The bookshelf itself needed to be functional but structurally strong enough to hold the ladder weight and the weight of the kids and my husband and myself. I am no great craftsman so for the bookshelf construction I turned to a local family who specializes in this sort of thing-"Generations Cabinetry." (They are not on the web! If you are in the Southwest Wyoming area call Bruce at 307-679-0122) They put up with me and my crazy ideas and built us an amazing set of shelves & cabinets that are also our main entry into the kids' loft.
(Side note: Even though our bookshelves were custom made, I think these simple ideas for building and securing a library ladder could work for most bookshelves!)
I told them I would deal with the hardware and ladder myself and so this blog is about how I did just that with recycled lumber and some inexpensive hardware. (My husband and I made the pulls on the cabinet doors on our bookshelves out of discarded railroad spikes. To see how, go to my post on railroad spike cabinet pulls )
1st I realized that my ideal ladder on wheels idea needed to be re-examined- I needed a ladder that was less moveable so nobody would get pushed for a wild ride while trying to climb up! (I know my kids.) I did want to be able to re-position the ladder though, just not while someone was climbing on it. (Out go the industrial strength wheels and rollers!) Hmmm. I decided that I needed a metal pipe or runner of some kind to hold my ladder just far enough away from the wooden bookshelf to not scuff it while allowing some limited movement of the ladder from one side to the other. I chose some simple screw-in bookshelf supports and a decorative curtain rod that adjusted to the width of my bookshelf. My husband and I wanted to make sure that the curtain rod was sufficiently strong so we pulled it open, measured the inside diameter and purchased a smaller metal rod to go inside and add more core strength. (A regular metal pipe or conduit would've worked fine with little or no re-enforcing required, but we wanted some fancy end caps and found that curtain rods had more selection on that score.)
3rd With the rod in place and secured to the bookshelf it was time to work on the ladder itself. I took some measurements and drew up my plans based on what I thought would be ideal for this particular situation (and the materials that would be inexpensive or that I already had on hand). I needed some hooks now, instead of rollers, that would hold the ladder in place securely while someone was on the ladder but that would allow me to move and adjust the ladder when no one was on it. They needed to be strong enough and long enough to keep the ladder on the bar safely. I made my sketch and got to work!
I knew I had some lumber odds and ends so I planned accordingly. I also know that my childrens' little legs might have trouble with ladder rungs placed too far apart so I planned a ladder with rungs slightly closer and easier to navigate than a typical hardware store ladder.
5th I placed my long side pieces (called stringers) against the bookshelf at the angle/steepness I desired the ladder to be and used my tape measure and small level to get the steps at the correct angles and distances apart that I had chosen.
7th I decided to call up my cabinetry folks again and ask them for the color of stain they had used on my bookshelf so I could match it. I was going to try to router the edges of my steps as well as the stringers, stain and lacquer them up and then screw everything together. These kind folks, offered to router, stain and lacquer everything for me so that my ladder would "fit" the design and stain of the bookshelf exactly. They did a great job at a very affordable price and I was excited by the result-I've got to admit it was much better than my job would've been. (They even went so far as to give me an extra wooden rung or two just in case, and put it all together for me, minus the handrail that I was still working on.) Thanks Trevor and Bruce!
8th While my ladder was getting routered, stained and lacquered up, I turned my attention to my handrails, hooks and braces. I felt that a metal pipe for a handrail would be easier for little hands to hang onto than a 2x4 or 2x2. So I walked into my local hardware store and found 2 steel pipes about 10ft long and 3/4" in diameter. The ends of the pipe were sharp so I grabbed 4 rubber chair leg covers with the appropriate diameter so that they would fit snugly over the rough metal ends.
9th Next I picked up my ladder all stained and pretty and measured on my metal pipes where I wanted my handrails to fit.
10th Once my metal pipes had dried, I attached my handrails! I couldn't wait to see what the ladder would look like propped up against the bookshelf at this point so I hauled it upstairs and showed it off to my kids, nieces, nephews and my husband, who all tried it out. It was at that moment that my husband requested that the ladder be about 4-6" narrower and one more step added at the top of the ladder for the convenience of the little ones. So... back to work!
Just a quick side note here: to make the metal screw heads match my new black paint job, I used a black paint pen, but I have used a black marker before and had similar results.