Who doesn't love a ladder? I mean seriously, one of life's simple pleasures is climbing a ladder. I remember the excitement as a kid when Dad would bust out the ladder - you knew sh*t was going down, or up rather.
Reclaimed Oak and Powder Coated Steel Ladder, Encinitas CA
So recently when a client asked me to create a custom ladder for his beach house I was immediately intrigued. This ladder would be located in a loft style master bedroom as an access to the roof deck 15 feet above - so the piece would need to be both strong and handsome (like its maker! High five... no? **sigh**). I headed to the shop and got out my notebook.
Being located at the beach, I knew that a wood frame would need to be very bulky in order to withstand the harsh salt air, so I opted for a powder coated steel frame which would allow for a much sleeker design. Once that was decided, I realized that I could slightly overbuild the tread rungs and use them as a bulletproof substrate for a nice reclaimed wood tread. This would allow me to incorporate a beachy wood vibe without the drama of dealing with a wood joint (more about that below.)
But what about wet feet? Problem. That wouldn't be good on a slick piece of wood, I thought as I started welding the frame.
Video of Frame Welding
About an hour into the build I remembered the old wooden step ladder my mother kept next to the washer when I was young. It had simple dado cuts on the top of each tread that would give your foot traction. Bingo. This finalized the design. Excitement kicked in, speed welding commenced, frustration caused by stupid mistakes from speed welding took over. Tools were thrown. Lunch.
Welded Steel Frame Complete!
Hangry (Hungry + Angry) Welding Monster
After a bowl of beef stew I was a real person again, and quickly finished the frame. Next step was selecting the right wood for the treads. This was a no brainer. It needed to be straight, hard, and interesting to look at (**giggles**). Quarter sawn oak is altogether extremely hard, straight, and once finished has beautiful "rays" unlike most other species. I found some salvaged oak we had purchased from the south about a year ago and got to cutting. The table saw blade was overdue for sharpening and the cutting caused a bit of smoke - which, when cutting oak, always smells like popcorn. Snack.
Reclaimed Oak - With Dado Cuts For Tread
It was a saturday afternoon and during my snack break I received an urgent text message from my father explaining that I had not yet switched my defense on my fantasy football team. Panic.
I opened the football app on my phone, but as I had been listening to the new Phantogram album on repeat since I left the house - my phone sputtered and died. Crisis.
Luckily Maria had left the office computer on and after some debate I went with the Bills. Now that the frame was welded and the wood cut I quickly dry fit the pieces, painted and finished the frame and treads, and assembled the ladder. Done.
At this point I was a little late for a barbecue, so I packed my things and started shutting down the shop. As I was shutting off the lights I noticed that one the walls in the shop had an old unused bracket that jutted out about 6 inches from the wall. Ever get a new toy? Before I new what I was doing, the ladder was up against the wall and wedged between the ledge and the wall. Up I went.
Ladder Wedged Against Wall - Over 200lbs! Do Not Try At Home!!
Stay High As I Want To Be
I am always amazed at how seemingly innocuous items from the past make their way into the design ether. It's this phenomenon that has prompted me to slowly replace ordinary things (like crappy scissors, lamp cords, coasters etc...) with well designed and high quality alternatives. They also have the added benefit of lasting longer and working better. It's a way of life that has allowed me to appreciate ingenuity and see art in unexpected places. With that intention in mind I delivered the ladder to the house, watched the contractor install it, and received a happy handshake from our client.
Reclaimed Oak and Steel Ladder
EXTRA CREDIT -
Wood expands and contracts with heat and moisture changes which deteriorates the fibers in wood, which causes joints to fail. Coastal climates fluctuate rapidly, and combined with the salt in the air, accelerates the damage to the wood fibers.
Steel corrodes under these conditions as well, which is why steel must be powder coated to protect it from the elements. Powder coating is a process in which powdered enamel paint is electrically bonded to steel and then baked on at a high temperature to create a skin that forms around the metal.