We Built A Home Wall (and So Can You!)

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I must admit when my friend Jess said she was building a home wall, I didn’t quite believe it would happen. I threw her proclamation in with the large group of other climbers who claimed they would build a wall, but never got around to it. But low and behold, a few months later, I got a text with a picture of Jess holding an impact driver, surrounded by plywood. She was building a wall, and today shares what she learned and how you can turn that plan to build a wall into an actual home wall.

I’ve enjoyed climbing on friends’ home walls for several years now. I love the camaraderie they inspire and admire the owners’ freedom to set routes and climb whenever – without the commute to the gym! Over the past few years I’ve committed to climbing more seriously, and while I’m psyched to be bouldering more powerfully, I don’t dig the commute to the gym. Over the past year I started casually dropping hints to my husband that our basement could be converted into a home wall, but honestly without either of us having any construction experience I never thought it would actually happen. Cut to Crux Crush pointing me to Metolious’ wall guide and support from some enthusiastic friends and family with construction experience and we decided to give it a go! There are several guides to building a home wall online, but we learned many things along the way, beyond the scope of any guide, that I wanted to share with you:

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1. Generic online guides will not work for you. Yes, they are a great starting point, but depending on your space and training goals, you will most likely want to modify them. For example, we couldn’t attach our joists to the walls because, well, rock foundation walls don’t like to be drilled. We also couldn’t attach our joists to the ceiling studs because of an excessive network of pipes and ductwork, which brings me to my next point…

2. Don’t be afraid to get help from the professionals! We had no idea how to attach our wall to the ceiling (its main source of support). To prevent total abandonment of our basement climbing utopia dream I traded a carpenter friend cookies and contractor friend a burger and before we knew it we had a plan!

Recruit friends and family (and the dog) to help build your wall.

Recruit friends and family (and the dog) to help build your wall.

3. Family is the best! We don’t own a circular saw, or a chop saw, or a jig saw, or a functional level… but my dad does! Not only did my Dad let us borrow his tools, he and my mom drove all the way down to Baltimore to help us put it up. The triangle transition between the two main walls was all his work. Seriously, my dad, Mike Otis, is the best!

4. You need a Mason Line. Trust me. This genius little device is just a string coated in chalk. Hold the ends between two points, flick the string, and BAM beautiful straight line!

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5. Plan ahead. Draw up blue prints. Estimate your material needs. No one wants to go to Home Depot again.

6. Save your receipts. Did you know you can return lumber to Home Depot? You can! It’s awesome!

7. Don’t forget to order some holds! You’ll want to throw those suckers up as soon as the plywood is screwed down.

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8. Set a hold budget. Holds are expensive! Think about the variety you want and look for deals. I found holds for 20% off on Backcountry.com and slight discounts on Ebay. Keep an eye out for used holds on Craigslist or at your local gym. Some companies offer factory seconds that are slightly discounted as well.

9. Use screw in T-nuts instead of hammer in T-nuts. It takes slightly longer to install them, but I have it on good authority they strip way less.

10. Use a spade bit. If you can drill straight, it’s much faster to drill your T-nut holes with a ½ inch spade bit than with a Forstner bit.

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11. Have a sawdust containment plan. I knew there would be sawdust, but let’s just say I didn’t know how grateful I’d be that we did most of our sawing and drilling outside until I saw home much.

12. Sacrifice drill battery power for weight. You’re going to be holding your drill (and impact driver) over your head for long periods of time. It’s better to have a lighter battery that needs to recharge more frequently than a heavy one.

13. Borrow as many drills as possible. Pretty much everyone is going to be drilling or putting in screws the entire time.

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14. Invest in an impact driver. Holds must be screwed in extremely tight to prevent spinning, and you do not want to screw them all by hand. An impact driver is similar to a drill, but it delivers strong forces that can loosen or tighten screws more powerfully than a drill. Fit an impact driver to drive a 5/16th inch bolt to tighten and remove your holds.

15. Go for it! Finally, my most important takeaway from our experience was a reminder not to be afraid of the unknown or to shy away from a something because it seems too big to tackle. So what if you don’t know a joist from a stud or an impact driver from a drill, that’s what Google and the amazing staff at your local hardware store are for! Ask lots of questions, listen, observe, and pretty soon you won’t feel intimidated anymore. And, sure building a home wall is a HUGE project and looking at it as a whole is very daunting. Just take it one step at a time, start with some sketches, make a materials list, and before you know it you’ll be climbing on your own home wall!

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Thanks Jess for sharing all that you learned! Once you get your wall up, check out our guide to taking your “Woody” to the next level.

Climb on! ~Cate

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12 thoughts on “We Built A Home Wall (and So Can You!)

  1. Bry says:

    Awesome pics and advice!

    How much does it cost to build all of this?

  2. Jess W says:

    I THINK some one asked this on the post that the CC girls wrote, but just for safe measure I’ll ask again: Do you have a round about number of how much the entire project cost?

  3. Jess says:

    I can give you an estimate of how much the project cost without factoring in holds. The Metolius guide says you can estimate by calculating the total cost of your plywood and multiplying by 2. For us this came out approximately correct, but it included the price of a new drill, impact driver, set of drill bits, 2 sawhorses, and a $50 uhaul rental. So… I think that for most people that would be an overestimate. You’ll also want to budget a few $100 for holds.

  4. Lyle Nesse says:

    measure twice, cut once

  5. keith says:

    holds are the killer – unless you can find a hook up at a gym selling old holds, they’re very expensive. BUT they will last you forever (effectively) and screw it, that’s what money’s for, right?

  6. Nina says:

    Beautifully done Jess and Lyle!

  7. Jess says:

    My money’s for tufas! Thanks for your inspiration and help Keith!

  8. amy says:

    I know this off topic but dose anyone have any ideas on what to do when you have the flu (from a climbing standpoint that is)

    • Cate says:

      We’re bad at this, but the doctor side of us says rest…the climber side says climb 😉 Ultimately, listen to your body and do what’s best for you! Get better!

  9. Caleb Hart says:

    I’m sure that it’s very difficult to build a climbing wall like this, but it would be so fun to have when it’s finished. Maybe I should find someone in my area who can help me build something like this. My friend and I are thinking about some sort of climbing wall to be built at our house.

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