OK to make a ladder out of 2 x 4s??

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Forum topic by Sillycat41 posted 05-26-2020 11:16 PM 815 views 0 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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8 posts in 588 days

05-26-2020 11:16 PM

I need to make some custom ladders for a access to certain areas around my house. I have been trying to find plans for making a ladder out of 2×4s but having no luck. I would think that 2×4s would be strong enough to support an average weight human. ;-) I was thinking about notching the long boards for each step to make it more secure and then adding screws. Does this plan sound doable? Would appreciate comments. Thanks.

22 replies so far

View corelz125's profile


3600 posts in 2193 days

#1 posted 05-26-2020 11:43 PM

I wouldn’t use a single 2×4 for everything. Either use a 4×4 or two 2×4’s nailed together for the side rails and a single 2×4 for the rungs.

View PBWilson1970's profile


220 posts in 610 days

#2 posted 05-27-2020 01:58 AM

Your design should work and I like the idea of notching the side rails and fitting in the rungs.

My only concern would be to really be careful about the grain in the rungs. Make sure that there are no large knots to weaken the rung or grain runout that could allow the rung to split and fail. 2×4s are pretty lousy these days and it will pay off if you choose sections carefully.

-- I love the smell of sawdust in the morning.

View Woodknack's profile


13584 posts in 3597 days

#3 posted 05-27-2020 02:05 AM

The design will be more important than thickness of the material. I would half lap and cross lap it together, simplest.

-- Rick M,

View fuigb's profile


596 posts in 4174 days

#4 posted 05-27-2020 02:07 AM

I’ve made loft bed ladders from 2×6 (stiles) and 2×4s (rails). Stiles are notched to accommodate the 2×4 rails, and these damn things feel as though they’ll carry 1,000 pounds without a problem.

On the other hand I’ve watched a succession of neighbors at a home across the way use a homemade POS from 1x and 2xs… ladder goes with the house it seems, and each owner has used this OSHA nightmare for holiday lights, gutters, etc. I keep offering each new owner that I’ll make them a proper ladder but they’ve all declined. God looks after fools and children and tenured English profs (current owner).

-- - Crud. Go tell your mother that I need a Band-aid.

View WoodenDreams's profile


1412 posts in 1127 days

#5 posted 05-27-2020 03:40 AM

you may need criss-cross supports to prevent leaning.

View Walker's profile


465 posts in 1689 days

#6 posted 05-27-2020 03:43 AM

@fuigb I had to check your profile to make sure you don’t live in my neighborhood…. I have a 2×4 ladder that came with the house.

It’s not notched or anything, just 2×4’s steps butt jointed to 2×4” rails and screwed in. (maybe nailed even?) It’s only 8 steps or so, I only use it to get on my 1 story detached garage to blow the leaves out of the gutter. Feels pretty solid, and I’m no stranger to working on ladders (was a roofer for a few years) but still makes me pause just a second every time I use it.

-- ~Walker

View Aaron312's profile


50 posts in 617 days

#7 posted 05-27-2020 03:58 AM

When I was growing up on the farm, we had a concrete “grainery” with a 30 ft tall inside vertical ladder made out of 1×4’s and 2×4’s with 2 rest platforms on the way up. It was permanently fastened to the structure and just nailed together. I climbed it many times as did my father. It was probably built in the 30’s or 40’s and the ladder was still solid when the building was torn down 10 yrs ago.

View LeeRoyMan's profile


2084 posts in 944 days

#8 posted 05-27-2020 04:06 AM

I wouldn’t over think it. Plenty of wood ladders to get your ideas from.

View Sillycat41's profile


8 posts in 588 days

#9 posted 05-27-2020 01:52 PM

Thanks for all the tips. I did read online that using Southern yellow pine would be best because of the excellent strength-to-weight ratio. Finding it might be problem. One ladder I want to make would only be 8 ft tall… not too far to fall if it breaks. ;-)

What if I used 2×4 for the rails and pipe for the steps? Any thought on that?

View JCamp's profile


1413 posts in 1767 days

#10 posted 05-27-2020 02:53 PM

About every building I’ve been in that had a loft had a 2×4 ladder. I do advise doubling the sides. And use good quality screws or big nails.
Also those ladders are usually heavy so if you are intending to move them much I’d suggest buying a lightweight option.
As for your comment of 8ft isn’t to far to fall…. I had a buddy whose mom was killed when she fell backwards off a 3 foot step ladder and hit her head on a table. Also know a older guy whos dad died when he fell off a 5 foot pump house….. and personally seen a older woman trip and fall face first into concrete and broke her nose and some teeth…..... all that to say the distance of the fall is mostly irrelevant but the conditions of the impact make all the difference

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View Woodknack's profile


13584 posts in 3597 days

#11 posted 05-27-2020 06:31 PM

An 8’ ladder properly made of 2×4s will be incredibly overbuilt, I wouldn’t worry about strength.

-- Rick M,

View squazo's profile


295 posts in 2862 days

#12 posted 05-27-2020 06:43 PM

View splintergroup's profile


5749 posts in 2439 days

#13 posted 05-27-2020 07:49 PM

The racking issue is what I personally would worry about. If it happens, the entire ladder could come apart.

I think the idea of shallow dados to take the end of the 2×4 steps is good thinking, but I’d begin with some structural cross bracing at the bottom. The dados would keep the steps from twisting.

Screws into each step through the sides will secure things, but screws can easily pull out when driven into end grain. A better way would be to run all-thread underneath (or into a shallow groove on each step for a cleaner look). The all-thread would run across from/to the outside of each rail and be secured with washers/nuts with the threads buggerd to keep the nuts from loosening.

View ClayandNancy's profile


532 posts in 4232 days

#14 posted 05-27-2020 09:08 PM

You could add a couple threaded rods under a couple steps to reinforce possible separation of the sides. definitely cross braces for racking.

View JohnDon's profile


181 posts in 2386 days

#15 posted 05-27-2020 10:36 PM

A few plywood gussets on the back side would help a lot with racking.

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