Ladder Display DIY

This week's project was inspired by the fabulous gals at A Beautiful Mess. I have been looking for a shelf for my front porch to help add some holiday flair, and frankly to keep my pumpkins for rotting immediately in the Seattle rain.  

This is definitely a more advanced project, because it involves power tools! Dun dun duuuuunnnn This is a great project to use as an intro to different tools and how to use them. But never fear! If you are not interested in the power tools, you can still do this awesome project with a few shortcuts.

I chose to make removable shelves with slats for a couple reasons, the most important one being that this shelf will not be a permanent feature on my porch and I need to be able to move and store it, which meant that nailing or screwing the shelves in wasn't going to be a good option. This also meant that the slats would need a brace on each end separate from the steps & rungs of the ladder. Let's get started!


  • 4.5-6 foot wood paint ladder-- easily found on Craigslist, Freecycle, or my dad's garage
  • 1"x4"x6' pine board for your slats-- I needed two pieces, but this amount will vary depending on the size of your ladder
  • 1"x2"x6' pine board for the ends-- I needed one of these, but as I said, this will vary
  • Measuring tape, level, pencil, straight edge
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Exterior paint in a color of your choice
  • Paint brushes
  • Drop cloths
  • OPTIONAL: pliers, wood putty, putty knife

ON SELECTING LUMBER: Make sure you pick boards that are fairly straight and without warps, warbles and large knots in the grain. This will ensure you are getting a strong piece that will be easier to work with. I chose pine because it is inexpensive and hasn't been treated so it will be easy to paint.

My brother being SO helpful

My brother being SO helpful

 Without power tools:

  • Hammer
  • 1.5-2" nails
  • Wood glue

Without power tools you will need another way to have the pieces of lumber cut to your measurements. In this case, I recommend going to your local hardware store (NOT on a weekend) and asking one of the lumber employees to cut the pieces for you. Unless they are very busy most Home Depot, Lowes, Ace, etc are happy to do this for you.

With power tools:

  • Safety glasses & ear protection (safety first, friends!)
  • Power sander
  • Skill saw
  • Sawhorses (2)
  • Drill
  • 6x1-1/4" screws-- the smallest box I could find was a 1lb which was WAY more than I needed for this project but I'm sure they'll come in handy later...
  • Extension cord


1. MEASURE the width and length for each shelf-to-be. This will help you determine how many pieces of lumber you will need. First measure the width of each step, those are your 1"x2" braces. Then the length from step across to the rung, that's the 3 slats. Be sure to account for the width of the brace as well in the slat measurement. I opted to do three slats per shelf, but depending on your ladder's width and what you plan to put on it, you may decide on more or less. I think the slats make it kind rustic and keep the paint ladder look, don't you? 

2. SAND all parts of the ladder either with the power sander or by hand with fine grit sandpaper. Hose the ladder down to rise off the dust and allow to dry. At this point I was so impatient to do this project that I started painting. Don't be like me.

OPTIONAL: Remove the metal spreader by drilling into the brad which holds it in place, you should then be able to use pliers to yank the pin out from the other side. This will leave a hole where the pin was which can be patched with wood putty & and putty knife, allowed to dry and sanded smooth.

If you are NOT using power tools, skip step 4

4. CUT the lumber:

  • Measure twice (seriously) and mark your slat lengths with a pencil and straight edge
  • Place the cut edge to one side of both sawhorses
  • Don your extremely important safety glasses and ear protection! No, I'm not kidding!
  • Line the guide of your skill saw up with the OUTSIDE (toward the sawhorses) of the line you drew
  • Pull the trigger and slowly, smoothly push the saw through the lumber, using the line you drew as a guide
  • WHEW! So much fun. Now you just have to do it 5 more times for your slats, and the same for the braces

Everyone back? No it's fine, I'll wait.... How about now? Great.

5. MARK Now that we all have our cut pieces of lumber, we need to mark the placement of the slats on the braces. I made mine 1/2" from each end with 1" between them. AGAIN, this is variable if you have a larger ladder, but that should be a good place to start.

6. SCREW Now to fix them to the braces, you will either use screws with a drill or wood glue, nails and a hammer. For power tool users, carefully place the slat on top of the brace and center a screw in the short end of the slat. I give the screw a good whack with my hammer to hold it in place and then press firmly down on the drill while you slowly screw it in. To use the nails and hammer method, just squeeze a small amount of glue on one side of the slat and place it on the brace, then hammer in one nail on each end of the slat. Repeat for both sides of each slat. Shelves, done!

7. LEVEL Now to address the possible not-so-level shelves. My solution was to shim up the low side with a scrap piece of lumber, gluing it to the brace in each corner. I measured this with a ruler while resting a level on the shelf. Have a better solution? Please share it in the comments! 

A wee bit slanty there, eh?

A wee bit slanty there, eh?

8. PAINT The fun part is the painting! To keep the shelves removable, I painted them separately on all sides, same with the ladder. Always be sure to paint in a well-ventilated area and use drop cloths. 

This is definitely a more advanced craft project then I have posted here before, but very rewarding! I can't wait to cover it with pumpkins for fall and twinkle lights for the winter. It will also come in handy for the smaller plants & found objects I would love to display outside, but get lost on the porch. It's all about levels, people.

Budget Breakdown

Ladder                                      $15-20 on Craigslist

2- 1"x4"x6' pine boards      $4.99 ea

2- 1"x2"x6' pine boards      $1.70 ea

Fine-grit sandpaper             $5.95

Exterior paint  1/2pint          $11.99

1-lb 1.25" screws                   $6.99 (2" nails are less, around 4.99/lb)

This all assumes you have or can borrow the other tools mentioned in the supplies section. It turns out that borrowing tools is a great way to meet your neighbors or spend time with tool-owning friends or family! 


I also learned that someone should make power tools that are made for smaller hands that are NOT pink. Good grief. Just because I have tiny lady hands does not mean I want pink novelty power tools, as it turns out. 


Hope you guys enjoyed this High Voltage addition of Betty! Show off  your latest power tool project with #bettybetatesterAs always, I'd love your comments, questions and suggestions either below or at