually “hacked” Hemnes dresser, but I have decorated it to make an “aging Hemnes” look new again…and rich, at that!

I used gold “Rub & Buff” to color the small accent strips in between the drawers, including the 2 small top drawers and the knobs to make an aging Hemnes have a new life.

The same can be done with the white Hemnes. I will also be doing this with my two black end tables after I paint them white first.

This process took me about 20 minutes for the 6 drawer Hemnes including taping along the side edges so as not to smear gold on the sides or frame of the dresser.

Dark chocolate HEMNES with gold trim

~ Diana Grant

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August 23, 2016 AsktheBuilder Newsletter

Months ago, I decided that this was going to be the Summer of Fun. I had grandiose plans about working less, spending more time with Kathy kayaking, doing outdoor amateur radio, etc.

Instead, it’s become the Summer of Deck.

I’ve been working on rebuilding two huge decks at my house as well as completing a new deck that extends out from both of the existing decks.

I did NOT build the house I’m in and the existing decks needed lots of help.

The good news is I’m about three weeks away from finishing the project. You just can’t believe how many hundreds of hours have been involved in this job.

Fortunately, I’ve received some help from a young man named James Nigzus. I met James two years ago working on the scenic train.

He’s helped carry the old decking up from the lower yard and carry the new decking down. Last night, I had him helping me install the decorative Trex Transcend facia boards.

I have had great luck selling all my old deck material, plus the old railing, on Craigslist. Before you throw anything away, try to sell it on Craigslist or to a local building materials resale / recycle center.

You can just barely see the gorgeous fascia board covering the 2×10 joists on the lower deck in this photo I took moments ago.

Yes, we put the new furniture out on the upper deck before it’s finished because we just couldn’t wait.

Today I’ll be finishing all the railing except for the few sections next to the staircases.

CLICK HERE if you want to see WHY I chose to use Trex Transcend – as if the photo above doesn’t tell you!!!

Prepare for the STORM Survey

In the last issue of the newsletter, I asked you to take a simple survey about Storm Preparedness.

I GOOFED up and made the second question required when it should not have been. Oh well, no one was injured as a result so I dodged the bullet.

The results of the survey were pretty telling. Here they are. So far 1,251 responses have been logged.

Fifty-one percent are NOT ready.

The biggest reason is because you don’t know how to get ready.

Why is this important? Here’s a recent example.

Last week, my good friend Veronica Hill was working in Riverside, CA. Mid morning a forest fire started up near the Cajon Pass on I-15. Within hours her home in Wrightwood, CA was under the gun. It was named the Blue Cut fire.

I don’t know if she ever was able to get back home BEFORE the authorities did a mandatory evacuation. She and her family were some of the 82,000 people displaced by the natural disaster.

Fortunately, the brave and diligent firefighters saved the town of Wrightwood. Veronica and her family dodged the bullet.

But she could have lost EVERYTHING.

Are you going to be a statistic or are you going to be one who had the foresight and gumption to Be Prepared?

My Roofing Book Status

Six months ago, I was deep into writing an expose’ book about how asphalt shingles are failing much earlier than they should.

The book is finished, but NOT PUBLISHED.

The reason is simple. I have to have a company in place to sell and ship an invention I discovered while writing the book.

This SIMPLE invention will allow you to SLOW the damage happening on an asphalt shingle roof that’s five or less years old.

The invention will allow you to arrest the deterioration of a NEW asphalt shingle roof.

In my book, I also tell you the asphalt shingles I’d buy if they were my only choice.

I’m HOPING to have the book ready for you to purchase by the end of October.

If you just need the NAMES of the shingles in case you can’t wait until then, then CLICK HERE to get that information. If you buy this, be sure to IMMEDIATELY EMAIL me that you placed your order.

If you buy the information, I’ll send you a .pdf version of the book once it’s done. You’ll just have to remind me of your purchase of the Best Shingle Advice.

DIY Termite and Wood ROT Protection

Yesterday, just as I was finishing lunch sitting on the edge of the deck, I got an email from Larry in Iowa. He had just purchased one of my affordable 15-Minute Phone Consults.

He was in a bind and needed an answer FAST.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and called him. His issue was about how to protect new vertical-grained Douglas Fir tongue and groove porch decking.

He found a column on my website I had written years ago that contained secret information about a long-lost method used to treat wood to prevent wood ROT and termite infestation.

The bottom line, along with all the other advice I gave him about the BEST PAINT to use and how to apply it, is that he should soak all the lumber in a borate solution BEFORE he installs it.

The borate chemicals are SAFE for humans but wood rot fungi, termites, carpenter ants and other bad things that eat wood HATE them.

CLICK HERE to buy some of the best borate powder I know of. It’s EASY to use.

That’s enough for today.

I’m going out now to finish all of the railings for the deck. I’ll tape a video today showing how simple it is to install the TREX Transcend Railing system. CLICK HERE to get more information about it.

Tim Carter

Founder –

Do It Right, Not Over!

Cat Cave Insert for Expedit/Kallax

I’d like to show you my cat cave insert for Expedit/Kallax.

Materials needed for one cave:

  • 6 mdf sheets each
  • 2x Front/Back – 33,5×33,5cm
  • 2x sides – 31,5×31,5cm
  • 3x top/bottom – 33,5x 31,5cm
  • wood glue or screws
  • coloring of your choice
  • 5 pieces of carpet/fake fur, … – 31,5×31,5cm
  • double sided adhesive tape

Assemble the wooden box. I’ve learned that glueing the MDF sheets together is more than sufficient, screws are not necessary.

Use a jig saw to create an entrance in the shape of your choice.

Make sure that there are no sharp edges with sand paper, files or a dremel.

I’ve experimented a bit but our cats like the big round entrances most.

Cat Cave Insert for Expedit/Kallax

cat cave

Based on your use case you may either want to color all sides of the box or just the front.

Coloring is up to you.

Finally glue in the carpet/fake fur with double-sided adhesive tape.

Cat Cave Insert for Expedit/Kallax

Cat Cave Insert for Expedit/Kallax

He seems to like it. :)

The inserts fit both Expedit and Kallax.

~ René Fleischhammel

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