When you have been in the remodeling business for a number of years (or decades…yikes!) you get to hear a lot of the same common questions. At the risk of dispelling the rumor that we carpenters have magical powers, a few of us have agreed to share some of our ancient and arcane knowledge with the public here on Pro Referral. It turns out that a lot of folks out there are faced with the same head-scratchers as their fellow do-it-yourselfers across the country, and even around the world.

Carpentry can encompass a number of areas of expertise, but in the homebuilding world that is generally restricted to assembly of structures made of wood. This can include framing, cabinetry, and millwork. The term “millwork” applies to doors, windows, trims, and moldings.

Here are a few of the most common carpentry questions that we get here at Pro Referral.

1. I Want to Remodel my Basement. Where do I Start?

Often, do-it-yourselfers will take on finishing their basement themselves. Framing basement walls can be challenging, since there are often ducts and other obstacles. Also, there are other unique issues, like moisture and egress that come with framing a basement. Pro Referral Expert Jim has good advice:

“The bottom plate almost always sets on cement and that means pressure treated plate material must be used to keep from rotting. The partitions also have to be attached to the concrete that usually leads to the use of a ramset for ease of installation and stable support. Cement floors can also become uneven leading to measuring and installing studs individually to make them fit.”

2. My Door is Sticking. How do I Fix it?

As the seasons change and air in the home gets drier or more humid, doors can expand and contract, and they start to stick. We get a lot of questions about how to address this issue, and Lou answered one such question in this Q&A. He starts with the most common problem, loose hinge screws:

“Check all the hinge screws on the door. (I’m referring to the screws that hold the hinge to the door and the screws that hold the hinge to the wall.) All the screws should be very snug. If you find some that just don’t tighten down, then replace them with longer ones or fix the enlarged hole they are in with something like Mr. Grip.”

3. How do I Deal with Squeaky Wood Floors?

Another really common carpentry puzzler is squeaking hardwood floors. There are several solutions for this problem, varying from the incredibly simple to somewhat complex. Sometimes, something as easy as sprinkling talcum powder on the floor and sweeping it into the cracks between the boards can stop the squeak! Check out my advice for solving this problem:

“If you have already determined that there is no new damage, reinforcing the floor and stopping the squeak is a pretty simple task. There are some nifty products out there for taking the squeak out of the floor that include easy-to-use trim head screws that will take the spring out of a smaller squeaky section.”

4. How do I Layout Stairs?

In the old days, stair-builders are among the most highly skilled carpenters. Even today, with tons of pre-cut and pre-milled stair parts on the market, it takes a good bit of skill to build a really nice set of stairs. For a novice, doing the layout for a set of stairs can be a real headache.

Jim tackled this question with some wonderfully clear instructions:

“To determine where they will rest at ground level, the height and width of steps must first be determined. To do this, measure in a vertical line from the ground to the top of the deck. The standard height per step should be between 6- and 7-inches. Start by dividing the height by the number that will achieve the same measurement of each stair. Once you have calculated how many steps there will be, you can calculate where the base of the stairs will set.”

5. Can I Repair my Siding, or do I Have to Replace it?

We get a whole lot of siding questions around the old Experts coral. Vinyl siding, aluminum siding, or wood, people are usually at a loss as to how to deal with issues like damage from wind or hail (or a wild fly ball). In some cases, like replacing a section of vinyl siding, it can be way easier than you might imagine. Again, here’s Jim’s great advice:

“Because the top and bottom lip of the siding is flexible, a simple siding tool can be used to separate the pieces. A flat bar is then slid up to grab onto the hidden nails and pull them out. The new piece is then slid into place and manipulated so it will lock.”

6. How do I Make my New Appliance Fit in my Kitchen?

Another really common theme among questions we receive is how to modify existing kitchen cabinets to accommodate a new refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, or other appliance that is a different height or width than the old one.

Here is Lou again, fielding a question about modifying cabinets:

“What you are proposing to do is very common. When new cabinets are ordered, they always come with what is called “filler” strips to take care of small changes/adjustments that show up when the installation begins. You have a problem with the fridge door swinging open and hitting the corner cabinet next to it. I assume it just won’t swing all the way open before hitting. If you shift the fridge in the opening two or three inches you will probably be able to swing it fully open before it touches the adjacent cabinet.”

7. My Bay Window and Skylight are Leaking! How can I Fix it?

Bay windows and skylights are awesome. Everyone loves them… until they leak. And at some point, they pretty much always leak! This is not necessarily a carpentry question per se–more of a handyman question, but since leaks in these areas are often due to, shall we say, “less than perfect” installation on the part of a carpenter, I’m going to say that it qualifies!

Andrew tackled a question about a leaky bay window like this:

“It sounds to me like your windows were installed without the proper flashing when the house was built. The result of which is water leaking in from the bottom part of the window. So, it may not necessarily be a leak, but rather a result of deterioration over a long period of time. The first thing that I would check is to see if you can find any flashing, and if not, then you may have to have some installed.”

8. What is the Best Type of Fence to Build Around my Yard?

Fences. Holy cow, I could do a top 20 questions just about fences. The most common questions involve asking advice about neighborhood disputes over fences, which is really a drag. Since we are carpenters and not lawyers, I can’t give legal advice, but when they ask about the best materials, every carpenter has their own opinion!

Martin did a nice job of handling a fence question with this advice:

“The first step is to look at fence designs. The fence will become an element in the architectural appearance of your home. A wrong or careless choice in this department could leave you unhappy for years to come. In fact, it could even diminish the overall value of your rather large property. You are looking for durability as well. The choice of fence style and construction will have a huge effect on how long that fence will stand.”

9. What is the Best Wood to Build a Deck?

Decks are another popular subject at the Experts department. Although usually the questions have to do with how to re-stain a deck, people also often seek advice on the best materials to build their deck out of. And unless you recently won the lottery, most of us want the best, longest lasting material we can get at an affordable price.

I took a swing at this one awhile back, and here is an excerpt from my answer:

“Pressure-treated lumber will be your least expensive option. Cedar or Redwood look great, but you would be looking at considerably more money, and a little more maintenance. The last option is a composite material like Trex, which requires zero maintenance and lasts forever. However, again, quite a bit higher price tag.”

10. How do I Deal with Rotten Wood?

With older houses, it is not uncommon to discover that water has infiltrated somewhere that it wasn’t supposed to go, usually around windows or behind exterior trim. If you catch it soon enough, it can be an easy fix. In more advanced cases, it becomes a judgement call as to when it can be patched, or when it needs to be replaced.

Andrew did an excellent writeup on dealing with rotten wood in this Q&A:

“The short answer is that wood rot can’t be fixed, it can only be replaced. In very small areas there are steps that can be taken to stop its spread and strengthen the spot that was damaged, but anything bigger than a pencil is probably going to need to be replaced. The problem with wood rot is nature. Wood is a naturally occurring material, and is susceptible to decay just like anything else. It’s the same reason you can’t bring a dead tree back to life; once something is dead it can’t be brought back.”


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