Want a way to access the attic or space above the garage ceiling joists? Don't have the room or budget to add a staircase? Want something a little more sturdy than using a step stool while trying to access the storage space up there? Here is a way you can make a quick and easy ladder out of simple 2x4s that will be sturdy enough to inspire confidence while accessing the space above your garage.
Note: these instructions are for using a circular saw to make the cuts, but any saw could be used.
Tools and Materials
You will only need a few tools to build your quick and easy wood ladder. First, you will need a saw. I recommend a circular saw but even a simple hand saw would even suffice. Next, you will need either a hammer and nails or a screw driver (power drill/driver recommended) and screws. You will want two clamps to aid in cutting the ladder rails, a pencil, and a tape measure. Finally, you will need at least three 2"x4"x8' boards (if your ladder is going to be taller than 7', get longer boards).
Before you make a single cut, you need to do a little planning. Where will the ladder be placed? How tall should the ladder be?
When figuring these things out, remember that the ladder will probably be at a slight angle when installed. If your garage does not have a ceiling and only exposed joists, consider making the ladder taller than the joists (not like in the photo above).
Also consider if you would like to add any features to your ladder. For example, if you have plenty of space above your head but do not want the ladder to constantly block the wall, consider putting the top of the ladder on hinges so that the ladder can be stored up against the ceiling and then pivoted down when you need to use it.
Making the Ladder
Select the two boards that will be the vertical rails of the ladder and clamp them together so that they are even.
Using a scrap 2x4 block, a pencil, and your tape measure, place the 2x4 block perpendicular to the clamped boards 16" from one end and mark both sides of the block. Move the block 16" farther down the clamped boards and make your two marks again. repeat the entire length.
It should look something like this where the red lines represent the pencil marks.
See those guides you made with the pencil and 2x4? Those will be grooves to hold the ladder rungs. Now it is time to make cut some wood!
Set your circular saw's blade height to the same thickness of a 2x4 (about 1 1/2").
Cut along each of the pencil guides, then make repeated cuts between the pencil marks leaving little space between cuts.
The more cuts you make the easier the next step will be, because the next step is to take a hammer and knock the remaining bits of wood out of each groove. They should pop out easily and leave you with a nice square hole the same dimension as the width and height of a 2x4. Since both vertical rails of the ladder were clamped together, their rung grooves should line up perfectly too.
Don't unclamp the vertical rails yet! Now is the perfect time to adjust the feet and top of the rails. Decide which end is the top and bottom (mark them if you have to), then take the rails and lean them against the wall where you want your ladder to be. They should be leaning at about a 15 degree slope The feet of the ladder should be about 1/4 of the distance away from the wall as the height of the ladder. For example, if the wall the ladder is to be installed on is 8' high, the ladder's base should be about 2' away from the wall.
Find how much of an angle you need to trim off the feet in order for the rails to have maximum contact with the floor. One way to do this is to find the angle of the ladder leaning against the wall and then cut that angle out of the inside corner of the feet. Another way is to lean the ladder against the wall in its desired place, then use a small level to trace a line from the back corner of the feet and cut along that line.
You can do the same for the top of the ladder if you want but it is not as important, plus it largely depends on how you plan on utilizing your ladder.
Now it is time to cut the rungs. A good length is 16". This will allow over 12" of space between the rails which is sufficient to have both your feet side-by-side on the same rung.
With your rungs cut, place one in each pair of grooves you cut in the rails (now you can unclamp the rails). The fit should be snug, if it is too loose try adding shims.
- Clamp two boards that will be the ladder rails together.
- Mark the rung locations.
- Cut out the rung notches.
- Cut the rungs and nail or screw them to the ladder rails.
- Cut the feet to the proper angle.
Accessing that Attic Space Made Easy
With your simple to make, cheap, and sturdy wood ladder at your disposal, accessing the storage space above your garage or shop's rafters couldn't be easier or cheaper. This wood ladder is easy enough for anyone to make and simple enough to be made in a couple of hours at the most. For these reasons, this is a great project for the beginner.
Here are some external links to sites with information relevant to this article.