Space Saving Loft Ladder/ Stairs (100% Salvage Materials)




About: I'm a life-hacking reuse junkie who loves to create, even if all I'm making is a mess. I love hammers and rocks and history and hand planes. I hugged trees before it was cool but can still operate a chainsaw...

I'm a life-hacking reuse junkie.
Up until about six weeks ago, I had a largish house with a basement, a shop, a lumber pile, a mountain of hardware, and a river. Conveniently situated on a wooded acre with no noise ordinance. As long as my diy madness didn't require more than an acre of space, there were no restrictions on the scope or execution of my projects. I could build, leave my tools in the living room, cut holes in the walls. Whatever my hacking heart desired...

Then my guy and I split and I left my doer's paradise and moved into a corner of a smaller house on a regular sized lot in town.

My mom's house.

I love my mom a boatload and am glad she's willing to put a roof over my head til I find a suitable space, but I gotta say it's less than ideal for either of us. I'm 35 years old. I have a table saw and a teenage son. I have been known to leave my tools in the living room. And here's the kicker: my mom likes her house just the way it is. She doesn't want it changed. She and my stepdad don't want their place "modded".

But they can't monitor me 24 hours a day. So I do what I do. I try to do it subtly without making a giant mess, but I do it anyway.

Sorry, Mom. I can't help it.   

Which brings us to the first (maybe only, we'll see) Mod My Mom's House -ible... a loft ladder. My temporary bedroom is in the loft space above the office, and I just can't jump that high. Traditional stairs are floor space hogs, and ordinary ladders are soooo boring. 

Modeled loosely from a ship's stairway, this ladder uses just a handful of materials and takes up very little real estate. It also went up in a snap.
And in case you were wondering, I didn't even leave my tools in the living room.

Note: This, like most of my projects, is probably in violation of your local building code and may or may not be safe for the loads you intend to put on it. Works just fine for me, but it might not for you. Just so you know.

Also, I forgot to wear my gloves and safety glasses, but I am a very bad example of safe work habits (see DIY Sutures). Wear yours and work safely.

We good? Alright, then: let's make a ladder!

Step 1: Gather Your Tools & Materials

Note: in this Instructable, I'll be sharing the materials/tools I used, and steps I followed. This project, like most, can be customized to fit your set of circumstances. For instance, I used 3 saws, but the same cuts could be made using just a hand saw. There's more than one way to do everything. My way is right. So is yours. 
saw(s): compound miter saw, jig saw, table saw
drill, driving bit, countersink bit
staple gun with staples
tape measure
speed square

10' stick - 2x6 fir 
9' - 1x4.5 Brazilian Cherry wood flooring 
2- short lengths 2x2

11 - heavy duty iron handrail brackets
pile of screws
Pile of bolts & nuts
Simpson Strong Tie joist hanger
2- IKEA shelf brackets (to help stabilize the bottom, since I couldn't fasten anything directly to the floor)

Finishing supplies
few scraps of spongy grip shelf liner
primer & paint and/or stain

Step 2: Measure, Mark & Cut

-Measure and mark each end of the 2x6 at 22 degrees. Marks should be parallel. Cut.

-Measure and mark notch where ladder will rest against loft. Top mark should be parallel to the first two (as pictured). Cut.

-On the side of the first step, mark 6" from the bottom and every 16" for a total of 5 steps. Repeat on the other side, with the first mark at 14", bringing the total to 10 marked steps (You could actually fit an 11th step in there without issue, should you decide you prefer an additional 8" boost at the top. I had an 11th, but took it off because it seemed awkward on my first few climbs.)

Tip: If you have other stairs accessible, go climb a few times to establish your lead off foot, or at least mentally climb some steps before deciding on which side the first should be. I think you'll find you have a natural first step foot. Let it be your guide.  

-Run the cherry through the table saw twice, removing the tongue the first pass and groove the second (I used flooring, remember).

-From the tongueless/grooveless cherry, cut 9 1/2" lengths for the treads (10-11).

-Bevel the front of each tread at 22 degrees.

-Bevel the 2x2 short at 45 degrees, then cut two 7 1/2" lengths. These pieces will be fastened to both the 2x6 and the loft ledge at the vertical notch point in order to both bolster/square the joint and to create a smoother visual transition between wall and ladder.


Step 3: Predrill, Paint, and Fasten

-Using a rail bracket as a jig, line up the top holes in the base of the bracket with guides marked in the last step, keeping the edge of the base as near to the back of the 2x6 as possible without going over. Mark the position of all 3 holes for each of the 10 steps. Pre-drill.

-Situate the two shelf brackets at the very bottom edges of the 2x6 (where it will meet the floor) mark and pre-drill the 2x6 to accommodate those fasteners.  

-Give the 2x6 a quick sanding to remove rough spots.

-Prime and paint the 2x6 (just don't fill in all your predrilled holes) as well as the two 7 1/2" lengths of beveled 2x2

Note: this bit of finish work could have been done later, but it's just so much easier to paint before the hardware gets in the way. 

-When the paint is dry, fasten the 10 rail brackets and the two shelf brackets to the 2x6

-Mark and pre-drill through the face of all treads (with your countersink bit) where they will be bolted to the rail brackets (the beveled edge of each tread will share the same plane as the front face of the 2x6 when fastened, so a straight edge along the face can act as a tread placement guide).
-Fasten the treads

Step 4: Strong Tie Finish

Carefully tilt the ladder into its final position.
Screw the 2x2 shorts to the 2x6, then to the loft face.
Screw the Strong Tie to the ladder, then to the loft.
Put some spongy/grippy shelf liner on the bottom of the ladder (2x6 and shelf brackets) to help protect the flooring below.
Touch up the paint where necessary and add any final touches like tread tape or hand holds.
Nice ladder!



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    36 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Really like this diea. Thanks for sharing it with us.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Kudos for balancing single-mom life! Yeah, something's gotta give, and more often than not it's Mom's safety. I'm betting it held as long as you needed it to, though you might have found the time to replace some of the screws. Score one for sanity, too, it's lovely.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Looks more like a modern take on a pole ladder. Nicely done.

    Jewel Homes

    5 years ago on Introduction

    The aesthetics of this thing is what got my attention. The line and the colors are a nice accent in that room. But then I would think there's a bit of a playground effect when using the stairs... What I mean is it would be fun to use just because it would require a measure of agility.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    This kind of stairs are knowed like "Santos Dumont Stairs" and was created by the "Father of Airplane". It always start with the right foot step.
    But that´s a kinddly way to do it using modern fixtures and all. I liked a lot!!!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Right away this looks like a dangerous setup. No rail or anything to prevent a fall.
    This is definitely an at-your-own-risk job, it wouldn't pass a building code inspection.

    sanguishSpring Wise

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    How well does the angle work? (rise over run in this case). I've been needing something like this, but want a conventional ladder design. but I've never been able to work out an angle that doesn't jut out into the room a mile.

    Spring Wisesanguish

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    68 degrees seems to be the magic number. Pretty comfortable to climb, but steep enough not to jut out too far. If I had it to do over, I'd pick the same angle. As it stands, I can navigate it going up with two armloads. Any steeper and I think I'd be building a handrail and a dumbwaiter in a hurry.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Seen this ladder before, called a Jefferson ladder. In every case, it is used as a utility ladder, but yours deviates from form with the absence of some form of handholds. For safety, balance, assistance in carrying bedding up or laundry down. The Jefferson ladder is usually built with handrails on both sides. The Simpson Strong-Tie Joist Hanger was not designed to hold the weight of a person, plus the joist by itself.. It was designed to work in concert, as part of a system of joist hangers. And I'll bet dinner that you didn't put an 8-penny common nail (as specified in the engineering specs) in each of the 9 to 11 holes in that joist hanger. And with no stable attachment to the floor, the installation of this ladder would, in my house, be grounds for eviction!

    1 reply
    Spring WisePilgrimm

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    You caught me. No 8-penny nails. I used lag screws, but I did hit every hole. Like you said, though, I didn't use it for its intended purpose (which, by the way I was fully aware of) so the specs kind of flew out the window at that juncture. I didn't even fasten in the correct direction, as I used a few long lags at an angle that allowed me to screw through the 2x6 into the loft frame. Having said all that, the joist hanger in this application isn't really bearing the weight of a joist or a person... but I'm still glad you aren't my landlord :)

    Let me preface this by saying I have about 20 years in the building trade. I also am chronically know for over-building, but I can honestly say that I've never had anything fall down, even when subjected to over-the-recommend strains.

    Your idea exhibits some very creative thinking and uses a non-traditional approach to problem solving. That's a very good thing. But I have some concerns about your choice of materials.

    Screws - bad idea. Unless you used at least #12 or #14 screws, or lag screws, the shear strength is not very high. It's doubtful they'd break right away, but it may happen someday. And don't use flat-head screws. The counter-sunk head design is not as strong as the flat underside of a round-headed or similarly designed screw. Washers to increase the load surface is not a bad idea also. Use the longest screws you can without them sticking out the other side. That's going to be a 1-1/2" or 1-3/4" depending on the thickness of the bracket base. Bolts with washers and nuts are an even better idea.

    Second, hand rail brackets were never designed or intended for a vertical load being applied to them! If someone falls on stairs, it's a lateral load the brackets take, so that is what they are designed to withstand. As such, they are most to break at the bend in the arm, right as it begins to turn upward.

    Third, you said the hand rail brackets are iron. If they are iron, they are most likely cast iron, which has a horrible shear strength rating. Even a modest impact can build up stress cracks that eventually break. But, they are actually more likely to be steel or aluminum, since iron isn't used for a lot these days. Hold a magnet to them to see it they are aluminum. IF THEY ARE ALUMINUM, STOP USING THEM IMMEDIATELY!!! Cast aluminum is worse than iron. Steel, you might actually be OK.

    Fourth, use a hand hold, please. You should always use a hand hold on stairs, at a 38° incline. At a 22° incline, you are dealing with something closer to a ladder angle-wise, and no one in their right mind goes up a ladder without holding on.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Great idea.
    BTW, the ladder in the Santos Dumont house (inventor of the airplane) uses a slightly similar approach, but the idea was avoiding missteps:


    6 years ago on Introduction

    You may put handlers side by side the steps: right step with left handler and left step with right handler.

    5 replies

    I've used stairs like this before and just used the higher steps as handles. Was thinking that maybe a raised handrail down the middle would be nice. Less stooping over.

    I use the steps and then the tail at the top as handholds. There isn't much stooping involved because of the steep angle, but I was thinking maybe one of those shower handle bars near the top could be an improvement...


    Oh dear! That last comment of mine was a total lie! I thought I used the steps as handholds because when I was building them I assumed that's what I'd do, but I just went up there and I don't touch the treads with my hands at all. What I really do is place my left hand on the back of the 2x6 in two spots during an ascent or descent... once at the top and once in the middle. Still no stooping though.

    paqratSpring Wise

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Just to pick a nit, I would say that last comment, while inaccurate or untrue, was not a lie in that I don't think you had any intention of deceiving anyone. Beautiful job, btw, but I think I would use bolts as someone commented instead of screws. Also I would truly hate to attempt to climb this with anything in both hands.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Re: handrails. I don't pretend to have much in the way of carpenter's skills but wouldn't it be possible to attach two 1x2's to the outside edge of each step, parallel to the center support board? With the angle you have there it seems to me there wouldn't be much stooping but I could be wrong. Have you thought about making it retractable? If it could be drawn up into the loft when not needed to access the loft perhaps your mom and step-dad would have fewer objections.