Various companies make these things with names like “Learning Tower” and “Kitchen Helper”, and they seem to generally cost between $100 and $200. But DIY plans exist, and this one in particular seems quite popular and successful.
Of course me being me, I immediately started modifying the plans. I skipped the curved rails and lowered the overall height to 34″ so it would fit under the counter overhang and be more out of the way when not in use. Since it’s shorter, I skipped the highest rail for the platform floor to rest on, so hopefully Dakota can climb in without bumping her head.
At that point I measured out how many boards I would need, and realized that if I used all 1x2s instead of having some of the horizontals be 1x3s, I would only need four 8-foot 1×2 boards, plus one 6-foot 1×8. That brought the cost of lumber down to about $26. I even shelled out for the “select pine” instead of my usual rough-cut furring strips. Fancy.
I screwed all the joints with pocket holes using my Mini Kreg Jig, which I’m liking quite a lot, and I’m not regretting getting it over the full Kreg Jig setup. The Kreg face clamp that I splurged on was pretty key though, and I’m using it for way more stuff than just pocket holes, so it was a good purchase. I have some more normal screw-to-tighten clamps, but they’re 12″ wide and I think I need at least one 18″ wide clamp if I do another project similar to this one. I was able to make it work with what I have though, i think attaching the two sides with the 1×8’s first was the key trick:
Just bringing the boards home my overbuilding self was worried that this would end up too flimsy, but it’s solid like a rock! The 1x3s were definitely not necessary.
For now the platform floor sits on the tallest rail, but we can lower it as Dakota gets taller. I didn’t cut it to be super snug, but it doesn’t move at all once I set it in place. I pulled it off in this picture so you can see how it’s not attached:
Dakota figured out how to push the thing around the kitchen right away, but she hasn’t figured out how to climb in and out of it yet.
She’s super happy when I just set her in it though. It was getting really tough to make dinner or clean dishes because she always wanted to be up in my arms so she could see what was going on. Now I’m already way more productive.
We haven’t had any issues with her stepping sideways and slipping, in fact she looks very coordinated and confident with her hands on the rails, I almost forget that she can’t stand/walk unassisted yet!
Just briefly, my mods call for the following cuts… Cut one 34″ piece and one 16.5″ piece each off of the four 8-foot 1×2 boards. Then cut ten 15″ lengths out of the remaining 1×2 pieces, you should be able to fit three per board, and you have a ~30″ piece left over in case you crack a board or something. 🙂 Then cut two 18″ lengths and two 16.5″ lengths out of the 1×8, and you have all your pieces! You can pretty much follow the original plans that I linked to above after that, just skip the rail that’s 19″ off the ground. Here it is all screwed together, but before I filled the pocket holes with wood putty:
I painted this with leftover matte paint from a tester pot I had purchased (I’m probably going to be painting the spare room that color). It’s the darker shade on the same color card as our living room walls, so I figured it wouldn’t clash. I sealed it with some nontoxic glossy topcoat stuff I already had. I used the same paint plus sealer on the busy board, and it’s holding up great so far… The helper tower is going to be getting a lot of abuse though, so we’ll see how it goes. It wiped up great after a run-in with some smushed strawberries, so that’s promising…
Overall I’m just amazed at how quickly and easily this project came together. The painting was by far the most annoying part, but then again I’m not a very patient painter. I’m actually going to try making another one for a friend, so hopefully my success the first time around won’t turn out to just be beginner’s luck or something.