Sponsored Links


December 2008
« Nov   Jan »

Tape Measure Secrets #2

In our previous episode I explained some basic details about tape measures. There is more.
Two Scales
Here is our tape measure tape. We will pick on 16''. The top scale measures by the foot. This gives a measurement of 1 foot 4 inches.

The bottom scale measures by the inch. Here we have 16 inches. So you will be able to translate between feet and inches quickly. This is helpful when you need a quick calculation of how many feet you need for a series of cabinets, or how much space you need for 6 rows of 7 inch tiles. 

Tape Measure Symbols


On the left is the foot guide, with a black arrow and reversed lettering to see at a glance how many feet  you are at.

In the center is the standard 16'' O.C. (on center layout/framing guide) On
this tape it is red with two little arrows to distinguish it from the
foot guide. The majority of wood and light gauge steel framing for residential construction
is still based on 16'' centers, this is a very handy guide. 

Almost  everything written, designed and built uses 16'' on center
for structure to finish calculations, and the vast majority of panel
products from are based on a 4 foot design. Most of the panel products
are 4×8', from plywood to drywall. There are exceptions, but the majority of you will never need them.

On the right is one of the weirdest things found on tape measures.

On the right is a little diamond at 19 1/4'' which is a little used measuring system called Optimum Value Engineering. 

OVE was a framing system developed by the Forest Products Laboratory about 20 years ago. The theory was that you could  design on a 2 foot module scheme, using studs at 24'' and floor joists and roofing at 19 1/4''. This does save on structure materials like studs, joists and rafters, but because of spacing and other engineering issues, sheathing materials and drywall needed to be thicker resulting in higher sheathing material costs. 

It was pretty much a wash, and in the two projects that I worked on years ago, it didn't seem to be all that optimum. 

Even with today's drive toward a greener building style, OVE is not ready for prime time, and the average houseblogger and remodeler, will not find it useful.

Here are some resources if you want to know more.

Sustainable Building Sourcebook

Advanced Framing Techniques: Optimum Value Engineering (OVE)

Google Search

Tape Measure Secrets #1

The tape measure is the most important tool in remodeling. With the big box stores you can buy and use the same tools the pros use. They come in various lengths and blade widths.
The  most useful size is either a 25' or a 30'. Buy 2 at a time.

The dumb end


This is the dumb end. All tape measures have a hook on the end. This one has three rivets holding the hook in place.  All of the hooks move. Your tape is not broken! This is deliberate. The hook has thickness and the movement is to allow you  to measure  inside or outside with the same tool.

You want to check that the tapes you buy have the same movement. While you are at the store making your choices pull out 4 or 5 feet and put two tapes side by side to insure that they read the same.

Early in my drywall days, my partner and I were dry walling an apartment building. He was measuring, I was cutting. I kept missing the boxes and my lengths were off. I had just bought my new tape the day before. It started getting heated between us, until we put our tapes side by side and checked them.
Mine turned out to be around 1/4'' short over 4'.  So I was consistently missing the cutouts for the electric boxes and the plumbing. On 12' sheets with a lot of cutouts, there was a lot of extra work for the tapers.

Buy buying 2 at a time, your partner can be marking while you are measuring, and you don't have to fight over who has the dumb end:)

First Look at the Blade

Tapemeasure2Here is a standard blade that is marked in inches, with 1/16'' precision. For remodeling or rough carpentry this is as precise as you will need. 

What the marks mean

Tapemeasure3 The graduations on this tape have consistent spacing but different heights. The shortest lines denote a 1/16''. the next taller set are 1/8'' marks, next are the 1/4'' and finally the 1/2''marks. You will pick this up quickly and be measuring with confidence in no time at all.

Talking Numbers

Now that you can read the tape, let's get comfortable talking numbers. Your partner is  in front of a wall measuring for the sheetrock/plywood/paneling that you are standing in front of, waiting for her  to call out measurements. For example you have a 13' wall and there is a 36'' doorway centered 8 feet from the corner. Approx. 10'' (65 3/8 – 65 5/8'') from the left side of the door opening is a plastic romex outlet box for a light switch. The box is 2 1/4'' wide x 3 3/4'' deep centered at 48''.

1/8'' Shorthand – Strong and Even

When measuring using an 1/8'' shorthand is quicker and easier, resulting in fewer mistakes.

Here is a quick example. You are hanging your drywall horizontally, and measuring from the left. First you do your horizontal measurements, then you do your verticals.

Measuring from the left your partner calls out 65 and 2, 67 and 5 strong, 77 even. You mark your sheet, from the left as she calls out the numbers.

65 and 2, is the left side of the outlet box, 67 and 5 strong, is the right side of the box and 77 even is the left side of the door opening. When you add the outlet numbers it comes out to 2 11/16'' which is 3/16'' larger giving you a bit of room in case the box isn't square or the corner is not plumb. If everything works, you will not need a drywall repair guide.

65 and 2 is actually 65 and 1/4'' or 65 and 2 eighths. Why would you say that? You only need 7 numbers to call instead of 16. Less confusion. 

65 and 5 strong is actually 65 and 11/16'' which is 65 and 5 eighth and 1/16th. the 1/16th inch being the strong. Using Strong indicates that you need a 1/16th more than the 5/8ths.

77 even means 77'' and no bits.

Then your partner starts from the right measuring down from the ceiling. 13 and 6, 46 even. You mark you sheet from the right as she reads her numbers.

13 and 6, is the depth of the top of your door frame.

46 even is the top of the electric box.

You now have 1/16'' precision with 7 numbers and 2 words that do not sound even close reducing confusion and speeding up production.

Demo Tools – The Wonder Bar

A lot of folks are just starting to remodel and need tools. Here is one of the most important tools the home remodeler can have in their tool box.

The 21” Wonder Bar

This is one of those tools that is indispensable for demolition. It is a re-imaging of the crowbar. Basically it is a bent tempered steel bar for prying things apart and removing nails using leverage. Using a lever to move things is not new, and it still works!

The Safety Note:

Wear Safety glasses when using this. More than 50% of the time you will be using a hammer to start. This is a tempered steel tool and the hammer face is a hardened steel tool. (Yes they tell you not to strike hard surfaces with your hammer, but are you really gonna use a 2×4 to hammer? Just Be Careful!)

Inevitably some piece of steel will chip off and go flying. It will be hot, moving fast and like the bread falling peanut butter side down, will try for your soft tissue. Wearing Safety glasses will help protect your eyes. Your face will be the second closest thing to this impact surface and has a lot of soft tissue. You will jump and cry like a baby, but will be able to see where it landed.

End Note.

This is the Stanley 21” Wonderbar. Leverage grasshopper, leverage. Don’t bother buying a smaller one. There are a number of reasons.

First, is the principle of leverage. The longer the lever, the easier it is to use and the more force you can bring to bear. Most housebloggers and especially the fearless women who are remodeling are not built like linebackers. I am 5′ 8” and thin. Plus I am lazy.

Second, this tool is designed for carpentry demolition. It is lighter than a crowbar of the same size, and has slots for gripping nails as well as tapered edges to get underneath as well as between framing members.

Third, it is useful when you need to move things around or get underneath things like holding a door in place when you are trying to put the hinges back.

Fourth, Do not attempt to save money by buying a off brand cheap unit. You can tell the difference as a well made unit will ring rather than thud like oone that is just twisted and not treated.

The image above shows a front and side view of the wonder bar. Note that it is curved at the top and has a crook at the bottom.Both ends of the bar have slots for engaging nails to lever the out. The top has an additional tear drop shaped opening for nails.

The desire to overuse this for trimming concrete, chipping stucco and other non-wood related activities should be swallowed.

The crook on the bottom can be used to tap (as opposed to slamming it like trying to ring the bell at the fair) the bar between trim and walls, studs nailed together, plates nailed to the floor, and so on.

Unless you do demo daily, one should be enough to pass onto your children.

Wonder Bar

New Years Resolution

My New Year Resolution is to make enough money blogging and selling stuff through Amazon to spend my time blogging and less time remodeling.(and finish my house:) the powerball thing isn't working all that well..

Be advised that any product or service here I either own(as evidenced
by the pictures provided) or I have used in the case of companies I

I am getting old, and would like to put down the tools and just post. To do this I must become wildly popular and get stunning  clickthru traffic. Hey stop laughing! Stranger things have happened….

I will be putting and posting a Basics Section that will cover just about every operation and tool the home remodeler and houseblogger will need to remodel their house. If there is something in particular that you would like covered, leave a comment or drop me a line(remodgeek*at*lemurzone.com)

Meanwhile I have a job to get to.

Holiday Etc.


Christmas Movies for Remodelers

Being a remodeler I like building and fixing things. Now it is true that most housebloggers are one shot wonders in that they are only doing their houses, the serial remodeler is a different creature.

When I look at pictures of projects, my mind strays to what is under the covers. Action Movies provide large amounts of stimulus as you can pause scenes and think about what needs to be done to repair or remodel the damage caused by saving the world.

 Being an action junkie but sensitive to the holiday spirit, here are my favorite Christmas movies.
 Die Hard Everybody thinks that this is just an iconic action hero movie, which it is, but it is a Christmas movie. A good movie for water and blast damage.

 Die Hard with a Vengeance A couple of years go by, and John McClane celebrates Christmas in Washington DC.
More commercial than residential.

The Long Kiss Goodnight A warm tale of an amnesiac recovering her memories and juggling home life with saving the world. Bullet holes and basements.

After you have had christmas, here is one for the New Year.

End of Days Arnold saves the world from ultimate evil.
Happy Holidays!

Remove 2 bolts …

Bertha is back on the road. Beep Beep!!

Before I called the tow company, I borrowed the ex's car, and had the battery checked. It had bad cells and a short under load. Like putting it in gear. Because of that, the sensors went nuts, the check engine light, and the check gauge light lit. The weirdest thing in this whole episode is the battery is usually the last thing to break, because battery technology has advanced to the point that bad cells and shorts are very unusual.

Topped off the fluids, took it for a test drive and am now returning to life as I know it.

Energy Efficient Housing and a Stimulus Package

On a tip from Doc Searls is this posting on a stimulus package focused on creating and remodeling commercial and residential housing.
Transition Team Weighing Blockbuster Housing and Stimulus Proposal
(A pdf of the plan is here.)

According to the posting the Obama transition team is looking at it.

This has some interesting features, makes sense on a number of levels, and will probably not get anymore traction, as it makes sense, will stimulate the economy, lower mortgage rates, and reduce dependence on energy.

Remove 2 bolts. 1 bracket, and slide out between the firewall and the crossmember.

That is what it said in the repair manual. My  grand caravan developed electrical problems the other day. Tuesday, I called one of my friends in the auto recycling biz who specializes in Chrysler products. After discussing the problems, we decided that we would try replacing the engine computer. The reason being that the regulator for the alternator is in the computer, not in the alternator or on the firewall, which it has been over time.

So I picked up an used/recycled computer and replaced it. This was a simple operation. I started the van, watched the amp gauge drop and the engine died.  This test told me that the computer was not at fault. So my next move was to replace the alternator.

Now before we get into this, a small bit of history. I haven't always been a remodeler. In the late 80's and early 90's, I worked in auto wrecking yards. From dismantling, to sales, to management, I did just about everything that happens in a wrecking yard. Part of this experience was what made me stop working on my own cars. And for about 15 years I have been able to avoid it.

Times are tough, money is what other folks have, so into the breach I descended.
It started out simple enough, disconnecting the battery, finding the top and bottom alternator bolts and removing them, almost. The bottom bolt would not come all the way out because of a bracket being the way. I had a quick conference with Joe, the local mechanic, and he looked at it and figured out that the bracket needed to come out. He borrowed me a long wrench, the right size but had to split as his wife was in labor and was on the way to the hospital.

I finally got the bracket out of the way using the eyeballs on the tips of my fingers, which were rusty from not being used in years, and still no joy. The alternator was not coming out from the top as the top alternator bolt went through a bracket that also bolted to the engine, contained the power steering fluid reservoir, and extended down the front of the engine block. After looking at this for a while, I sat back and thought deep thoughts about auto engineers, and figured I would check online. Two hours of my life that I will never get back.

Long story short, I went and got a Manual. There I discovered, the alternator comes out the bottom.  "Remove 2 bolts. 1 bracket, and slide out between the firewall and the cross member." This was good news as the alternative of stripping all of the brackets from the front of the engine, is what sent me to the store in the first place. 

To do this you have to raise the vehicle. You have to be able to swing a cat, Figure 18-20'' up. 'They' suggest Jack stands. Like every body has a set of stands, a 5 ton floor jack and a grease pit in their garage.

Now having gotten the vehicle up high enough, and parked on one of the few spots of the old driveway that water pools, I began the process. Now I have already removed the 2 bolts, removed the bracket, and gotten a grip on the alternator. No matter how I turned it, slid it, muttered, held my breath, it was not coming out. After looking at this for a while, I sat back and thought deep thoughts about auto engineers, and discovered the SECRET!

You have to remove the firewall heat shield, unbolt, disconnect and move the exhaust system,(which is a hell of a lot more work than the description would indicate) swing the alternator around, being careful not to get it caught on the spark plug wire, O2 sensor, ground strap, power steering hoses, brake lines, and the cross member. A few items they neglected to mention in the fricking manual. 

Having finally gotten it out, I took it up to the parts store and had it tested. The damn thing is fine! 204K and it still works. The parts guy mentioned that I didn' t seem happy that it passed. 

This means that there is some electrical gremlin in the system that involves a whole lot more work than I am equipt for, temperamentally suited for, or competent to tackle.

Plus I have the wonderful task of reversing all of today's work before I get it towed up to my mechanic. Some days just suck.

Drywall Taping – Taping Walls

If you are hanging drywall yourself, taping is the next step in finishing your rooms. Taping is a skill that can be learned. It requires feeling over brute force. 

Here are the tools you will need for taping. In the upper left is a mud
pan. They come in plastic, galvanized and stainless steel like mine. On
the upper right side is a 6'' mud knife, the work horse of the taping
game. It is used to scoop the mud out of the bucket, and into the pan,
applying the tape coat of mud, corners and spotting nails. It is also
the first call for doing patch repairs, and fixing problems like electric box cutout misses.

On the bottom right is an 8'' taping knife for second coats and areas
that need a wider knife, such as corner beads, and cover  or second
coats. On the bottom left is a 12'' knife for third or finish coats and
for running butt joints. Finally in the middle of the photo is a hand
sander. A necessary tool that creates the majority of the mess in
finishing drywall. How much mess you create and have to cleanup is a
direct result of your taping efforts.

In a perfect world we have smooth seams, no tears, damage, and the only butt joints are corners. Good Luck with that….

Here we have a wall that has a number of the most common features. We have seam joints,(the long factory edges) butt joints, (the short joints where two sheets meet) cutouts for electric boxes, cutouts for plumbing, a trimless window feature, and some common problems that may  occur when hanging drywall, such as the damage on the seam joint and the damage from mis cutting an electric box opening.

I have checked my screws by running my 6'' knife down the wall and listening for clicks that tell me that a fastener is not below the surface. I have cut away the loose drywall and paper on my seams and around the electric box. The next step if your walls have any of these problems is pre fill.

Here is our wall with taping compound prefilling the damaged areas of our wall prior to taping. 'Regular' mud/joint compound has a 24 hour drying cycle. You tape today, you cover tomorrow, and the next day you apply your third coat, and if all goes well the forth day is sanding followed by priming. Just because your mud looks dry after a few hours, do not be deceived, it is only the top that is dry.

You can use speed set/hot mud/ to do your prefills and get your tape  coat on in the same day. I show this here. I also spotted the fasteners.

Tapewall2 I have also taped and prefilled the butt joints as there were holes around the plumbing and elevation differences on the wall. 

Having finished my prefill, it is time for the tape coat. I use mesh tape on the flats and paper tape on the inside corners. Mesh tape is self adhesive and almost eliminates one of the worst problems(tape bubbles) with inexperienced tapers, and makes the mudding before tape application unnecessary in the flats, you still need to do it on your inside corners.

From personal experience you should tape the buttjoints first, running the tape within 1/2'' of your inside corner and a 1/2'' over the seam joints. This allows the butt joint tape to be underneath your seam tape and under your corner tape.  After mudding and wiping the butt joints, with the 8'' knife, you next mud and wipe the seams. Then you do the corners with your 6'' knife and paper tape.  Finally you coat any cornerbeads, box repairs, and spot the nails.

Tapewall3The next day brings us to our second coat. For those of you who are just starting the taping game, before you begin the second coat, take your drywall knife and lightly slide it across your seams from yesterday to remove any drywall mud that did not get wiped down or cleaned up from yesterdays taping adventure.

Like yesterday we will tape our butts first, our seams second, box repairs and spot nails/screws and finally one side of our corners.

Getting our walls flat is more about appearance than anything else. The seam joints are easy to make flat as the sheets have a depression from the factory that we are just filling in to make them level.


Butt joints on the other hand present us with challenges as the edges of the sheets have no depressions. With our tape and mud coat we  already have a bump on our wall. Relax, unless you are using screw blocks this is normal, and will be fixed. What we do is to apply wider coats of mud on either side of our butt joint so the bump gets spread over a much greater distance and gives us the appearance of a flat wall.

The photo below gives you a look at how much wider our butt joint is than our seam joint. This is where we use the 12'' knife.

Tapewall5After your mud dries, and you sand your joints smooth, being careful not to scuff the paper with too vigorus sanding, this is the point where those that desire it get texture applied to the walls.

In either case, after finishing your walls, it is Primer Time! Always Prime Sheetrock. No I do not belong to the primer lobby, I belong to the lazy and easy lobby. Priming drywall seals it, and as an added bonus allows you to see any imperfections that can be easily repaired with a bit of wall spackle. Raw drywall sucks up paint in a major way. Primer is a lot cheaper than that custom finish color that you paid big bucks for.

Also by sealing the drywall, you will need less paint to cover the walls. We fed our thirsty walls with primer,remember?


After the primer, you are ready to apply your finish coat. 


Flooring, trim and stuff, you can start living knowing that you did it.