Darwin’s DIY Learning Tower

March 12, 2014 · 6 comments

in Belgium, DIY, impractical advice, life with Darwin

I’m not much of a DIYer. I want to be; I’ve wanted to be one for a long time. In Kyrgyzstan, it seemed too daunting, so I silently pined away for a life located near a Hobby Lobby or Joann’s fabric store, filing away all of the DIY projects of my dreams. One day I’ll get to all of them.

Ghent isn’t exactly my dream DIY location (not yet, at least), but then again, I had expected that after Bishkek, we’d move back to the US. Even though we’re not in the US, I decided I don’t want to keep putting off my DIY goals. It’s time to do stuff, and do it myself!

First up, a Learning Tower for Darwin. A learning tower is a Montessori thing that is a glorified step stool with a protective rail around it, so Darwin can reach the counter like an independent little adult, rather than cling to my calves and flail around on the floor (screaming) while I make dinner. From these two websites I looked it, the project looked as easy as buying a cheap Ikea step stool and attaching a few pieces of wood to it.

Umm. It wasn’t quite that easy. If you already have a power drill, if you might happen to have some scrap wood laying around, if you already have an established area of your house where you can safely use sharp tools, then yes. This is a pretty simple and cheap alternative to buying a $200 pre-assembled tower. For us, we had to buy and borrow a bunch of tools, but we didn’t want to go overboard buying expensive tools that we weren’t sure how much use they’d get. For example, we ended up buying a cheap saw and plastic miter that were difficult to use and made crooked cuts, but eventually it all worked out. I’m sure there was a more effective way to do many of these steps, but we didn’t want to spend so much money upfront. I’d say all-in-all, we spent around 100 euros, but now we have a small arsenal of tools and wood scraps that can be used on future projects.

Here’s how we did it.

First, we unscrewed the top step from the Bekvam stool and put the screws somewhere we wouldn’t lose them.

We bought three pieces of wood: one squarish (34x44mm in our case) and one flatter, thinner rectangle (18x92mm), plus a wooden dowel with a 12mm diameter.

Farrell cut four 430mm-sized pieces from the squarish wood. These are the posts that attach directly to the top of the Bekvam stool. Farrell drilled pilot holes before drilling any screws in place to prevent splitting the wood.

As you can see, we’re an Ikea-loving family, as Farrell clamped the top of the stool to our Ikea coffee table to drill the pilot holes. If you use a square piece of wood for the posts, then this isn’t necessary, but otherwise check to make sure the posts are all facing the same way. In our case, the longer sides of the posts run parallel to the shorter sides of the steps (if that makes sense).

Farrell used two screws for each post. This wasn’t an obvious thing for me, so I hope it’s worth mentioning for someone else’s sake.

Next, using the remaining length of the squarish wood, Farrell cut two pieces measuring 154mm (which is the length of the short side of the stool, 242mm, minus the length of the two posts, 44mm and 44mm). Then he measured about halfway up the posts, drilled pilot holes and screwed these short posts into place as side guards. (In the photo above, the blocks are stabilizing the posts while he drills the pilot holes, you can see where they ended up in the final photos.)

Next, using a 12mm drill bit, Farrell drilled holes about 3mm from the tops of the posts on the front of the tower (the same side as the steps). He cut a piece of the dowel equal to the long side of the stool, 360mm, and slid it through the holes. He sanded the holes because they were a bit rough. The holes were not perfectly aligned either, so he had to widen one of the holes so the dowel would reach through. In the end, it’s pretty snug.

Now, using the flat, rectangular piece of wood, Farrell cut two pieces that are equal to the long side of the stool, 360mm, drilled pilot holes and screwed those onto the posts to serve as back guards along the top and halfway up the back of the tower (check out the final photos for the placement, we considered skipping the second piece, but went back later to screw it on because the space looked so huge otherwise).

Using the remaining length of the flat, rectangular piece, Farrell cut two pieces that measured 260mm, which is equal to the short side of the stool plus the width of the wood that’s already attached to the top posts (242mm + 18mm in our case). Then he drilled pilot holes and screwed these two pieces on so that they cover the holes for the dowel, keeping the dowel in place, and make a nice, neat corner with that back guard.


The only thing that’s left to do is sand down any rough edges and reattach the step to the rest of the stool. I might like to paint the whole thing one day, but I’ll save that for project for later.

Darwin loves it! He has access to a whole new level of our house now. It took him about a day to get used to climbing up and down, and sometimes he gets a bit freaked out and will yell, so I’ll stand close enough to be nearby (but far enough so he can’t reach me) and talk him through how to get down (“put your hand here, bring your foot down here,” etc). Sure, it means we have to be mindful of what’s within his reach when he’s up at the counter with us, but I’m hopeful that he’ll figure out what he can and can’t touch pretty quickly and focus on his own little activities in the kitchen. Who knows, maybe soon I’ll be able to move the tower in front of the sink and have him do the dishes for me.

Also, you may have noticed that Farrell did a full 100% of the physical work for this project. What a man! Dad of the Year, Husband of my Dreams, that’s all I can say. But next time, maybe I should find a do-it-myself project that I can actually do myself.

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