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 Cabinets     Ceramic Tile     Concrete Flatwork     Cultured Stone     Decks



1.SETTING UPPER CABINETS: When setting upper cabinets, finish carpenters will often screw a ledger to the wall underneath the bottom rail of the cabinets, or will use a 2x4 “post” under the upper cabinet. This ledger or post allows them to hold the cabinet in place while they align it. Always use at least 3” screws to hold upper cabinets, and always drill into a stud or top plate.
2. CABINET SUB-TOPS: Cabinet sub-tops should be matched to the material that will be placed over them. For tile, use ¾” plywood (CDX or ACX grades recommended), for laminate, you can use ¾” particleboard, for 2cm granite use ¾” plywood. For 3cm granite no sub-top is required. Picture shows tile top with tile V-cap edge over 3/4” plywood sub-tops.
3. ADJUSTING CABINET DOORS: Many cabinet doors have hinges that allow you to adjust the doors to fit better. Even if you do not have fully adjustable hinges, you can often make minor adjustments to a poor fitting door by either bending the hinge, or furring the hinge out with some small washers.
4. SETTING BASE CABINETS: When setting modular base cabinets, screw the frames together at the face rails before screwing them to the wall. Use a pilot bit to make the screw go in easier, and a clamp to hold the rails together. Use shims at the wall to make sure the face is set in a straight line. A crooked stud will mean a crooked face rail and usually a problem with the doors later.
5. VENEERED CABINETS: Most cabinets, particularly those in the big box stores, are veneered. Even some raised panel cabinets are just very cleverly veneered. Make sure you know what you are getting.
6. CUSTOMIZE YOUR MODULAR CABINETS BY VARYING HEIGHT AND DEPTH ON BASE AND UPPER CABINETS: When using modular cabinets, you can create a customized look by varying the height or depth. For example, use a couple of 36” high kitchen base cabinets to flank a 32” high bathroom sink base, or use an angled filler on a vanity cabinet and set it out from the wall 3 or 4 inches.


1. MATCHING AGED GROUT: After grout has aged a few years, it may be hard to find an exact match when re-caulking or re-grouting. The big box stores may only carry a few caulking matches. Most commercial tile stores will carry nearly all the grout lines along with the matching grout. Find a few samples that are a near match, and take them home to compare with your grout.
2. LAYING REAL SLATE: Real slate is often difficult to work with because it tends to break easily and is often not uniform in thickness or size. It also does not come with edge trim. There are a good number of ceramic tiles that are made to look like slate that might be a better choice.
3. PRE-MANUFACTURED SHAMPOO RECESS: Many tile stores or manufacturer’s outlets will carry a pre-manufactured recess box that fits between the studs and makes an easy, waterproof solution to a need for a soap niche in your tile shower. Install it OVER the concrete backer-board or water-resistant drywall.
4. CONCRETE BACKER BOARD: When laying tile over wood sub-floors, always use a concrete backer-board or mat designed for tile underlayment. What this mat or board does is to create a bondable layer between the subfloor and the tile so the movement of the wood floor as it is walked across does not translate directly to the tile.
5. CUTTING CERAMIC TILE: Ceramic tile can be cut with a diamond blade wet saw, or scored and broken with a diamond wheel. Scoring and breaking is faster, but leaves a ragged edge that must then be sanded, unless the edge will be covered by a base-board or corner caulking. For small jobs a tile cutter like the one in the picture will usually do just fine.
6. SMOOTHING THE EDGES OF CERAMIC TILES WITH A BELT SANDER: The ragged edges of ceramic tiles that have been cut by scoring and breaking can be smoothed by the judicious use of a belt sander or table sander.



1.CONCRETE FLATWORK, GENERAL: Concrete flatwork includes slabs, patios, steps, and mostly exterior finished concrete work. It can be finished in a number of ways and with a number of colors. Broom finished with no color is the most affordable, while stamped concrete with added color is the most expensive. Picture shows pea gravel sized washed aggregate finish on a roof deck.
2. CONCRETE FLATWORK CRACKING: All concrete flatwork will crack. However, we can often control where and how it cracks. By using reinforcing steel or wire mesh, cracks can be kept small, and by “scoring” the surface, the places where the concrete will crack can be anticipated. However, the thicker the slab, the less effective scoring will be. The picture shows a failed attempt to make the concrete break at a particular spot. This crack also shows what happens when concrete is not reinforced with re-bar or wire mesh.
3. WIRE MESH REINFORCING FOR CONCRETE: The best wire mesh for flatwork reinforcing is, unfortunately, not available at most of the box stores. If you can find a local building hardware supplier that will sell to the public, you can get the “6/6-10/10” wire mesh (10 Ga. wire, set at 6 inches on center both ways) that the pro’s use. If not, a rebar grid of ½” or 3/8” rebar, 24” on center will do the same job.
4. FIBER MESH CONCRETE REINFORCING: Fiber mesh is a reinforcing additive designed to help concrete resist separating when it cracks. I’ve found it is less effective than wire mesh.
5. CLEANING EXTERIOR CONCRETE: The two best ways to clean exterior concrete flatwork are with detergents and a brush, or with a pressure washer. If using a pressure washer, make sure the pressure is not so strong that it takes the surface off of the concrete, or loosens individual stones.
6. SCORING CONCRETE TO RESEMBLE PAVING STONES: One way to save money and still get a custom look for your concrete flatwork is to have your contractor score the slab every 30 or 36 inches each way so it resembles paving stones. This also makes it less likely to crack in an inconvenient place.



1.CULTURED STONE PREPARATION: When applying cultured stone as an exterior wainscoting in the Northwest, use a plywood substrate instead of OSB. OSB can swell if it gets moist. Of course always use tar paper or 60 minute paper as well.
2. CULTURED STONE OVER MASONRY BLOCK OR BRICK: When applying cultured stone over masonry block, use a scratch coat of mortar before applying the cultured stone. The mortar will help the stone bond to the block, just as it does when using a scratch coat of mortar over lath mesh.
3. NAILING LATH MESH IN PREPARATION FOR CULTURED STONE: Nailing of lath mesh before applying mortar in preparation for cultured stone is the same process that is used before applying stucco. I’ve found what works best for nailing lath in preparation for cultured stone, is a ½” x 2” galvanized staple. Nail approximately every 4 -6 inches each way.
4. CULTURED STONE PREPARATION: When applying mortar to lath mesh in preparation for cultured stone, try to apply the stone within a few days of applying the mortar. If the base mortar is “green,” then the mortar used on the stone will bond to it better.
5.CULTURED STONE: Cultured stone is available in hundreds of styles and colors. The “trick” is to match the style and color to the style of home you have. Many styles can be laid with a mortar joint, or as a “drystack” look with no mortar joint. If using a drystack, consider using a dark brown or black mortar underneath. This will have a tendency to “disappear” visually between the individual stones.
6.MORTAR COLOR MATCHING FOR MASONRY OR CULTURED STONE: Selecting a mortar color can be critical to either masonry or cultured stone. A darker mortar color will make the individual stones stand out, a lighter mortar color will tend to make your eye see the entire masonry area as a whole. The color of the mortar before mixing is approximately the finished color when dry.
7.CULTURED STONE; ORDER OF WORK: When applying cultured stone, you work down from the top, and in from the corners and openings. Try to avoid cut edges, however, if you must cut the stone, put the cut edge in toward the body of work. If cut edges are unavoidable or cannot be hidden by by the body of work, they can be touched up with a little artistic painting.
8.CULTURED STONE: Cultured stone is available in hundreds of styles and colors. It can also be made even more flexible by mixing in a percentage of one stone style with another. For example, a ledgestone style can be mixed with an occasional field stone for dramatic effect.
9. USE CINDER OR CONCRETE BLOCK UNDER CULTRUED STONE WHEN BUILING A FREESANDING EXTERIOR HALF-WALL OR COLUMN: In the wet Northwest, if a cultured stone half-wall or column is not going to be either partially or completely under cover, I recommend building the column or half-wall with masonry block. All cultured stone mortar will crack and water will get into the substrate eventually.




1.PRESSURE TREATED WOOD FOR DECKS: Unless your deck is, or will be covered, you should always use pressure treated joists and beams. When using pressure treated wood, always use galvanized nails or colored deck screws.
2. JOIST SIZING FOR DECKS: A good rule of thumb for joist sizing is figure “one-down” from the span. For example, if the span between support beams is 8 feet, use a 2x6, if it is 10 feet, use a 2x8 and etc., presuming 16” centers.
3. COMPOSITE DECKING: Composite decking is becoming extremely popular, but there are a few drawbacks. When using screws to fasten it down, the screw head will often cause a “pucker” in the material. Sometimes the only way to avoid this is to drill a pilot hole with a special bit, or to use hidden fasteners, which tend to be pretty spendy.
4. COMPOSITE DECKING WILL STAIN: Composite decking is becoming extremely popular, but there are a few drawbacks. If you spill oil on it or grease from a grill, it will create a stain that cannot be removed. You will have to replace the entire board. And if the deck has been in place for a while, you may not be able to match the color due to general weathering and fading.
5. COMPOSITE DECKING WILL FADE IN SUNLIGHT: Composite decking is becoming extremely popular, but there are a few drawbacks. The color will fade in sunlight, often just in the first year. A cedar deck will also fade and weather, but it can be semi-successfully treated for UV protection.
6. COMPOSITE DECKING WILL OFTEN MILDEW: Composite decking is becoming extremely popular, but there are a few drawbacks. In addition to fading or coloration problems composite decking will often mildew. The oils in cedar decking tend to resist mildew.
7. ONE SOLUTION FOR STAINS ON COMPOSITE DECKING: One time I built a small trex deck, and a sub-contractor spilled some compressor oil on the decking, creating a dark stain on several boards. Instead of replacing the boards, I applied a similar oil to the rest of the board, and then the rest of the deck. It worked, and the oil eventually absorbed, leaving a single, somewhat darker color.
8. WOOD DECK STAINS: In the Northwest, a solid body paint or stain will not stay on your wood deck for more than a year. Once you have applied a solid-body stain or paint to your wood deck, to get it all off you will have to strip it entirely. This process often damages the wood. A semi-transparent stain is a better alternative. If it is a cedar or redwood deck, use an oil-based stain.
9. DECK PIERS, TYPES: Deck piers come in three basic types. The raised-shoulder type, the “saddle” type, which has a post bracket poured into the concrete, and the flush type. If your deck is more than a few feet off of the ground, you may want the saddle type because it allows you to fasten the post base into the post bracket. However, if your deck is near ground level, using the flush type will allow you to align the post on the pier without moving the pier itself.
10.WATERPROOFING DECKS: How well do waterproofing products for decks work? There are a number of paint-on waterproofing products for homeowners. However, these products usually cannot stand up to the swelling and shrinking that typically occurs in the heat and cold over the course of a Northwest winter. I would be very guarded in using these products in any application where you have living areas under the deck. A better choice would be a PVC membrane. If you must use a paint-on product, find a good marine product like that which is used on boats or house-boats.
11. CANTILEVERING DECK JOISTS; RULE OF THUMB: A good rule of thumb for how far deck joists can cantilever over the support beam, is 3 times their depth. Thus if the joist is a nominal 2x8, it can comfortably cantilever 24” at 16” on center.
12. PVC WATERPROOF MEMBRANES FOR DECKS: PVC waterproof membranes are a superior way to waterproof decks. The typical method is to “fully adhere” the membrane with contact cement over a clean, dry plywood surface. This is a moderate do-it-yourself challenge. Joints in the material are heat welded at the seams.
13. ROOF DECKS: In areas with lots of rain, like the Pacific Northwest, roof decks are generally a bad idea, no matter how the deck surface is treated. However, if you want to roll the dice, use a fully adhered PVC membrane by itself, or if you want a solid walking surface, use concrete or masonry pavers so they can be removed easily to get at a leak, if one should occur.













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