I live at the end of the hall on the second storey of an old wood-framed apartment building. An alternate exit route was deemed necessary due to the building having wood burning fireplaces, inattentive residents who burn food, and hippy neighbours conducting seances. Considering all this, my apartment building is one mistake away from becoming a fiery inferno.
Since January of this year the fire alarm has been triggered at least once a month, I've never feared for my safety more. Never one to be caught unawares, I decided to take matters into my own hands and create my own method of escape in case of an emergency.
The ladder I made uses glow in the dark rope to promote its location in darkness, hopefully offering a faster route to safety if the power goes out in an emergency situation.
A rope ladder forms part of the solution to getting out alive in the case of an emergency or fire.
Be prepared, ensure you plan and practice your safe exit prior to any actual emergency.
Enough talk, let's build a rope ladder.
Step 1: Overview
This rope ladder design consists of a wooden top dowel which is wider than the opening to be climbed through. The rope is attached to the top dowel and knotted to each successive rung of the ladder at regular intervals to make a ladder. Other designs exist, however the benefit of having the rope pass through each rung is the rope will not slip off the rung, and the knots cannot be untied.
This design aims to play to the strengths of the wooden top dowel by distributing the load near the window frame and leaving the vulnerable centre of the top dowel free of any point load. During operation the force exerted from climbing is transferred to the window frame, the remainder of the top dowel then acts in compression with minimal lateral load applied (meaning the top dowel is less likely to snap like a twig).
This is a good place to give the obligatory warning:
Be smart, use hardwood dowels of sufficient diameter with rope that is designed to carry the weight of the persons intended to use the rope ladder. If opening for top dowel is too large or dowel type/size or rope is inadequate you risk having your top dowel, ladder rungs or rope failing and exposing users and spectators to the possibility of injury or death.
Step 2: Tools + Materials
- 9.5mm x 15m (3/8" x 50') glow-in-the-dark rope
- 38mm (1.5") hardwood dowels - varying lengths (based on window opening and desired rung widths)
- 9.5mm (3/8") drill bit
Step 3: Measure Twice...
Measure the opening width, allowing for an additional +100mm (+4") on each side. This additional amount will allow our top dowel to be placed in the opening without falling out.
Chose a rung width that will easily allow you to slip your feet in and out while descending. Depending on application and foot size this can vary. To keep things simple I used rungs which were 305mm (12") in width. This allowed me to accommodate a foot-hold and enough room to have the rope pass through the rung on each side.
All rope will have a weight limit printed on the packaging, or on a sticker if you buy bulk. Make sure you select rope suitable for your needs.
This design has a series of knots in the rope, as such the overall rope length will need to be longer than the distance to accommodate for the knots. Time for some math:
|The distance from the opening to the ground||580cm(228")|
|Illustrated in Step 6, each knot used about 5cm (2") of rope. |
This design calls for a knot above and below each rung, using 10cm (4") for each rung.
I used 12 rungs: 10cm(4") x 12
length of rope from opening to ground (height distance + knots)
This shows us that we need 7 meters (23') of rope to make it from the window to the ground.
Since our ladder has two stringers (one rope on each side of each rung), we need at least 14m (46') or rope in total to make our ladder.
Step 4: Cut Dowels
Once you've gathered your wood choose the straightest and cleanest piece for your top dowel.
From the measurements taken earlier:
|window opening:||103cm (40.5")|
|allowance on each side:||2x10cm (4")|
|top dowel length:||123cm (48.5")|
This design calls for ladder rung width of 30.5cm (12") in length. Based on my calculations I figured 12 rungs would put me close to the ground. Cut each dowel to length.
When finished, you should have one long dowel and several shorter, equal length dowels for your rungs. Gather up your goodies and head on back home to finish fabrication.
Step 5: Drill Each Dowel
Remember back in Step 3 when we allowed for an additional 100mm (+4") on each side of the top dowel? Mark 100mm (+4") (or whatever distance you need to suit your opening) from each end of the top dowel.
Each rung will need two identical holes drilled close to the end on each side. Marks were made at 38mm (1.5") from each end.
Once you've made the marks it's time to start drilling. Chose a drill bit which is the same size or slightly larger than the diameter of the rope you intend to use.
Not a fan of drilling through each rung? There are several other rope ladder designs which you may want to explore, some use lashing to fix the rope to each rung, some use a mechanical fastener, or you can use a knot around each rung instead.
Step 6: Measuring the Knot Frequency
This picture shows that with each knot that is tied the rope shortens by about 5cm(2"). Since this design has a knot on top of and below each rung there is a loss of 10cm(4") for each rung.
Step 7: Assembly
Lay out your two even lengths of rope, begin with a knot at the end of each rope and thread on a rung. Then tie off the threaded rung on each side, measure up about 30.5cm (12") and tie another knot. Thread on another rung and tie off. Repeat for each side until all rungs are threaded and tied to the rope
It helps to have some tension on the rope as you assemble the ladder, try bracing the bottom rung once knotted and keeping even tension of both sides during threading/knotting. The top dowel is knotted the same way only with some additional space between the to top dowel and the first rung to accommodate the difference in width between the opening and the rung.
Step 8: Deploy!
Here's an short action movie of the ladder being deployed.
Step 9: Glow in the Dark
Step 10: Be Safe
With my rope ladder all finished, I'm now ready for my first emergency.
Bring it, hippy neighbours!
Have you made your own rope ladder, or have an improvement based on the design shown here? Share your creations and ideas in the comments below.