The Too Busy Update

Work has been steady and fun.  It’s great being part of bringing people’s dreams to life.  And I have the BEST office view!

IMG 2221

Starting to see much more value in CA.  It really helps to capture a person’s ideas for their home.


I found a solution to the problem I was having with SHX fonts appearing as a second layer on the PDFs I was printing.

So, SHX fonts are older I guess, and people are transitioning to TrueType Fonts (TTF).  

Well, in AutoCAD 2016, a new feature was to export text written using SHX fonts, like SIMPLEX, as comments when printed to PDF.  

This creates a second set of text being placed over the original text on a separate layer…often at a different size so it made reading either text a bit mashed up.

This issue has been resolved with Service Pack 1.

AutoCAD 2016 Service Pack 1

Once installed do the following in Autocad in an open file:

In the command line type EPDFSHX 

Press Enter/Return

Type the number zero (0)

Press Enter/Return

This will disable the function that exports SHX fonts as comments when printing to PDF.  I just tried it to verify.

Rough-Framed Stairs - 05

Rough-Framed Stairs - 05



So, let's complete the stair calculation part of this blog.

In the following example we be working inside a structure and will use a standard 8’ high wall with 2x10 joists and ¾" subflooring.  

It is assumed that the lower floor is level.  (This is critical since the actual elevation length from the top of the stairs to the bottom, is not directly vertical below where the top of the stairs Connect to the floor system. If the lower floor is level you can measure straight down Andy confident that you will be close, however if the floor is not level or you are building stairs outside from a deck to the ground, then you must extend the upper level elevation out to a point where you can measure down directly over where the bottom of the stairs will be placed)

The 8’ wall is comprised of:

(3) plates that are 1 ½” thick each, plus
(1) precut stud that is 92 ⅝” tall. 

The total height of an 8’ wall equals 8’-1 ⅛”.

The floor system is comprised of:

(1) 2x10 joist @ 9 ¼” tall plus,

(1) plywood subflooring @ ¾”.

The sum of these lengths are from the top down:

¾” Subflooring

9 ¼” Joist

1 ½” Double Plate

1 ½” Top Plate

92 ⅝” Stud

1 ½” Sill Plate

8’-11 ⅛”  Floor - to - Floor Height **

** If all these lengths are added together, this would be the theoretical or mechanical distance from the lower floor surface to the upper floor surface (minus any specific floor coverings).  It's important to account for floor surfaces if they differ between floors. For example, if the lower floor is hardwood or tile and the upstairs is carpet, the thickness of the carpet may not exactly match the thickness of the hardwood or the tile. These differences should be taken into consideration when performing stair calculations.  For this example we will have uniform floor coverings throughout.

** Also it is important to note that there are many different combinations of materials with different sizes that can make the Floor-to-Floor height different than the example used here.  

To get a rough idea of how many risers will be needed, using a calculator that can operate in feet and inches, take the floor to floor height of 8’-11 ⅛” and divide it by 7 ½".  (Using 7 ½” is a good optimal riser height to shoot for.)

8’-11 ⅛” ÷ 7 ½"= 14.2833 repeating

This will give you a number and a remainder.  This means that 14 risers at the size that we divided by Will fit in this stair Plus the remainder multiplied to our riser divisor.  So now we know that we can have 14,15 or even 16 risers in our stairs.

We round the number down and also up to the nearest whole numbers and then divide those number into our floor to floor height of 8’-11 ⅛”. This will give you two different riser heights.  

8’-11 ⅛” ÷ 14 = 7.65178571429
or 7 ⅝”  ( or in F-I-S  0-7-10)

8’-11 ⅛” ÷ 15 = 7.14166
or 7 ⅛”  (or in F-I-S  0-7-2)

A riser cannot be any taller than 7 ¾” for general construction and must be less than 7” to comply with ADA regulations, so we will have to divide our floor height by 16 risers to be in compliance with ADA code.

8’-11 ⅛” ÷ 16 = 6.6953125   
or 6 11/16” (or in F-I-S  0-6-11)


Sloped Nosing Stringer Pattern

To determine how far the run will be for the stairwell, (if we choose to start the stairs with a dropped stringer) subtract one from the number of risers and multiply that by the individual tread length. If the tread length is not specified on the plans, they are specified in code (IRC and IBC) to be no less than 10 inches in length. ADA and commercial applications require an 11 inch tread.

14 risers (13 treads)
= 13 x 10” = 130” stairwell run
= 13 x 11” = 143” stairwell run

15 risers (14 treads)
= 14 x 10” = 140” stairwell run
= 14 x 11” = 154” stairwell run

16 risers (15 treads)
= 15 x 10” = 150” stairwell run
= 15 x 11” = 165” stairwell run






I've been swamped with work and I apologize for neglecting my blog. Rather than jumping back into the stairs commentary, I would like to quickly share my thoughts on Evernote.

I have finally come to a point where Evernote has become a valuable business tool for me.

Using Evernote

I have struggled for about a year trying to figure out what the magic is with Evernote. Most of the technology blogs I follow have articles written by people who rave about Evernote.  Well, I finally found that it took real-world organizational challenges in order for me to "figure out" how to best use Evernote. 

I will just jump right in and tell you how I use Evernote.

When I meet with a builder or client on their lot or future jobsite, I already have an Evernote notebook created.  I use YY-SERIES-PROJECT for my numbering scheme. For example, the first customer ID this year is 15-100-01. 

15-100 is the Client ID and 01 is the first project for that client. 

In Evernote, I’m able to take pictures of the business cards we exchange, the physical property, and to verbally dictate any of the specifics as we discuss their project. As time goes on I’m also able to add or strikethrough information to keep the notebook and the notes within it accurate. I add PDFs of specific items and anything that I would have normally had in a folder or binder if I carried paper.  In my particular case, I then share these notebooks with the designated project managers who will be overseeing the projects. 

Here is my “Template Note” that is the first note I create in a Notebook.  (I wish I could have subordinate notebooks…that would be perfect.)

Just the other day I was on my way to the bank and I received a telephone call from a builder who needed to have PDF copies of site plans for two different projects. I told him that I had shared that information with his project manager and he has direct access to those documents for him on his iPad using the Evernote app.  What would have been a minor hoop jumping event for me…..was a painless 20 second phone call.  And to make sure, I pulled over and within 30 more seconds, I had emailed the digital site plans from Evernote to that builder.

I keep each page of a drawing set as a single PDF as well as a combined PDF set in each respective Evernote notebook.  I have found that it can be very useful to be able to have quick access to send part of or the entire file to someone at times when you are not near a computer.

Here is the file structure.

(I also use Copy, Box, Dropbox and iCloud for cloud back up and two external HDs and Apple Time Machine for local back up, but that’s a whole other topic)




I’ve been taking some CAD classes at Olympic College and this was my mid-term graded item.  It’s a hinge to a trailer gate that I am drawing.

3D printing is pretty sweet.

Kudos to Loretta Jo and Tracy, two great technical design instructors at OC.  They make ‘lernin’ easy.

Stair Riser Matrix

Rough-Framed Stairs - 05


The link to this matrix in PDF format here.  

This covers most materials in the F2F determination (minus specific floor finishes).

The HP 50g

Using a Scientific Calculator

The Power of the HP 50g

Before I continue with the stair building thread, it occurred to me that it might be useful to include some thoughts on incorporating useful and powerful technologies into your construction projects.  These won’t necessarily be in any particular order.

One such tool is the Programmable Scientific Calculator.

I bought my very first ‘beast’ in 1990.  It was the HP 48SX when I was a Texas Aggie.  Times have allowed for the evolution of technology to where we have the HP 50g today.

RPN (Reverse Polish Notation) is a valuable and powerful way to use the ‘stack’ features of the 50g to make very complex calculations in a very efficient and easy way.  You can learn more about RPN, here.

Using RPN for HP 50g Calculator in Construction

To start with, I was helping someone out with how to calculate the radius needed to create an arch between an opening.

For this example we will use a 6’ (72”) opening, and the arch will start 16” down from the top plate height.

Find the Radius for an Arch

Stack Line 2:  has the length in decimal inches (which is great for using in CAD when extreme accuracy is required)

Stack Line 1:  has the same length but it was ran through a subroutine called FEET* which converts decimal inches into Feet-Inches-Sixteenths (FIS).

* The FEET routine in RPN is as follows:

The equation for other calculators is:

~ where S= the Span of the opening

~ where R= the Rise from the chord span to the top of the arch

Radius = (S^2 + 4R^2) ÷ (8R)

But that just makes it part of a circle. An ellipse/parabola is different entirely....unless you're framing for a math professor (like I did for a Rice U math prof once) you can eyeball half of it and flip it over to keep it symmetrical.

Option 1:

The first example is shown as having the top of the arch reaching the top plate height.  So a 72" wide opening with a 16 inch rise from where the arch starts at the edge, up to the peak, would be a radius of 4'-0 ½” with no sub-framing.  

This can be problematic unless sub-framing can be added above for the top edges of the plywood to be nailed to.

Option 2:

The second image shows 2x4 on-flat sub-framing, and the radius gets calculated using 14 ½” rather than 16”.  So a 72" wide opening with a 14 ½  inch rise from where the arch starts at the edge, up to the peak, would be a radius of 4’-3 15/16” with 2x4 sub-framing.

Both ways end up with a 16” down from plate start point.  The second way will result in an inch-and-a-half dropped part of the arch at its apex.

Have fun.

And, if you were thinking ELLIPSE for an arch, here’s the way that works.

The ellipse requires correctly locating the two focal points (foci) and then you can use them in conjunction with the edge of the arch to draw the shape using a non-stretching string.

Rough-Framed Stairs - 04

Rough-Framed Stairs - 04


Some designers and architects are pretty savy when it comes to drawing things as they are in reality…others, not so much.

Making sure that the stairs you will be building are made IAW all governing codes and meet your needs takes some consideration early on.  There is nothing worse than sketching out your perfect dream home, getting every room perfect, then putting the stairs “wherever they will fit” and hoping for the best.

So lets talk about these things.

IRC/IBC Riser Code

The International Residential Code (IRC) prescribes specific requirements to be met when building stairs to be compliant.  They are found in the 2012 IRC at R311.7 Stairways.

Sometimes the section view of a set of plans will have some riser and tread information provided by the designer.  

DO NOT ASSUME that his numbers are correct.

The following technique is something I have developed over the years to quickly determine riser options while in the field, incase the builder is looking to make changes.

I use a scientific calculator (HP50G) so the steps here might be a bit much, but you will see the process and you can determine how you will tackle this problem yourself.

FF2FF Height

So starts my short-hand.  

FF2FF HT:  Finished Floor to Finished Floor height.  This is very important to know.  It starts with measuring on site or beforehand, knowing the exact sizes of the materials being used to determine the exact elevation dimension ffrom the lower to upper rough floor levels.  Then, you take into consideration the floor coverings/surfaces that will be applied as finishes.

The calculations are all done using finished floor surfaces (if known) and then you add the depth of the lower floor surface to the bottom of your stringers that contact that lower level.


Also, its always a good practice to place your lower stringers on PT plates if on concrete rather than straight onto the concrete.

I will have more on this topic as time permits.  

Technology Transforming Design...

I was sent this great article from Dayna Ebersole with Kitsap Community Resources (KCR).

It’s from Mr. Charles Keating and concerns how he sees technology transforming design and construction.

I’d have pasted his article here but he has strict language against doing so.  Follow the link and read it for yourself.

Rough-Framed Stairs - 03

Rough-Framed Stairs - 03


This week’s focus will be on TERMINOLOGY.

We all need to use common language to describe the components and parts that make up the stair system.  These terms are often regional across north America and I’m sure globally as well.

Stair Parts:

Building Codes | Stringer | Riser | Tread | Nosing | Fire Blocks

Thrust Plate | Spacing Ledger | Anchor Ledger | Pressure Blocks

So lets talk about these things.

Building Codes.  

The riser height and tread depth are strictly regulated and inspected. Specific allowable variations in the height of each riser or length of each tread, individually as well as collectively, is provided.  (IRC R311.7.4.1 Riser Height and R311.7.4.2 Tread Depth)

Also things like the total maximum number of steps in a single run are posted (22), then there must be a landing. These are just a few of the many requirements in code-compliant stair building. 


Study the (engineer and city/county approved) set of plans for your project.

Look for section views of the stairs; finished floor to floor heights; joist and sub-flooring types.


The diagonal structural component of the stairs that is typically cut from 2 x 12’s or LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber)material.


The single unit of rise per step. 


The single unit of run per step.  

Nosing.  This is the length of tread that extends past the riser underneath it.  This can vary from 0 to 1 ¼” and can even be incorporated into sloped risers.  It’s purpose is to make transiting steps safer by presenting, what feels like, more tread depth to step on..

Fire Blocks.  

Solid draft stopping is typically required in the stud bays of all the walls that are part of the stairwell.  

Thrust Plate.  

Is a 2x4 plate that is fastened securely to the lower floor system that is to resist the horizontal “sliding” pressure that is exerted by the stringers.  It helps to “lock-in” the stringers.

Spacing Ledger.  

Is a 2x4 or sometimes a 1x4 that is sandwiched in between the stringer and the wall.

It allows for the drywall and a skirt board  to be easily installed, leaving a ¼” final gap on each side of the treads.

Anchor Ledger.  

Some architects draw / require that the top of the stringer be notched in a way to rest on a horizontally installed 2x4 ledger.

Pressure Blocks.  

This is the way to add shear nailing prior to the introduction of metal fasteners.  

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