Today I’m building a children’s learning tower for some friends of ours. They have a handsome little boy named Silas who is just itching to help his mom out in the kitchen. If you don’t know what a learning tower is, or you want to see what I did, stick around! Lets make it now!
Silas currently uses a chair to climb up and reach the counter. The chair can be a little unstable and doesn’t offer any safety while he’s up there. It was time to get started making the replacement.
I picked up a nice sheet of maple plywood from the home center for this project.
I followed my cut diagram to minimize waste. I measured out the rough panels and drew the lines with a drywall square.
I grabbed some scrap wood to act as spacers so I wouldn’t cut into my outfeed table. Once it was lifted, I could get to cutting.
It’s much easier to rough cut full plywood sheets down with a circular saw than trying to cut the whole thing on the table saw.
Using the cutting template from my design, I laid out and taped all the sheets of paper together.
I pealed it back and added a good amount of glue stick to the paper. I laid it back over and made sure it was completely flat.
I trimmed the end off and then removed some of the excess paper in the middle of the template.
To make the edges of the template stay down while cutting, I applied some packing tape.
Using the jig-saw, I cut close to the line but didn’t touch it. The jig saw blade can wander sometimes at the bottom of the cut, so I didn’t want it to sneak inside the line. I did the same thing with the inside section that needed to be removed.
I cleaned up most of the cuts using the band saw to get them closer to the line.
I used the belt sander with 80 grit paper to smooth out all the edges and round the corners. It took a little while, but between the belt and random orbit sanders, I was left with a good looking piece.
I also sanded the top and bottom and removed any paper and glue left from the template.
I used a drum sander attachment on the drill press to smooth out all the inside corners.
I stood the piece up and noticed all my shaping had left the feet standing uneven. Using a pencil, I laid it flat on the table and scribed a line on the foot.
Now I could clearly see the material that needed to be removed. The belt sander made quick work of the excess wood.
I placed the template back on to line up the handle cutout.
Using a forstner bit, I drilled down until the point barely broke through the bottom surface, then flipped the whole thing, and finished the holes. This will prevent any nasty blow-out.
I drew a couple lines connecting the two holes and then cut them out with the jig saw. I cleaned up the cut with a file and some sand paper.
The learning tower consists of two identical sides so I took the side I just finished and traced it onto the second sheet of plywood.
This time, I used the band saw to cut out as much as I could, and the pieces I couldn’t get to, resorted to using the jig saw. To cut the center section, I first drilled a whole with a bit large enough to fit the jig saw blade through, and then went around the edge with the saw.
I applied some double-sided tape and stuck the two sides together.
Using my router and a flush trim bit, I ran along all the edges to make the two pieces exactly the same size. Outside edges are cut counter clockwise, and inside ones are cut clockwise.
I pealed the two sides apart and could now make all the pieces in-between to connect them.
There are two supports along the back, the main platform, as well as a step down below on the front. I cut down all the pieces on the table saw to their final sizes. I also cut 6, ¾ inch strips to act as supports for the platform.
I cut all the pieces down to final length on the miter saw.
I drew a slight curve on one of the pieces and then cut it out on the band saw.
I used that piece as a template and copied the curve to the rest of the boards.
Then I took those and cut them all out on the band saw.
I flipped them upside down and clamped them together.
Using the belt sander, I smoothed the curve, making all 4 curves the same.
I removed the flush trim router bit and installed a small round-over bit.
I rounded over all the edges to making it safe to handle, especially for kids.
I also put the same round-over on the two sides.
All the pieces were done so I mocked the whole unit up in place. I could have just glued and screwed everything together, but the learning tower is pretty big, so I wanted it to be able to be broken down when not in use.
I marked where the holes would be and drilled through as straight as possible. I did the same for all the boards connecting the two sides together. To have better access to the bottom holes, I laid the piece down on its back, then marked and drilled into the boards.
I only drilled down deep enough to mark the bit position on the support boards. Now I could use a larger bit, and drill down to the depth I needed.
I would be using threaded inserts, washers, and screws to hold everything together.
I carefully threaded the inserts into the ends of the support boards. You should be careful not to over-tighten them because it can cause the plywood to split.
It was time to assemble the entire learning tower with the screws holding it together. I put the two back supports on one side and then attached the other side. It’s the type of construction where one or two connections are not super strong on their own, but once the whole piece is assembled, it is incredible ridged.
I laid down the strips I had cut earlier and marked out some hole locations. I wanted three holes per strip, centered top to bottom.
I used the drill press with a counter-sink bit to drill through the strips.
I marked the strip locations on the two sides. The strips would allow the standing platform to adjust to three different heights.
I applied a small amount of glue to the back, and then tacked it in place with some brad nails.
Now I secured the connection with three screws. I repeated the same process for the other two strips. Glue, nail, screw.
To finish the standing platform, I glued and nailed a thin strip of plywood on each end. This would allow the platform to lock into position and not move around.
The learning tower construction was complete. I just had to break it all down one more time so I could apply the finish.
I chose to apply Danish oil as the finish. It really brings out the color of the wood, as well as adds a little protection. Once the Danish oil had dried, I also added several coats of polyurethane so it could withstand much more abuse for years to come.
After a few days of drying, the learning tower was complete. The grain on the maple plywood really pops and is exactly the look my friends were looking for.
It took about 5 minutes for Silas to start crawling all over it. The platform is currently on the highest position. As he grows, the step can be lowered to accommodate his height.
My Project Tools
RANDOM ORBIT SANDER