Hi! It’s Mandi here from Making Nice in the Midwest. I live in a little mid century ranch that doesn’t waste any space on ceiling height. A little trick I learned in design school is using vertical elements to draw the eye upwards and give the illusion of height. In addition to giving my living room a little more height, I wanted the fireplace area to have more of a presence in the room, so I thought adding a leaning ladder to this area would be such a great idea! Making the ladder myself saved me some money and was a really fun indoor project to enjoy working on during the Winter! Check out the instructions below to learn how to make your own leaning ladder for blankets or just simple decor in your home.
- 2 8′ pieces of 3/4″x2″ wood (I used poplar, but maple would be a nicer choice)
- 1 10′ piece of 1″ dowel cut into 19″ sections (I used poplar)
- Power drill or drill press and 1″ circular drillbit (a forstner, an orbital power sander)
- stain or paint and primer of your choice
- paint brush
- mineral spirits for cleaning your brush if you used oil based paint or stain
- chop saw
- scrap wood
- (optional: wood glue)
Prepping Your Supplies: Measure the height of the walls in your space, and make sure the boards you purchase are cut no longer than that one inch higher than the ceiling height. My walls are 7′-11″ high, so I left my boards at 8′ in order to have the ladder be as high as possible. Lumber yards sell boards by the foot, so round up to the nearest foot when selecting your lumber, and then have them cut the board to the exact size you need. The lumber yard I went to for this project was kind enough to also cut the 10′ dowel rod I purchased into six 19″ pieces for me. You might think you could get six 20″ pieces of wood from a 10′ dowel, but you have to account for the loss that occurs due to the thickness of the blade that cuts the wood. So I decided on 19″ pieces for the rungs of the ladder.
Step One: Using a protractor, measure out a 10˚ angle horizontally across the bottom of each plank and mark out the angle with a pencil. On the edge of the plank which has been marked at the highest height of the previously drawn angle, measure out another 10˚ angle vertically across the height of the board. These are the angles that will help your ladder lean against the wall.
Step Two: Using a chop saw, cut the wood on the lines you just marked. Now each plank should be perfectly suited for leaning against the wall, since you’ve notched out the angles at the top side and bottom edge of the plank.
Step Three: Lay the planks on their side and use a tape measure to mark out the points where you will drill your holes. Mark the edge of the plank very precisely. I put the first drill point 18″ from the bottom of the plank, and then the next five drill points were marked 12″ apart. After all of the points have been marked, use a t-square to find the exact middle point of the plank to redraw your drill points in the middle of the plank. This ensures all of the holes will be drilled precisely in the right spot to prevent warping of the ladder due to holes that haven’t been precisely marked and drilled.
Step Four: Lay the planks on top of a scrap piece of wood and drill into each hole, making sure to keep the drill perpendicular to the plank, so the holes aren’t drilled crooked. A drill press is great for this, because of its accuracy, as long as the plank is resting across the drill press perfectly level. But the most important thing is to make sure your holes are drilled exactly on center with the marks you have precisely made. Use a compass if necessary to mark out the entire diameter of the circle you are drilling from the point you marked in step three. I used a forstner drill bit to drill the holes because it cuts a really neat hole with practically no splintering. It gave me such nice cuts that I didn’t even need to use wood glue- the rungs fit into the holes perfectly for a great, snug dry fit.
Step Five: Sand down any splintering that happened during the hole drilling, and knock off the sharp edges from around the edges of the planks. Then use a barely damp cloth to wipe away any dust.
Step Six: Assemble the ladder by fitting the rungs into the holes, making sure that you have the planks mirroring each other according to the angles you cut at the top and the bottom. I had to tap the plank onto the rungs of the ladder, because it was such a tight fit. I used a scrap of wood for tapping between the ladder and the hammer so I wouldn’t leave hammer marks on the ladder. If your holes are a bit too large for a snug fit, use your finger to smear wood glue all around the inside of each hole before inserting the rungs, and wipe away the excess glue before you allow it to dry.
Step Seven: After the wood glue has dried, you can stain or prime and paint your wood according to your liking. I decided not to seal my ladder with veneer, wax, or polyurethane, but I may do that eventually. Since I didn’t use a natural stain, I let the ladder air out in my garage for a few days so that it wouldn’t stink up the inside of our house with unhealthy fumes. The stain I used is Early American by Minwax, which is a good brand, but I wasn’t in love with how the stain was unevenly absorbed by the poplar wood. I wish I had chosen maple wood instead, but oh well! Poplar is unpredictable like that. I probably should have selected better pieces of wood according to how the grain looked on each plank.
I love how the leaning ladder ended up looking and really enjoy seeing my favorite blankets displayed for easy access during these colder months. In the Summer, I’ll leave the blankets off and just enjoy the ladder as a decorative element in the room. I’m so glad that I didn’t end up buying an expensive blanket ladder from the store and that I made one myself!
Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson