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How to Make a Dumbwaiter in a Stairwell

Judi Light Hopson

The ideal placement for a dumbwaiter requires a hidden two-story wall cavity near the stairwell. Building an enclosed shaft is a possibility, too. You can load heavy items to travel up or down the miniature elevator, saving many steps.

A hollow wall adjacent to stairs can hold a dumbwaiter.

Sending laundry down from second-floor bedrooms or trash from a condo with upper-floor living space is ideal. Taking groceries to an upstairs kitchen from a basement garage via a dumbwaiter also works well.

  1. Define the exact placement for a dumbwaiter shaft. Locate a closet on the top floor that's directly above a first-floor closet as the easiest solution. Find this space close to the existing stairwell, so you can load the dumbwaiter and quickly ascend or descend the stairs.

  2. Measure the exact interior wall space that you will allow to house the dumbwaiter, allowing 26-by-26 inches or more. Create the shaft large enough so groceries or shopping bags will not get pinched during use.

  3. Cut framing for the shaft to hide the pulley system required for the dumbwaiter. Make the framing from 2-by-4s cut with a circular saw. Build the framing against one side of the elevator cavity, allowing the weights to move in a space 6-by-26 inches against one wall, for example. Frame the weights so nothing gets caught by the dumbwaiter shelf moving up and down.

  4. Install a dumbwaiter pulley system purchased locally or online. Cut pine board material with a circular saw to cover the section of the elevator shaft that holds the weights and rope system. Screw 1-by-6-inch pine board material over the pulley system framework on one side of the elevator shaft.

  5. Cover the rest of the shaft interior with pine boards as well, forming a solid wood encasement in which the dumbwaiter will move. Fit the boards inside the shaft by attaching them vertically, which requires less overall cutting. Stagger 1-by-6-inch boards that are 8 feet long, for example, on the shaft walls. Screw the boards to the shaft framework so the boards will stay tight over time.

  6. Install a pre-made dumbwaiter shelf system. Buy a unit that will hold at least 500 pounds of weight. Connect it to the pulley system at the top floor according to manufacturer's directions.

  7. Nail a heavy wood covering over the bottom 36 inches of the door opening on the top floor. This is so no one will fall into the shaft when you open the main door. Cut a 3/4-inch sheet of plywood to fit inside the framework, allowing room for the dumbwaiter to move freely.

  8. Warning

    Add a lock or heavy-duty latch at the very top of the upstairs' main door of the elevator. Do this to prevent young children from opening the door and getting inside the shaft.