ikea hack: Matilda’s activity tower

If you have a little love and do anything in the kitchen, this ^ is what you encounter more often than not. Am I right? It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, the screaming, crying, and arm reaching ensues. Can you blame the little sugar booger? You’re having all the fun, after all. By bringing your child up to your level in the kitchen with a chair or activity tower, the little gears in her brain will excitedly turn as she watches you and learns about food preparation or whatever you’re doing. Give her a spoon and bowl, a few grains of rice and let her ‘cook’ with you if she’s too young to actually help. I promise she’ll think whatever she’s doing is legit as long as it’s on your level. Her self esteem will grow and you’ll have another notch on your parenting belt. Job well done. A chair turned around works fine, but an activity tower might be a little more stable.

An activity tower (AKA learning tower) is a stable platform with rails designed to bring toddlers up to your level without the worry of tipping over. Buying a fancy, ready-made tower (new or second-hand) was too much for our budget. In true DIY fashion, I had to make one if I wanted one. The answer to our dilemma was an IKEA BEKVÄM stool and a few pieces of lumber. There are so many tutorials online for building this kind of activity tower, but I’ll provide links to the ones we used as inspiration (Lucy’s Learning Tower and Learning Tower with BEKVÄM Stool), detail how ours was built (adding to the number of tutorials out there), and mention what I would do differently if we built another one.

materials…
1) BEKVÄM stool in beech, $14.99+tax (Where to find at the Atlanta IKEA: aisle 23, bin 16)
2) Visit your local hardware store to purchase:(unless they can guaranteeaccurate cuts, do not have them cut your lumber.)

  • 1×4 (40 inches)
  • 1×1 (70 inches)
  • 5/8″ dowel (14 inches)
  • box of 2 inch wood screws
how to…
(The first attempt at making the activity stool didn’t go so well. Tim and I didn’t use wood screws and he attempted to “reinforce” the tower rails with three screws. The stool’s top step split in half! One wood screw will hold the rails in place. My dad and I rebuilt the tower with a new top step and wood screws.)
{basic measurements of the tower rails added to the IKEA stool}
  • Assemble your IKEA stool legs. Do not attach the top step, yet!
  • Cut the 1×4 into TWO 16″ pieces and FOUR 9⅓” pieces.
  • Cut the 5/8 dowel into ONE 14″ piece. If you don’t want to use a dowel, cut an additional 16″ piece from your 1×4 and use that in its place.
  • Use this measurement as a guideline for cutting the 1×1: Place the nearly assembled IKEA stool next to your kitchen counter and measure how much taller the counter stands.  For our counters, we needed FOUR 17″ pieces; however, if I built another tower, I would cut FOUR 18″ pieces, leaving an extra inch for Matilda to hold. With 17″, her fingers have been pinched between the counter and the tower since it stands flush with the counter.
  • After cutting everything, sand the lumber’s surfaces to prevent splinters.
  • optional: Use a router to smooth the lumber’s sharp edges after sanding. Though this isn’t necessary, it’s a nice little detail.
  • Next, drill holes for the dowel by taking two of your 17″ (or 18″) 1×1 pieces, measuring 1½” from the top and accurately drilling the 5/8″ holes. Be sure to cut each hole in the center of the wood. If you aren’t using a dowel, skip this step.
  • Measure and pre-drill your screw holes to build the tower rails, assembling top to bottom. Remember: the two 17″ (or 18″) 1×1 pieces that have the 5/8″ dowel holes go on the side that will open to the stool steps. Attach accordingly. Also, don’t attach it to the IKEA stool’s top step until the top rails are entirely built. Reference the photos to see exactly what is where.
  • Finish assembling the tower by screwing on the steps, following the IKEA instruction manual.
  • I recommend painting the tower so it’s easier to clean! Things get messy in the kitchen.

Do you use an activity tower with your toddler? If so, did you build it?
Tell me all about it! I’m interested to hear how other people built theirs.

{tower building day}
{before painting}
{after painting. Color is Valspar Nautical}
Matilda loves cooking in her tower. Unless, of course, she sees something more fun on the floor. Then she wants ‘down’ immediately. Oh, my girl.

16 Comments

  1. Ahh! I tried to comment and no luck.

    Anyway. I love the color you painted your tower – want to share the name? I’m looking for a color for the rocking chairs we just got.

    That tower is such a cute idea! Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Natasha

    Looks great – I used 2 IKEA LACK tables, the top one placed upside down on the bottom one and Command velcroed in situ. Stable base, but I need to figure a safer perimeter than the layers of Saran Wrap I used on the top table to keep the li’l one in place! Apartmenttherapy.com has a recent posting on the platforms, I think you should link your post to it.

    • kylie

      Thanks for the recommendation, Natasha! I’ve submitted it to apartment therapy. We’ll see if they post it.

  3. Ashley

    Just a quick question, how did you attach the base stool to the rest of the tower to make it stable enough to not fall apart?

    • kylie

      Great question! I used 4 wood screws drilled down through the standing platform to attach the top part to the bottom supports. One screw on the right, one on the left, and two on the step-side of the standing platform. We use the tower daily and so far it’s holding up really well without any signs of wabbling or weakness.

      • Emma

        Hi Kylie,
        Love your tower, now we’ve started assembling one of our own for our daughter. However it’s not totally clear to me how you attached the “tower” to the platform. Do you mean you used 4 screws in total – one in each “pillar” (2×2) of the tower? Is that enough?
        Also, when you say you screwed “down through the standing platform”, do you mean “up through the standing platform” (but upside down)? Or do you mean that you drilled down, diagonally, through each pillar and down into the standing platform?
        Hope you can clarify, sorry if the questions are stupid :)

  4. Paula

    That is adorable! Great idea. I love ikea hacks. No ikea in town, though.
    I, too, love the color. We have one of the “fancy” towers, bought on Craigslist for $40. Our second kid is using it now and it really gets used everyday. But what I like about yours is the slimmer profile. Ours has a lot of nice features and we love it. But it does take quite a bit of space.

    • kylie

      I kept my eyes peeled for a tower on Craigslist without any luck. You got a good deal! Our tower does have very slim profile and fits nicely in the close quarters of our kitchen. Thanks for the feedback, Paula!

  5. Randy

    The IKEA stool we bought has a standing platform with a length of 14 and one quarter inches. How does a 16 inch 1×4 work? Shouldin’t I cut the 1×4′s the same length and width as the standing platform? Thanks for your reply, I’m ready to build this.

    • kylie

      Hi Randy! Thanks for the question. It’s a shame I can’t upload photos to this reply, so I’ll do my best to answer without creating further confusion. Take a look at the hand-drawn sketch (2nd photo). The two 16″ 1×4 pieces are attached to the outside edge of the 17″ 1×1 posts (those are attached to the front corners of 14 1/4″ IKEA stool’s top step). By using 16″ pieces (attached to the outside edges of the posts… not between ;) ), there will be a ~3/4″ overlap on either side of the 17″ 1×1 posts and the front pieces will connect evenly with the 9 1/3″ 1×4 side pieces. When we built Matilda’s tower, we cut ~15″ 1×4 pieces and the edges don’t meet up exactly. Take a close look at the pictures of her tower… If I had it to do over again, I’d use 16″ 1x4s on the front to make the edges even. I hope that explains it a bit better!

  6. Randy

    Thank you for the response. I think I understand. The measurements are what you think you should have done, but they are not reflected in the photos. I was looking at the photos and the size of the platform and couldn’t figure out the 16″ measurement. Now I do! Thank you so much.

    • kylie

      I didn’t know hacks could be submitted to IKEA! Since it’s not my original hack I won’t submit it, but will pass the info on to the sites Where I found the idea. Thanks!

  7. Meredith

    I just finished (or nearly finished) assembling my tower, and I have a few comments/questions. First, I’m fairly sure you used 2x2s for the vertical supports (in the picture, they are clearly wider than the thin side of the 1×4). I noticed this, and went with 2x1s instead. Anyway, the one measurement that threw me is the length of the dowel. I had mine cut to 14″, but it is too long to fit where it needs to go. If it needs to equal the 16″ board on the rear of the top, and you have a 2 inches on each end (from the 1x4s) and another 2 inches (1inch each for the 1×1), then the dowel needs to be 12″. If you really used 2x2s for the vertical supports, then that’s an additional 2 inches total, making the dowel only 10″. Just wanted to pass the info along for anyone else working on this project. Thanks for the tutorial!

    • kylie

      Good catch! Yes, they’re 2×2′s! I’ll have to edit the post when my computer is up and running! Thank you! I’ll also look back at the measurements I posted to double check on the dowel. I can say for certain that the one in M’s tower is 14″ (just remeasured). We cut ⅝ holes all the way through the 2x2s, pushed the dowel through the holes, and attached the 2×2′s from underneath the top step to the corners of the top step. We needed a dowel that was the same length as the top step. There are so many ways to make this though, so if you don’t cut ⅝ holes through your 2×2′s then a 10″ dowel will be sufficient. With 1×2′s, 12″ is sufficient. Thanks for your input!

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