A side table is a versatile piece of furniture that can be used in any room of the house. Side tables provide a convenient surface for placing drinks, books, remotes, and more while saving space. This weekend, try your hand at a fun DIY side table project with a unique design twist to create customized decor for your home.


Side tables are must-have decorative furnishings that add both form and function to a living space. They provide a landing spot for everyday essentials that would otherwise clutter up your home. Side tables are available in stores in simple designs, but with some basic DIY skills and creativity, you can make a side table that reflects your personal style.

This article will walk you through a beginner woodworking project for a DIY side table made with repurposed materials. We’ll show you how to give a second life to an old ladder, crate, or other discarded wood pieces and transform them into a one-of-a-kind side table with shelving. This is a great way to save money on furniture costs while getting creative.

Read on to learn the steps for customizing your own distinct side table that adds artistic flair and handy storage to any room.

What is a Side Table?

A side table, also known as an accent or end table, is a small table typically placed beside a chair, sofa, or bed. Side tables are usually around 20-30 inches tall and offer a surface for setting down items you use often but don’t need within arm’s reach.

Common uses for side tables include:

  • Holding drinks, books, remotes, phones, clocks, plants, lamps, and other frequently accessed items.
  • Providing extra surface area near seating.
  • Staging decorative items like vases, frames, candles, baskets.
  • Adding storage with shelves and drawers.

The smaller footprint of a side table makes it a great option for filling empty spots beside furniture without cluttering up the space. Side tables lend convenience while also serving as a decorative accent that expresses personal style.

Benefits of a DIY Side Table

Taking on side table DIY project offers many rewarding benefits:

Cost savings – Building your own side table is much less expensive than buying one retail. DIY side tables allow you to repurpose materials you already have or source low-cost supplies.

Customization – With a homemade side table, you can create a completely unique design that showcases your tastes. Personalize the shape, size, materials, color scheme, and decor.

Creative outlet – DIY projects provide a fun outlet for exercising your creativity. The ability to make something with your own two hands is very satisfying.

Conversation piece – When guests ask about your cool homemade side table, you can proudly share the DIY story.

Easy beginner project – Simple side table builds are achievable even for total beginners. All you need are basic tools, materials, and some DIY instructions to follow.

Eco-friendly upcycling – Turning discarded items into a handcrafted side table is the ultimate form of sustainable upcycling.

Side Table Design Options

The great thing about DIY side tables is that you can create just about any design you can imagine. Here are some popular options to spark ideas:

Repurposed Ladder Side Table

Ladders are easily converted into side tables or shelves. Lean an old wooden ladder against the wall or turn it on its side. Then add shelves in the openings between rungs.

Crate Side Table

Wooden crates make perfect side table foundations. Just stack crates and boards to form a table, then add caster wheels for mobility.

Pallet Side Tables

Pallets can be taken apart into boards that are remounted to form rustic side table frames. Customize with shelving, cabinet doors, or drawers.

Pipe and Wood Side Tables

Iron pipes joined with screwed flanges provide an industrial frame. Top it with a slab of salvaged barn wood or lumber.

Paint Can Side Tables

For petite side tables, attach decorative paint cans sideways to a sturdy base. Optionally add glass tabletops.

Repurposed Furniture Side Tables

Give outdated chairs, stools, cabinets, drawers, and dressers new life as upgraded side tables.

The possibilities are endless! Let your imagination run wild and create a side table that showcases your personal taste and creativity.

Weekend Project: DIY Ladder Side Table

For this weekend DIY project, we’ll walk through how to make a nifty side table by repurposing a wooden ladder. Here are some tips for success:

Pick a small, short ladder – Opt for a ladder around 3 feet tall so the side table is not too high. A mini 2-3 step ladder works perfectly.

Choose a style – Decide if you want your ladder side table to stand leaning against the wall or sit horizontally on the floor.

Gather supplies – You’ll need a ladder, wood boards or shelving to install between ladder rungs, wood screws, sandpaper, stain/paint and brush.

Prep ladder – Lightly sand and clean ladder to remove any loose splinters, peeling paint, or dirt.

Add shelving – Cut boards to size and screw them between ladder rungs to create shelving.

Style and finish – Personalize your side table by adding decorative accents. Then apply stain or paint.

Add protective finish – Seal side table with polyurethane or topcoat to protect the wood from wear.

Display and enjoy – Show off your new handcrafted ladder side table and use it to hold your favorite items!

Now let’s go over each step of this fun upcycling project in more detail.

Selecting and Preparing a Ladder

Rummaging through your garage, browsing thrift stores, or searching online marketplaces are all great places to source a used wooden ladder for this project.

What to Look For

Ideally, select a small step ladder around 2-3 feet tall with 2-3 steps. This provides enough rungs to add shelves while keeping the side table at a usable height.

Seek out ladders made of solid wood rather than flimsy manufactured pressed wood that may warp or break easily under weight. Hardwoods like oak and maple are sturdiest.

Make sure the ladder is free from rot, major cracks, or damage that affect its strength. Minor nicks and wear add charming character!

Prepping the Ladder

Once you’ve sourced a suitable ladder, prep it to remove any rough edges and refresh the surface:

  • Disassemble the ladder by removing any nails, screws, and hardware.
  • Lightly sand to smooth any splinters. Don’t strip off too much patina!
  • Wipe away all dirt, debris, cobwebs and dust with a damp cloth.
  • Fill any cracks or holes with wood filler and let dry completely. Lightly sand smooth.
  • Remove any loose paint flakes or peelingfinish. Scuff sand painted areas.
  • Vacuum and wipe clean with a tack cloth.

Now you have a clean slate for transforming the ladder into a side table!

Creating the Side Table Base

Next, it’s time to turn your ladder into a side table structure. There are two different ways to position your ladder to make the base:

Leaning Ladder Side Table

For this version, your ladder will stand vertically and lean against the wall for support.

Simply position the ladder where you want the side table to go. Make sure the surface is level and the ladder feels secure leaning against the wall when you apply gentle pressure.

Add non-slip pads, furniture grippers, or brackets on the top back of the ladder to keep it planted against the wall without slipping.

Leaning ladders work well displayed against blank walls in need of decor. Stagger multiple slim ladders on one wall for a cool modern statement.

Horizontal Ladder Side Table

For a ladder side table that stands freely on its own, position the ladder horizontally on the floor.

Place the ladder top-side-down on a flat surface. The steps will become shelves.

To elevate the ladder off the floor, attach a piece of trim, molding or legs to the underside at each end. This creates a lip that lets the ladder table sit level.

For stability, ensure all ladder feet are able to touch the floor. You can prop up one side slightly with shims if needed.

Going horizontal expands your side table shape options – the ladder rungs can run across the short or long direction.

Adding Shelves and Storage

Now for the fun part – it’s time to get creative and add shelving and storage to your ladder frame!

Shelves built between ladder rungs provide surfaces to hold decor and everyday essentials. Here are some shelving ideas:

Open Shelving

Cut plain boards to fit snugly between ladder rungs. Sandwich the boards between rungs and attach using wood screws from the outside of the ladder rails.

Stagger the placement of open shelves to create layered levels. Leave some rungs exposed for hanging mugs or bags.

Enclosed Shelving

Nail thin plywood or beadboard to the front of the ladder to enclose each shelf for hidden storage.

Attach hinges and knobs to the front panels to make cabinet doors for accessing shelved items.


Build out drawer boxes to insert between ladder rungs instead of open shelves. This provides enclosed storage that slides in and out.

Attach drawer faces to hide the drawer fronts for a seamless look. Use knobs or handles as drawer pulls.

Combine shelves and drawers to create customized storage solutions. Get creative mixing and matching designs!

Personalizing Your DIY Ladder Side Table

The great thing about DIY furniture is that you can let your personality shine through in the details. Look for ways to make your ladder side table uniquely yours:

Fun Paint Colors

Choose vivid colors to paint or stain the ladder. Try accent colors like turquoise, coral red, or emerald green. Or go for an eclectic rainbow ladder!

Interesting Decor Objects

Style open shelves with colorful bowls, baskets, vases, candles, and trays for visual interest.

Meaningful Mementos

Display special photos, souvenirs, or handmade ceramics collected on your travels to add personal touches.

Charming Accents

Use decorative details like patterned contact paper inside shelving, carved designs, mosaic tile, and stamped hardware.

Clever Lighting

Incorporate lighting like string lights or tabletop lamps to create ambiance and illuminate surfaces.

Adding personal flair to your side table makes it much more special than any store-bought furniture could be!

Finishing Your Ladder Side Table

The final step is applying finishes to protect and preserve your creation.

Seal unfinished wood – If your ladder is raw wood, apply sanding sealer before painting or staining to prep the porous surface.

Stain – Penetrating wood stain adds rich color while allowing the wood grain to show. Wipe on carefully, then wipe away excess.

Paint – For solid colors from bright white to bold black, apply two coats of wood paint using a small foam brush.

Protective topcoat – Once stains or paints have fully dried, apply a clear polyurethane or lacquer sealant. This protects the finish from scratches and water damage.

Attach felt pads – Stick small adhesive felt pads on the bottom of the ladder feet to prevent scratches on floor surfaces.

Once your finishes have fully cured, your side table is ready to use and enjoy!

Tips for Using Your Ladder Side Table

Your handcrafted ladder side table adds both storage and style to any room. Here are some tips for putting it to use:

  • Place beside sofas or beds to hold books, drinks, remotes, and phones within arm’s reach.
  • Top with a table lamp for an ambient lighting source.
  • Stage coffee table books and decor objects like vases, candles, and trays.
  • Use bottom shelves for stashing extra throw blankets, pet toys, or office supplies.
  • Customize drawers to sort mail, bills, magazines, writing utensils, office supplies, crafting notions, and more.
  • Set your alarm clock on a top shelf so it’s easy to hit snooze in the mornings.
  • Store coasters, controllers, reading glasses, and barware for TV time.
  • Use shelves to organize charging stations for devices and spare batteries.
  • Let it hold keys, sunglasses, face masks, and other items you grab on your way in or out.
  • Stage framed photos, meaningful souvenirs, ceramic creations, and other decor.

Let your ladder side table bring both form and function to your living space with handy organization and loads of DIY style!


Still have questions about creating your own ladder side table? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What type of ladder should I use?

Opt for a small wooden step ladder around 2-3 feet tall. Make sure it’s sturdy and constructed from solid wood rather than flimsy pressed wood.

How do I make the ladder stand up on its own?

Attach a board, trim, or small legs to the bottom of the ladder ends so it can sit horizontally without toppling over.

What’s the best way to attach shelves?

Cut shelf boards to fit snugly between ladder rungs. Sandwich boards between rungs and screw into rails from the outside.

How much weight can a ladder side table hold?

It depends on the ladder’s condition. Aim to limit average loads to 10-15 lbs per square foot of shelf space.

What type of paint or stain should I use?

For raw wood, use wood conditioner before staining. For painting, latex or chalk paints work well. Seal with polyurethane for protection.

Is there an easy way to remove old paint and rust from a used ladder?

Yes! Products like Citristrip are great for stripping paint and rust without sanding or scraping. Wipe it on, let it sit, then rinse it off.

Can I make my ladder side table outdoor safe?

Yes, use exterior wood glue when assembling. Opt for weather-resistant woods like cedar. Use exterior stains or paints and marine varnish as topcoats.

How can I stop my ladder side table from sliding on the floor?

Add non-slip pads to the bottom of ladder feet. Or drive small nails into the feet to grip carpet or rugs beneath.

Final Thoughts

Upcycling an old ladder into stylish side table storage is a wonderful way to save money, reduce waste, and get creative making home decor. Hopefully this article inspired you to try your hand at crafting a unique DIY side table using materials you have on hand.

Put your own spin on this project by customizing the ladder colors, shelving arrangements, and decorative details. The process of designing and building your own furniture results in a handmade side table that adds personal flair to your living space unlike anything from a store.

The next time you spot a beat-up but solid wooden ladder headed for the landfill, rescue it and give it new life as a personalized side table you can feel proud to display in your home. Let your imaginations run wild to create a functional work of art!