The Problem: I built a loft bed (queen size, a bit over 6 feet up) without building a ladder at the same time. So I used a standard 6' step ladder for almost a year but it was troublesome and wobbly (especially when hungover). What really convinced me that I needed to build something more permanent was my cat (called Elsie/Indie/Stephanie/Squeaky depending on who's around) -- she was climbing & jumping vertically up the leg of the bed built from 2x4's to get some snuggles. It looked painful and a little funny, but then it just got sad. She's so sweet & getting older and I didn't want her to suffer from my laziness any longer.
(3) sheets of 4x8' 3/4" birch face plywood ($64 each in Manhattan, probably cheaper everywhere else in the world).
lots of screws -- I got a box of 100 at 2" long, and a box at 1.25" long
drill with phillips bit (also a 1/8" drill bit would be good)
cnc router (I got to use the MultiCam at my job) -- or a good circular saw/table saw set up
circular sander -- or sandpaper & spare blocks of wood to use as sanding blocks.
file set up & design took me 2-3 hours here & there, I kept wiggling things around and working on it when I could
cutting time -- about 3 hours total (1hr per board)
sanding time -- about 2 hours while checking on my patient bf who was crafting an epic spotify playlist
printing time -- about 1 hour
assembly time -- about 3 hours by myself, with breaks to eat cookies and kiss the patient bf who moved on to binge watching fargo
Total: around 12 hours all together
Step 1: Inspiration & Rough Sketches
First I looked into spiral staircases, and climbing wall options
Neither of them were really practical. I googled around a bit and found this neat staggered step design that allows you to get a greater height with a smaller footprint-- exactly what I needed. It seemed like my cat could figure it out, it looked cool, and I'd be gaining extra storage space for my books & comics.
Step 2: Design & Layout
Next I mocked it all up in Illustrator to scale, to make sure everything would fit okay & look nice. I don't mind looking at things 2D & don't have enough experience with Rhino or Sketchup at this point for it to be fun to mess around with.
I found somewhere online that the average stair height/rise is around 8", I knew the rough dimensions of the space it had to fit in-- 42" wide x 72" tall x 18" deep (yeah ok I guesstimated &.. it worked!), and I knew I wanted to store single issue comics and trades in these boxes. After I accounted for material width, I got my final box sizes:
qty. 4 boxes 8.25" tall x 9.5" wide x 9" deep
qty. 4 boxes 16.5" tall x 9.5" wide x 9" deep
qty. 2 boxes 16.5" tall x 9.5" wide x 18" deep
qty. 2 boxes 16.4" tall x 19" wide x 18" deep
Originally I was going to have the stairs stagger a bit differently than in the final photos-- but when I tested the build it felt weird to walk up that way so I switched it around. I made a mockup of each view because I was still deciding what I wanted to print/how I wanted the images to look. I toyed with the idea of using one large image (like a cascading waterfall!) broken up over all the panels but decided to just do a mix of nice textures and colors. I sourced most of the hi res images from lostandtaken.com - they have great texture photos that are free to download and use.
Step 3: Actual Files
Since I have access to a cnc router & flatbed uv printer at my job, the next step for me was making files for these machines. I decided to do 'blind end rabbet joins' (according to hobbit house that's what it's called) so I needed to indicate which areas would have an island fill. Since the plywood is 3/4" thick I had the fills routed down half way through (haha ask me how well that worked out...). I also put all the 1/8" pilot holes in the file so the router could save me all that work & I wouldn't have to worry about splitting when I got to assembly. I cropped the images I wanted to print so there would be 1/2" bleed all around (excessive, maybe), and saved a template & print file.
Step 4: Assembly
After everything was cut I sanded each piece, paying special attention to the faces of the pieces I wanted to print on, and the raw plywood edges. I test fit a few pieces and discovered that my island fills were not at the perfect/correct depth, which left gapping on each side. Nothing ever goes completely as planned! Why did I want to try to be fancy with these silly blind rabbets...??? ::sigh:: No big deal, I just sanded down the notched part that goes into each fill until I got a fit I was happy with. Yeah, this dramatically increased the sanding time. My patient bf made a sanding playlist on spotify and played that new super mario phone game while I made a mess. Gotta love coming in to work on a Saturday. I didn't take any pics of the process-- got distracted with problem solving, sandwiches, and ended up having to make a delivery for work.
Finally done, we piled all the flat pieces into the back of an Uber XL and headed back to Queens. I was in the zone and wanted to assemble straight away, bf was sick so I set him up with Fargo on the projector and started using my drill at 11pm. (Thank you neighbors for not complaining)! It took me wayyy longer than I expected to put these boxes together-- I made all the boxes individually first, stacked them & did a test climb. It was weird. So I switched the staggered design so that the smallest boxes are always on the right side & it was a much more natural feel walking up that way. (I also chose to put them on the right to keep my closet area feeling more open than if the taller boxes were on that side). Screwed all the boxes into each other and into the floor, and wrapped up around 2am.
All together I'm pretty happy with how it turned out-- definitely room for improvement if I did it again, and a lot of the time I think things cut with the cnc could be achieved with a nicer end look if you had a big table saw and a lot more time. Most importantly, a week in-- my cat used it for the first time :)))) Now she can come snuggle whenever she wants and doesn't have to be a freaky pole jumper.