Simpson's new Steel Strong-Wall is the strongest, most cost-effective shear wall available today, says the manufacturer, who claims that the product can handle loads two to three times greater than the original Strong-Wall can manage. Thanks to predrilled holes for wiring and pre-attached wood framing, the new Strong-Wall is easier to install than other steel shear panels, too. Simpson also offers templates that practically guarantee your anchor bolts will be in the right locations. Prices for the Steel Strong-Wall — which comes in 12- to 24-inch widths — vary according to size and region. Simpson Strong-Tie Co., 800/999-5099, www.strongtie.com

Twenty years ago, you could expect everyone on your crew to have enough skill to make a set of rough stringers; you could also count on your 2x12s being free of splits running down the middle. Unfortunately, you can no longer take either condition for granted — which makes Easy Risers from Universal Forest Products a promising alternative to...

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