How to Build a Ladder – Home Projects

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The preparation and putting together of the parts of a ladder having round, tapered rungs let into holes in the two sides is beyond the capacity of the average young amateur; but little skill is needed to manufacture a very fairly efficient substitute for the professionally-built article — to wit, a ladder of the kind to which builders apply the somewhat disparaging adjective “duck.”
The rungs of such a “duck” ladder are merely nailed to the outside if the ladder is required for temporary purposes only; but as we are of course aiming at the construction of a thing made to last, we shall go to the trouble of “notching-in” each rung, so that the sides shall take the weight directly, and the nails only have to keep the rungs firmly in position. The objection to notching-in is that it reduces the strength of the ladder, which is of course only that of the wood between the bottom of the notches and the plain side. Therefore it is necessary to have sides somewhat deeper than would be required for a centrally-runged ladder; which is pierced where the wood is subjected to little tension or compression.
House ladder and details of letting in a rung.


The length of the ladder will decide what the stoutness of the sides should be. For a ladder about 12 feet long, such as we propose to describe, larch battens 3 by 1-1/8 inches (actual) in section and free from knots, especially at the edges, will be sufficiently strong to carry all reasonable weights without danger of collapse. But be sure to get the best wood obtainable. The rungs may be of 2 by 1 inch stuff, though 2 by 3/4 inch will suffice for the upper half-dozen, which have less wear, and are shorter than those below.
The rungs are 10 inches apart (Fig), centre to centre. The distance may be increased to a foot, Or even more if weight-saving is an object.


Preparing the Sides
These are cut to exactly the same length, which we will assume to be 11 feet 6 inches, planed quite smooth and rounded off slightly at the corners to make handling comfortable. Before marking them for the rungs it is important that they shall be so arranged that both incline equally towards a centre line.
Stretch a string tightly three inches above the ground, and lay the sides of the ladder on edge to right and left of it, their ends level. Adjust the bottom ends 8-1/2, the top ends 6-1/2 inches from the string, measuring from the outside. Tack on cross pieces to prevent shifting, and then, starting from the bottom, make a mark every 10 inches on the outside corners, to show the position of the tops of the rungs. A piece of the wood to be used for making the rungs of is laid up to the pairs of marks in turn, and lines are drawn on both sides of it.
Cutting the Notches. — The work of marking the ends of the notches will be quickened, and rendered more accurate, if a template (Fig. 10) is cut out of tin. The side AC is 3/8 to 1/2 inch deep. Apply the template to both faces of the side in turn, with its corner A at the line below the rung, and DE flush with the upper corner. When all the notches have been marked cut down the AC line of each with a tenon saw, and chisel along BC till the wedge-shaped chip is removed. Finish off every notch as neatly as possible, so that the rungs may make close contact and keep water out.
Preparing the Rungs. — Lay a piece of rung batten across the lowest notches, the end overhanging the side by a quarter of an inch or so to allow for the taper of the ladder, and draw your pencil along the angles which it makes with the sides. Mark the positions of the nail holes. Cut off the rung at the cross lines; drill the four nail holes on the skew, as shown in Fig. 10; and round off all the corners. The other rungs are treated in the same manner, and the sides are then separated, for the inside top corner and both back corners, which will be handled most, to be well rounded off and rubbed smooth with glass paper.
Assembling. — Before putting the parts together give them a coating of paint, as the contact surfaces will not be accessible to the brush afterwards. When the paint has dried, lay the sides out as before, and nail on the rungs with 3-inch nails. To counteract any tendency of the sides to draw apart, a light cross bar should be fixed on the back of the ladder behind the top and bottom rungs.
Round off the end angles of the rungs, and apply a second coating of paint.

Note. — A ladder of this kind is given a more presentable appearance if the rungs are let in square to the sides and flush, but at the sacrifice either of strength or lightness, unless narrow rungs of a hard wood, such as oak, be used. Moreover, square notches are not so easy to cut out as triangular.
For a short ladder, not more than 9 feet long, the section of the sides may safely be reduced to 2-3/4 by 1 inch (actual), if good material is selected.

Excerpt from the book:
Things To Make
by Archibald Williams
Published – 1918