How to Build a Ladder Shelf

A ladder shelf is an attractive addition to any home, adding both form and function to your living space - and it's easy to build with a few supplies and your air compressor. Follow our step-by-step directions to update your home decor and storage options in an afternoon. 

First, using the table saw, cut down shelves from the MDF to the following sizes: 1x71/2x20, 1x9x20, 1x10x20, 1x12.20, and 1x14x20.

Next, you'll need to cut an angle in the top side of the 1x4 side rails that will hit lean against the wall. First measure ½” in and 10” down, and draw the angled line using a pencil. Then cut with the table saw.  Do this to all four 1x4 pieces. 

Using the miter saw, cut a seven-degree angle tapering away from the bottom of the back of the side rails (the side that faces the wall), making sure they are all the same height in the end. This is to allow the ladder shelf to rest flat against the floor. 

Next you'll create the inside supports for the shelves, using two of your 1x4 side rails. You'll use the same seven-degree angle to make these cuts: one five-inch piece and four 12-inch pieces. The top piece of the inside rail will then need to be cut down to the proper length to align with the outside rail piece. 

Sand all cuts to remove any roughness.

Cut a scrap piece of the MDF to represent the thickness of the shelves - these will be spacer blocks used to assemble the shelf. They don’t need to be large pieces.

Next you'll assemble the shelves. Start by laying the side rails down, making sure you have a right and a left rail.

Then place the inside pieces down on the rail, using the MDF spacer blocks between each piece. Start with the five-inch rail at the bottom, clamp into place, and place a spacer block. Then place a a 12-inch rail piece down. Repeat all the way up the rail, making a space for each shelf to slide in once the rails are all glued and nailed in place. Clamp the top piece of the rail into place, sandwiching all the other pieces in place keeping them from moving.

To attach the inside rail pieces to the outside rail pieces, put wood glue on each side of the rail, use your finger to smooth out. Using the brad nailer, nail into place. Do this with each piece, working your way up the side rail. Do this with each of the two side rails.

Next, slide the shelves into place. The bottom three shelves will be centered on the rail, and the top two will be a little offset towards the back.

Using the brad nailer, place two nails through the side rail, nailing the shelf into place.

To customzie your ladder shelf, spray with primer using the paint gun. Allow to dry.

Finally, paint the ladder shelf your desired color using the paint gun, and allow to dry before placing in desired location.