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Ladder Shelf

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Build a portable shelf that tapers from large storage shelf at the base to a narrow display space at its top. It's ideal for bathrooms but works well in any room of your house.

Ladder shelf against bathroom wall

Project Overview

Skill Level

Intermediate

Estimated Time

1 weekend

Estimated Cost

$$$$$

Tools and Materials

Tools

  • Table saw
  • Miter saw or portable circular saw and straightedge guide
  • Electric drill
  • Bit set, countersink, and screw-driving bits
  • Electric sander and sanding disks
  • Sandpaper and sanding block
  • Framing square
  • Assorted clamps

Materials

  • 5 - 1" × 3 "× 8' poplar boards, #1083
  • 6 - 3/8" × 3/8" × 36" square poplar dowels, #27594
  • 1/2" × 24" × 48" birch plywood, #6200
  • 4-pack #8 × 3" flathead wood screws, #57238
  • 6-pack #8 × 2" flathead wood screws, #57236
  • 2 - 8-pack #8 × 1-1/4" flathead wood screws, #57233
  • 1" × 60-yard roll masking tape, #168603
  • Titebond Original interior glue, 8 ounces, #86091
  • Elmer's 4-ounce interior/exterior wood filler, #185853
  • Valspar interior latex primer, #165217
  • Valspar Signature Ultra Premium semigloss interior latex, Sunday Times (#ar915)

Items may be Special Order in some stores. Product costs, availability, and item numbers may vary online or by market. Paint colors may vary slightly from those shown. Availability varies by market for lumber species and sizes.

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Instructions

Build the Legs

Step 1

From poplar 1" × 3"s, cut the rear legs (A) and front leg blanks (B) to length (Cutting List).

Step 2

To cut the long tapers at the tops of the front legs (Project Diagrams), mark the back edges of the blanks 10" from the top ends. Draw diagonal cut lines from the top front corners to the marks. Lay the blanks edge to edge on your workbench, staggering the blanks so the two pencil marks form a single straight line.

Step 3

Cutting long tapers with a circular saw
Cutting long tapers with a circular saw

Keeping the blanks in this staggered orientation, position them so the cut lines clear the edge of the workbench. Clamp the blanks to each other and to the workbench. Measure the distance from the blade to the edge of the base of your portable circular saw. At that distance from the cut lines, clamp a straightedge to the legs. Cut the tapers, guiding the saw along the straightedge. Save the triangular front-leg cut-offs. Use them to help clamp the front and rear legs flat to your work surface for gluing and fastening them together.

Step 4

Screwing front legs to the back shelf legs
Screwing front legs to the back shelf legs

Glue and clamp the front legs (B) to the rear legs (A), aligning the tips of the front leg angle cuts with the tops of the rear legs. After the glue dries, drill countersunk pilot holes through the front legs and into the rear legs (Project Diagrams) for #8 × 2" and #8 × 3" flathead wood screws. Make the countersinks deep enough to allow a 1/8" covering of wood filler over the screw heads. Drive the screws.

Step 5

Mark the bottoms of the legs where you'll make cuts
Mark the bottoms of the legs where you'll make cuts

To angle-cut the bottom ends of the front leg blanks (B) to length, lay a leg assembly on your workbench. Using a carpenter's square and a straightedge, mark the bottoms of the legs where you'll make your cuts. Repeat for the other pair of legs.

Step 6

Unplug your circular saw and measure from the blade to the edge of the wide portion of the saw base plate. Mark the legs that distance from the lines drawn in the previous step. Position the straightedge guide at this mark and use a framing square to square the guide to the rear legs. Clamp the straightedge in place and cut the front legs (A) to length. Repeat for the other pair of legs.

Step 7

Finish-sand the leg assemblies. Ease all edges with fine sandpaper and a sanding block.

Make the Shelf Trays

Step 1

From poplar 1" × 3"s, miter-cut the eight sides (C), bottom ends (D), lower middle ends (E), upper middle ends (F), and top ends (G) to length. Square-cut the stretcher (C) to length and set it aside.

Good to Know

When mitering the shelf sides and ends, flip the board over after each miter and use that end of the 1" x 3" as the miter on one end of the next piece you cut. That makes efficient use of the wood by eliminating lots of little triangles of scrap with each miter. To make sure all like parts are the same length, use a cutoff stop with your miter saw. When cutting the sides and stretcher (C) to length, use the same cutoff-stop position for all the parts. (Remember to square-cut one part for the stretcher.)

Step 2

Before assembling the bottom shelf frame, finish-sand the inside faces of the frame parts (C,D).

Step 3

Tape the tray sides end to end
Tape the tray sides end to end

Here's a way to assemble shelf frames without lots of clamps. First arrange the sides (C) and ends (D) on your workbench with the outside faces up and the miter tips touching. Align the part edges with a straightedge and stretch masking tape to bridge the still-touching miter tips.

Step 4

Square the glued tray sides
Square the glued tray sides

Flip the taped parts and apply glue to both faces of the V's formed by the taped-together miters and to both end miters. As you fold the parts into a rectangular frame, the tape should pull the miters tightly together. A piece of tape joining the end miters will do the same. Remove excess glue with a damp cloth. Place the frame on a flat surface and check it for square. To ensure that the frame stays flat, place weights, such as quart cans of paint or varnish, on the corners. Repeat with the remaining sides (C), lower middle ends (E), upper middle ends (F), and top ends (G). After the glue dries, remove the masking tape. To check the frames for square, measure the diagonals. If one diagonal is longer, squeeze the frame across this diagonal. When the diagonals are equal, the frame is square.

Step 5

Glue and clamp cleats to the inside edges of the tray
Glue and clamp cleats to the inside edges of the tray

From 3/8" square poplar dowels, cut the side cleats (H), bottom end cleats (I), lower middle end cleats (J), upper middle end cleats (K), and top end cleats (L) to length. Glue and clamp the cleats to the inside of the respective shelf frame with the bottom edges of the cleats and frames flush.

Step 6

Clamp the tray bottom to the tray side cleats
Clamp the tray bottom to the tray side cleats

From 1/2" birch plywood, cut the bottom panel (M), lower middle panel (N), upper middle panel (O), and top panel (P) to fit within the trays. Finish-sand both faces. Apply glue to the top surfaces of the cleats in each shelf frame and place the panels on them. Clamp the panels in place, using scrap wood blocks inside the frames to transfer clamp pressure to the panels. Finish-sand the outside faces and top and bottom edges of the shelves. Ease all edges with fine sandpaper and a sanding block.

Assemble and Finish

Step 1

Screw the bottom tray to the legs
Screw the bottom tray to the legs

Position the leg assemblies (A/B) with the bottom shelf between them on a flat surface. Space the bottom shelf 2" from the bottoms of the legs (Project Diagrams) and clamp it in place. Stand the assembly upright and make sure the back edges of the rear legs (A) and shelf are flush. Drill countersunk pilot holes for #8 × 1-1/4" flathead wood screws through the shelf ends (D) into the front and rear legs. Make the countersinks deep enough to allow a 1/8" covering of wood filler over the screw heads. Drive the screws.

Step 2

Clamp the second tray in position using spacers
Clamp the second tray in position using spacers

Cut four 10"-long scrap-wood spacers, place them on the edges of the bottom ends (D), and place the lower middle shelf (C/E/H/J/N) on the spacers. Align the back of the shelf with the back edges of the rear legs and clamp the shelf to the legs. Drill countersunk screw holes through the ends into the front and rear legs and drive screws. Repeat with the upper middle and top shelves.

Step 3

Retrieve the stretcher (C) and clamp it between the rear legs (A), flush at the back and top. Drill countersunk holes for #8 × 2" flathead screws through the legs into the stretcher, making the countersinks deep enough to accept wood filler. Drive the screws.

Step 4

Apply wood filler to all the countersinks. When dry, sand the filler flush with the surrounding surfaces. Examine all parts and finish-sand where needed. Remove sanding dust with a shop vacuum. Apply primer and paint, lightly sanding after the prime coat with fine sandpaper to smooth any raised grain.