Introduction: Indoor Jungle Gym

About: I work in TV/broadcast and film, but I like to do some welding and woodworking in my "free time." Check out my blog for more camera-specific things: case you're reading this in the future, this thing happened in early 2020 where we all had to stay inside for a while, in order to help stop the spread of a virus. This meant a lot of us with younger kids were looking for things for them to do (we were already homeschooling, so the quarantine wasn't a whole lot different than "normal.") My wife started sending me Amazon links, and after a few I thought "I could build that and it would be cheaper." Pinterest didn't yield anything other than ads, so here I am.

My children (at time of writing) are 5.5 and 2.5. The former is 42" and 50 lbs, the latter is 30" and 25 lbs, and both are pretty unstoppable. So whatever I built had to be able to withstand that kind of weight and be big enough for that size child to actually be able to do something on it. I also wanted it to be able to fold down, and that setup needed to be something that my wife could handle. The width was determined by the fact that I wanted to tie into the studs on the wall, but I had an idea (that I may utilize for a future design) for making it thinner while still having that security. I also wanted to use our Nugget Couch as the "crash pad," so the width and length was made to accommodate that.

I did this project a little differently than I usually do. I would normally have spent several hours or days with SketchUp or Fusion, making everything virtually, and then do it in the "real world" only to have something I missed colossally fail on me and have to improvise. So instead, I spent those days just thinking about the construction of it, then when Saturday rolled around, I went ahead with what I had in my head. I tried to take as many pictures and make notes as I went, with specific measurements, but understand that you may need to adjust some things based on your own materials or space.


  • 1x4x96" lumber, qty 6
    • What I bought from Lowe's was called "appearance board," which means it looks nice but also has sharp corners that will need to be routed or sanded
    • You could save money somewhat by getting a 4x8 sheet of 3/4" plywood and ripping your own pieces, which I might have done given a different setting or better access to a good table saw
  • 1-1/4x72" dowel rod, qty 13
  • 2" angle brackets
  • 1/4" carriage bolts, 1-1/2" length
    • The brackets I used have three on each side, and I need four of those to be attached, so twelve total, but feel free to get extras
  • 1/4" washers & nuts
  • Screws (I used 1-1/4" drywall screws because that's what I had. In my experience, drywall screws work fine on wood as long as you drill a pilot hole)
    • I thought about using some pneumatic staples, but I'm working on the assumption that I might possibly change up the dimensions eventually
    • I didn't glue anything, either, partially for the same reason, and partially because I knew this structure would get a lot of rough-housing, so I wanted to make sure there was some flexibility in it

Step 1: Measurements & Overview

Again, as I was kinda figuring this one out on the fly, these are partially "what I thought" and "what I had to do."

  • Overall wanted a roughly six foot height
  • Also wanted it to fold down for storage, so the length needed to be the same as the height
  • Finally, wanted to attach to the studs

So my total width is 36", with the 1x4's centered on two studs at 32" apart. The overall dimensions are 72.5" tall and 72.5" out from the wall. It's 8.5" deep when folded together. I'm working on a couple of smaller sizes, too, but the pictures I have right now are of the initial 6' build.

Step 2: Cutting & Drilling the Wall-Mounted Ladder

I feel like this is a pretty easy build, so I'll put my "tips" up here at the top, if you're confident in your own abilities to go from the pictures.

  • I drilled pilot holes for all the big holes. I'd recommend this especially if you're using a Forstner bit. I would drill about halfway through, then flip the board and drill the other way. This helps cut down on the tear-out on the other side.
  • Again, Forstner bit is preferred, hole-saw secondary. I do not recommend a SpeedBore bit, especially with this thickness of wood.
  • If you've got a drill press and a fence, this would make the cutting of holes much quicker.
  • If you're mounting this on a finished wall, don't forget to cut out for your baseboard.
  • As you're going along, feel free to compare the two boards to each other, as they should be roughly identical.

Firstly, cut four 1x4's to 72" straight cuts. At this point, I'd mark (in pencil) all these pieces, which ones you want to be against the wall, and which sides you want them all to be (left or right.) This becomes very important, because not everything is going to be cut in the center. I'm mostly writing that out because I need to hear it myself.

Cut the other two 1x4's to 73-1/2" (you can cut it to 74" if you want to, in order to cut it down later for exact levelling.) If you're cutting at this point, might as well cut all your dowels in half (36" approximately.)

Take two of your 72" pieces and pick the "bottom." I also picked an "inside," then cut a 1x4" rectangle out to create clearance for the baseboard.

Pull your tape up from the bottom and mark every 9". At every 9" mark, draw a line or however you want to mark 1-1/2" from the wall edge (where the baseboard is.) Once your confident with those marks, pre-drill with the 7/32" bit. As mentioned above, I like to drill a ways in on one side, and then flip the board to drill through the other side. I'm not a "finisher," so I like to do whatever I can to make it so that I don't have to do extra work later (like use wood filler.)

The top bar is slightly different. It should be 1-3/4" from the top of the board, and 1-1/2" from the wall edge.

When you're done, you should have two pieces that are identical. If you stack the boards on top of one another, you can check that the holes are all lined up. If you notice that one is a fair amount off (like 1/4" or more) I would pick a board to be "correct" and then use it as a pattern to drill down into the other for your correction.

Step 3: Cutting & Drilling the Top Ladder

  • Basically the same process, with the exception of the outside end

I pulled the tape from the "wall" side (which you could think of as the bottom) for my 9" intervals. These holes are 1-1/4" from the opposite side (what will become the top of the structure.)

The "wall" side hole should be cut 2-3/4" from the wall side, 3/4" up from the bottom edge. This leaves a very small rib, but that's okay.

During this process, if you want to double check that your top ladder will have clearance when folded, you can stack the pieces on top of the wall ladder, with some of the dowels in place. I did this quite often to confirm spacing. The top holes (the one in the last paragraph) should both line up, which is what you want--this is the pivot point that allows it to fold down.

The outside-most hole will be 1-3/4" from the outside edge and 2-1/2" from the top edge. Once it's cut, use a jigsaw to cut straight lines up to the sides of the hole, making a U shape (facing down.) I forgot to get a picture of this while I was making it, but I've included a picture of the full version set up.

Step 4: Cutting & Drilling the Outside Ladder

  • The extra cutting and stuff here I didn't include exact measurements for, because your results will almost certainly vary.
  • Don't screw

So the spacing on this one is even closer to the outside, but so far I haven't had any issues.

Your last two 1x4's that you cut longer are these. 9" interval from the top (there's a reason) and 3/4" from the outside. Top hole is 1-3/4" from the outside (should be in the center of the board) and 2-1/2" from the top.

Okay, so again, because I wasn't planning on this being an Instructable until part of the way into the build, I forgot to take certain pictures I needed. So bear with me here.

In order to get the whole thing to stack together, I had to make these little cutouts in the outside ladder. I thought about ripping the whole thing down, but that had me worried about stability. So I stacked the three boards together the way that they would stack once completed, with some dowels in the wall rack. I used a pencil to trace the holes I had drilled in the top ladder on to the inside of the outside ladder. I used my SpeedSquare to rough out the shape you can see there--feel free to be more precise than I was--then just cut everything out with the jigsaw.

Step 5: Mounting & Assembly of the Wall-Mounted Ladder

  • Don't glue or screw anything until you're absolutely sure.
  • I'm including pictures of my mistakes.

For structure, I wanted to mount directly to the studs. If you want to go into the drywall...well, good luck. I would at least mount one of them in a stud.

I had some of these right angle brackets left over from a previous project. The first thing I did was pick two spots on the verticals and attach them to the 1x4's, then drilled in to the studs. You can see from the pictures that I should have looked ahead and seen that I was going to put that first bracket right where the outlet was, so that was the first set of holes.

I'll tell you now that I originally put the brackets on the inside, which you can see in some of the pictures, and at this point I put up a dowel to see how my spacing was. I realised then that the spacing was too wide, so I moved the boards inside the brackets, but that meant I had to re-drill the holes. If I were going to do this again, I would mount the brackets on the wall first, using a long level.

Throughout the process, feel free to check the dowel spacing and alignment. I made quite a few mistakes, and I tried to document that. Hopefully you can see my pictures.

Once I felt like the spacing and everything was set, I undid all the bolts (leaving the brackets on the wall) and assembled the ladder on the ground. I set my scribe at about a 1/2" depth and made all the dowels the same depth on the right-side board (because this one was going to be the outside.) I drilled pilot holes and screwed the dowels to the ladder, one at a time, starting from the bottom. You'll notice you can't see the screws in the larger picture, 'cause they're on the wall-side of the ladder. BUT DON'T DO THE TOP-MOST BAR YET. You'll need to put that in in the next step.

Once the right side was done, I went down the left and did approximately the same thing. My dowels were not all exactly 36", so the spacing wasn't exactly the same on each one. I actually think I might have skipped a couple of screws on the dowels that I knew were too short, figuring that their position and the direction of force on them wasn't going to be negatively affected by missing them.

Step 6: Mounting & Assembly of the Top Ladder

  • Hang the side pieces through the top bar, then put the dowels in
  • First, check that the top piece will hang flat--best time to make those adjustments is now

I put the top dowel rod through the wall-mounted one, and hung the two side pieces for the top ladder. I first checked that these pieces hung all the way down--you can see in one of the pictures that the right-side piece was hitting a dowel too early, so I cut out a partial hole. That made it so the piece hung plumb.

Once I knew the hang was right, I clamped the side pieces top and bottom together. I put all the dowels in, then used my scribe (still set to the same depth) to line up all the dowels on the right side. Screwed that side in, then went down the left. Pilot hole, screw. Two drills, if you've got 'em--I'd recommend it.

Step 7: Mounting & Assembly of the Outside Ladder

  • Test fit, and then check level on your top ladder. Cut the outside ladder legs down to where they need to be if level (cut at the bottom--this is why we pulled intervals from the top earlier)

Similar process, except that these legs should be flush with the wall-mounted pieces. I did the same clamping with this piece, making sure that all the cutouts I made earlier were lining up decently well. I first screwed in the top bar, lining up on the right side. I then flipped out the top ladder to do a "test fit" and check the level. Turns out the initial length I made the outside ladder legs were about 2" too long, so I made that cut at the bottom first. I also discovered, during this phase, that that the top ladder leg wouldn't let the top dowel of the outside ladder sit correctly, so I made to grab a handsaw and made an angled cut (you can see the picture.

Step 8: Bracing Bracket

I grabbed two of the cutoffs from my first 1x4 cuts, and cut two 4" squares from another. Glued and screwed those squares to one end of each cutoff.

I grabbed my large T-square and made sure the outside legs were square to the ground. At this point, I clamped one of the braces up--top thick corner flush to the top of the top ladder. I eyeballed the angle to where I felt comfortable with the outside corner where it was, made a mark, and then cut the brace shorter. Clamped it up again, and used the D-ring to determine what spacing I would need to make sure that I would be able to flip the ring around where I needed to. I grabbed a 3/8" drill bit and drilled all the way through.

This is the only amount of bracing I have on here yet. The structure does shake somewhat when a 50-lb boy is swinging across it, so while the thing has not fallen down after several days of intense play, and at this point, I'm thinking about adding a single cross piece on the top ladder. If I do, I'll add that update in the comments.

Step 9: Finishing Touches

Feel free to sand sharp corners, and put any kind of sealant or finish on. I didn't do any of that, because I just wanted the thing to be built (remember--pandemic, kids stuck inside. I'll deal with splinters when they appear.)

Again, we have a Nugget couch, which works exceedingly well as a crash pad. I would recommend something under there, especially if you go with the 72" height like I did.

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