Despite the fact that I am not a terrific climber, I enjoy it and do it as frequently as I can, but I’m not very good at it. Even so, I miss top-roping with my kids, bouldering at the local crag, and going to the climbing gym after work—activities I used to take for granted. I pine for them like a devastated adolescent after his first breakup. So, given our present stay-at-home position, I did the only thing I could think of: I erected outdoor rock climbing wall in my garden.
One other thing: I’m not a terrific carpenter. But if our current situation has taught us anything, it’s that there’s never been a better moment to start a new pastime. And since I’m not going to bake sourdough bread and have always wanted my own home project wall, here we are.
I relied on some wonderfully comprehensive web materials that laid out the fundamental concepts of creating a home climbing wall for a power-tool illiterate like me. Metolius provides a step-by-step method for building a rather intricate wall with several angles that I used as a reference point while exploring other concepts and compiling a supply list.
Finally, I decided on a basic “woody,” which climbers refer to as their home walls since they’re composed of plywood and frequently contain handcrafted wooden grips. Because I utilized an old swing set as the foundation structure, I didn’t need to create any form of a wall-supporting frame. This proved to be far less difficult than building a freestanding wall from the start (and also kept the cost down).
The wall you construct does not have to be a complicated undertaking that takes up your entire basement; it simply has to be climbable and enjoyable. Here’s how I created my own bouldering climbing wall, including the supplies I used and the mistakes I made along the way.
This is not a comprehensive how-to guide; rather, it describes the author’s experience building his own at-home climbing wall. Before doing something similar, make sure you properly examine your area for strength and use a stud finder. Use common sense and care when working with power tools and saws, and if you need to, wear eye and ear protection.
Remember that you are responsible for your own safety when climbing. There is no text or video that can substitute for appropriate climbing training and experience. Before you climb, make sure you practice proper technique and safety.
- 8 ft. length 10 2′′x 4′′ lumber
- 2 sheets of 3/4″ external plywood, 4′ x 8′
- 6 “L” brackets made of metal
- 1 3.5′′ deck screw box
- 1 box of framing nails 16D
- 100 T-nuts (3/8′′, 16 threads, 4 prongs)
- 30 socket-head bolts (2′′ to 3′′, depending on hold size) (usually 1 box)
- A half-gallon can of matte/textured paint or stain (exterior grade if your wall is outside).
- Holds for climbing (see below)
- Brush roller
- Drill with a variety of bits.
- The table saw (optional, you could do all the cuts with a handsaw)
- The Allen wrench
- Climbing Equipment
- Climbing Handholds
- Crash cushion
- Climbing boots
- A bag of chalk
1. Build The Wall
The type of wall you create is mostly determined by the available area. Most of the time, vertical walls are the easiest to build, but overhanging walls give climbers an extra challenge.
My foundation is an A-frame swing set construction that’s around 8 feet tall by 8 feet wide before narrowing to a point at the top, so I had to make a little overhanging wall. (It was constructed of 6-inch-by-6-inch beams.) I discovered that adding a slight overhanging angle might help make the most of a tiny wall—the issues appear longer and more difficult while going upward.
2. Developing A Framework
Because I started with an A-frame swing set, I needed to make a frame out of 2-by-4-inch timber. The 2-by-4 frame attaches to the swing set’s back “arms,” providing a flat surface to screw the plywood onto. I began by putting two 8-foot-long 2-by-4s on the ground at a right angle. I used two 16D nails to link the ends of the 2-by-4s, then laid out two additional 2-by-4s to make an 8-by-8-foot square, joining all the corners with 16D framing nails.
I placed five 8-foot-long 2-by-4s vertically inside the box, 16 inches apart, and secured them at the top and bottom with 16D nails. Finally, I cut the remaining 2-by-4 into six smaller pieces (about 16 inches long), which I put horizontally between each vertical piece of timber to give lateral support and stiffness to the frame, and then fastened each piece with two nails at each end.
3. Screw The Structure Into The Frame
I used six metal “L” brackets to join the 2-by-4 frame to the rear of the swing set pillars, making sure the corners and sides were secure. It was critical to have at least two people for this since one person would need to hold the frame in place while the other installed the hardware.
I made the mistake of assuming the swing set would be “square,” or equally proportioned on all sides. It was not the case. Although the swing set is physically solid, it is at least ten years old and crooked. It was difficult to secure an 8-by-8-foot square wall to a distorted frame. If you’re working with an existing structure, such as the corner of an unfinished basement, measure carefully before making any cuts.
4. Apply Paint To The Plywood
The plywood will be the “face” of the wall. The climbable surface will be the one to which the grips will be connected. (Mine is located on the interior of the swing set, similar to a cave.) I made an 8-by-8-foot climbing platform out of two pieces of 4-by-8-foot plywood.
You have several alternatives for painting the plywood, and some climbers like to leave the surface unpainted or stained. Consider using a stain to protect the wall from the elements if you’re building it outside. You may also use textured paint to replicate the sensation of genuine rock.
5. Make Holes in The Plywood
After the stain has dried, mount the plywood on sawhorses or something similar and drill a grid of holes. I used a 7/16-inch drill bit and drilled the holes 8 inches apart, starting 4 inches from the plywood’s edge. Because you’ll later put T-nuts and holds in some of these holes, the pattern you drill will dictate the number of routes you may establish in the future. Some climbers use random patterns to save time, but most climbing gyms use grids because they give climbers more options for where to place holds in the future.
6. Tighten The T-nuts
T-nuts feature a threaded socket that goes through the drilled holes and four prongs that insert into the back of the plywood. When you’re placing your holds, you’ll screw the bolts into the nuts. I laid the plywood face down on the ground and hammered the T-nuts into the rear side until the prongs were set into the board.
7. Screw The Plywood Into The Frame
Because plywood is heavy, my wife assisted me in transporting the sheets from the sawhorses to the swing set, and then my wife and son held the plywood in position while I fastened the first few screws. Starting with the bottom panel, I used 3.5-inch screws to secure the plywood to the 2-by-4 frame, making sure all corners and board centers were securely secured. This is very certainly a two-person (or more) task.
8. Position The Holds
I secured the holds to the wall with an Allen wrench and socket-head bolts by driving the bolts through the middle of the hold and into the T-nuts. I made certain that the length of the bolt corresponded to the thickness of the grip. (The majority of holds will require a 2- to 3-inch bolt.) The number of holds you use is entirely up to you. I began with a haphazard pattern of holds and am constantly fine-tuning the routes. The T-nut and bolt method is unique in that you may modify the pathways to vary your training.
The difficulty of climbing on your wall is entirely up to you. Inverted walls are naturally more difficult and require larger grips for novices. My advice is to begin slowly, installing a number of huge grips throughout the wall to get a sense of the types of issues you’d like to encounter.
Concentrate on enjoyable climbing techniques rather than unattainable challenges. Even the tiniest wall may be used to train crucial skills like lay-back maneuvers and dynos.