View Full Version : retractable attic stairway in workshop

09-13-2002, 04:21 PM
My new shop has an attic that will be used for storage, but if I build a permanent stairway, it will be in my way all the time. I am thinking about making a stairway out of 2 x 12's and hinging one end so I can lift or crank it up out of the way when I don't need it.

Do any of you guys have ideas about how to counterbalance the stairs? They will weigh about 400 pounds or so and be about 13 ft. long. Should I use weights or springs? A winch? It should be easy to move and not get in the way. Thanks--Mike.

09-13-2002, 04:55 PM
I think I'd buy one of the prefab fold-up stairways. They come in different grades, and the "good ones" are fairly solid. By the time you buy all the lumber and spend all your time figuring out how to do it and spend the time building it, I doubt you'll be ahead any vs. buying one of the ready-made ones.

Paul Gauthier
09-13-2002, 06:35 PM
Definetly a pull down attic stairway as SGW suggests. I got mine for $135.00. They come in icremental lengths so be sure to find the right length for you cieling hight. Very easy to intall.

Paul G.

Alistair Hosie
09-13-2002, 06:58 PM
I have the same set up in my shop the aluminum ones already made are the way to go dont need all that weight. look for a set second hand as they are sometimes to be found locally .
They go up and down a treat and will be the best bet in the long term good luck Alistair

09-13-2002, 08:04 PM
I left a 32" wide by 14' opening for the stairs and I want to be able to go up and down the stairs with my hands full of junk. I have one of the folding ones in my garage and I hate it. Being the roll-your-own kind of guy and an amateur machinist, no amount of extra work is too much if I can get the perfect setup. If I was satisfied with an off the shelf solutions, I wouldn't even need a shop, I would just buy everything already made and watch football and drink beer all the time. (I do have an old TV in my shop and beer isn't too far away.)

I saw one at the lumber yard with cement blocks for balance but it looks a little too clumsy. Maybe some tension springs from an old garage door? Or maybe a threaded rod and motor from an old garage door opener.

If it weighs 400lbs and is hinged at one end, I figure that if I lift at the other end with cables or whatever, I'll have to lift half the weight the full distance from the floor to the ceiling. If I want to lift with a shorter cable and have a shorter travel distance with my counterweight, I would have to lift closer to the hinged end and use a bigger weight.
Any ideas?

09-13-2002, 08:38 PM

why not use one of the good prefab attic stairs and "engineer" a raising platform to use in the rest of the 14'. This way you don't have a lot of junk in your hands while climbing, and you might get more on the platform than you would want to carry anyway.
It could even lock while up to the ceiling to prevent accidents

[This message has been edited by tinker (edited 09-13-2002).]

09-13-2002, 09:13 PM
My boss has a set in his home shop with a 18' ceiling and he hooked up a winch to raise and lower his steps. It works great and all you have to do is hold a button!

09-13-2002, 09:50 PM
My stairway is a store bought one it works great with springs. I shopped around I got one at closeout price, I couldn't even begin to buy material for what I paid.


George Hodge
09-13-2002, 09:55 PM
Better build those stairs yourself,the loads that you might carry sometime could overload the prefab stairs. Rig up a used garage door opener,they're cheap,if the remote dies. The motors usually work fine.By the way they're instant reverseable AC. motors!!

09-13-2002, 11:35 PM
buy ready made pull down stairs from your local lumber yard and then build a "dumb waiter" powered by a garage door opener to raise and lower your cargo of goodies. lot safer than carrying loads up in your arms.

09-14-2002, 06:16 AM
If they were my stairs they would be 3"x14" Parrallam Engineered lumber - because we dainty 400 lb. gorilla types are allergic to death from cheap stairs. Use a winch. Better yet a freight elevator with a scantilly clad elevator attendant and a 1 rph winch. Beer cooler and tv optional. http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif

Weston Bye
09-14-2002, 08:25 AM
I would be concerned about a 400lb. "sword of Damocles" hanging over my head. If you do it that way, make a good safety latch. Never store anything higher than your head if you wouldn't want it to fall in your head.


09-14-2002, 12:58 PM
Movable stairs of any type are bad news. Build a real stair with hand rails. First off there is the safety issue both in use and in stowed condition. Nothing like a firm set of stairs when carrying an arm full of stuff. No matter what the hoisting method used it is prone to failure and in this case could result in serious injury or death. You plan on working under this thing when stowed?
I think you will find that regular stairs take up less usable space than a stowable unit. Properly designed stairs will allow for storage space, a place to put the roll-around etc. Please don't tempt Mr. Murphy.

Neil Peters

09-14-2002, 02:34 PM
Was trying to push a conduit thru several layers of wood floor joists to get power to my new outside shopand needed help getting it lined up from the inside. I asked my wife to help and that was a mistake. She hasn't been in my old basement shop for a while and it is a mess right now. She is a neat-nut and can't stand to look at sawdust, metal chips and all the junk that I treasure. Is everybody's shop a mess or are there neat-nut types out there that keep their shops clean?

09-14-2002, 05:59 PM
Mikem, your situation sounds very similar to mine, with the exception that I have a loft on one half of the short dimension, and the full length of the shop on the long dimension.

This allows bringing in taller vehicles and still gives me 'upstairs' storage for stuff I want to keep but won't need often.

My plan is to build out a small platform about midway the length of the loft and attach a flight of stairs to the platform/landing. The steps will lift up to clear space once again at ground level.

The platform/landing will be suspended between two trusses, and the stringers will be parallel to the loft. Construction will be as sturdy as any steps in a utility building, not narrow, steep, delicate drop steps you buy and carry home in a box. The pivot will be 1" iron pipe and there will be suitable metal brackets designed to support the loads and allow the raising and lowering which will be by winch. There will be a substantial safety rail, which will raise and lower with the steps. The steps will be 2X12 stringers with 2X12 treads slightly dadoed into the stringers. Each tread will have a 1/4" threaded rod running beneath it from stringer to stringer.

As mentioned a safety catch will be in effect for when the steps are lifted out of the way.
As of now my plans are for a 4' width, but I may revise that downward if it seems too unweildy.

I've also considered constructing a little tramway cart to run on the stringers as rails, raised and lowered also by a winch, because I do tend to 'hoard' heavy stuff. This would be a later option if at all.

I envision a 'bail' attached to the bottom end of the stringers which pivots and lies down on the floor when the steps are in use, and when pulled up, provides a central mounting point for one hoisting cable. Using two cables may be easier, but I'm trying to keep the hoisting mechanism out of the way of someone going up the stairs with long or otherwise bulky stuff.

I like to use joist hangers at the joints of my 2X materials, and I use drywall screws rather than nails to install them. HTH with your plans. I'd be interested in feed back from others, as well. Thanks...


George Hodge
09-14-2002, 11:50 PM
Danz,I'm spoiled by the convienience of using dry wall screws,but read somewhere that they have very little shear strength. Wish they were of a larger diameter!

09-15-2002, 10:36 AM
Nix on the drywall screws. They are fine for what they are designed for. In a shear situation they are dangerous. It is very easy to break the heads off if you over-tighten just a bit. Think of you built in stairs as a means of enclosing you water heater and air compressor.

09-15-2002, 11:51 PM
I like the idea of the 2x12 steps and the cable to lift. If I used springs and one broke, it could fall and clobber me. I think that I might build a few steps along one wall and a fixed landing there to shorten the retractable part of the stairs. The retractable steps would come down from the ceiling and hook up to the landing. That could reduce the weight from 400 to maybe 250# for easier lifting. I don't want to build them in permanently because they would be right in the middle of my shop and would be in the way all the time. Thanks--Mike.