Monday, September 14, 2009

Building a Rope Ladder

In my last blog post, Tree climbing part III, I demonstrated how I use a rope ladder to get to my My Tree House. In this post I will show you how to build one. Building a rope ladder may look hard, but it’s actually a lot of fun. Before we start, here is just a quick safety reminder: since we are going to use different tools (including power tools), you should always have an experienced adult to help you (again, you can borrow my dad if you’d like). You should also wear protective gear like work gloves and safety goggles at all times.

Roe Ladder Plans  - Sheva Apelbaum

The steps of a rope ladder (called rungs) can be made out of different types of materials like wood, aluminum, or plastic. The cord used to connect the rungs can be made out of natural materials (like manila or hemp), nylon rope, or metal wire. I used the following materials and tools which you can easily get at Home Depot or any other building supply store:

  • 15 14” x 1¼” oak dowels
  • 100‘ x ½“ 3-strand nylon rope
  • A spool of lashing string
  • 50 1¾” brass wood screws
  • Paint brush, stain and lacquer
  • Wood saw
  • Sand paper
  • Pencil
  • Measuring tape
  • Drill Press with a ½ “ bit
  • Electric drill with a 1/8” counter sink drill bit
  • Screwdriver

Making the Rungs
To make each rung, I used the saw to cut off a 14” section from the 1 ¼” 4’ dowel rod. I then took the 14” rung and marked the spots for the rope holes 1” from each end (see illustration). Next, I placed the rung in a vice and drilled the holes using a bench press drill. When drilling these holes, I used a Fostner bit, because this type of bit makes a clean cut and can easily penetrate the hard oak wood.

Rope Ladder Part-1 - Sheva Apelbaum

After the two rope holes were done, I pre-drilled two screw holes on each end of the rung. For making these 2 holes, I used a combination counter sink and drill bit. My dad said that making a countersink hole will make the screw flush with the surface of the wood, which would make the ladder safer to use.

Rope Ladder Part-2 - Sheva Apelbaum

Preparing the Rope
To prepare the rope, I first tied it across the room (two parallel ropes side by side). I then started whipping each of the two ropes at 14” increments making each whipping 1¼” long. A “whip” is a type of a know, but it is a little difficult to explain how to whip a rope, so instead I recommend you check out your local public library for a book about knots or some other on-line resources. My favorite book is The Ashley Book of Knots. If you can get a copy of it, look at pages 546-547.

To assemble, I stared by pulling both ropes through each one of the two holes in the rung (one rope per hole), lining up the whipped sections with the hole so they didn’t protrude. I inserted a brass screw (brass is rust proof) into the pre-drilled hole at the side of the rung and tightened the screws so they penetrated through the whipped rope. Before tightening the screws, I made sure that the rungs were parallel and spaced the exact same distance from each other.

Rope Ladder Part-3 - Sheva Apelbaum

Finishing and Using
After all the rungs were attached I sanded them down and painted them with a combination of stain and lacquer. This will help the ladder last longer if it’s kept outside in the rain and snow.

Rope ladder in action  - Sheva Apelbaum

To hang the rope ladder, you have attach a carabineer to each of the two ropes or just tie them directly to the branch of the tree. Either way, make sure that choice of the tree limb and final knots are reviewed by an adult before you start using the ladder.

That’s all for now, have fun climbing.


  1. Now I feel sure I can build a rope ladder, too--your instructions are so beautifully thorough! I am patiently biding my time, till then, until I get to peek into the bat house at the lowest branch of our big pine. Thank you for the wonderful tutorial! :-D

  2. Is there anything you CAN'T do???!!