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Space Saving Loft Ladder/ Stairs (100% Salvage Materials)

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I'm a life-hacking reuse junkie.
Up until about six weeks ago, I had a largish house with a basement, a shop, a lumber pile, a mountain of hardware, and a river. Conveniently situated on a wooded acre with no noise ordinance. As long as my diy madness didn't require more than an acre of space, there were no restrictions on the scope or execution of my projects. I could build, leave my tools in the living room, cut holes in the walls. Whatever my hacking heart desired...

Then my guy and I split and I left my doer's paradise and moved into a corner of a smaller house on a regular sized lot in town.

My mom's house.

I love my mom a boatload and am glad she's willing to put a roof over my head til I find a suitable space, but I gotta say it's less than ideal for either of us. I'm 35 years old. I have a table saw and a teenage son. I have been known to leave my tools in the living room. And here's the kicker: my mom likes her house just the way it is. She doesn't want it changed. She and my stepdad don't want their place "modded".

But they can't monitor me 24 hours a day. So I do what I do. I try to do it subtly without making a giant mess, but I do it anyway.

Sorry, Mom. I can't help it.   

Which brings us to the first (maybe only, we'll see) Mod My Mom's House -ible... a loft ladder. My temporary bedroom is in the loft space above the office, and I just can't jump that high. Traditional stairs are floor space hogs, and ordinary ladders are soooo boring. 

Modeled loosely from a ship's stairway, this ladder uses just a handful of materials and takes up very little real estate. It also went up in a snap.
And in case you were wondering, I didn't even leave my tools in the living room.

Note: This, like most of my projects, is probably in violation of your local building code and may or may not be safe for the loads you intend to put on it. Works just fine for me, but it might not for you. Just so you know.

Also, I forgot to wear my gloves and safety glasses, but I am a very bad example of safe work habits (see DIY Sutures). Wear yours and work safely.


We good? Alright, then: let's make a ladder!
 
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kleinjahr6 months ago

Looks more like a modern take on a pole ladder. Nicely done.

Jewel Homes10 months ago
The aesthetics of this thing is what got my attention. The line and the colors are a nice accent in that room. But then I would think there's a bit of a playground effect when using the stairs... What I mean is it would be fun to use just because it would require a measure of agility.
vonKaos1 year ago
This kind of stairs are knowed like "Santos Dumont Stairs" and was created by the "Father of Airplane". It always start with the right foot step.
But that´s a kinddly way to do it using modern fixtures and all. I liked a lot!!!
sconner11 year ago
Right away this looks like a dangerous setup. No rail or anything to prevent a fall.
This is definitely an at-your-own-risk job, it wouldn't pass a building code inspection.
waraji1 year ago
Great design & build, and especially for your circumstances !
east fork spring (author)  waraji1 year ago
Thanks :)
How well does the angle work? (rise over run in this case). I've been needing something like this, but want a conventional ladder design. but I've never been able to work out an angle that doesn't jut out into the room a mile.

east fork spring (author)  sanguish1 year ago
68 degrees seems to be the magic number. Pretty comfortable to climb, but steep enough not to jut out too far. If I had it to do over, I'd pick the same angle. As it stands, I can navigate it going up with two armloads. Any steeper and I think I'd be building a handrail and a dumbwaiter in a hurry.
Pilgrimm1 year ago
Seen this ladder before, called a Jefferson ladder. In every case, it is used as a utility ladder, but yours deviates from form with the absence of some form of handholds. For safety, balance, assistance in carrying bedding up or laundry down. The Jefferson ladder is usually built with handrails on both sides. The Simpson Strong-Tie Joist Hanger was not designed to hold the weight of a person, plus the joist by itself.. It was designed to work in concert, as part of a system of joist hangers. And I'll bet dinner that you didn't put an 8-penny common nail (as specified in the engineering specs) in each of the 9 to 11 holes in that joist hanger. And with no stable attachment to the floor, the installation of this ladder would, in my house, be grounds for eviction!
east fork spring (author)  Pilgrimm1 year ago
You caught me. No 8-penny nails. I used lag screws, but I did hit every hole. Like you said, though, I didn't use it for its intended purpose (which, by the way I was fully aware of) so the specs kind of flew out the window at that juncture. I didn't even fasten in the correct direction, as I used a few long lags at an angle that allowed me to screw through the 2x6 into the loft frame. Having said all that, the joist hanger in this application isn't really bearing the weight of a joist or a person... but I'm still glad you aren't my landlord :)
Let me preface this by saying I have about 20 years in the building trade. I also am chronically know for over-building, but I can honestly say that I've never had anything fall down, even when subjected to over-the-recommend strains.

Your idea exhibits some very creative thinking and uses a non-traditional approach to problem solving. That's a very good thing. But I have some concerns about your choice of materials.

Screws - bad idea. Unless you used at least #12 or #14 screws, or lag screws, the shear strength is not very high. It's doubtful they'd break right away, but it may happen someday. And don't use flat-head screws. The counter-sunk head design is not as strong as the flat underside of a round-headed or similarly designed screw. Washers to increase the load surface is not a bad idea also. Use the longest screws you can without them sticking out the other side. That's going to be a 1-1/2" or 1-3/4" depending on the thickness of the bracket base. Bolts with washers and nuts are an even better idea.

Second, hand rail brackets were never designed or intended for a vertical load being applied to them! If someone falls on stairs, it's a lateral load the brackets take, so that is what they are designed to withstand. As such, they are most to break at the bend in the arm, right as it begins to turn upward.

Third, you said the hand rail brackets are iron. If they are iron, they are most likely cast iron, which has a horrible shear strength rating. Even a modest impact can build up stress cracks that eventually break. But, they are actually more likely to be steel or aluminum, since iron isn't used for a lot these days. Hold a magnet to them to see it they are aluminum. IF THEY ARE ALUMINUM, STOP USING THEM IMMEDIATELY!!! Cast aluminum is worse than iron. Steel, you might actually be OK.

Fourth, use a hand hold, please. You should always use a hand hold on stairs, at a 38° incline. At a 22° incline, you are dealing with something closer to a ladder angle-wise, and no one in their right mind goes up a ladder without holding on.
wmourão1 year ago
Great idea.
BTW, the ladder in the Santos Dumont house (inventor of the airplane) uses a slightly similar approach, but the idea was avoiding missteps: http://www.riodejaneiroaqui.com/figuras/casa-santos-dumont-4-1989-3.jpg
fjmontiel1 year ago
You may put handlers side by side the steps: right step with left handler and left step with right handler.
I've used stairs like this before and just used the higher steps as handles. Was thinking that maybe a raised handrail down the middle would be nice. Less stooping over.
I use the steps and then the tail at the top as handholds. There isn't much stooping involved because of the steep angle, but I was thinking maybe one of those shower handle bars near the top could be an improvement...
Oh dear! That last comment of mine was a total lie! I thought I used the steps as handholds because when I was building them I assumed that's what I'd do, but I just went up there and I don't touch the treads with my hands at all. What I really do is place my left hand on the back of the 2x6 in two spots during an ascent or descent... once at the top and once in the middle. Still no stooping though.
Just to pick a nit, I would say that last comment, while inaccurate or untrue, was not a lie in that I don't think you had any intention of deceiving anyone. Beautiful job, btw, but I think I would use bolts as someone commented instead of screws. Also I would truly hate to attempt to climb this with anything in both hands.
paqrat paqrat1 year ago
Re: handrails. I don't pretend to have much in the way of carpenter's skills but wouldn't it be possible to attach two 1x2's to the outside edge of each step, parallel to the center support board? With the angle you have there it seems to me there wouldn't be much stooping but I could be wrong. Have you thought about making it retractable? If it could be drawn up into the loft when not needed to access the loft perhaps your mom and step-dad would have fewer objections.
I think it's a pretty "lofty" idea.
bitcsi1 year ago
I'm a building inspector , new construction, HVAC, Electrical and Plumbing and I love that loft ladder. As for Code , I'm not your AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) so I can love it all the more. These would go great in one of those "little houses" or tumbleweed tiny houses on wheels. or for a kid's tree house or a deer hunting stand. The simple neat style is great. As for nailing the joist hanger to manufacturer's specifications, that guy needs to get a bowl of ice cream and chill out. I write up licensed contractors all the time for not doing that and they hate me making them do them over. You made excellent use of space, material, your mind's creativity and I'd write you a variance for it based on art and creativity. (OK I can't do that in real life as I'm a bit of a hard nose, but if I could I would) We have specific Code for loft ladders and all that is well and good but yours are not permanent.... and safer than some exercise equipment I've seen. Ya for code you'd need light switches top and bottom. too..and people use to live in log cabins Love 'em. Be careful, most accidents in the home happen on well built stairs which doesn't say much about sober folk, drunks, or sleepy, tired, careless folk. Love 'em.
meritsetgo1 year ago
Visually pretty, very lean design to be part of the decor without being bulky but really not safe to hold the weight of a human!!! this would have been great as a shelf unit but not really as a functioning ladder.

first the steps are held in place by a couple of screws front and back just inches apart that go barely into 75% of the wood right?

these rungs should be bolted down! think of how wheels on a skateboard are attached to the deck! i hate to think person's foot would generate tons of force at the heel and the toes to easily rip the rungs off the hanger and this will happen after a few uses. think about it, the sharp spiral edges on the screws will simply tear up the wood fibers around the hole they were driven into...similar to why doors hinges work themselves loose because the screws are constantly being pulled by the offset weight of the door...

the metal rail brackets are engineered to hold weight by spreading the load among many of them like a chain. in this case you are placing tons of force going up and much more on the way down on a piece of metal that is at 90 degrees, hardly an ideal angle to deflect such enormous forces. what i see happening is a failure at the elbow, snapping it as you step on the board, and as your foot and leg are pulled down the exposed metal part still attached to the vertical beam with tear into your leg and calf causing a horrible tearing injury in addition to the trauma of falling down and hitting the floor.

what you are attempting here is what many hunters do to climb a tree, but if you see the equipment they are using, it is really thick metal tempered to have enough give and not snap and they all need a harness since there is no handrails.

i would love this idea to work but the risk of harm and injury if far too great and you are risking being sued if a guest tries to use it or a child gets injured while visiting, that is the worst possible scenario.

Sorry if it sounds harsh but i deal with climbing injuries in construction and this is a recipe for disaster even if it looks so pretty and neat...





Wow, 35 years old, with a table saw, drill, staple gun, creative, and newly single. That sounds very hot !!! Join a bike club (90% males) and you'll be un-single right away !! Best wishes !!
sbrown95781 year ago
This is an incredible idea. I am going to change it a bit though. My cats like to climb above one of my cabinets and I am going to build various nests up high for them and this is perfect with the stairs being just on one side. It really looks nice and I don't have to have shelves fastened to the wall. Thank you
Nice job.
This kind of offset steps (Jefferson or whatever they're called) has been widely used on boats since ever but they have handrails on each side so you can step down with ladder in your back.
Anyway, on boats handrails are a must, or else !….

However, one thing worries me : it seems to me that the size / and or number of screws per step is quite small as to the weight that each step will support.
Am I totally out of line ?…
ventifact1 year ago
I think the building inspector would be interested in this.
alcalde1 year ago
I believe that this ladder can works as a ladder for cats.
Looks very good, but as someone who occasionally drinks, the prospect of walking up those stairs while inebriated is rather terrifying.
Heh, we call that a "drunk filter." The term is usually applied to a twisty piece of road between the honkytonk and town but a tricky set of stairs/ladder would serve the same purpose.
Thanks! And, yeah, if I got tipsy, I'd crash on the couch instead of attempting the ascent :)
sschrybu1 year ago
That looks fun... but sorry to say... dangerous!

I kinda think that if something can happen, it probably will at some point. For your own safety, add some kind of hand rails that might help to prevent the inevitable.
You are thinking of these as stairs but these are really a variant of a type of ladder called "Jefferson stairs" or "monk ladders." Jefferson created his to reach parts of his library at Monticello and by tradition, monks used them for the same thing.

As a ladder, the design is not more dangerous than a conventional ladder. Your foot might be more likely to slip off to the outside but on the other hand you won't slip a foot through the ladder, flip upside down and land on your head.

Every design has tradeoffs.
east fork spring (author)  sschrybu1 year ago
Worry not, sir. The only inevitable with regard to my ladder is that it will be hated by the owners and promptly replaced. Until then, I enforce this strict rule: if you think it looks dangerous, you don't get to use it :)
hiyahoney1 year ago
I think I would constantly be bonking my head on the steps as I walk past, but I'm sort of an idiot like that. To save space, might I suggest 2 words: digital downloads! :-D
east fork spring (author)  hiyahoney1 year ago
I'm an idiot, too, but it's the loft ceiling I bang my head on (padded ceiling instructable might be in my future). Good call on the digital downloads (in fact, I ditched my TV altogether), but the owners of the house (and movies) might not appreciate that so much. I'm trying to minimize my own space impact, not theirs :)