Introduction: Kitchen Helper Tower
Once my daughter started walking around, we wanted to get her a Kitchen Helper Tower (also referred to as a Learning Tower) so she could be at counter height and help out with things in the kitchen. A Kitchen Helper Tower is really just a step stool with a safety cage on top, so I was a bit surprised to see that they can retail for $200. Luckily there are also some good DIY designs to be found. The ones I liked best used an Ikea stool as a base and then built a simple wooden structure on top. However, none of the designs were exactly what I was looking for though, so I decided to put my own twist on it.
The main issue I had with the designs I found was the fixed rear guard. Not only did that create the potential for her to hit her head when she was climbing in, but it also meant there was nothing to keep her in the tower. While this won't be an issue once she is a little older, knowing my toddler, she would wait until my hands were covered in batter and then decide that would be the perfect time to get down, take her diaper off and run around the house. The solution I came up with was a hinged opening with gate latch. This makes getting in easy and keeps her from getting out of the tower on her own until she is old enough to figure out how to work the latch. I also went with a design that had rounded edges to make things a little safer.
Total cost is approximately $30-$35, including the stool, if you are buying most to all of the materials, but would be cheaper if you are re-purposing existing materials. My wood working skills would be considered firmly mediocre and I really didn't have too many issues and completed this all in one day, so I'd consider this a project most people will be able to handle.
Step 1: Materials & Tools
For this section I will assume you are buying all the materials and so the measurements for the wood will be standard hardware store sizes, and I will cut them down to their final dimensions later. If you are utilizing wood you already have, you can find the final measurements in the next section (though ultimate measurements will depend on your counter height).
Here are the materials you will need:
- One - Ikea Bekvam Stool $14.99
- Two - 2x3 - 96" Select Kiln Dried Whitewood Studs (I liked these due to the rounded edges) $4.08 total
- One - 1-1/4 in. x 48 in. Hardwood Round Dowel $4.98
- One package - 3 in. Non-Mortise Hinges (2 hinges) $2.97
- One - Gate Latch $4.45
- Misc screws (I used 8x 1", 5x 2.5", and 14x 3.5" #10 screws)
- Wood glue
Here are the tools I used:
- Drill & drill bits (if you are using 3" or 3.5" screws as I do, you may need a longer drill bit for pilot holes than you currently have)
- Saw (I used a hand saw and mitre box to make my cuts)
- Tape Measure
Step 2: Assemble Stool
Follow the assembly instructions that come with the stool. The directions are fairly straight forward, just make sure the legs are leaning the correct way. Feel free to employ child labor for this step. Once the stool is assembled, measure the distance between the top of the stool and top of the counter. After you finish measuring, remove the top step of the stool.
Step 3: Trimming & Cutting
For the ease of organization, I will list all the lengths I used here, but I recommend starting with the just seven 16" stud cuts and then measuring the remaining distances for the other cuts once the first four studs are attached to the base. Store purchased lumber isn't always perfectly straight, so distances may be slightly off if you cut just based on the dimensions of the top of the stool.
2" x 3" Stud
- Seven 16" (or whatever the distance is between the top of the stool and counter height) segments
- One 13 7/8" segment
- Four 4 3/8" segments
- Three 6 1/4" segments
Step 4: Setting the Corners & Rear Assembly
Line up 4 of the 2" x 3"s with one in each of the corners. Once you have them positioned, trace the outlines with a pencil. Remove the corners and replace them after putting a line of wood glue within the outlines you traced.
While you wait for the glue to try, line up the components of the rear gate. Take two 2" x 3" segments and place them behind the rear corners with the long edge parallel to the rear edge of the top step. Place a third segment slightly to the right of the left segment. You'll want to leave a little room so that gate is able to swing open and closed without coming in contact with the left segment. Once everything is set, measure the distance between the right segment and middle segment and cut three pieces of dowel to this length. In my case it was 6 & 1/4".
Layout dowel pieces between the two 2" x 3" segments and clamp everything together. Drill pilot holes through the side segments into each side of the dowels. Take a drill bit with a similar diameter to your screw heads and drill a shallow cavity to allow the screw heads to sit flush. Once everything is secure, line up the rear pieces again to verify everything is sized correctly.
Step 5: Sides & Front
Once the glue has dried, flip the top step over so it rests on the 2" x 3" segments and then drill two pilot holes in each corner. It is important to again countersink the screws (using a drill bit the same diameter as the screw head to drill a shallow cavity that allows the screw head to sit flush) otherwise the top step will not attach to the rest of the stool properly.
After screwing in the corner posts, measure the distance between the far edges of the front corner segments This is the length of the final 2" x 3" segment (13 & 7/8" for me). After cutting this segment, screw it on to the front with one screw on each side.
Next, measure the distance between the corners and cut two pieces of dowel for each side. Clamp these into place and secure with screws. When placing the dowels on the sides, make sure it they are at least 3-4" from the top and the bottom (otherwise the screws that secure the dowels in place could interfere with placement of the hinges for the rear gate).
Step 6: Corner Smoothing
While the sides of the 2" x 3" are already smoothed, the cut sides will still have sharp edges. The proper way to create rounded edges is with a router bit. Since I don't have one, I just used the sanding attachment on a dremel to sand down all of the sharp edges. Be sure to wear a mask for this part as it will kick up a fair amount of saw dust.
Step 7: Attaching the Rear Gate & Latch
Lay the assembly on the front side and hold the left segment of the rear assembly to the rear left corner with clamps and attach with screws. Note: As pictured, I put the screws through the center of the 3" side of the back piece. However, if I were doing this over, I would have moved them slightly so they were centered in the 2" side it is attaching to.
Use a clamp to hold a hinge to the top of the right rear corner piece and secure with the provided screws. I recommend only doing the center screw to start with in case you need to make adjustments to the alignment later. Repeat on the bottom with the other hinge.
Once the hinges are secured to the corner side, use clamps to hold the hinges against the gate and secure with screws. Close the gate and use a clamp to hold it in line with the left most piece. Attach the gate latch and catch and verify that it opens and closes easily. If you are happy with the alignment, you can go back and secure the other hinge screws.
Take the whole assembly and reattach to stool base
Step 8: Final Thoughts
- The only real issue I had with this project was stripping some of the longer screws. I was able to solve that using the longer pilot bit I mentioned in the materials section and switching from a drill to a screw driver when needed.
- If you want to save a little money you can skip the dowel and just use the 2" x 3" (there will be enough left over 2" x 3" to replace all of the dowel segments)
- I was fine with the natural look, but you might want to consider a coat of paint for a finishing touch (just make sure to remove the hinges and gate latch before painting)
- As your child gets older and starts to do more in their tower, you can attach hooks onto the sides to hold things like spatulas or other utensils.
- Some commenters have worried about stability and speculated that the design looked top heavy. After several months of use, I haven't experienced any issues with stability (helped by the fact that the stool legs are wider than the top section). I even tried having her lean over the sides to see if she could tilt it and it didn't budge. Obviously I would not recommend unattended use though.