Canadian Woodworking

Display ladder

Author: Steve Siddall
Published: August September 2002

There’s something nostalgic about an old wooden ladder.


I remember as a child, climbing every one I came across on my grandpa’s farm. It seemed like I could see for miles from up there.

Today, wooden ladders are a rare find. Even if you do find one, you can’t see for miles. They’re called kilometres now and, somehow, it just doesn’t seem as far! So in memory of old ladders, let’s build a nice new one to display our treasures and hold a few CDs, too.

To get started, visit your local lumber yard and purchase three nice 1 x 6 x 72” boards. Choose one to cut into 5 – 14” pieces for the “steps” and two for ripping at 4” wide for the verticals. With one of the leftover strips, rip and cut 5 pieces 3/8” x 3/8” x 14” long for the backstop on each shelf.

To complete shelf preparation, rough and finish-sand shelves and verticals prior to attaching them together. It’s much easier to sand at this point. It’s also a great time to use a little creativity. With a little extra sanding on front corners and edges, you can create the illusion of time worn steps. Assemble the steps by gluing and clamping the strips to the back top edge.

Mark the shelf heights and angles as shown in the diagram on one of the vertical pieces. Mark the bottom cut line and top scallop at the same time. I haven’t provided a pattern for the top curves because I used a litre can as a template to mark the curves I liked. You can’t get much simpler than that!

Stack the marked vertical on top of the other and use clear tape to hold them together securely.

Cut top and bottom and drill pilot holes for #8 screws while both pieces are held together with the tape. Remove tape. Rough and finish-sand verticals to your liking.

If you plan on staining your ladder prior to clear coating, it is much easier to do so prior to assembly (especially on easy-to-assemble projects like this one). Finally, assemble with #8 x 2 1/2” wood screws and cup washers. The cup washers add the illusion of the old through-bolts that were used in wood ladder construction. Clear coat the entire assembly including over the screw heads and cup washers. This will preserve the bright zinc finish which would otherwise tarnish and rust.

Now you are ready to display! If you are concerned that the base of your ladder might slide out on your particular floor material, two strips of self-adhesive closed cell foam tape on the bottom of each vertical will give it added grip. If you are still concerned, you could always add two picture hangers to the top of the verticals and hook your ladder to fasteners in your wall. It’s up to you.

As for grandpa’s ladders, they never looked quite this good. Enjoy!

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