Group 6 2 minutes Read

loft ladder design

Lauren Zerbey

One of the last big projects to tackle on the 2010 list is the loft ladder. We always knew that this would be a custom piece – not only does it have to be a precise length and angle, but it also has to serve as a guardrail at the top and bottom. 

The ladder is also the first thing you see when you walk in the door, so it has to be awesome. Naturally.

We also knew that in order to be awesome, it should probably be a combination of steel and wood. We’ve been toying around with the design for the last couple of weeks and have landed on an assembly of various steel shapes (welded together), with fir wood for the treads and handrail.

As the ladder extends into the loft, the handrail goes vertical and becomes the guardrail for the lightwell below. The horizontal members here would also be a good place for apprehensive ladder climbers to grab on to. The wood treads are notched and fastened through the underside of the recessed steel plate.

Here’s a SketchUp mock-up of the whole assembly. Since we don’t have welding equipment (yet), we’re talking to a few local companies that could do the steel work and then we’d do the wood portion. Truthfully, I think Kyle is trying to decide if he wants to spend the next couple of months learning how to weld or enjoy not spending every free minute working on the house.

Here is a detail of the top of the stair portion – the tube steel stringers are welded to a vertical plate which gets lag screwed to a glulam beam (now covered in drywall).

The handrail would be comprised of steel bar (welded to the tube steel stringer) with a fir handrail, notched to accept the steel bar. We like the expression of the wood and steel, plus the wood is more comfortable to the touch and occurs where your hand would naturally go as you climb up the ladder.

At the bottom of the ladder, the tube steel is welded to a steel angle that gets lag screwed to the structure below and covers the edge of the cork flooring. The round bars between the treads serve as a guardrail at the bottom of the stair. (Residential building codes require a spacing tight enough that a 4″ sphere can’t pass through.) The steel tab on the left serves as a guide for the barn doors to slide by.

We also talked about doing a ship ladder (with alternating treads), but we like the relative simplicity of single treads. We’re also not sure if we would use blackened steel or have it powder-coated (maybe a dark gray). We don’t really have any other dark steel work in the house, but I think that’s ok. We’ve also gone back and forth about the finish on the barn door track and if it should match the ladder. The track comes in a galvanized (hot dipped, not electroplated) finish, which doesn’t look too bad, especially after cleaning it up a bit.

A new loft ladder will also be good motivation to actually finish the loft. After painting the rest of the main floor, I only had enough sanity to get the space primed and since then – out of sight, out of mind. I’m sure by February or so I’ll have forgotten the torture that is painting a sloped surface at awkward angles.