Ladder Bookshelf




About: Action pig loves truth, justice, and his new jig saw.

I found this amazing, dingy old ladder in the trash around the same time I discovered half-price bookstores.  I can't bring myself to buy those canned pressed-wood department-store bookshelves anymore and I need space for my Lemony Snicket collection.  Hence this project!

-wood for shelves (I used 1/4" thick red oak planks, backed with 1/4 - 1/2" thick red oak for support)
-wood for cross bars (I used 1/2"x1.5" red oak)
-shelf brackets (< 1.5", to support cross bars, need 8)
-shelf braces (look for 'mending plates' - straight brackets to support cross bars, need 8)
-wood glue
-wood finish (I used 50/50 tung oil/mineral spirits)
-1/2" - 5/8" wood screws

-jig saw 
-measuring tape

Not having a table saw or planer, I used craft wood that has already been (mostly) squared and nicely planed.  I chose oak.  This project could be built for much less $$ if you have the ability to cut and plane your own boards!


Step 1: Prepare the Ladder

I wanted to see what was underneath all of the grime and paint.  I sanded with 60, 100, and 150 grit and discovered some lovely oak pine.  This part took forever.  

Step 2: Add the Braces

I decided to make the shelves to sit flush with the steps.  Metal braces are used to support cross bars that support the shelves.  

The straight braces are screwed to the underside of the ladder steps.  You might notice that when the ladder is oriented so that the back rails are perpendicular to the floor, the steps are slightly slanted.  In order for the wooden shelves to be level, the metal braces need to be bent until they are level.  

The square brackets are screwed to the inside of the back rails.  The cross braces will be screwed into both sets of brackets.  

Step 3: Cut and Install the Cross-bars

I used 1/2" x 1.5" red oak for the cross bars.  The cross-bars sit flush against the back of the steps and extend to the back rails.  Unfortunately, this ladder was not built to be especially square - when the ladder is oriented correctly the right-hand cross bars (looking from the back to the front) need to be longer than the left cross bars.  Wabi-sabi, right?

To cut with a jig saw, measure the distance from the side of the saw to the blade and set up a 'rail' to guide the cut that is this distance away from your desired cut.  For instance, my jig saw has 1.5" between the blade and the side of the saw.  To cut 3", I clamp a piece of wood at 4.5".  This is where the T-square comes in handy.  If your rail is slanted, your cut will be too!

Screw cross bars into braces.  Use pilot holes before drilling - it turns out that 1/2" thick boards have a tendency to split...

Step 4: Cut and Reinforce the Shelves

I bought craft wood 1/4" thick in widths of 4" and 2" (I think I used 12' of 4" and 8' of 2" - it takes a lot more than it looks).  

The steps of the ladder are ~.75" thick.  When the 1/4" thick shelves sit on top of the 1/2" cross bars, the shelves sit flush with the wooden steps.  

I cut and glued supports (1/4" x 2" oak) to the underside of the shelves.  The supports keep the shelves from sliding off the cross bars and prevent bending from the weight of the books.  

Step 5: Assemble and Finish

I sanded the shelves and applied a 50/50 mix of tung oil and mineral spirits to everything.  In order to apply a proper finish, rough up the surfaces lightly with 0000 steel wool, wipe off woolly bits, apply finish (wear gloves!), wipe off excess finish, allow to dry.  Repeat until satisfied!

The final product is meant to be disassembled - the shelves are not glued in, and the cross bars can be unscrewed, allowing the ladder to fold.  

Happy building!



    • Fandom Contest

      Fandom Contest
    • Woodworking Contest

      Woodworking Contest
    • IoT Challenge

      IoT Challenge

    28 Discussions


    2 years ago

    I would love to make a couple of these, but here (in Australia) it is SO hard to find somewhere that sells wooden ladders; theyre all extruded aluminium or pressed steel. And if you do find one second hand, they charge a fortune cos they know people want them for awesome bookshelves like this! *le sigh* :P


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I have been looking for the perfect way to turn an old ladder of my father's into a nice bookshelf and this is exactly what I've been looking for! Perfect easy fourth of July weekend project :) Thank you so much for this!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I just bought on of these beauties yesterday to make shelving but I like this one better. Mine has gobs of white paint, like you say it is going to be the hard part. Your way is also easier than the way I was going to make it. Thanks yours came out exceptional, great job..


    5 years ago on Introduction


    I'm always dumpster diving, so I will keep my eyes open for a ladder. :)
    Aye, as you said, this is a "moron proof" I should do just fine. *crosses fingers*

    TY for sharing.


    5 years ago

    nice! never would've thought about it


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Lovely instructable - I can't wait to find an old ladder now. Also, I spy Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, and Red Dwarf = WIN.

    1 reply

    6 years ago on Step 5

    I'm going to put a 'drawer' on the floor level and the next shelf up


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice finished shelves... They look a lot like some shelves from the Crate & Barrel catalog, but the catalog ones cost around $200! Recycling an old, rickety ladder is *much* better!


    I have the same dingy looking ladder that came with the house 14 years ago. I could always use another bookshelf!

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Same here... except ours is painted baby-blue. Guess I'll have to do a bit more sanding...

    I've also got a pile of 1/4" craft board in the basement (also left by the previous owner), and what looks like at least 50 years' worth of other random scrap wood. New Shelves!!!


    6 years ago on Step 5

    I love this..simple, easy and very funky! Great work


    6 years ago on Step 4

    Nice recycle project. The ladder, however, is almost certainly southern yellow pine. Notice its wood has none of the "rays" or "flecks" that your purchased oak shelf wood has.

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    That is absolutely correct... the ladder is pine. No matter, though, as this is a great idea and Instructable! Very nicely done. Besides, pine isn't all that bad looking. We have a bedroom set (2 chests of drawers, 2 night stands, a blanket chest, and a book shelf that I made to match) that is yellow pine (stained "Fruitwood"). It still looks good after 14 years.