Introduction: A Traditional Jacob's Ladder

Picture of A Traditional Jacob's Ladder

A traditional wood-and-ribbon children's toy. Good for elementary school-age kids to do with parental assistance. Though you can find store-bought versions of these lots of places, this submission was inspired by a visit to Foxfire in Black Rock Mountain, Georgia. These instructions are really far more detailed than many people might need for such a simple thing, but if you are like me, detailed instructions save a dozen missteps, so here they are.

Step 1: Gather Materials & Tools

Picture of Gather Materials & Tools

General Remarks:

First you have to choose what dimensions you would like for your Jacob's Ladder. There is a great deal of flexibility here: you can make a wide and very long Jacob's Ladder, or a thin and/or short one. The size and length of the board and ribbon needed vary accordingly. However, for a project that, say, a 9-year-old can do with a parent, the following specifications may offer the best combination of workability and aesthetic appeal. A thinner board (say, 'lattice board') than what we have used is possible but makes hammering the brads in particularly hard for a child (or a clumsy adult like me).


1) 1/2 x 2 inch wood board, length of 24 inches or more

(I found this at Lowe's grouped under 'Molding,' not in the raw lumber aisle. It is labeled as 'S4S', whatever that is. So-called 'lattice board' is, I think, 1/4 inch thick -- too thin for easy use.)

2) small nails/brads

(They have to be small enough not to pose a splitting problem going down the thinnest dimension of the board. I found that 3/4" x 17 'wire nails' did nicely. You do want the nail to have a head, not just a straight brad, and the head should be flat to offer a flush profile.)

3) 9 feet or so of 3/8"-wide cloth/polyester ribbon

(You can get this at a craft store, e.g., Michael's. Go wild with the colors -- you can use up to 3 different colors in one Jacob's Ladder.)


1) small hammer
2) ruler, straight-edge, and pencil
3) hacksaw or power-saw
4) scissors
5) sandpaper (perhaps coarse and fine)

Step 2: Prepare the Blocks

Picture of Prepare the Blocks

Using ruler, straight-edge, and pencil, mark off 3" segments of the board. You can make as many blocks as you want, but the ribbon and board materials listed earlier allow for 8 3" segments.

Saw each block off. If you are a hack like me, you won't get these to be perfectly equal lengths. This project is pretty tolerant of such errors, but do your best to make them equal lengths and cut at 90 degrees.

Your blocks will no doubt have shaggy ends from the sawing. Use sandpaper and smooth the ends off. Do not round the ends -- you want to have nice square corners and flat block ends, though some slippage here is no big deal.

Step 3: Prepare the Ribbons

Picture of Prepare the Ribbons

Lay the blocks end to end as in the picture, leaving about 1/2" spaces in between. If you have used 8 blocks with the dimensions I suggested earlier, the layout is 28" long. You need to cut three ribbon lengths that long, or a bit longer to provide some room for error. (It will be easy to trim off the excess later.)

Step 4: Nail the Ribbons to the First Block

Picture of Nail the Ribbons to the First Block

Now comes the one really important part of this operation: putting the ribbons on the blocks in the right configuration.

The second picture below show what you want your first block to end up like: two ribbons attached to one edge at top and bottom; the third ribbon attached to the *other* edge in the middle. I am going to call the pair of ribbons at top and bottom 'blue,' since that is what they are in the picture, whereas I'll call the middle one 'red.'

To start, hammer the two blue ribbons into one edge of the block as shown in the next picture. Make sure all your nails/brads henceforth are flush with the edges -- but keep in mind that overkill can break your block. Now you see why we are working with 1/2" board. It would be too difficult to keep the nails from going diagonally through the side of the block if we used much thinner board.

Flip the board to the other edge, as shown in the third picture below, and hammer the red ribbon into the middle of the edge, so that it folds across the same top of the block that the two blue ribbons do.

Step 5: Add the Second Block

Picture of Add the Second Block

Take your completed first block and lay out it as in the picture below, with the three ribbons stretched across the same side. Put your next block right on top of the first one once it is laid out like that. Now cross the ribbons back over the top of the second block, as in the second picture below.

Turn the blocks on one edge and hammer the blue ribbons in on the edge you are facing. Then flip to the other edge and hammer in the red ribbon.

BUT WAIT! VERY IMPORTANT You, like me, may have the impulse to overtighten bolts, ribbons, etc. Do not indulge that impulse here. Before you hammer in the second block's ribbons, make sure there is enough loosey-goosey space. The slack in the second picture below is a good cue. You can scoot the ribbon with your nail to make a bit of slack before you hammer it in. A 1/4" would be enough, I think, though I just went by feel. If there is not enough slack, the whole creation will stick without flipping properly. Try to make the ribbons have an equal amount of slack, though.

Step 6: Add the Rest of the Blocks

Picture of Add the Rest of the Blocks

Repeat step 5 on all the other blocks. Remember: keep some slack in each ribbon before you nail it down. When you are done with the last one, trim off the excess ribbon.

Step 7: Play!

Picture of Play!

Just hold up one end block and flip it back and forth and you will see the others cascading down.


SophiaZ9 made it! (author)2017-03-23

So much fun! I can't believe how easy it was to make!

clevelandhynes34 (author)2016-10-30

i have made it thanks for your help

Scottdogg21 (author)2016-08-29

Great instructions. And fyi. S4S means surfaced on four sides. S2S would be surfaced on two sides. So clean on two and rough on the other two.

marc92 (author)2008-03-11

It would be really cool to make one of these that is very, very long. I wonder if it would behave as a smaller one does. Perhaps I'll make one this summer when I have a bit more free time. If I remember, I will post pictures... ... but don't count on it.

A good name (author)marc922008-06-21

Did you remember? lol

marc92 (author)A good name2008-06-22

No, I completely forgot about that. If I finish some other projects, maybe I will make it... ...but again, don't count on it. Lol

A good name (author)marc922008-06-24

Did you remember?

marc92 (author)A good name2008-06-24

Nope, after posting that, I promptly forgot about it. Anyway, I'm taking a vacation for the next 2 weeks... ...Any members in Italy?

A good name (author)marc922008-06-24

Did you remember?

marc92 (author)A good name2008-06-24

If you have yet to catch on, I didn't remember, and I don't plan on making one of these any time soon.

Braeburn (author)marc922008-07-27

Did you remember?

marc92 (author)Braeburn2008-07-27

No. I think reading my previous answers to this question would have extinguished any hope of me remembering to make one of these.

Notbob (author)marc922008-08-09

Did you remember this time?

marc92 (author)Notbob2008-08-10

No. And please let this comment extinguish this thread.

mg0930mg (author)marc922008-12-20

Did you remember?

marc92 (author)mg0930mg2008-12-20


mg0930mg (author)marc922008-12-21

Well you should have...

laxap (author)mg0930mg2009-07-01

(Did he remember?)

fwjs28 (author)laxap2009-09-09

Did you remember?

marc92 (author)fwjs282009-09-09

In case my previous answers didn't suggest any trend in this to you, no I did not remember.

fwjs28 (author)marc922009-09-09

damn, that sucks

marc92 (author)fwjs282009-09-09

But hey, you never know. you did remind me, so maybe I will actually get around to trying it. Probably not though, school just started.

fwjs28 (author)marc922009-09-09

seems like school just gets in the way of everything, i know how you feel

marc92 (author)fwjs282009-09-09

It really does. It seems sometimes the benefits of school struggle to outweigh the inconvenience of it all.

random green dude (author)marc922009-09-12

Did you remember? Hehehehe, Sorry, couldn't resist

marc92 (author)random green dude2009-09-12

Well, after all this hassle, I'm actually considering making one. One really long one, probably made of cardboard. But like I've insisted, don't count on it.

Frankd33 (author)marc922015-12-08

I did it! The weight of the ladder puts too much tension on the ribbon and it won't work anymore. Could work with light weight material, though.

A good name (author)marc922009-09-15

Lmfao, best troll spam ever.

fwjs28 (author)A good name2009-09-16


MistaLOD (author)fwjs282015-04-06


Braeburn (author)marc922010-05-17

 Remember NOOOW?

Kante Tech (author)marc922010-12-27

did you finally do it?

Frankd33 (author)Kante Tech2015-12-08

I did it! The weight of the ladder puts too much tension on the ribbon and it won't work anymore. Could work with light weight material, though.

makerkurt made it! (author)2014-06-17

Thanks! This instructable had some good hints. I made a ladder with larger tiles so I could display photos.

RingoWild (author)2013-08-28

Thank you for such great instructable! I love the part where you say to be careful about over-tightening. I can totally relate! Thanks again! -- Lori

mathmama (author)2011-09-15

I'm going to puzzle my "math class" kids (a group of ten 3-8 yr olds) by asking them to look at a wooden one, play with it, and then construct one using the random materials I've provided (which will include heavy cardboard, staples, and ribbon, though I'll probably throw in some toilet paper tubes, glue sticks, and other random items to distract them). Looking forward to it! Seems like those materials should work.

lalaland.......bob (author)2009-12-16

well dont forget

ITChE (author)2009-12-08

Made this today with the kids at our school and they all loved it.  Thanks for the great instructions.

p4trick95 (author)2009-04-29

Would it be possible to glue the ribbon to the board?

ansanma (author)p4trick952009-08-22

Yes, but you need to glue to the opposite side of each piece, as shown in my example.

TraumaComet (author)2009-02-25

this is really cool! My son and I made one together and he loves it!

no_skunk (author)2009-02-25

thanks allot! I look for this recipe all over the net- didn't know it's called Jacob's ladder... This is how I'm gonna hand my works in Typography class:)

BottomFeeder (author)2008-12-17

I just made two of these for my nephew and niece. I would like to add this alternative way of attaching the ribbons. I was having trouble getting the slack even on the ribbons, so I measured out and marked the ribbon first. That way the slack is more uniform from piece to piece. Great Instructable though!

stranoster (author)2007-11-16

This is a great instructable! Is it normal for the fourth or fifth link to get stuck every now and again though? Mine does. Well documented and great work

Grey_Wolfe (author)stranoster2008-08-09

Try rounding the edges of your blocks a bit, might help. If not that, it is possible that your ribbons are a bit tighter at that link.

stranoster (author)Grey_Wolfe2008-08-09

Thanks, I'll try that next time.

Grey_Wolfe (author)stranoster2008-08-19

Glad I could help. Hopefully, lol.

Braeburn (author)2008-07-27

60 feet of ribbon for a dollar. that means at least 18 toys

rockendrumer (author)2008-06-22

i have always wanted to buy one of these but now i can just buy it =] thx for the insturctable!!!

pyroman22 (author)2008-06-20

im making one of those today but how does it work?

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