I just received an email about making wooden DIY pull down loft attic stairs or retractable ladders.
A loft conversion is a very good remodeling and refurbishment project, and some of the work can be down by yourself. Other more critical parts (such as the actual loft attic stairs or ladder) are easier bought in as they are better factory made as safer. It is also very time consuming making this type of thing. Cupboards, doors, windows, furniture, are all better and more rewarding woodworking projects.
We have a new page on loft and attic conversions, for rooms or storage >
Working, moving loft attic stairs are a difficult job for a beginner as you will need very accurate wood pieces and also metal brackets and metal hinges etc. It would be easier to buy a set of pull down loft stairs as they are quite cheap (around 100 UK pounds)!
I have a set of retractable stairs in my loft, they are fiendishly constructed, and they take a lot of banging about when pulled down and put back up. The stairs slide back into a block and thins hinges back into the ceiling, such that none of it sticks down, allowing the hatch to shut neatly.
In fact it gets stuck occasionally, and this is one of the proper brand loft attic stairs, and it was installed by professional builders when they were fixing up the loft floor.
The hatch is an easier project, so perhaps start with the hatch and see how it goes. You need an attic or loft hatch anyway.
The hole for the hatch needs cutting through the ceiling, avoiding joists, or strengthening the joists, or your ceiling will fall down. The ceiling with a hatch and stairs will take much more movement and weight as this is the action area for the new loft stairs.
The weight can be high as not only a person but also whatever they are carrying, such as a heavy box or furniture – which might be quite heavy and awkward, which makes for large twisting movement applying torque to the wooden stairs, the fittings, the hatch structure and so to the joists and flooring.
If you succeed with the hatch, and the hinged door with a lock or catch, then you can move on to the actual stairs. If you dare.
You will need a proper workshop with a setting out table and accurate measuring, or you stairs will never line up. Retractable stairs involve either a folding structure, or a sliding one. Both are hard to make but not impossible. The ironmongery (brackets, hinges, catches, etc) has to be very accurately placed. If you have woodworking skills, saws, tools and the proper tables to make it on, it can be done but…
There are many dangerous areas here:
The integrity of your ceiling is at stake.
This can be dangerous, or at least, very expensive to put right.
The stairs might break or twist and you fall off, possibly right down the stair well.
The retractable mechanism might jam or break.
To repeat: You might fall off and be seriously injured or even die – falling accidents are often fatal.
I am keen on DIY projects but I am not sure retractable pull down loft attic stairs is a good one, unless you are quite expert, as the job is complex, needs high accuracy in construction, involves moving and high pressure parts in metal, and has serious, possibly fatal, consequences if things go wrong, and there are a variety of ways it can go wrong.
Since a good set of pull down stairs, with all the metal parts and instructions, can be got for around 100 pounds UK, it is better to buy. I recently fitted some great loft stairs from a large UK DIY dealer, they have been fine, but even they get stuck occasionally. A builder can fit these properly and they have professional insurance so you can sue them (if badly fitted) if you fall off and break your neck, or the ceiling collapses.
All advice here is without warranty. Anyway my advice is: find a safer and simpler project.
If you want to have a go and have the facilities, tools and ability,, see How to fit attic loft stairs & ladders >