How to Build a Ladder Display
Last year I built a new ladder display for art fairs, and I’ve had so many questions about where to buy a display like this! So I thought I’d write up a short tutorial on how to make one in an afternoon.
Things you’ll need:
- Wooden ladder (I found mine on Craiglist for $10)
- A trip to your local lumber store for 1x4s and 1x2s in various lengths
- White paint (I used the cheapest pint of white paint I could find at the hardware store)
- Cheap paint brush (with bristles 2-3 inches wide)
- Wood stain (I used a dark mahogany; anything will work, though, depending on your desired effect!)
- Sandpaper (medium grit or so)
- Clamps (as many as you have on hand – heavy boxes or books will work in a pinch)
- Paper towels (or a cloth towel you don’t care about)
- Fresh air and a nice day, or a well-ventilated indoor space
- A tape measure and level (Or reallllly keen ‘eyeballing-it’ skills)
- A saw (or a lumber store that will cut the wood for you)
Paint everything white! (Ladder and all the 1x4s and 1x2s) This is the opposite of ‘staying within the lines’ (a dream for a girl who still, to this day, cannot color inside the lines. I might need to repeat Kindergarten.) Just go crazy and get messy and have fun getting basic coverage. No worries if there are still visible unpainted spots. *TIP* water your paint down a bit. This makes the process lots faster, and I think the finish ends up appearing more authentically vintage.
Let everything dry. Once dry, do a quick but rough sanding down of all the surfaces.
Apply a coat of wood stain (I used a dark mahogany; anything will work, though, depending on your desired effect). I used paper towels to apply the stain. Let it sit for a few minutes, letting the stain soak in. If you want a darker finish, let it sit awhile longer. Then wipe down all surfaces and let dry.
Each ladder step needs a rung opposite that sits at the same height, in order to support the shelf. I used scrap pieces from the 1x4s to cut boards for this. After cutting the rungs, I drilled holes opposite each step (If you want to get really exact, use a level to measure the heights. I just eyeballed it, and I’m quite happy with the results. I’m way too impatient for levels!), and then attached the rungs with screws.
This is the initial ‘lay out the 1x4s for the shelves’ step, before assembling everything. I made five shelves for my ladder (one for each ladder rung), but at shows I typically use only four of them to allow for more height in the display on the bottom shelf. The shelves are incrementally shorter and narrower from bottom to top – this will vary depending on the width of your ladder rungs and your personal preference. I used primarily 1x4s, with a 1×2 on a few shelves where an additional 1×4 wouldn’t fit.
Lay out the 1x4s on each rung (adding 1x2s in to fill in gaps). Cut to your desired length, and center them on the ladder. (Again, I just eyeballed this, but you can use a tape measure if you want to be exact.)
Time to assemble. I used a combination of glue, screws, and nails. There is probably a far more ‘professional’ way to accomplish the assembly, but this worked for me and I’m thrilled with the result. Use your best creative DIY judgement 🙂
The first step in assembly is to add a ‘brace’ underneath each shelf that will sit on the outer (or inner, if you prefer) sides of each rung. This will hold the shelf in place, in the event someone bumps into it (or attempts to climb on it – it happens!!) When your shelves are laid out on the rungs, mark with a pencil underneath each board where the brace should go. Cut a piece of wood to serve as the brace.
Next, apply wood glue to the edges of each board and stick them together. Find the line you marked for the brace, and glue the brace to the bottom of the shelf. Use clamps to secure the shelf. Let dry. Repeat for each shelf.
Once dry, it’s time to reinforce the shelves. I began this process with nails, but found screws to be far sturdier. Drill screws through each board into the braces. *Make sure you only screw from the top of the shelf down into the brace! Otherwise, you might end up with a rogue screw tip that ends up catching on whatever products you display on your ladder 🙂
That’s it! You have your ladder display!
TIMESAVING TIPS: If you want to save time and some paint/stain/labor, you can assemble the shelves BEFORE painting and staining. You might end up with a few unfinished gaps between boards, but it’ll hardly be noticeable.
Happy DIYing! This display has fared quite well through a year of shows. I’m always open for ways to improve on my next DIY project, so feel free to share your tips and tricks!