How to Make a Rustic Ladder to Hang Towels/Blankets

27 Feb

This may be one of my favorite DIY projects yet. Super cheap (less than $20), pretty simple and a result that is not only functional but makes a big statement in the room.

Here was my inspiration for the ladder found on Pinterest, originally from Better Homes & Gardens.

bathroom ladder

And here is our DIY-version in the newly remodeled guest bathroom (sharing big bathroom reveal later this week). Update: Bathroom revealed here!

How to Build a Rustic, Weathered Ladder for Towels or Blankets

Not only does it work great for towels, but I’ve seen ladders used to hang blankets in living rooms and I love that use too.

So if you are wondering how to make one of your own, here is a step by step, including  giving it the weathered, rustic look.

Step 1. Get all your materials

You will need to gather/purchase the following materials that should be around $20 or less. We had everything but the lumber on hand so ours was $16.

  • 3- 4ft 1″ diameter pine dowel rods (ours were less than $4/each from Home Depot)
  • 2- 8 ft 2″x3″ pine studs (ours were less than $2/each)
  • Wood glue
  • Sand paper

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To make the weathering solution you’ll need:

  • Very fine steel wool
  • Vinegar
  • Black tea
  • Empty glass jar/lid

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Step 2. Make weathering solution 24 hours before.

Take a handful of very fine steel wool and mix with vinegar in a glass jar. The steel wool will start to dissolve but won’t dissolve completely. Wait at least 24 hours before applying to your wood.

Step 3. Make your cuts.

We cut the dowel rods into 5-16″ long rungs and cut down the 2x3s to 6 feet long.

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Step 4. Sand your wood.

We used an electric hand sander but you could also do it by hand.

Step 5. Mark sides for holes.

We started our first hole 2.5″ from the bottom and then spaced them 13.5″ apart from the centers. Make sure your marks align perfectly on both sides.

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Step 6. Drill 1″ wide holes that are 1/2″ deep. 

We placed a piece of tape 1/2″ up the drill bit to know how deep to go. Also go over holes with a light sand to smooth out rough edges.

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Step 7. Sand down edges of your rungs to ensure they will fit into the holes. 

Step 8. Fill one side of holes with wood glue and place rungs in.

IMG_2582Step 9. Put glue on other side of rungs and place side onto rungs.

IMG_2586Step 10. Attach clamps for at least 2 hours to dry. Wipe up all access glue.

IMG_2588Step 11. Brew some very strong tea and brush it on your ladder. Apparently the tea releases tannins in the wood which allows it to oxidize from the vinegar/steel wool. We coated ours with tea twice, letting it dry in between coats and before the next step.

IMG_2594Step 12. Your final step! Brush on your vinegar/steel wool solution. It will start to turn the wood darker as soon as you brush it on and within an hour or so will be completely weathered.

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I couldn’t believe how well the weathering process worked and without buying expensive stains or paints. Just household items.

What do you think? Worth $20 and a couple hours of time? I’d say so.

78 Responses to “How to Make a Rustic Ladder to Hang Towels/Blankets”

  1. Michelle via Iron & Twine February 27, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    Hi, Amanda!
    We LOVE this ~ and I can’t believe you used a simple tea solution for the stain! The weathered look turned out great! We’re a huge fan of vintage ladders, but the good ones can cost a small fortune ~ I’m thinking this will be an awesome diy instead!! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • 12oaksblog February 27, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

      Yes I looked on Craigslist and a few places and they were $80+ dollars. DIY is the way to go for sure! Thanks!

  2. onthistrail February 27, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    I love this ladder – great job! I like that you were able to do it on the cheap and with household items. I may need to use your tutorial for the next Pinterest Challenge.

    • 12oaksblog February 27, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

      Thanks so much! Would love to see your version on it if you do it too!

  3. Megan February 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    This is so cool and I can’t believe it was only $20!! Thanks for linking up!! Pinning this!

    • 12oaksblog February 27, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

      I know, right? Can’t beat the price. Thanks so much Megan!

  4. Kathleen @ projects at the pickett's February 27, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    I’ve seen these all over pinterest and I’m in love. Thanks for posting such an easy tutorial to follow 🙂

    • 12oaksblog February 27, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

      Good luck Kathleen! Thanks for visiting.

      • Leslie Butler January 19, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

        Hi Amanda! I found your post and and I LOVE the ladder! Have just followed your steps and patiently waiting for the vinegar/steal wool to be ready to use. My steal wool doesnt really seem to be disolving and I am just 6 hours shy of 24 hours. Used the exact brand as yours so wondering if this is a problem. Thoughts??

      • 12oaksblog January 19, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

        Hi Leslie- Sorry to hear you are having an issue, did you use just a small amount of the steel wool? Has the vinegar turned color? You might just need to give it some more time.

      • Leslie January 19, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

        My husband had me put in a “pad” of the steel wool which I thought might be a bit much BUT it is what “we” put in. I used apple cider vinegar so it is a little difficult for me to tell if the color has turned. It doesnt look as dark as yours though.

      • 12oaksblog January 19, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

        Did you use the fine steel wool like I showed? Then you break it up so its not in a big pad or clump.

      • Leslie January 19, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

        Yep – used the steal wool pictured but I wonder if I didnt break it up enough. I will go try that and then wait another 24 hours if you think that would help.

      • 12oaksblog January 19, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

        Yeah try to really pull it apart. Hope it works better for you this time.

  5. Kelly @ A Swell Place to Dwell February 27, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    I so wish I had a bathroom big enough for this! Our bathrooms right now would result in having to side step the ladder to pee. BUT…I am totally pinning for future spaces….or maybe in the living room for blankets. Thanks for the detailed instructions.

    • 12oaksblog February 27, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

      Yes I would totally do it in the living room for blankets! We were lucky to have the perfect spot for it in our bathroom.

  6. Dory March 4, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

    Great job! We have an old bunk bed ladder that we found from the old owners of our house in the attic. We will have to do this for blankets or towels.

  7. Amanda April 2, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    My husband and I will be doing this project this weekend! We’ve had all the local antique shops on the look out for a year! And I even like this one better – THANKS!

    • 12oaksblog April 2, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

      Great to hear Amanda. Hope you love it as much as we love ours. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  8. Janet July 10, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I love your steps for creating a towel ladder. I’ve been looking on-line for a towel ladder and can’t find one for the right size and I came across your pin. So, this seems a lot cheaper and I can get exactly the size i want!! I plan to tackling this project in the upcoming weekends and had a question for you. I like the idea of using tea and vinegar instead of a stain purchased from the store. I was just curious if you’ve had any problems with the tea stain fading onto your towels? I plan to use this towel ladder as my main towel rack so will be placing damp towels on it and wasn’t sure if you had experience with the tea stain color transferring to the towels? Wasn’t sure if you would recommend sealing the wood? i can’t wait to create my own towel ladder!

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts and sharing your experience!

    • 12oaksblog July 11, 2013 at 8:13 am #

      Hi Janet- So glad you are going to make this. My towels haven’t been stained but I haven’t been hanging damp towels on it either so you might be better safe than sorry and seal it. Would be curious how it works out for you. Good luck!

    • 12oaksblog July 11, 2013 at 8:19 am #

      Oh and I would do a test on a piece of scrap wood to make sure the sealer doesn’t affect the finish of the tea/vinegar.

      • Janet July 11, 2013 at 8:41 am #

        Thanks, will defeinitely let you know how it turns out!

  9. Nicole August 31, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    Is regular vinegar ok or does it have to be apple cider vinegar?

    Thank you!

  10. Heather Inspired September 23, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    Your ladder looks great and perfect as a towel holder! Thanks for your tutorial and I’ve got this linked to my DIY towel racks post too today!

  11. bleudeciel January 17, 2014 at 3:14 am #

    Beautiful idea! Did you use something to stick the ladder on the floor to prevent from falling?

    • 12oaksblog January 17, 2014 at 8:02 am #

      It’s just resting there for now but we will probably have to anchor it to the wall once we have the baby.

  12. Debi June 5, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    Love Love Love it!!! I plan to make one this weekend!! Did you cut the bottoms at an angle so it tilted straight back? If so, what was the angle you used? Thanks for the pin!

    • 12oaksblog June 5, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

      Nope the bottom is straight and it just leans up against the wall. Good luck!

  13. Wanda June 25, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Going to try this. Looks awesome! Can you tell me about how much vinegar to use with the handful of fine steel wool. Also any type of tea, and how many bags did you use to get the dark tea

    • 12oaksblog June 26, 2014 at 7:16 am #

      I think we just filled up the jar shown. About 5-6 tea bags. Good luck!

  14. Aaron August 12, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    Hi. I noticed that you’ve hung white towel on it. Have you had any issues with the colour on the ladder staining the towels?

    • 12oaksblog August 12, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

      Nope not at all!

      • Aaron August 12, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

        Thank you.

      • 12oaksblog August 12, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

        I don’t put wet towels on it though.

    • Aaron August 12, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

      Oops. Just saw Janet’s post. Would like to know what she used to seal it and how it worked out for her. It’s likely there will be wet towels on my rack.

  15. Nikki June 21, 2015 at 4:16 am #

    Hi there, I’m not sure if your see this comment as its so long after your post. I’m used to the metric system (m and cm) and I just can’t figure out your measurements… what is 2- 8 ft? is it 2 and an eighth?
    I’m specifically struggling to figure out how long each of the rungs should be
    Thanks!

    • 12oaksblog June 21, 2015 at 8:37 am #

      Rungs are 16″. The 2-8 ft was meaning two 8 footers of the studs.

      • Nikki June 21, 2015 at 9:29 am #

        Ah, thanks so much. I’m really looking forward to trying it out. This is the best towel ladder I’ve found so far!

      • 12oaksblog June 21, 2015 at 9:30 am #

        No problem good luck!

  16. Andrea August 31, 2015 at 11:15 am #

    HI Ben and Amanda,
    I used to work for PB and always wanted to have a ladder for my throws.
    Thank you so much for sharing all the details about this ladder, I just finished mine and Im loving it
    The only think I changed was instead of starting the first hole at 2.5″ I started at 5″ but the rest is the same, again Thank you !!!!!!!!!!!
    I dont know how to post a picture here =( Otherwise ill post it .

  17. Glenn October 30, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    Looks very nice. I wondered if the ladder is secured to the wall in any way and if you cut the boards on the bottom to let it be more stable?

    • 12oaksblog October 30, 2015 at 1:54 pm #

      It is not secured and the bottom isn’t cut but it is very stable.

  18. andersjenera January 19, 2016 at 10:10 pm #

    im sure you’ll build it yourself. I made it 2 weeks ago thanks to woodprix website.

  19. Sandy Putnam April 20, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

    Using your tutorial to make mine right now. Few changes: I offset the rungs slightly, front to back, bottom to top – to help ensure the hung towels would not overlap (and also allow to not have to set the ladder out from the wall as far, in our small space). Also, made our rungs slightly shorter as you go up the ladder, tapering the boxy look a bit. Finally, I have plans for a tiny step stool from the scraps. 🙂

    • 12oaksblog April 20, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

      Very cool!

  20. Simple Shapes Wall Designs July 21, 2016 at 11:41 am #

    This looks easy to make your own ladder. I am sharing this to Pinterest.

  21. Simple Shapes Wall Designs July 21, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    Looks great! Such an easy way to make a ladder. I am sharing this to Pinterest.

    • Mics August 5, 2016 at 11:35 am #

      I cleaned out our two car garage and realized we had a few ladders that needed upcycling so today I plan to upcycle a 6ft. ladder into a towel rack for our pool I am not sure if I need to weatherize it or not or just a good coat of varnish will work. Could you also recommend a way to keep the ladder from falling down, I do not want to nail it to our deck or siding, and the ladder does not have feet. Your idea is exactly what I had in mind. Thanks

      • 12oaksblog August 5, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

        Ours just rests against the wall and doesn’t fall. It’s not a high traffic area though.

  22. Mics August 5, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    So any recommendations? I plan to have it up in a corner of the deck but pulling towels off and all the walking may cause it to slip any thoughts?

    • 12oaksblog August 5, 2016 at 4:44 pm #

      I think you would have to secure it to the siding with brackets. You could try without to see if it slips first though.

      • Julie August 29, 2016 at 8:22 am #

        What type and size drill bit did you use? I am new to this and really want to try my first DIY.

  23. Alex September 26, 2016 at 4:29 am #

    After finishing this project, I noticed there was a powdery residue after the vinegar/steel wool solution dried..is there a final prep piece that would clean this off the ladder..or wax Polish I should use

    • 12oaksblog September 26, 2016 at 6:32 am #

      Im sorry I didn’t run into that problem. Maybe just wipe it down with a wet rag?

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