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Build a Home Climbing Wall

Send it! Photo by Mary Reed.

A great winter time training tool and fun space for your friends is a home climbing wall. From one sheet of plywood with holds for the kids to play on to a garage with practically unlimited routes, you can have a lot of fun whatever your space and budget limitations may be. That, plus “depending on how willing your spouse is,” says Nathan Yokum, owner of Rock Candy Holds, an Akron, OH-based climbing hold maker.

Identify your space and plans. Start by assessing what your goals are – is this wall for kids, adults, serious training, just fun? The most common places for a home wall are basement, attic and garage. Get your basement checked for radon before building down there. Start by assessing what you have going for you already. “You use less materials if you are able to build into the existing framing and I think it’s a little bit easier,” Nathan says.

Get the materials and tools. It’s a good idea to price out all the materials as part of your planning process. You’ll need 2 x 6 boards for framing, which is made easier if you use joist hangers. Use ¾-inch plywood (instead of ½-inch), decking screws, t-nuts and, of course, holds. Nathan suggests buying a starter kit that will include lots of holds and t-nuts at a reduced price. Tools you’ll need include a hammer, a drill, a stepladder, an Allen wrench and probably a circular saw. This is in addition to the basic carpentry needs, like a work space, tape measure, etc.

Build the frame. Put together the framing based on how much space you have. Consider the fact that you will probably not a build a vertical wall. Nathan suggests building your wall at a 45 degree angle. “It’s easier to measure your improvement,” he says, noting that you shouldn’t avoid an overhanging wall because you are too weak – building your strength is a main point in a home climbing wall. “At first if the 45 is too hard for you, choose bigger holds, like jugs,” Nathan advises.

Attach the frame to the existing wall and ceiling. And do it right – the wall itself will be heavy and when you climb on it, the force of your movements makes your weight (the live load) more than your dead weight. This means the existing structure must be able to take the load of the wall plus climber. To avoid catastrophic failure, have a professional engineer or carpenter inspect it.

Attach the plywood and holds. Drill holes every six inches in the plywood. On the back, insert the t-nuts by hammering them in to the holes. Then attach the plywood to the framing. After that, you can start setting up routes by attaching the holds with the bolts that go into the t-nuts. “The more holds the better, obviously,” Nathan says. If you’re limited in space, he recommends avoiding large holds because they take up too much room.

Nathan also suggests creating a system board – a wall where each side (right and left) are mirror images of each other. This equalizes your workout for your right and left sides.

Install crash pads. Crash pads can be expensive. Pile up yours – and your friends’ – and consider whatever else you have. I know a guy who scored a bunch of mattresses from a state park when they upgraded their lodging infrastructure. They now cover the floor of his friend’s climbing barn.

Print a waiver. Even just bouldering a few feet off of the ground can have serious consequences. Print out a stack of liability waivers to have your friends sign when they arrive. (Here’s a sample.) Nathan has another good tip. “For the most part, everyone who comes into my place I know and I trust.”

The campus board
If you’re really limited on space and/or budget, try a campus board. Build a narrower (shoulder width), overhanging wall (10-15 degrees) starting at about four feet up and going to eight or 10 feet – usually to the ceiling. Screw in horizontal pieces of wood, ladder style, and campus up – that is, climb the rungs using only hands, no feet.