How To Build a Ladder

Man carrying wooden ladder

A basic wooden ladder can be very simple and easy to construct, and should only take you a couple of hours. However, ladders are dangerous at the best of times, so it is important that you build one that is sturdy and reliable. Do the job correctly from the start, and your ladder will be safe to use. 

When choosing construction materials to build a ladder, cheaper is NOT the way to go. All wood used should be good strong oak, or structural grade lumber.

To build a ladder you'll need:

  • 2 - 12 feet long 2x4's for the uprights
  • 2 - 8 feet 2x3's for the rungs
  • Exterior wood glue
  • 36 - 2-1/2 inch Deck Screws
  • 4 Clamps
  • Measuring Tape
  • Pencil
  • Circular Saw
  • Drill
  • Hammer
  • Chisel


  1. Clamp the two 12 feet long upright pieces together with the ends flush.
  2. Measure (and mark) 8 inches from both the top and bottom ends of the uprights. The top edge of the top rung, and the bottom edge of the bottom rung, will match these marks.
  3. Measure 2-1/2 inches from each mark, moving toward the center of the upright pieces.
  4. Measure out the rest of the rung notches by laying the tape measure at the 8 inch marks you made earlier, and marking out 16 inch increments. These marks are where the CENTER of each rung should lay, so you will need to mark 1-1/4 inches on either side of these marks for the rung notches.
  5. Set the circular saw to a depth of 1-1/8 inches. While the two upright pieces are still clamped together, cut along the end marks for each rung, and then make cuts about ¼ inch apart between these end marks.
  6. Use a hammer to knock out the small pieces of wood, and then smooth and even out the notches with a chisel.
  7. Remove the clamps from the two upright pieces, and set them aside.
  8. Cut the two 8 feet pieces of wood into 19 inch long rungs. (You will have one extra.)
  9. Squeeze a generous amount of the exterior wood glue into the notches of the top rung. Insert the top rung into the notches. Ensure that the rung is flush with the outside edge of the upright piece. (Use the hammer to GENTLY tap the rung into the notch, if necessary.)
  10. Screw the rung in place using 4 deck screws - 2 on each side.
  11. Repeat Steps 9&10 for the bottom rung.
  12. Repeat Steps 9&10 for the remaining rungs.

If you like, you can stain or finish your ladder, which will help your ladder last longer, especially if you will be using it outside. 

To test the strength of your ladder, lay the ladder flat on the ground, and walk across it. A safe ladder should bear your weight without bending or breaking. 

Overall, this project requires very little - some good wood and a spare afternoon - and you can have a useful, safe ladder to get into your attic, onto your roof, or just to reach the top shelf of your floor-to-ceiling bookcase.


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