Saturday, October 10, 2015
Yesterday, I tackled another rather detailed woodworking project: I built myself a ladder for my loft. After some research on the Internet, I decided on steps that were 15 inches wide, 12 inches apart and at an angle of 75°. Next, I had to decide what kind of wood to use. Many people build ladders entirely out of two by fours. However, I thought that would be kind of heavy. Plus, when I looked on the Tumbleweed construction video, I saw that they clearly made their ladder rails out of 1 x 4 Pine, so I decided to do that as well. I would love to have made the steps out of 1 x 4 Pine also, but that would have been too flimsy. I would have used 2 x 4 pine, but I’ve never seen such a thing in any of my local hardware stores, so I decided to use some 2 x 4 white wood studs instead. I selected the nicest ones I could find, cut them up to length and then spent a good amount of time sanding them down to make them look nice. By the time I was done working on them, they actually ended up being a pretty good match for my pine rails.
After all the planning, cutting and sanding was done, I cut slots at a 15° angle at regular intervals into all of my rails for the steps to slot into. Most of the simple ladder building instructions I found online simply tell people screw the rails into the ladder rails directly, without any kind of slot. However, I really felt like the slot would add a little bit of extra support for the steps and make the ladder more stable and long-lasting. It took some time, but I think it was the right thing to do.
In order to cut the slots, I created a nice little jig with a handle. The jig was able to slide up and down my rails easily. Each side of my jig was cut at opposite 15° angles so I could use it on both rails. To use it, I just lined up the edge of the jig with the line I wanted to cut, set my circular saw at 5/16″ depth and then ran the saw across the line. I repeated this 7 to 8 times for each slot until I had multiple cuts spanning the 1 1/2″ width of the 2 x 4 steps. Then, I chiseled out all the wood and sanded down the slot to make it smooth. It took a little bit of trial and error to get the jig working the way I wanted to, but once I had it right, it made the job really easy and precise. Plus, now I have a nice jig in case I ever need to make another ladder.
After all that was done, the next thing to do was to screw and glue it all together. I carefully spread glue into each one of the slots on both rails, lined up the rails next to each other and slipped the steps into the slots. Then, I clamped the whole thing together before finally driving two screws into each side of each step. I used the same pretty screws that I had purchased to build my closet and bathroom doors and was also careful about centering the screws and making them look symmetrical. I think it turned out really nice.
The last thing I did was to add some features for stability. First, I cut some notches in the top of the ladder that nest right over the top of the loft. Next, I added some screw in eyelets to the inside of the top of the ladder rails and added some corresponding hooks to the front beam of the loft. The loops on the ladder slip over the hooks, making it pretty much impossible for the ladder to slide off the loft.
Although I really like how the ladder looks, there is one small problem with it. Somehow, it ended up coming together a little bit out of square. I’m not sure how that happened. Maybe one of the rails was a little bit warped or maybe I didn’t place the steps exactly right. Anyway, the ladder leans a little bit to the left and I don’t fully understand why. I’m still trying to figure out if that is fixable. Even if it’s not, I’m still happy with it. The ladder is totally functional and looks pretty good.
It took me until the middle of the afternoon to finish the ladder. After that, I spent a little bit of time installing a shelf and a closet rod inside the closet which I think also turned out pretty well.