How to make a wooden ladder shelf

Use our easy-to-follow guide to making a wooden ladder shelf and transform your home.

24 June 2019

gloved hand painting plank of wood for rustic ladder shelf

Looking for some cool upcycling projects? Why not try making a wooden ladder shelf? An old wooden ladder leaned against the wall can double as a stylish set of shelves for books, plants or ornaments. It might sound daunting to make a DIY ladder shelf, but the beauty of this project is that all the hard work is done for you.

Here we show you the techniques needed to create impressive wooden ladder decor.

 Varnish your ladder thoroughly for a really professional look. Remember to clean it first using a specialist wood cleaner or oil soap and warm water.

What you need to make a rustic ladder shelf

You’ll need to find an old ladder to use for your ladder bookshelf DIY project. Maybe you have one at home that inspired you to take on this project or you can pick one up at car boot sales, flea markets, vintage fairs or second-hand furniture shops.

Look for ladders with:

  • A basic design or style you like – don’t worry about the colour or finish.
  • Good overall condition – check for termites, mould, and structural damage.

You’ll also need to invest in a few basic tools, such as: wood filler, primer, paint or varnish, paint brushes, steel sponge or sandpaper, and brackets, wall plugs, and screws.

How to make a ladder shelf

One of the biggest attractions of making a DIY ladder shelf is how easy it is. The simplest design involves splitting the ladder in half by removing the hinges and then mounting one half of the ladder to the wall at a suitable angle. This allows the steps, or rungs, of the ladder to become the shelves. Alternatively, you can fix planks of wood across the steps of an open ladder to create wider shelves.

How to prepare a wooden ladder shelf

Once you’ve chosen the style of your ladder shelf, it’s time to start preparing it!

  1. Mix specialist oil soap with warm water and use it to clean your ladder. You should find this specialist soap in local DIY shops. 
  2. Use a fine steel sponge or sandpaper to smooth out the surface of the ladder and erode any stains or marks. Make sure there are no splinters or rough edges.
  3. Once polished, it’s time to paint. Use a paint that’s certified for wood or skip straight to varnishing if you want a more natural look.
  4. Varnish the wood with a wood stain. You’ll likely need to apply a few coats but you must let each one dry in between. 
  5. Fix the ladder shelf to the wall to ensure it is safe. You can do this by attaching brackets to the ladder shelf and then fixing to the wall using screws and wall plugs.

Revamping a ladder with paper

If you want to cover your ladder in interesting patterns or designs, then why not try decoupage: gluing paper onto a wooden surface for decorative purposes. Here’s how:

  1. Buy some thick wrapping paper or wallpaper with your chosen design.
  2. Stick it onto the surface of the ladder using specialist decoupage or wood glue. 
  3. Smooth down the edges for a professional finish. 
  4. Use gloss varnish to secure the paper and get a shine effect.

Whether you go au natural for your rustic ladder shelf or full speed ahead with patterns we’ll sure you’ll love giving it – and other cool upcycling projects – a go.

 Always do a patch test of your chosen varnish to make sure you’re happy with the colour and use clear nail varnish to touch up small areas and avoid clumpy results

Key steps

To make your own wooden ladder shelf start with these key steps:

  1. Get yourself a good quality vintage ladder that will fit in your home.
  2. Sand and prepare the wood to ensure it’s safe.
  3. Varnish and/or paint it a colour of your choice. 
  4. Fix it securely in place – such as to the wall – and use it display books and ornaments.