Stepping it Up: Exploring the Process and Lines of a Ladder

Written by Angela Robins on .

Earlier this month, I started my long journey from the northwestern shore of Lake Superior to mid-coastal Maine. I left on a sunny warm March day when the snow was just starting to melt and arrived just in time to experience two nor’easters that left piles of fresh snow in their wake. I came to the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship to be a fellow for the month of March, and to study with Beth Ireland, who teaches the 8-week woodturning intensive at the school.


I am a woodworker/turner/educator based in Minnesota, and am currently participating the Artisan Development Program, at North House Folk School. The above image shows the North House Folk School's campus in the summer. The program provides the opportunity for emerging craftspeople to hone their skills, study with mentors, work as instructors' assistants, and travel and study in Scandinavia.

Beth is my mentor through the program, and although I’ve received guidance over the phone on topics like the creative process, selling work, design feedback and more, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to work with her in person on woodturning techniques.

I didn’t come with a specific agenda for a project, but I did come with pages of questions and techniques I wanted to learn. On my first day at CFC, Beth encouraged me to explore the campus and look at the work in the gallery. In the current exhibit, Maine Wood, I saw a piece of furniture by David Boyle that caught my eye.

scholarshipblog2David Boyle, Bath, ME. Orchard Table, 2017. Movingui, yellow birch, basswood, maple saplings

blog layout squareClose up of Orchard Table

I was struck by the natural curves of the ladder and how seamlessly the branches were joined to one another and the rest of the piece. The green paint helped to highlight the form by hiding the lines of wood grain. It gave me a similar sense of visual satisfaction as seeing images of Martin Puryear’s powerful Ladder for Booker T. Washington (1996).

blog layout tall2Martin Puryear, Ladder for Booker T. Washington, 1996. Collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

There is something about curved and irregular lines being punctuated by parallel lines that is striking to me. I had been reading about furniture made from branches in an inspiring Danish book, Den Store Snittebog, by Frank Egholm, and wanted to explore the process and design possibilities.


I cut down a small maple tree for the legs and ripped boards of dried maple for the rungs. From there Beth helped with a bounty of pro-tips.

We ripped the maple log on the bandsaw, but screwed on a long and narrow board of plywood to the side so that it wouldn’t accidentally roll. I lined up the legs parallel to one another, layed out the spacing of the rungs, and drilled the holes, making sure they were in a parallel plane by resting the drill on the workbench.

Since Beth works full time as a production turner, she shared great tips on how to quickly layout, turn and create accurate tenons for the seven rungs.

blog layout tallTurning in the fellowship building.

Once the tenons were turned, I carved the length of the rungs with a drawknife to give it a dynamic texture, and drilled and sawed the tenons so they were ready to be wedged into place.

blog layout square2Close up of ⅞” tenon on one of the rungs.

scholarshipblog4Clamping up the ladder to test the fit and doing layout on the tenons.

Once everything was fit, I used walnut wedges to secure the rungs, and sawed off the extra tenon. I am excited to see where this form will take me next.


blog layout tall3The finished ladder leaning up against my parent’s home in Whitefield, Maine.

You can learn more about my work my visiting my website and instagram page.