Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Stepping It Up

DIY Ladder Shelving Unit

* Salvaged wooden ladder
* Particleboard (again, I cut mine into 4’, 3’, 2’ and kept it at its precut 11” width)
* Optional: wooden shims, wood glue, screws and drill

It was too good to be true. It had to be.

Last spring I was driving down the road and had to pull over: two perfectly well-loved (translate: beat up) old wooden ladders, speckled with faded blue and white paint drips leaned up against a dumpster. I looked around. Was I on a hidden camera show geared towards exposing DIY dumpster divers?

I had been jonesing for a “just right” beat-up ladder for quite sometime. To do what? I was never quite certain. But I knew it had potential for something more than just a functional stepping stool. I got out, sized up the two ladders, deciding that a landfill grave was far too tragic for the four-footer and scooped it up into my car and off we went.

For a year. That ladder. In the back of my car. It eventually made its way into my apartment. And sat propped up against the wall behind the front door. For months. In one of my many late night hey-let’s-just-rearrange-a-few-pieces-of-furniture moods, I decided that it was time to give the ladder a new life as a stunning new shelving piece.

After taking some measurements of the ladder and of the space that I envisioned it occupying, I set out for Lowe’s, a bit apprehensive about how much lumber would cost and how complicated cutting the lumber would be (as I don’t own a personal arsenal of saws). There were some beautiful pieces of lumber from all sorts of different types of wood, but I was in it for a cheap change in our home. I found particleboard to be the best fit for this project.

I picked up two pieces of particleboard and had a Lowe’s employee cut the lumber for me (first two cuts are free, then it’s $.25 a cut) … I decided to go with a two-foot, three-foot and four-foot long shelf in descending order – helping to keep it simple and not too bulky, as my apartment is tight on space. Thankfully, the particleboard was already the right width across to fit inside the ladder (mine needed to be 11 inches). All that and a dollar donation to a children’s charity rang me up to a neat little $12.95.

I came home and sincerely did not ever think it would be this easy. And it was. I set up the ladder and set each piece of particleboard on each rung. The top rung of the ladder was a bit crooked, which made the shelf slant, so I just took a wood shim I had lying around and placed it beneath the particleboard and just like that, I had created a shelving unit in my home for a ten-spot and two singles.

I knew I wasn’t going to be storing anything super heavy on my ladder shelving unit and wanted to make sure it would be easy to move, so I did not secure my shelves. However, if you are going to use the shelves for heavier items for storage, or are worried about little ones and safety, you can either use wood glue or screws and a drill to secure the shelves to the ladder and rungs. Also, you could always choose to paint your ladder and shelves a fun color to make it pop in your room … but I am a sucker for naturally distressed and well-loved items.

This is one of the most simple and rewarding DIY pieces I have made in awhile. I love the look the ladder gives the room…it creates such an open, light and airy space for you to display your beloved knick-knacks and record player better than a heavy bookshelf would.

Happy making! And happy rearranging, too!