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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My brother wanted a better ladder up into his reclaimed attic space but didn't want to spend more than $150.

I built this for around $30 in materials in an afternoon.

I started at home the night before. First I made some cleats to attach the spreaders to. I used a ripped Douglas Fir 2x4 chopped to 4 1/2" on my 12" Harbor Freight sliding compound miter saw, wearing soft ear plugs, goggles and a dust mask (this is no precision machine!). Next I cleaned them up and rounded the edges on my Grizzly 9 inch disk, 6 inch belt combination sander. I then took them to the drill press and pre-drilled the holes for the wood screws. I usually use production (non tapered) screws but I wanted the strength of true wood screws for this application.

I guessed the ladder would need to span no more than 9 feet at a slight angle and with steps around 10 inches apart, (a ladder has a greater span between steps than stairs, the important part is to keep them evenly spaced) so I made 22 cleats.

When I got to my brothers I measured the length I would need to make the span and calculated with 21" spreaders I would need 4, 10' 2x6s.

I bought 2 20' Kiln Dried Douglas Fir 2x6s after looking at the green stuff and determining that for the extra $9 the dry stuff would be far easier to machine and give me a much better product. I cut them in half to fit in my small truck and when I got to the site I pulled out my Colt router and Neiko bits for their first workout! I routed roundovers on all four long edges of the two boards that I had chosen for the spreaders. It worked great!

I took one of the boards I chose for the stringers (long sides) and placed it in the opening to the attic at the angle I wanted the finished ladder. Then I scribed the angle of the floor using a two foot level as a straight edge. After cutting this angle I placed the board back in the attic opening, decided on the finished height of the ladder and scribed the angle of the wall using a four inch board.

I cut these angles on both stringers. After carefully aligning both stringers next to each other I subtracted the thickness of the first spreader (1-1/2") from my chosen 10" stair spacing , I marked a line here (8-1/2") across both. Then I marked a line every 10" along the entire length.

I then copied the angle of the floor using my handy saw protractor and transferred this angle using my 10" marks for the spacing (see pics).

I then trimmed the fuzz from both holes on one side of each of my pre-made cleats before gluing and screwing them so the top of the cleat lined up with the angled marks on the stringers. I trimmed the fuzz so the cleats would snug up flat and tight to the stringers after screwing. Then I put in the screws so the points just poked out the back of the cleats before putting on the glue, using the points of the screws to keep the cleats from sliding around while screwing them in place.

I decided to make 10 steps so I left off the last two cleats at the top of the ladder.

Next I chopped the rounded 2x6 into 21" spreaders. I wanted the steps to nose slightly out from the front of the stringers so I found a couple of 1/4" + - shims. I rested the stringers on these while drilling countersunk holes for the woodscrews. First I put the bottom stringer clamped but unscrewed as a spacer and to keep the whole assembly straight.

I had built a similar ladder where I used a couple of extra, smaller, vertically oriented spreaders, toenailed between the stringers to resist spreading, but on this ladder I instead decided more glue (I hadn't glued the spreaders on the earlier ladder) and the attachment cleats should work. (I hadn't had a bottom cleat on my first ladder, but I read up on stairbuilding since.)

The top and bottom attachment cleats are just screwed through the stringers into the end grain with large production screws. They shouldn't need to resist much force, they just keep the ladder from shifting. They in turn are screwed into the framing of the ceiling/ attic floor at the top and the floor at the bottom.

I was careful during the build to do a good job and keep everything square so I was horrified when I brought the ladder to set it up and it wouldn't stand straight! What did I do wrong? I measured the ladder again and everything was perfect! Then I threw a level on the floor, it was off 1/2" over the 23 1/2" of the ladder and the ceiling/floor was closer to 1" off in the opposite direction! A seasoned finish carpenter would have made sure to measure and note all this and take it into consideration when calculating dimensions!

I cut a shim, smeared it with glue and slid it under the short leg. I hadn't screwed the attachment cleat on the bottom so that wasn't a problem. I leveled the ladder with a quality torpedo level and screwed it home through the top and bottom cleats!

Fun!

I charged my brother $150 for the ladder.

I loaned my mom my Makita 1/4 sheet finishing sander and a gallon of floor varnish for the finish, she stays up in the attic room on weekends :)

P.S.

I Know that supporting steps on screws is not kosher but this is a very solid ladder with the steps resting on the cleats glued and screwed to the stringers.

Next time though I want to rout mortises for the steps! I envision making some sort of simple template with a sliding t-bar for the variable angle...
 

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The method you chose is strong enough. Morticed in looks nicer but would be no stronger. The only thing I would question is the distance from the top rung to the attic floor. It looks like you missed a rung (or 2). This could make the transition from the attic to the ladder awkward and potentially unsafe. In any stairbuilding, the distance from the floor to the first rung (or riser), the distance between rungs, and the distance from the last rung to the landing should all be equal. Anything else invites a misstep.
I would also suggest that there be a handhold for your mother to hang onto while she is making the transition from the attic floor to the ladder or vice versa (even if it's only a large diameter rope). Until you can get down far enough to grab a ladder rung there really isn't anything to hang onto should you lose your balance.
 

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Hi Jubilee

Nice job But I would also 2nd. Charles post, here a small tip take a look at the picture below and note the small hand rail, I have two of the pull down ladders in my shop and the hand rail is almost a must have item..

Note this type of ladder is rated 250 lbs.
===
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Thanks!

Thanks, Chuck and Bob for the kind words and advice. Yes, a hand hold, especially at the top landing and particularly on the way down would be welcome.

I like the way the rail is just attached to the ladder in your pic bobj3. My brother wants to be able to close the attic door if desired and that design would allow him to do that.

On my ladder the steps themselves make good handholds on the way up which is why I was careful to round the backs comfortably.

My first ladder was constructed from 2x10 material, with split 2x8 stairs. The 2x8 are split into handrungs and steps as shown in the pics below. I am very happy with the design. I did learn the importance of the even spacing between the first step and the rest. The first step on that ladder is a couple of inches taller than the rest and while it's fine on the way up on the way down it is a hazard! I also still need to build a hand grab at the top to pull yourself up and steady yourself on the way down.

As to the top steps, I did leave off the top step as I feel it would just get in the way. It's easier to hang your legs over the side without it.

I think that routing the mortices next time would actually be quicker than making and attaching all the fiddly cleats as well as giving a nicer if not stronger product!

Also I think next time I would use shellac or an oil finish so it would be easier to repair and look less plasticky than the floor varnish I used.
 

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Good job but you could have got one ready made for under $150 at lowes.
 

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Doc I know you wanted to do this yourself and it looks fine , I've repaired my wood pull down stairs a couple of times now with new treads . But in the long run - in my thinking it over all work be a better move with the aluminum pull-down unit . And if I was to replace mine later :stop: - a little more expense in the long run - but better a choice .....had a friend replace his and it appears a stronger unit ....MB
 

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Doc - that is some nice work, but if were me I would add some 1/4" diameter all-thread rods at (approx) quarter points along the stringers - positioned immediately under steps. Look at any of the pre-manufactured wooden units and you will see those almost inconspicuous threaded rods. It is an extra measure of safety and is structurally significant!
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Nah, we tried locking her in, she just shinnied down the drainpipe!

My mom's a firecracker! She's 69 years young, she plays in three different bands, sometimes two gigs a night! My brothers place is in what constitutes a city around here, where the parties are! That's why my mom stays there on weekends!
 
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