Antique Ladder Book Shelf – DIY

A few weeks ago, our friend Ben posted a picture to Pinterest of a book shelf made from an old wooden ladder. We reposted it, thinking about building one from the old wooden ladder our neighbor, Penny, gave us last year. I knew there was a reason I took it and kept it. The ladder had been in Penny’s basement for many years and she was looking to clean house. It spent the last few months in our garden as a guide for pole beans.

I measured the wall where Christy and I wanted the ladder to hang and figured that I’d need a four-foot section and a three-foot section to fill the space. I cut those sections from the ladder and took them into my basement lab/workshop. Having been used for years, then forgotten for some more years, then stuck in a garden for another year, this ladder was a mess. I began cleaning it up by using a hand scraper, the same tool I use to remove paint from the exterior of our home. After scraping, I used an electric sander to get more of the old finish off. I didn’t want to completely remove the old finish and patina, just most of the gunk and nasty (note the goggles and full face mask. I recommend them).

After sanding, I mitered the ends of the ladder sections so that they would fit together in an L orientation and fit into the corner of our walls.

The clamps in the photo above are holding the pieces in place so that I could pre drill holes and insert two 3-inch screws per piece to hold the L together.

To improve upon the design I saw on Pinterest and to make this my own, I cut an old heartpine shutter into a five-inch wide strip and cut it to length to be a shelf behind the ladder sections. After it was sanded, I attached it to the ladder using biscuits. You can get more information on biscuit joinery here.

The biscuits and glue needed a couple of hours to firm up, so I went to the store and picked up some clear coat in a satin finish. Christy and I put on a couple of coats with those cheapo foam brushes you see in the paint aisle and wonder what they’re for.

Next, I had to figure out how to attach this monster to the walls in our crazy old house. If you don’t have plaster in your home, be thankful. Don’t get me wrong, we love the character and history our plaster walls give to the house. But. . . they’re a huge pain in the butt to hang stuff on. See, you can’t use a stud finder to locate the studs behind plaster because of the way it’s applied. They put up a bunch of thin strips of wood with tiny gaps between them and coat the whole structure with plaster (the same stuff you used in art class – plaster of paris). The thin strips of wood confuse the stud finder.

Luckily for me, one of the walls this shelf was to be attached to had, at some point, been torn apart and replaced with drywall. Hooray, I found the studs in that wall and used the corner brackets you see in the photos above and below.

I figured that the four three-inch screws I drove into the studs of wall number one would be enough to hold the shelf up while I attached it to wall number two. I was right. For that wall, I needed to use toggle bolts, which are a whole lot more messy than screws into studs. The photo below shows the giant toggle bolt I used for the shelf on this wall.

I had to drill a 3/4 inch hole in the wall so the toggle could pass through. That gigantic hole is the reason for the large piece of wood you see the screw passing through. It’ll cover the giant hole once it’s attached. I explain toggle bolts in a little more detail in this post. Once the toggle was firmly attached to the wall, I used wood screws to attach the wood blocks to the ladder, as you see in the left side of the photo below. Thanks for reading – Robby.

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10 Responses to Antique Ladder Book Shelf – DIY

  1. jim says:

    Very cool idea, looks great!

  2. mlpowell520 says:

    very cool.

  3. mlpowell520 says:

    where does one find old pine/wood?

  4. The Bennetts says:

    I started looking for old heart pine by doing a google search for “reclaimed wood – Atlanta”, since that’s where we live. Plug in your town and see what happens. If you go that route, it’ll be expensive, because people actually make a living from tearing down old structures just to resell the wood, doorknobs, fixtures, and other old stuff. After being disappointed by the prices of buying, I though about my extended family and asked my uncle, who owns a farm. He happened to have some. We really got lucky. Happy hunting and thanks for reading.

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