Build a Learning Tower for Under $50

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Introduction: Build a Learning Tower for Under $50

About: It's said that to perfect a skill takes about 10,000 hours of work and study. If that's the case I've got around 9,000 hours to go. But, like they say, it's not the destination but the journey.

When my daughter asked me to build a learning tower for our grandson I didn't have the slightest idea what she was talking about. I quickly learned that learning towers are extremely popular and a great way to engage a toddler while mom or dad work at the kitchen counter. However, the downside is that buying a ready made learning tower can be very expensive. And, while there are hacks on Pinterest to modify an Ikea footstool, I believe this custom designed tower is a better way to go.

Basic Design Features

The first consideration when building a learning tower is that it's overall height approximates a kitchen countertop (36"). A child stands on a platform placed on one of three levels of support rails and can be moved up or down based on the age or size of the child. The top support rail position is generally about 19" above the floor with 3 1/4" spacing between the top support rails and each lower support rail position (the actual spacing between the support rail positions is 2 1/2" when the 3/4" thick platform is in place). Regarding the width and depth, a compact footprint is generally considered safer. This also reduces the weight of the tower and makes it easier to move and store.

Step 1: Material & Cut List

I chose "select grade" pine since it was the highest quality yet most cost effective wood for this lightweight project.

Materials purchased

Quantity: 2 - 2" x 2" x 6' for the legs

3 - 1" x 3" x 6' for the tower rails and top trim

3 - 1" x 2" x 6' for the 3 platform supports

1 - 1" x 6" x 6' for the 3 standing platform and safety rail at rear of tower

Cut list

Legs: 4 @ 33 3/8"

Tower Rails: 4 @ 14" and 3 @ 16" (deduct 2" per rail if not using mortise & tenon construction)

Platform Support Rails: 6 @ 12"

Standing Platform: 3 @ 15 1/2" (after glue up, cut to final size and use cutoff for safety rail)

Mitered Top Trim: 1 @ 17" and 2 @ 15" (approx. - size per personal preference)

(Use leftover cutoffs to trim edges of standing platform and rear safety rail and to make safety rail guide brackets)


Step 2: Dimensions & Construction Options

Dimensions

These dimensions are the overall dimensions after construction:

Height: 34 3/8" (Legs @ 33 3/8" + 3/4" top trim)***

Width: 17" (14" rails + 1 1/2" per leg)

Depth: 15" (12" rails + 1 1/2" per leg)

Construction Options

I chose to use a mixed set of woodworking techniques when building this project. I used mortise and tenon construction in building the frame and pocket hole joinery for the platform support rails. However, this project can be built in a number of different ways depending on your skill set, available tools or simply for ease of construction. Options could include using all pocket hole joinery, wood dowels or basic screw assembly. I have an instructable called "Oak & Glass Display Top End Table" which gives a detailed explanation of pocket hole joinery if this is a method you are interested in learning.

***The height can be modified per your preference. Most learning towers are 36" tall. However, I wanted to be able to slide mine underneath the countertop overhang for added stability. For this reason, my learning tower is slightly below the standard base cabinet height of 34 1/2". Check the detail in the accompanying photo for a visual representation.


Step 3: Mortise and Tenon Tips

This sequence of photos may be helpful if you have a router and would like to use it for making your mortises and tenons. I like it because, with a simple jig and a repetitive mounting technique, the location of every mortise is precise and will match its mating mortise perfectly. Attaching your router to a router table to create the tenons guarantees excellent results as well. However, if you don't have a router, another way to fabricate your mortises and tenons can be found in my instructable: Build this Woodworker's Workbench to learn Mortise & Tenon Joinery.

Making the Mortises

After marking the location for your mortises, clamp the work piece in place. Next, after attaching the jig to your router (plans for the jig can be found on the Woodsmith.com website), position the jig on the work piece over your markings. Using the markings, attach stop blocks to your worktable that restrict the movement of the router to match the size of your mortise. Make multiple passes with the router gradually increasing the depth of the bit. The final depth of the mortise should be 1 1/16". After making your first mortise, all subsequent mortises that are in the same location should be exactly the same size and in the exact same location on your other work pieces.

Making the Tenons

Use a fence to guide the work piece over a straight bit in multiple passes to create your tenons. It is always recommended to make the tenons slightly thicker than the mortise and then fine tune each one for a snug (but not overly tight fit) for each individual mortise.



Step 4: Assemble the Frame

As you fine tune each tenon to fit a specific mortise label them as shown in these photos. When assembling, glue and clamp up the two sides first. When dry, glue and clamp the front and back frame rails to the sides to complete the tower skeleton.

Step 5: Add the Platform Support Rails

Pocket hole joinery makes this part of the assembly fast and simple. If you don't own a pocket hole jig but want to add one to your workshop, the Kreg pocket hole system is the brand I've used to build several pieces of furniture that are featured in my collection of Instructables.

How to add the platform supports:

  1. Measure up 19" from the bottom of each side leg.
  2. Screw a rail to each side leg
  3. Take two pre-cut spacers and clamp them below the top support rail
  4. Screw the second rail in place
  5. Reposition the spacers
  6. Screw the third rail in place
  7. Repeat the entire process for the other side of the tower

Step 6: Building the Tower Platform

Building the tower platform requires cutting 3 pieces of material from the 1" x 6" to equal length and gluing them together. This sequence of photos shows the clamping technique I used.

- First use wood cauls as shown in photo #1 to level up the boards. Wrapping the cauls with wax paper or adding strips of shipping tape to the cauls will keep the glue squeeze out from sticking to them. Clamp as tight as possible.

- Next, as seen in multiple photos, clamp small wood blocks at the ends of the joined boards to make sure the ends also are in alignment.

- Photos two thru five show how the clamps are secured to the work piece. I used two bar clamps spaced roughly 5" apart. Again, clamp as tight as possible. Seeing some glue squeeze out is a good sign. Wait until the glue sets up before scraping away the excess with a putty knife.

- Photo six is a view of the clamps from underneath the platform.

- Photo seven shows the finished platform with the edges trimmed out with 3/4" pine.

- Photo eight show two rails added to the bottom of the platform to lock it in position in the learning tower.

- Photo nine shows an additional piece of 1" x 6" that will be used to close off the back of the tower for additional child safety. Multiple project photos show two guide brackets, attached to the sides of the tower, that hold this piece in position and allow for easily sliding it in place when a child is in the tower.

Step 7: Paint or Use a Stain and Sealer to Complete the Project

Once completed the learning tower can be stained or painted. One very important consideration is that, if you build your learning tower out of pine, you will need to apply a pre-stain wood conditioner prior to finishing. This is because pine often absorbs stain unevenly producing a blotchy appearance if the wood is not prepped properly. I chose to finish my project with a combination Danish oil and stain made by Watco.

When finished, this project will provide a great deal of satisfaction (and pride) when you see you child or grandchild standing in his learning tower for the first time. You will have built a very functional piece of children's furniture using techniques that will serve you well as you move on to future furniture making projects.

Furniture Contest 2017

Participated in the
Furniture Contest 2017

6 People Made This Project!

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23 Comments

0
Dmueller57
Dmueller57

Question 3 months ago on Step 5

How long are the spacers you used between side rails.

0
daimaru42
daimaru42

Question 4 months ago on Step 1

I have the frame and the support rails done and have started to think about the standing platform. My problem here is that the dimensions seem wrong. If you glue up three 15 1/2" pieces of 1x6 you'll have a 15 1/2" x 16 1/2" panel. That's a bit large to go between legs that are only 12" apart and rest on the support rails I just finished. I know it says "(after glue up, cut to final size and use cutoff for safety rail)" but does this assume I have a table saw for the cutoff job? And I'm cutting off 4 1/2" from the 16 1/2" dimension?
My second question is about the trim pieces on the ends of the support platform. These look like they have real dimensions of 3/4"x1" and where do they come from? Running some of the cutoff 1x2 through the table saw again?
Sorry for all the questions, but I just don't see where I go from here.
Thanks,
Jack Smith

0
daimaru42
daimaru42

Answer 4 months ago

Construction is complete. Finishing to go. As you can see, I managed the standing platform without a table saw. The basic platform is two 1x6s and one 1x3 joined together with biscuits. The trim pieces on the ends of the platform are 1x2s split a shade large with a table jigsaw and then brought to size with a trim router. A table saw would have been LOTS easier.
My daughter wanted a step on the back for my grandson to climb up on so I made this one. The basic platform is a 1x6 and a 1x3, again, biscuit joinery, and the trim pieces were done the same as the standing platform. The legs are each a 1x2 and a 1x3 joined in an "L" shape after being drilled for pocket screws. They're connected to the step with both glue and pocket screws. I cut them too long so I could trim them back to length after gluing them to the frame. I put notches in the corners of the step to fit around the legs on the frame by simply making the trim pieces short.

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0
KentM
KentM

Reply 4 months ago

Looks great. I like the way you solved the construction issues you were concerned about.

0
daimaru42
daimaru42

Answer 4 months ago

OK, I -did- figure out how to make the safety rail and the support platform without a table saw.I used a jigsaw (cutting the parts slightly large) and a trim router and a belt sander to get everything to size. A table saw would have been easier :) but this worked.

0
Dmueller57
Dmueller57

Question 5 months ago

How do you lock top back support in place, or does it just slide out. Is the unit “tippy” my wife is afraid it will tip over and wants me to add extensions on bottom of legs to improve stability. I thought extensions would be a trip hazard.

0
KentM
KentM

Answer 5 months ago

The back support can slide in and out or be made permanent if you prefer. I chose to make mine removable but my daughter didn't like that idea so I simply screwed it in place. Also, my daughter was never worried the tower could tip over and has used it successfully with both her children for several years. Considering the weight of a child compared to the weight and stability of the tower, having it tip over seems very unlikely. However, to alleviate any possible concerns, please see that I designed the tower to slide underneath the countertop overhang to help eliminate the possibility of an accident happening. And, most importantly, decide for yourself how to modify the design so you and your wife feel confident that it safely meets your needs.

0
capred58down
capred58down

Question 5 months ago on Step 7

Hello Kent, I like your Learning Tower the best of all I have seen. I'm starting to layout the tower rails and support rails on a scrap 2x2. You start the top support rail at 19" then space them 3 1/4" apart. However I don't see a dimension for the location of the rails. I'm going to try to guestimate using a architect scale on one of the pictures but if I could get the location dimensions from you that would be better.

0
KentM
KentM

Answer 5 months ago

The support rails can be spaced any distance below the top rail that you want. I used 3 1/4” based on the age and size of my grandchild. As an example, the position of the second support rail placed at 19” minus 3 1/4”, results in that rail being 15 3/4” up from base of the leg.

1
mindyb7924
mindyb7924

Question 6 months ago on Step 7

To begin thank you. This will be my first project with instructables and i am excited and nervous. I was hoping that you could answer 3 questions for me please. The first being is the 1" x 6" piece noted in photo 9 a cut off from the glued together platform? Number 2 being is there a measurement where to put the 2 rails to lock in the platform? Final question you refer to projects that show the 2 guide brackets, please take me 1 step further so I can see how they were made. Thank you so much , Happy Thanksgiving and be safe.

0
KentM
KentM

Answer 6 months ago

Good luck with your project! #1 Buy a long enough piece of lumber for the platform and rear safety support, #2 Base position of the top rails on the height of your child and the others 4-5” below each other to accommodate fo growth, #3 The “brackets” are just pieces of wood glued to the platform that hold the rear safety support in a vertical position.

0
mindyb7924
mindyb7924

Reply 6 months ago

Kent Thank you so much for the response. i dont think i made my question #2 clear. i was inquiring on where on the platform to add the 2 rails to lock it in position on the learning tower. You refer to this in pic #8. Thank you ahead

0
KentM
KentM

Reply 6 months ago

Just attach two pieces of wood to the underside of the platform, one piece next to each side rail. This will keep the platform from moving.

0
FUGLS
FUGLS

Question 7 months ago

Which size of screws should I use if I'm not doing the mortise and tenon method? Which size drill bit should I use to make the pilot holes/pocket holes for the screws? Thanks in advance!

0
KentM
KentM

Answer 7 months ago

Do you have a pocket hole jig? I use a pocket hole system made by Kreg but other companies sell them as well. The length and type of screw is determined by the thickness and type of wood you are using. I suggest researching all your options online.

0
Z22ZINFS
Z22ZINFS

Question 8 months ago on Step 3

Where did you locate the mortises? Do you have measurements, for example, the mid-point of the rails? Top of the rails? Bottom of the rails?

0
RoseGirouard
RoseGirouard

8 months ago

Made it! It’s a bit off, but I’m happy with it, and I know my girl will be too! Thank you for the instructions, they helped! I’m a beginner, so a bit more detail would have helped.

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titanfreeze0
titanfreeze0

Question 9 months ago

This is my first ever project. I have a few questions I'd like some help with. I'm using the pocket hole system.
1) how do i secure the two rails to the underside of the platform?
2) how do i secure the top rails to the base, do i cut them 17" and 2 @15" and join to the legs but not to each other rail?

0
KentM
KentM

Answer 9 months ago

1) Glue and/or nail them to the platform
2) Miter both ends of the front rail and one end of each side rail and nail and glue them to the tops of the legs.

0
jneedham2022
jneedham2022

10 months ago on Step 7

We used these plans to make a learning tower for our grandson. Thanks, Kent for being so thorough with the descriptions. We didn’t have to fill in many blanks for ourselves at all. Our grandson is so enamored with the tower that he wants to eat all of his meals standing up. We had to ship it instead of delivering it because of COVID so this picture shows it ready to take apart for shipping.

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