How to build a ladder shelf

Updated March 23, 2017

A ladder shelf is an angled shelf that can be used to hold books, office supplies or curios. It is a modern approach to the basic structured shelf. A ladder shelf appears to be leaning up against the wall, while the shelves increase in size from top to bottom. A ladder shelf is ideal for items that vary greatly in size. You can build and assemble a ladder shelf at home using items and supplies from a local hardware store.

Use a measuring tape to determine the overall height, length and depth of the ladder shelf. The depth measurements should be the deepest shelf measurement.

Draw the shelves for the unit on plywood with a pencil and a ruler. Draw the bottom shelf with the length and depth measurement collected in the previous step. Draw the additional shelves, making each shelf 1/2 inch smaller in depth, but with the same length measurements.

Draw on the plywood the two side pieces that will support the ladder shelves. Both pieces should be an L-shape against the wall, where the wall side is as high as the height measurement collected in Step 1 and the floor side of the L-shape is as long as the depth measurement collected in Step 1. Connect the ends of the L-shape to make a triangle for both side pieces.

Cut both side pieces and each shelf out with a jigsaw. Sandpaper the edges and surfaces clean for splinters.

Place one of the side pieces down on a flat surface. Use the measuring tape to make 1/2-inch spaces to indicate where shelves will be attached starting from the bottom going up. Use the shelves as guidance when making the 1/2-inch spaces. Make identical lines on the secondary side piece.

Drill two holes in each of the 1/2-inch spaces on both side pieces. The holes will be used to connect the shelves to the side pieces.

Connect the bottom shelf to one of the side pieces by lining up the shelf to the 1/2-inch space drawn on the side piece. The side piece and the shelves should be perpendicular to one another. Attach the two, using screws and the screwdriver. Connect all of the shelves to one side piece first in the same manner.

Line the second side piece up to the opposite end of the original side piece. Connect the side piece to the ends of the shelves using the drilled holes, screws and the screwdriver.

Paint or stain the entire ladder shelf, if desired. Let the shelf dry before continuing.

Attach the self-adhesive foam grips to the bottom of the side pieces to ensure the ladder shelf stays in place.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Large piece of 1/2-inch plywood for the shelves
  • Framing square
  • Sandpaper
  • Jigsaw
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Screws
  • Wood stain or paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Self-adhesive foam grips
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About the Author

Based in Toronto, Mary Jane has been writing for online magazines and databases since 2002. Her articles have appeared on the Simon & Schuster website and she received an editor's choice award in 2009. She holds a Master of Arts in psychology of language use from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.