DIY: The “Antique” Ladder

I’ve been puzzling for months about what I wanted to hang in the large empty wall space above the passage from our living room to our kitchen, and then I discovered antique ladders and decided to find one large enough for the space. Craigslist only turned up a few duds though, and ordering a custom-sized ladder online and having it shipped was a bit outside the price range I wanted to pay. So when I found this page I decided to give it a shot and make my own “antique” ladder, incorporating a few of my own touches into the design.

Materials:

  • two 1×3 boards, 96″ long
  • seven 1″ diameter sections of dowel rod, 16″ long (cut to size with a miter saw)
  • pencil
  • ruler or measuring tape
  • wood glue
  • drill
  • 1″ hole cutting drill bit
  • electric sander
  • sandpaper or hand sanding block
  • dark wood stain (I used dark walnut)
  • latex gloves
  • old rag or cloth for varnish application and removal
  • clean rag or cloth, or tackcloth
  • rubber mallet
  • clear sealing spray paint or varnish
  • optional: medium brown metallic spray paint

I lined the two boards up and taped them together, then I marked spots where the rungs of my ladder would attach by marking the wood at 1′ intervals and drawing a dot in the center of the top board at each mark. Since the two boards were taped together I only had to measure once.

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Next, I laid the boards on top of some scrap wood to prepare for drilling. Using the hole drilling bit I drilled through the wood at each of the six marks, only stopping after the bit had reached the bottom board and started to cut into it as well. (If your bit is made for cutting deeper holes, you may be able to drill straight through both boards in one step. If not, you’ll need to remove the tape and the top board then repeat the process using the drilled indentions in the bottom board as a guide.)

Surprisingly, the most time consuming part of the process was removing the wood plug from the drill bit after each hole. I recommend wearing work gloves for this step if you have tender fingers, because the rough edges of the wood definitely cut mine a couple of times. (Think of it like untwisting a cork from a manual corkscrew, except the cork has rough edges.)

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Then I applied a layer of dark walnut stain to the rails and the dowel pieces, let the stain dry for about 10 minutes, and removed it with a cloth. I left the wood to dry overnight.

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The next day I took the boards out and gave them a rough sanding. Usually I am careful to sand with the grain direction of the wood and not let sanding marks show, but in this case since I wanted the wood to look old and worn I had fun being careless with it. First I gave the four broadest faces of the boards a light sanding just to smooth them out, then I sanded around the drilled holes to remove any splintered pieces and prevent further splintering, and finally I applied heavy sanding on the edges and ends in order to turn the sharp corners into rounded, worn-looking ones. For the dowel rods, I used the electric sander to significantly smooth down the ends and round the edges and then I hand-sanded the length of the dowels. Throughout this process I was careful not to sand through all of the stain, letting the bare wood show through in some areas but not on the flat faces of the wood.

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I wiped the wood down with a cloth to remove the sanding dust, then I laid both boards on the ground and lined up my dowel rods.

My favorite little helpers assisted me by lounging nearby in the sunshine, supervising.

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Then my husband grew curious and interrupted his homeworking to help out, too. Putting a small amount of glue around–not on–the ends of the dowel rods, we twisted each into the holes in the first board until they were flush with the ground. Here’s where I note that I wouldn’t normally work with bare wood on concrete like this, but in this case some additional wear wasn’t going to hurt anything.

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Once the rods, or rungs, were installed into the first board we wiped off the excess glue and prepared the second board by lining the holes on it up with the rungs.

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We put a small amount of glue around the ends of the upward-facing dowel rods and slid the second rail into place on top of them, then we used a rubber mallet to gently pop the board down over the ends of the dowel rods until the rods were flush with the outer–or upper–edge of the ladder rail. I wiped off all of the extra glue and let the ladder sit flat for a few hours while the glue adhered.

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After the glue had some time to set, I came back with a sanding block and lightly sanded to remove the excess glue and touch up other spots that needed more attention.

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Then I gave the ladder a light misting with my metallic brown spray paint, being careful only to apply enough to slightly enhance the brown tones I’d lightened during the sanding phase. (I didn’t want the wood to actually appear metallic, but I wanted to give it some additional character.) At this phase you could also dry-brush or splatter-paint the ladder with a white or light-colored paint, or paints, but I wanted the wood to appear darker.

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I gave the spray paint an hour to dry and then came back with a fine mist of clear spray paint to finish it off and seal the wood enough that it won’t leave dark marks on my wall when I hang it.

And ta da! I’d crafted my own “antique” wood ladder!

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I’ve got an idea to hang it horizontally, flush with the wall, and then hang small medallions and other knick-knacks in the spaces between the rungs.

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4 thoughts on “DIY: The “Antique” Ladder

    1. stocktoc

      One modification would be to cut the ends of the legs at angles so it can rest on the floor and lean up against the wall…and for additional stability you could also install brackets to keep it from flipping away from the wall.
      And if you’re going to use it for quilts I’d recommend using longer lengths of dowel to make the ladder wider, too. Have fun if you try it! I want to see pictures!

      Like

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