Hemlock, Pine, or Oak for Stairs: Which to Choose For Railing, Treads, and Risers

Hemlock Board

Home improvement stores present you with only a few choices of stair materials for railing, treads, and risers.  Between hemlock, pine, and oak, which one is best to use?

Best Answer

  • Railing:  Hemlock
  • Stair Treads (Bare):  Oak
  • Stair Treads (Carpeted):  Pine or hemlock
  • Risers:  Any kind of wood of the right size



Hemlock and pine are softwoods; oak is a hardwood.  That’s the controlling idea behind this answer.  Because oak is harder than hemlock and pine, it will last longer under foot traffic on staircases.

Based on Janka wood hardness ratings, hemlock comes in at 500 lbf (pounds-force).  Both types of pine you would find on the consumer market, Eastern and Western White Pine, are softer than hemlock, both in the 380 to 420 lbf range.

In sharp contrast, red oak comes in at 1,290 lbf, making it about 2.5  to 3 times stronger than hemlock and pine when impacted.  Janka ratings, though, only measure the impact of a ball bearing when fired a test samples of wood.  Scuffing, scratching, and other activities that may affect stairs are not measured.

Carpeting will protect the stair treads from most traffic wear.


Red oak can give off needle-sharp splinters that are hard to sand out.  By contrast, pine and hemlock’s softwood qualities mean that it can be sanded down so that splinters disappear.  This makes them better for railing than red oak.


Cost can be an issue when it comes to stair treads and risers because you need to buy so many of them to construct an entire staircase.

On a pure board-lumber cost basis:

  • 1 in. x 6 in. x 6 ft. Hemlock Board:  $19.21 ($3.20 per linear foot)
  • 1 in. x 6 in. x Random Length S4S Oak Board:   $27 ($4.50 per linear foot)

Source:  Home Depot, 09/19/2017

This makes red oak about 34% more expensive than hemlock in those board sizes.  Because of this cost difference, you should use red oak only if you want them to stay bare (or a protective coating like polyurethane).  If you want to carpet your stairs, it makes more sense from a cost perspective to choose hemlock.

Tread board is a slightly different matter because they are not milled boards with 90 degree angle edges.  They tend to be 4 feet long to allow for nearly all stair widths and they have a bullnose on one side that forms the leading edge of the tread.

  • Red Oak Treads:  $6.42 per linear foot for 11-1/2 x 48 in. Red Oak Stair Tread (total cost $25.70)
  • Pine Treads:  $2.66 per linear foot ($10.63 total cost)

Source:  Home Depot, 09/19/2017

Pine treads will always be less expensive than red oak treads.


This answer is predicated on the idea that you are shopping for your wood at a franchise home improvement store like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards, or the like.  With more wood choices, the answer above may differ.


Wood Handbook:  Wood As an Engineered Material, USDA, Forest Service

General information about hemlock and red oak.

Easy Way to Cover Chain Link Fencing

Reed Bamboo Fencing

Cover chain link fence and save the cost and misery of building an entirely new fence?  Sounds like a pipe dream.  But one of the few good points about chain link is that the posts are insanely rooted into the ground.  You can use this to your advantage, because it allows you to hang other fence on top of that chain link.

Chain Link:  Ugly as Sin, Easy to Correct

Chain link fence:  ugly stuff.  Nobody ever put up chain link for aesthetic reasons; it’s purely functional.  It keeps in the dogs and out the intruders.  Because chain link fence is unbelievably hard to remove–posts are set very deep and that floppy chain link is a bitch to handle–it’s often easier to cover it than remove it.

You’re looking for 6′ tall cover-ups, not 8′.  If you think you’re going to circumvent your local building code’s 6′ maximum fence height by adding a taller cover-up, forget it.  Fence code applies to those sneaky cover-ups, too, like foliage  So, to prevent your eyeballs from melting, here are ways to cover up chain link fence:

Large Rolled Bamboo Fencing

Rolled Large Bamboo
Rolled Large Bamboo

In a Word:  Bamboo

In a Few More Words:  This can best be characterized as “real bamboo,” not that reedy thin stuff.  Full-size bamboo–1″ minimum diameter–is expensive stuff.  Four 14-gauge steel wires running horizontally connect the poles into a mat.

Cost:  About $10.00 per linear foot for 6′ high, not including shipping.  If you cannot do the calculations, that’s $1,000 every 100 feet.  $1 per linear foot is cheap when compared to an all-new wood fence, expensive when compared to the other cover-up methods listed here.

Best:  Looks fantastic and gives you lots of woo-woo crunchy-granola street cred.

Worst:  You can see through it.  Large gaps between individual poles let neighbors see you nude sunbathing.

Where:  You will not find these larger pole bamboo screens at your run-of-the-mill garden shops.  Larger, more specialized nurseries may have them, though.  Online, try Cali Bamboo.

Smaller “Reed” Rolled Bamboo Fencing

Reed Bamboo Fencing
Reed Bamboo Fencing

In a Word:  Reed

In a Few More Words:  Called reed, this too is bamboo–just smaller.

Cost:  About $1.60 per linear foot for 6′ high from a local store like Home Depot.

Best:  So very cheap and easy to find.  It’s right there at your local store.  Also, because the reeds are thinner than full-size bamboo, each mat is lighter and easier to handle.

Worst:  They turn gray within a season.

Where:  Local home improvement stores and nurseries.

Fence Mesh Privacy Screen

Mesh Privacy Screen
Mesh Privacy Screen

In a Word:  Plastic

In a Few More Words:  They call this fence mesh, privacy screen, or fence windscreen.  You’ve seen it:  it’s the plastic mesh that covers up construction sites or the action at outdoor concerts so that nobody can see inside without paying.  Is this stuff right for your precious little home, though?

Cost:  Minimum of $1.44 per linear foot for 98% black mesh screen, based on a 50 foot order, including shipping.

Best:  You’ll have it up fast.

Worst:  What’s the worst, besides making your home look like the the loading zone behind a grocery store?

Where:   Numerous online sources, but most prominently FenceScreen.com.  Watch out for their add-ons, though.

Best Way to Use Homax Wall Texture So That It Actually Works

For texturing small wall areas, Homax Aerosol Wall Texture is an easy way to go.  The more difficult alternative is the way professionals do it:  with a spray gun, hopper, and bags of dry texture mix.  By contrast, the aerosol type is self-contained.  But user-reviewers often complain about this product, saying it splatters and doesn’t produce the texture seen in Homax’s pictures.  What’s the easiest way to do this and still get a good texture?

Best Answer

Shake more thoroughly than you might imagine, keep the can warm, test outdoors on scrap material, and view results with a low-angle light.  And hang onto your store receipt so you can return it if necessary.


All those negative comments from users about Homax Wall Texture have some validity.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, Homax just will not spray a good texture.  That’s why you returning the product to the store is part of this technique:  don’t settle for cans that don’t work.

I’ve had more good experiences with Homax than bad experiences.   My tips will not produce perfect results 100% of the time, but you’ll greatly increase your chances of a good finish.

Shake It Forever

If you think you’ve shaken it long enough, you probably haven’t.  Shake the can for about 2 minutes.  You need to hear that ball freely clacking around inside of the can.

Keep the Can Warm

Success with Homax is all about temperature.  Any can from the cold or even cool outdoors should be brought indoors and left for about 2 hours before you even consider using it.  When Homax says “Sprays best between 68° F and 72° F,” you should believe them.

You can also warm it up under running warm water but don’t do this until you’ve test sprayed it on board (below) because it might be fine as-is.

Test-Spray Outdoors

Homax Wall Texture is extremely messy.  Its job is to be messy.  Use a dark piece of cardboard or the dark back of a scrap of drywall for this one.  Dark is better than light, because you won’t see the results as well on light surfaces.

Spray at a Distance

The 36 inch distance that Homax recommends is the distance you should start at.  I have found that farther away is usually better with these Homax texture products.

Check Texture With Light

Look at the texture in a dim place with a light held at a low angle.  This is the only way how you can see if the texture is correct.


I have never understood why a company allows negative product reviews on its site, but whatever–it benefits the rest of us.  Homax’s company site has some choice reviews of its products, along with a number of positive comments.  In general, it’s fairly well balanced.

  • “I purchased five different cans of the Pro Grade Knockdown texture and only one worked.”
  • “I bought two cans of this. One worked flawlessly. When I went for can two, the nozzle broke when removing the safety tab. I’ve reapplied the nozzle in a few different ways but absolutely nothing is coming out.”
  • “I needed to repair a relatively small area in a very visible wall. By following all the instructions and testing various spatters until I found just the right one, the product worked perfectly. I was able to match the existing orange peel spatter and paint the repaired area within an hour.”


Easy Way to Hang an Elite Electric Motorized Projector Screen

Elite electric motorized projector screens are difficult to hang because of their hidden hanger brackets.  Their weight and unwieldiness complicate matters.  Is there a simple and secure way to hang them?

Easy Answer

Create a wood backer plate that runs the length of the screen and attach metal braces at each end for the screen to rest on.


Bracket for Projector Screen

Projector screens can be hard to hang, due to their weight and floppiness, combined with the absolute need not to drop the screen, as you can permanently mess up their smooth scrolling ability.

Elite screens are difficult to hang because you cannot reach a drill into the bracket area in order to screw it onto the wall.  That’s after you somehow manage to lift and hold the screen into place.  You would also need to have two studs conveniently located at each screw point, which isn’t going to happen.

The solution is to make your own “wall” by running a wood board the length of the screen.  Then you don’t have to worry about stud spacing.  All you need to do is to attach that wood backer plate at three or more points along the wall.  Attaching the screen to the backer plate is a separate matter.


  • Real wood board like hemlock or pine the length of the screen or longer.  It should be a “one-by” board, like 1 x 4 or 1 x 6.
  • Metal corner braces, 3-inch (2), along with included screws
  • 1/4 inch size bolts (2) and nuts

Size Screen on Backer Board

Put the backer board on the ground.  Place the screen on top of the backer board so that the screen’s top is to the side.

Attach Metal Braces

Place the braces at each end, under the screen’s bracket.  Leave a tiny bit of wiggle room, but not too much (1/16 inch to 1/8 inch).

Attach Backer Board to Wall

Screw board onto wall, into at least 3 studs.

Place Screen on Braces

Locate the mid point of the screen.  Pick up screen near mid-point and lift it onto the braces.

Add Bolts

Put bolt upward through brace’s hole about 1/2 inch or higher.  Do this for both sides.




Is Flat Really the Best Paint Gloss for Ceilings?

All you hear when it comes to paint gloss (or sheen) for ceilings is flat.  When you buy a can of ceiling paint is automatically comes in flat–no other choices.  Is flat really the way to go?

Best Answer

Yes.  If you had to pick just one sheen, flat would be the one that universally works for all rooms of the home.


Flat or matte paint sheen cuts down on ceiling reflection.  While there are exceptions to be made (below), flat tends to be the one sheen that universally works for most ceilings.  Also, because ceilings run continuously from room to room, with no division points (such as doorways and trim), it is difficult to change sheens throughout the house.  So, it is best to stick to one sheen.


  • “Universal” Means Democratic:  And in a democratic society, there will be winners and there will be losers.  The loser, in this case, would be the bathroom ceiling, where flat seems to be a farm for mold and mildew.  This is one room you would want to paint in semi-gloss or glossy paint.
  • When You Have Bumpy Textures:  If you have a textured ceiling, using a flat sheen can be detrimental.  Textured ceilings–popcorn, knock-down, or otherwise–can trap cobwebs, dust, and other debris.  Using a paint with an eggshell or satin sheen can help with cleaning the ceiling.
  • When You Want Effect:  You can also paint the ceiling in higher glosses for dramatic effect.  One blogger notes that she accidentally ordered Benjamin Moore Pearl sheen, and it made her ceiling look higher.  One designer said that she used a high-gloss sheen simply for dramatic effect.


Sources pretty much resoundingly say flat–truth or are they just parroting what others say?  Because the paint manufacturers will tell you whatever it takes to sell paint, I was especially interested in what DIYers, designers, and architects said.

Life of an Architect

“…you should always paint the ceiling with a flat finish.”

Designing Solutions

Flat.  “Painters once used semi-gloss finishes on kitchen and bath ceilings, thinking it would hold up better and show less staining from moisture and cooking…”

Maria Killiam

“Bottom line, use flat for ceilings–unless you are designing something very dramatic, like [a] high gloss ceiling.”

For the Love of a House

“… sheen between an eggshell and a semi-gloss” because “the ceiling with the sheen looks 2 inches taller!”

Can You Legally Do Your Own Electrical Work?

Electrical repairs and remodels are expensive because electricians themselves are expensive.  Can a homeowner legally do his or her own electrical work and get a permit?


Yes, as a non-electrician, you can do most of the same work that an electrician would do and receive a permit for that work.


In most places, homeowners who are owner-occupants can do their own electrical work.  This saves money and it saves from getting caught up in an endless backlog at times when electricians are in high demand.

But you will need to work under an electrical permit.  Your jurisdiction, whether city, county, state, or other, wants to know what you are doing, and the permit process allows them oversight.  In some places, you first need to take a homeowner’s electrical exam; in other places, you can begin the work as soon as you pull the permit.

Electrical Permits for Owner-Occupants

Locate Permitting Agency:  Electrical permitting might happen at any level, whether it be city, county, or state.  Even within one state, permitting might happen on different levels.  For example, in my state, most permitting is done at the state level.  But my city is an exception:  they do their own permits.

Pay the Money and Pull the Permit:  Your first contact with the jurisdiction might be as simple as initiating the permit online and paying the fee by credit card, a process nicknamed pulling the permit.   Permit costs scale according to how much work you are doing, usually from $50 to $150.  You will immediately be given the go-ahead to begin work.

Perform the Work:  Do your electrical work, keeping it exactly within the confines of the permit.

Call For Rough-In and Prepare:  Go online or call your jurisdiction to set up an appointment for the rough-in inspection.  An inspector will come by your house and you must be there to receive him or her.  Clear all obstructions from the area, so that the inspector can see the work.  Provide adequate light that is independent of any circuits you are dealing with in the inspection.

Rough-In Inspection:  Leave all wires uncovered by insulation or drywall.  Leave off all devices (outlets, heaters, lights, etc.).  The inspector wants to see the wire running through the walls or floors.  The inspector may require that you make certain changes to your work prior to the final inspection.

Make Changes and/or Cover Up:  If the inspector requires changes, make them and call for a new inspection.  If, instead, you pass, you are now allowed to cover the walls or floors with drywall.  Wire in the devices.  Do not mud the walls yet or begin painting, in the unlikely event that you need to open up the walls again.  This should not happen, though, as this was the purpose of the rough-in inspection.

Call For Final Inspection:  Go online or make a call to set up the final inspection.

Final Inspection:  Inspector will check devices and, if you pass, will “final out” your permit.

How Homeowners Can Pass Inspection

Inspectors Are Not Always Non-Biased:  Inspectors may have conflicting views on owner-occupants who do their own work.  Some hate the idea of this and will put up obstacles.  Others want to be helpful, understanding that it is a rare breed of homeowner who actually pulls electrical permits.  Both exist.

Inspection, Not Education:  Don’t expect a lesson in how to be an amateur electrician.  While the inspector may volunteer a tip or two, this isn’t about giving advice on wiring your home.

It’s About the Code:  Electrical code is your friend, at least in terms of passing your inspection.

Limited Time:  Inspectors’ time is limited.  Your house is just one worksite in many that they will visit that day.

Diplomacy:  Qualified electricians may have enough experience to challenge inspectors, but most homeowners do not.  If you believe you are in the right, bring it up as diplomatically as possible.


Localities:  The most important qualifier is whether or not your own area allows owner-occupants to do their own electrical work.

Other Homes:  Generally, you are allowed only to work on your own home.

If You Hire Out:  The person doing the repairs needs to be an electrician.

New Construction:   Often this is limited to remodel work, not new-construction.


This Old House

“Most municipalities allow you to do your own electrical work, though you’re never allowed to wire someone else’s home.”

Ask Jon Eakes

“…almost all work performed in new construction must be undertaken by licensed plumbers and licensed electricians.”





Drywall Screws vs. Drywall Nails: Which One to Use?

When fastening drywall to studs, you have a choice of using either drywall screws or drywall nails.  Which should you use to make it faster, easier, and cheaper to install the drywall.  Importantly, which one will keep the drywall most secure for the longest time?


Use drywall screws rather than drywall nails.


Screws are more secure because they cannot pull straight out.  When enough lateral pressure is applied to drywall nails, they will pull out.  In fact, older homes often have circular bumps in the drywall, caused by nail pops.


If you had asked me this question at any time in the last 20 years, the “drywall screws” answer would have been unequivocal and unqualified.  In fact, the conventional wisdom today is that a person is expected to use drywall screws, and that nails are considered archaic.

Recently, though, I used drywall nails to tack up small pieces of board to cover door headers, and it was a joy.  I realized that there is a limited place for drywall nails in your easy renovation repertoire.

Small Pieces:  It feels almost overkill to screw small sections of drywall in place.  Large sections (4 ft. by 8 ft. sheets) really do benefit from an all-screw or partial screw installation.

Tiny Pieces:  Sections of drywall that are downright tiny really do benefit from drywall nails over screws.  Screws can mangle up tiny pieces.

Extreme Edges:  In those instances where you have to drive a fastener closer to the edge than you would like (say, within 1/4 inch), drywall nails will drive cleaner into the board than screws.  Screws are larger, and because of the rotation effect, they will rip away gypsum on the open edges.

Field vs. Perimeter:  Professional drywall installers often like to use nails for perimeters.  It’s physically easier to get a board initially tacked up with a hammer and nail than by wrestling with a drill and screw.

Metal Corners:  Metal corner beam is nailed into drywall, not screwed.



Should I Choose Site-Finished or Pre-Finished Flooring?

When shopping for solid hardwood and sometimes for engineered wood flooring, you may have the option of site-finished flooring (unfinished flooring that requires finishing on site) or pre-finished flooring (stained and sealed in the factory).  Which to choose?


Choose pre-finished flooring over site-finished flooring.


While I hate jumping on the corporate shilling bandwagon, I do have to admit that–all factors considered–pre-finished flooring will be better for most homeowners than site-finished flooring.

Can you sense all of the qualifiers in that previous statement?  We’ll get to that in a minute.

Pre-finished flooring makes for a faster installation.  As soon as the flooring is down, you can walk on it.  The reason is because someone else (a manufacturer) has already laid down the finish elsewhere (a factory) so you don’t have to do it at your house.

With site-finished flooring, there is a gap between the end of installation and the day you can begin walking on it.

Also, the finish on pre-finished flooring is a tough multi-layer urethane that is difficult to duplicate at home.


  • Site-finished flooring gives you an enormously wide range of style options that pre-finished can never hope to match.
  • Factory finished flooring tends to have a plastic appearance.
  • One benefit of site-finished flooring is that the finish can fill in the seams between the floor boards, making the flooring more water-tight.


Bob Vila

“…when it comes to installing solid or engineered wood flooring, prefinished is my choice.”


Is GarageSkins Garage Overlay System a Scam?

Rick Medlen of Creswell, Oregon has a unique idea.  Instead of paying upwards of $10,000 for a real wood garage door, how about facing your existing door with wood panels that stick by means of rare earth magnets?  It’s an idea in the works and he calls it Garageskins.

On so many levels, it’s an idea that sits well with me.  I love the idea of USA-made products, especially those made in Oregon (he plans to manufacture them in Redmond, OR).  I love the idea of paying far less for something that looks roughly the same as the expensive thing.  More than anything, I like easy home remodels.  And this one–according to the video showing the person sticking the panels to the door–is super easy.

Whenever I see more pleas for funding than about the product itself, I get suspicious.  On the other hand, how else is Medlen supposed to pull together money if he doesn’t go the venture capital route?


I do not believe that GarageSkins is a scam.

Supporting Ideas

While I cannot predict the future, I have looked at Medlen’s online documents, stock offering ideas, and patents and I believe that this is completely on the up-and-up.

However, I do think it is a quite ambitious project that is short on lots of details.  Only one video exists now, and it’s that slick teaser with a woman putting the panels on the door.  If I were going to invest in a company, I’d want hard-and-fast facts about the nature of the product.  Concerns are:


Garage door opener motors are not exactly the strongest things in the world.  So, adding any kind of weight to it is a dicey proposition.

Laminate flooring is a corollary and it was the first thing that I thought of.  Yet laminate flooring is very (just try hauling home a kitchen’s worth of laminate), so I knew that GarageSkins has to be significantly lighter.

Consider that a double bay garage door is about 16 feet wide by 8 feet high.  That’s 128 square feet.  Medlen says that the total weight of Garageskins will be 28 pounds.  That comes out to about a quarter pound per square foot. (0.22 pounds per square foot, exactly).

If laminate flooring isn’t GarageSkins’ closest cousin, what is?  Weight is what first led me to the answer.  Fomecore board weights about 0.19 pounds per square foot, just under GarageSkins’ weight.

Indeed, foam board plus a wood veneer would be–I estimate–about 0.22 pounds per square foot.  The patent filing backs this up, saying that these are “extruded polystyrene members.”


Attached to an object that goes up and down an average of four times a day, will GarageSkins shift?

Documents state that one way to prevent GarageSkins from moving is to add a spot of caulk to each corner of each panel.  Documents also say that they tested them in 80 mph wind and found that they did not come off.

Exterior Veneer Stability

Veneers are notoriously unstable.  They tend to like to stay indoors, away from UV rays, rain, snow, and physical damage.  So the idea of putting a wood veneer outdoors on an object that moves at least four times a day gives me pause.

All we know is that on November 2016 “veneer stabilization solved,” according to the StartEngine site.

I would want to know more about this.  It would seem to me that the only way to prevent members from delaminating would be to wrap the edges.  Even sealing the edges with a liquid sealer wouldn’t last for every long




DIY Bar Carts That Require Little More Than Spray Paint

Devil may care.  Insouciant.  Heedless of convention.  Your friends may describe you this way when they learn that you own a bar cart.  Yes, a generously stocked bar cart does have a certain way of making an ordinary space feel like an exotic den of luxury.

Even if drinking is not your main passion in life, bar carts can be used as coffee services, mobile outdoor snack stations, bookshelves, potting tables, and curio holders.

Bronzed Beauty

Eden Passante over at Sugar and Charm began with a sturdy $60 utility cart purchased from Sam’s Club and spray-painted it a lush bronze color.  But the real finishing touch is the leather handle–a dead-ringer for that softly burnished brass $600 Libations Antique Brass Bar Cart? If low-key is more your look, Anthropologie will be happy to accommodate you with its $500 leather-handled Mercury Bar Cart.cart mentioned above.  Eden simply cut off a length of leather and hot-glued it to the handle.

Office Libations

Cosco indoor office carts are reliable but too plain to work as bar carts, reasoned Ryan Foy over at Manmadedly.

So he gave it the spray paint treatment, but that was only the beginning.  The true designer touches came from the addition of three IKEA silverware canisters connected with zip-ties, a wine glass rack stuck to the bottom with magnets, and a couple of cabinet pulls.

Blast Back To the Past

It was a rare find, but Elsie and Emma at A Beautiful Mess were one of the lucky few in these ranks who managed to find an actual bar cart to begin the process of building…a bar cart.  Problem:  it looked nothing like a bar cart.

So after disassembling the cart, they painted the red surfaces black with Krylon and silver into gold (also Krylon), managing to turn this vintage cart back into one that actually looked vintage mid-century modern.

Not a Hack

IKEA hacks are everywhere.  But this transformation of an IKEA Raskog kitchen cart (less than $30!) might just be so incredibly simple that it cannot even be called a hack.

Rachel Shippy knew that Raskog was quality stuff, and it had just that post-industrial look she liked.  But the color?  The “colors wouldn’t mesh with my room’s black-and-white look,” says Shippy.

So with the help of dark-colored spray paint, she was able to turn a mild-mannered kitchen cart into a sexy bar cart.

Game On

No doubt about it, the Sears Craftsman 31″ 2-Tray Service Cart is just about as exciting as the name sounds.

Clued into this fact, Sears asked Amy Allen Clark to work a little magic for its Kenmore Blog.  With a few cans of spray paint, Amy turned it into a fun bar cart perfect for entertaining friends on game day.

Along with painter’s tape and gloves, Amy used two cans of Krylon Colormaster (Metallic Gold) and 1 can of Rust-Oleum Hammered Brown Spray Paint.

Green Machine

Carmen and Sarah at The Flair Exchange attached PVC panels from My Overlays as sidewalls in order to dress up an ordinary utility cart.