D.I.Y. decorative vintage ladder

Michelle, Team member
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D.I.Y. decorative vintage ladder

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Project Overview

This vintage hanging ladder is perfect for hanging scarves, blankets, magazines, or anything you like. It also makes a great design feature that’ll add a touch of old-world charm to your home.  Continue to step-by-step instructions
predetermined drill depth
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How to drill to a certain depth

If you want to match the length of a fixing or avoid drilling through to the other side, here’s an easy way to get the hole depth right every time. Take your fixing and line it up with your drill bit. Wrap masking tape around the bit to mark the length of the fixing. Then drill until your masking tape marker is flush with the surface.

Step by Step Instructions

1 Sand the timber
2 Cut the timber
3 Rip the timber
4 Measure and mark for the holes
5 Drill the holes for the rungs
6 Cut the dowel
7 Distress the timber
8 Assemble the ladder
9 Putty up the ladder
10 Stain the ladder
11 Create burn marks
12 Wax the ladder
13 Apply Spakfilla
14 Apply more stain
15 Put it in place
  • Step 1. Sand the timber

    Start by removing the stamps or branding on the timber. Use a belt sander or orbital sander with a coarse grade sandpaper such as 40 or 80 grit. You don’t have to remove all of the stamp and you can be as rough as you like with the sander.

  • Step 2. Cut the timber

    You can make the ladder whatever height you want. We cut our Tasmanian Oak to 1500mm x 2 (for the side rails) and our dowel (for the rungs) to 300mm x 5.

  • Step 3. Rip the timber

    Because most vintage ladders have thin sides, we want to rip the timber to create that aged look. We ripped our timber so that it’s 50mm wide. Measure and mark the timber to 50mm. Clamp the timber to the workbench and use the circular saw to rip the timber.

  • Step 4. Measure and mark for the holes

    Measure and mark for the rung holes. We had five rungs which were placed 325mm, centre to centre apart, with 100mm at the top and bottom of the ladder. You can put your rungs where you like, they just need to be evenly spaced.

  • Step 5. Drill the holes for the rungs

    Once you’ve marked the holes, use a 35mm spade bit to drill the holes for the dowel rungs. Don’t drill too deep, just enough to hold each rung. A handy tip is to wrap tape around the drill bit as a guide to the depth. We drilled ours to a depth of 10mm. The drill holes need to be the same on both sides to ensure the ladder stands straight when it’s put together.

  • Step 6. Cut the dowel

    Now it’s time to measure, mark and cut the dowel. Our rungs were 300mm long, but you can make yours any length you like. Use the drop saw to cut the five pieces of dowel to size. 

  • Step 7. Distress the timber

    Now comes the fun part – it’s time to distress the timber. We wanted our vintage ladder to look like it had been handmade a very long time ago. Use whatever tools you have to attack the timber, the rougher the better. We started by tapering the ends of the dowel with a utility knife. Then we used a rasp to add to the distressed look. Make the centre part of the rung look worn down and well used with a belt sander. You can also hand sand using 120 grit sandpaper to add more flat spots on the rung. Continue the distressing process on the sides of the ladder. Use the belt sander with 40 and 80 grit sandpaper to smooth the edges. To add authenticity, drill a 12mm hole in the top of each side. You can also use a utility knife to scrape the top, so the timber looks like it’s been split.

  • Step 8. Assemble the ladder

    Now it’s time to assemble the ladder. Assembling is a little tricky, so you might need an extra pair of hands for this. Put wood glue into the drilled holes, then put the rungs into the holes. Wipe away excess glue as you go, or leave it on to add to the vintage look. Use the 75mm bullet nails to secure the rungs. To make it easier, pre-drill some of the holes with a 3mm bit before nailing. For a more authentic look, hammer some nails in so that the rung is secure and then bend them over, so it looks like an old repair job.

  • Step 9. Putty up the ladder

    Once you’ve finished making marks in the ladder, putty up the major indents. Don’t fill the holes too full. Let the putty dry, before giving it a light sand. Old ladders are often smooth and worn, and this is the desired effect. Also wipe away any dust.

  • Step 10. Stain the ladder

    You can use whatever stain you have for your ladder. Wipe it on with a rag. It doesn’t have to be an even coat or look perfect. Once you’re happy with the look, let it dry.

  • Step 11. Create burn marks

    Use a heat gun to create burn marks on the timber. Use it on any indents, where holes have been drilled or at the joins where the rungs join the sides.

  • Step 12. Wax the ladder

    Use a rag to apply wax to the ladder, and leave it to dry. This will bring out the colour and texture of the wood.

  • Step 13. Apply Spakfilla

    Apply Spakfilla into any indents in the wood. Let it dry and then give it a light sand. This creates the effect of looking like dried on paint from decades ago.

  • Step 14. Apply more stain

    Use a rag to apply another coat of stain and leave to dry. This will help give the Spakfilla more of an authentic aged look.

  • Step 15. Put it in place

    Now you can display your vintage hanging ladder to add a real touch of yesteryear. Hang whatever you like on it – blankets, scarves or anything else you like. 

Tools and Materials


  • Bastard files
  • Bastard rasp
  • Belt sander
  • Chisel
  • Circular saw
  • Combination square
  • Cordless drill
  • 3mm bit
  • Impact driver
  • 35mm and 12mm spade bits
  • Drop saw
  • Earmuffs
  • Hammer
  • Handsaw
  • Heat gun
  • Measuring tape
  • Orbital sander
  • Paint stirrer
  • Pencil
  • Putty knife
  • Ruler
  • Safety glasses
  • Something to create a distressed finish (like a wire brush, handsaw, old paint brush, steel wool, abrasives, files, sanders)
  • Tin opener
  • Utility knife
  • Work gloves


  • 90mm x 35mm x 3m oak
  • 2400mm x 35mm oak dowel
  • 75mm galvanised bullet head nails
  • Multipurpose filler
  • PVA or wood glue
  • Paint, stain or varnish
  • Putty
  • Rags
  • 120 grit, 80 grit and 40 grit sandpaper
  • Steel wool

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