How to build stepladder?

One of the best friends of any professional electrician, painter, or average person fixing something in the home is the inevitable ladder. Various types of the ladder have been used throughout human history for over 10,000 years. Made of different materials, depending on need, but with the same idea – climb over the tree, over the wall, or any other obstacle. And today is not much different, except maybe the materials. Back then, the wood and other natural materials were only available, while today, with wide access to many natural and artificial materials, its much easier to create a quality, stable and durable ladder for any purpose.

One of the very useful types of a ladder is a stepladder. They find their use in many jobs, and they are also very useful in the house. To put something on a high shelf, change the light bulb, or fix something third. It’s very good to have one around. You can even use them as a shelf and put on the books or/and flowers. They would fit excellent in your interior. But if you don’t have or you need one extra, there is a wide choice of stepladder on the market. On the internet and in your local store, you will be able to find best types of stepladders which will fit your needs – with one, two or more steps, with extra holes for tools, from aluminum, plastic or different types of wood, stepladder with the holes for the jars with flowers and stepladder which can also be the chair, whichever you need.

In the last case scenario, if you are unable or you won’t spend money to buy stepladder, you can always make one at home. For that, you will need some tools, skills, and materials, but the final product can be much more quality than one you would buy from the store, plus you will be satisfied because you made it yourself. In the following text, we’ll see complete preparation and all materials and tools you will need.

Preparation, materials, and tools

Different ladder for a different purpose requires a different set of materials and several tools. One of the most common types you can see in the average house is the kitchen ladder (classic wooden stepladder, with three steps usually, typically used to reach high shelves in the kitchen) and ladders in the inverted V shape, with stable legs to support higher weights. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to make one yourself.

You will need a sufficient quantity of reasonable quality wood.

  • We’ll use 7 planks of white pine, measuring 90x20x900mm, plus hardware;
  • 8xM8 carriage bolts, about 55 mm long;
  • 8xM8 washers;
  • 8xM8 lock washers;

You should use carriage bolts that have a large dome head. This means you only need a washer on end with the nut. The lock washers are needed because the bolt is inside a moving joint. Without the lock washers, the nuts would gradually undo themselves. (M6 bolts would have worked fine too)

Tools you’ll need for this project:

  • Cordless drill;
  • Drill press;
  • Tablesaw;
  • Square;
  • Sandpaper (180 and 320 grits);
  • Router and jigsaw;
  • Earmuffs and eye protection and keep on the mind – safety first!

Overview

The stepladder consists of 4 different assemblies:

Back support: Two sides with three joining pieces, aka stretchers.

Joined by dowel – reinforced butt joints

The steps: Two sides with three steps. (Joined by dado joints.)

The top: five slats with two supports. (Joined by dado joints.)

Side supports: two simple side pieces with rounded ends.

The stepladder folds up to form a compact unit for storage.

Initial cutting

First, cut the pieces that would form the legs to size with a 60-degree angle on each end. Running the legs through the table saw clamped together ensures that they are the same length.

Next, rip several boards in half. Use a piece of scrap to check that your fence was set at the right distance from the blade. Cut the ripped pieces to length (various parts) and put an angle on the top supports.

Use a router to create dado joints.

Try to line up the slats perfectly as much as possible with each other while you cute the joints, so after the top is glued up, use the router again to trim their ends straight and flush. Because there are several rounded ends on this project, make a rounding template to make identical rounded corners, quickly and easily. You can make a template from a scrap piece of MDF, for example. First, cut it to the right width.

Then draw a half-circle of the right diameter on it. Roughly cut this half-circle using your electric jigsaw, then fill it closer and closer to the line with a rasp and a file.

The sandpaper gives the template a very smooth profile.  

It is worth spending a bit of time at this stage to make sure the template is very accurate since you will be using it on several parts of the project.

(If it is wonky, the wonkiness will be copied to all the curves on the project!)

Using the template is easy. With a flush-trim bit in the router, clamp the wooden piece to the template and run the bit around gently, then more firmly, to form the curve.

It’s an easy, repeatable cut, just needs a bit of cleaning up with sandpaper, due to the way the curve cuts into end-grain.

Round both ends of the step supports, the top of the back supports, and the side supports.

For each piece, cut curves on one side and use that side as a template for the opposing piece. This makes sure each pair of pieces are identical.

Main steps

When you figured out the spacing of the steps, draw their positions on the step supports.

Cut the six dado joints in the step supports, which you can cut using your router.

Dado joints are very nice type of joints. They can be made to be a very tight fit even without the glue.

Cut the three steps to length and make sure they are identical. Also, make sure there are no large knots in these pieces of wood. You don’t want a step breaking due to weakness introduced by knots.

Making back support

Make your stretchers fit between the back supports and use blind dowel joints. That will be more attractive, and it will be very strong and sturdy. Make a simple jig with a piece of scrap to make lining up the dowel holes easy.

Drill the holes

Check every piece, so you assured that everything would fit and work properly. Trim the back stretchers to length and put the angle at the end.

When you are satisfied, drill the bolt holes. All the holes should be drilled in your drill press with pairs of parts clamped together, so the holes should be aligned correctly.

Sand and glue up

Sand all the pieces with 180 grit sandpaper to clean up the surface and remove pencil marks. Also, run sandpaper along all of the edges to round them off.

(Although the stepladder will have a useful purpose, that doesn’t mean it can’t look good.)

In the next step, glue up the various assemblies to form solid units.

Glue the top slats onto the supports two at a time, spacing the slats with a scrap piece of plywood, so they are all evenly spaced apart.

Test fit and adjustment

When all the pieces are glued up, put the stepladder together to check that everything is good. If the stepladder doesn’t lock firmly into a level position when open, you can fix this problem in a number of ways. A most straightforward way is to find some small bolts with large heads and screw them into the top of the step supports. There will sit solidly against the top when the stepladder is in the open position.

Finishing and final assembly

Finishing can be the most tedious part of a project, but doing an excellent job at this step will make a big difference to the finished product. We recommend finishing your stepladder with three coats of thinned polyurethane (50% turps, 50% polyurethane). It’s easy to apply, and there shouldn’t be trouble with brush marks. Sand it lightly between coats with 320 grit sandpaper. (Also take the time to sand out any drips.)

Also, we recommend you wear some old clothes and disposable gloves while you are doing this. And don’t forget – safety first, while making stepladder and while you are using them. Ladder crashes and other “ladder incidents” are one of the leading causes of injury at work in the USA. Be careful how you use a stepladder and keep yourself safe during the use.

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