Ladder Christmas Tree




Introduction: Ladder Christmas Tree

About: Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for designing and creating, I pursued a BFA in product design from Parsons School of Design in NYC. Since then I've done work for Martha…

This non-traditional Christmas tree made from a wooden ladder and pine wood planks is the perfect way to decorate for the holidays if you, A) can't have real trees in your apartment, or, 2) you or your loved one is a big fan of hardware stores.

It simple to make and something that you can use again and again. Not to mention the fact that you can keep using the ladder all year round!

*All you music lovers out there should check out my Vinyl Record Holiday Tree!

Step 1: Supplies


- (1x) 6' wooden ladder
- (3x) 1" x 12" x 6' pine boards
- (1 or 2x) 1" x 12" x 4' or one more 6' board*
- an assortment of different thickness wood scraps (from 1/8" - 3/4")**
- 1 quart of white water-based latex paint
- 1 quart of green water-based latex paint
- 1 mixing bucket
- blue painter's tape
- 320 grit sand paper
- stir stick
- measuring spoon or dropper
- paint brush
- craft paper to paint boards on
- wood glue
- string or twine

*This is extra wood just in case a cutting error is made. It's always better to have extra.
**These are for Step 5


- hand saw
- chop saw
- table saw
- measuring tape
- sanding block
- carpenter's square
- level
- pencil

Step 2: Ladder Prep

Open the wooden ladder up and remove all the stickers and such.

Pull down the paint bucket 'shelf' and using a hand saw, cut off the shelf so that there is approx. 3" of each arm sticking out past each upright. (as pictured)

Step 3: Calculating Shelf Lengths: Part 1

Unless you're free styling and using your own taller ladder, I would start with a 5' shelf on the bottom rung. We can use this as a starting off point to figure out the rest of the shelf lengths for creating maximum tree-ness.

Cut the 5' shelf using the 1" x 12" pine board and place it on the bottom step of the open ladder.

Then take some string or twine and tape a length from the top of the ladder to the middle of the bottom shelf on both sides of the ladder.

Next tape the end of the twine ball to the front end of the top of the ladder and unwind the twine until the ball is JUST touching the ground. This will give you the rough center line of your 'tree'.

By doing this I discovered that my ladder wasn't quite symmetrical, so I moved the bottom shelf a little to the left so that it would be slightly more even to the center line from the front.

Step 4: Calculating Shelf Lengths: Part 2

Next, take your measuring tape and measure the distance between the two pieces of twine at each rung height.

Draw a quick diagram to record your findings. The lengths I ended up needing were:

Top - 1' 4"
2 - 2' 3"
3 - 3' 2"
4 - 4' 1"
bottom - 5'

Cut the shelves to length and place them on their respective rungs to make sure they line up correctly, creating the tree 'line'.

You'll notice that not all the shelves are level. We're going to fix that in the upcoming steps.

Step 5: On the Level

Now it's time to level out those shelves.

Have your bits of assorted wood handy, as we'll be using them to shim the shelves level.

I also wanted to level out the whole ladder a bit so that the verticals were more symmetrical, so I found two pieces of scrap that raised the left upright enough to also, shim free, level out the bottom shelf.

Next, place a level on the top shelf and lift up the left end of the shelf until the level reads, level. Eyeball the gap between the rung and the underside of the shelf and try inserting different combos of the scrap wood pieces until you find the winning piece or combo that = level.

Repeat this for shelves 2 - 4.

Number the shims with a pencil so that you'll know which shims are for which shelf when you pull them out to cut down to size.

Step 6: Mark 'em

Once you've removed all the shims, use a pencil to mark where the shims will go on the underside of the middle three shelves. (like pictured) The shim for the top shelf will go right on the end so there's no need to mark that one.

Step 7: Left Side Ladder Lifts

If you've decided to shim up the left side feet of the ladder itself like I did, measure the footprint of the feet and cut the shim(s) to size.

Glue the layers together (if there's more than one) with wood glue and then glue the shims to the bottom of the intended feet.

Let dry for at least an hour while you prepare and attach the shelf shims.

Step 8: OPTIONAL: Grooves for Hanging Ornaments

I chose not to add these on my shelves because I knew I wouldn't be putting hanging ornaments on my tree, but if you'd like the option to do so, here are the steps:

1. Lower the blade on the table saw to less than half the thickness of your shelves.
2. Set the guide to 1/4".
3. Run all four edges of your shelves over the lowered blade making sure to keep them snug up against the guide.

And that's it! Now back to our regularly scheduled steps...

Step 9: Soften by Sanding

Using a sanding block and 320 grit sand paper, gently sand all the edges of the shelves.

Step 10: Do the Shimmy

Using a carpenter's square, draw lines on the underside of the shelves that line up with the pencil marks you made earlier. The space in between the two lines is how wide your shim should be (approx. 1 1/4")

Using the cut off pieces of pine board, cut (6x) 1" wide x 10" long pieces. Glue them on the outsides of the lines on shelves 2-4.

Measure and cut each shelve's shim piece(s) and glue them in between the already glued outer pieces.

For the top shelf (no. 1), cut a 1" wide piece of pine board to the exact width of the top shelf. Glue it on the underside edge of one of the shelf ends.

Step 11: Paint Prep

I chose to paint just the tops of my shelves, not the sides or the bottoms. So I carefully taped the edges of all 5 shelves with painter's masking tape.

If you'd like your entire shelves to be painted, skip this step.

Step 12: It's Pretty Easy Being Green

I wanted the green paint on my tree shelves to gradually lighten as they went up (see last image above). To do this, I started with the full strength green on the bottom shelf and then added about 3 tbsp of white paint and stirred well for every subsequent shelf. Feel free to add more or less white paint or to skip the graduating greens altogether.

Paint each shelf carefully with a brush.

Let dry for at least two hours.

Step 13: Cleaning Up the Edges

When the paint is dry, remove the tape. If any paint has soaked through or run down the edge of the board, use a sharp razor blade to scrape it away.

You're now ready to set up your tree!

Step 14: Optional Star Light Tree Topper

If you'd like to make and add the Star Light Tree Topper that I made for my ladder tree, visit the instructable here.

Step 15: Shelf-Help

Once you've found a good spot for your tree, have opened up the ladder and installed the Star Light Tree Topper if you chose to do so, it's now time to add the shelves. Place them all on their respective rungs/steps, making sure the shelves are centered between the uprights.

Step 16: Time to Decorate!

Your tree is now ready to decorate!

If you try making this, I'd love to see pictures of how you decorated yours!!

Have fun and Happy Holidays!

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    6 years ago

    Cool idea..A multipurpose use.


    6 years ago

    This would be great for an affordable second hand discount retail shop "bargain bin" display!
    Sadly however, I'm not sure the light is all-audiences appropriate.

    I do like some of the tecniques for producing this project, however when marking the lines for the shelf stops (the strips under the shelfs that fit on either side of the rungs and rear supports of the ladder), might I suggest using a simple square, with the lip edge on the shelf and the straight edge finding the edge of the rung/support so your line will be more accurate - this will prevent the shelves from having slop/play.

    Another suggestion I have is to use simple steel or aluminum dowel rod pins on the upper most shelves, through the shelf stops and the rung/support (just one each side) so as to prevent unbalanced structural failure when someone puts a cup of hot coffee on one side and someone else places a 25lb weight on the other end of the shelf, causing the coffee to go flying and the weight to fall on their foot...


    6 years ago

    Don't know that this will be my tree, but it has inspired me to make one for my cats. They could have their own tree that they would love to play on. What better gift for them?


    6 years ago

    Very neat idea, tree plus present storage. Now lets talk ladders, why not use an aluminum ladder? Doesn't anyone remember grandmas super shiny aluminum tree? I say go all out, aluminum ladder, wrap the boards in aluminum foil, and string some nuts and washers on some steel cable for garland. Yes that's a bit over the top, but seriously the genuineness of this idea is its customization .


    ace is the place, I agree. local small business as well


    6 years ago

    Great idea, but where do you find a wooden ladder? Have checked all the usual hardware places.....Lowes, Home Depot, Ace, etc. They don't carry anything except aluminum or fiberglass.

    Paige Russell
    Paige Russell

    Reply 6 years ago

    DianeE8 is right. Ace is the place! :)


    Reply 6 years ago

    Try Ace Hardware online, Ace does carry wooden ladders and will tell you which stores in your area have them. I got a 6' wood ladder at Ace yesterday for $60

    Kris T.
    Kris T.

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Really love the idea and I'm seriously entertaining the thought of actually doing this. I would love to use chalk paint and stress the edges for a vintage look, and add small hooks so I could still hang a few ornaments.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is great I saw your light 'ible the other day and thought a step ladder xmas tree would be good and ta da!

    I also believe that the hierarchy in my house would mean kids gifts on the bottom shelf working up to me just above the star!

    merry xmas