Introduction: Building a Climbing Wall at the Top of the Stairs

Picture of Building a Climbing Wall at the Top of the Stairs

When Christy and I lived in Somerville, just outside of Boston, our house had this great big open area on the third floor over the stairs. I just couldn't stop imagining an indoor climbing wall in this space; considering that in Boston you can only climb outdoors half the year, once winter came, I just started building. It took a couple of years to actually finish because a number of things got in the way (learning to kitesurf, getting a Ph.D. etc..), but once done, I absolutely loved being able to climb for 20-30 minutes everyday with almost no setup time.

I obviously didn't take as many pictures as I should have, but you can get some sense of the project and how over-engineered it was. Before I attached the plywood panels, friends who came over would joke that if the house fell down, my climbing wall would be the last thing standing.

We framed it out with 2x4s and 2x6s lag-bolted into the studs, and made a floating arch to avoid actually tapping into the joists. The panels are 3/4" plywood, sanded and polyurethaned, with T-nuts embedded in a 4-inch grid across each face. The panels were screwed into the framework with 3-inch screws.

We bought lots of holds off eBay (much cheaper than buying them new) and had plans to make more of our own, but never got around to it.

When we moved out of that house, the new owners insisted that the climbing wall be removed. "Ridiculous!," I said, but it just wasn't a selling point for them. So, we removed the panels and stored them for later use, and ripped out the support frame, and set it out for reuse. Removing the entire climbing wall only took about three days, and I laughed that it was one day of removal per year of build. We still have the plywood panels and climbing holds, and are just waiting to find the perfect space to rebuild.


handydan57 (author)2015-06-17

awesome. i am a climber and am trying to build a back- porch climbing wall. we do make our own holds and its really fun.

canida (author)2015-06-09

I wonder if we have enough old photos to do a Catch of this space.

zavodnyrichard (author)2014-06-06


freeza36 (author)2012-03-01

this is awesome! Hopefully you arent going to eventually sell the house...

chouf (author)2010-02-25

The idea is fun, but is it really worth? I mean how tall is your wall? 4m? Isn't that a lot of work for not so much climbing? Why not building such wall outside on a wall of your house?

CameronC (author)chouf2010-07-09

"in Boston you can only climb outdoors half the year"

darkmuskrat (author)2007-12-02

Nice... When I get a house im putting a room with a trampoline as the floor and velcrow walls (Spider Man!)

DrWilson (author)darkmuskrat2010-02-25

Nice idea i look forard to an instructable :)  lol

brianw (author)2008-06-03

Ah - Eric, now I know what you were talking about. Pretty impressive work & setting the bar fairly high for the new office.

cody316 (author)brianw2009-09-21

The awesome thing about Eric, hes just like us, BUT RICHER!

sssssbooom (author)2008-11-05

That is so many holds, bet you get some sweet problems going though

Chicken2209 (author)2008-09-13

I can imagine you trying to sell your house okay if you want to see the second floor then go ahead and strap in and il meet you up top. I would never go this far, but i could see how much fun it would be to repel down your loft from your bedroom on the 3rd floor into your living room

GorillazMiko (author)2008-01-15

Can you actually climb and play on this stuff? That would be cool.

Wade Tarzia (author)2007-12-12

Great! I fantasized about that once, but glad to see the reality. And when it is time to move, you can market cleverly: "House for sale, perfect for rock climbers." You'd get people in there just to have a look -- did it work that way?

ewilhelm (author)Wade Tarzia2007-12-12

I actually did just that -- it was a highlight of the house listing -- but in the end, it wasn't a selling point.

Doctor What (author)2007-12-02

Where did you get that ladder??

its a Little Giant. Google it.

I figured it was a little giant. I've just never seen one that was able to go in an M shape.

sdfine (author)Doctor What2007-12-07

It's not a Little Giant Ladder. It's called an articulated ladder. You can buy them at any home center.

metrometro (author)2007-12-06

OK, there's never really a bad place for a climbing wall (except, perhaps, on actual rock) but it seems like this pretty much totally eliminates bouldering because the landing area is so bumpy. To me, that's the best part of a climbing wall -- being able to hop on and try something tricky about 3 inches off the floor. Love the construction though -- good solid work.

ewilhelm (author)metrometro2007-12-06

True. Because we were above the stairs, we always had to rope in. That was annoying, but you work with the space you've got!

crankola (author)2007-12-06

I just gotta say - I envy your lifestyle!! kite boarding, and your own personal indoor bouldering rig! very nice, wish we were buds!

randofo (author)2007-11-30

My gosh! There are a billion holds. That would make me dizzy.

garrettmikesmith (author)randofo2007-12-06

my thoughts exactly, they could've saved a lot of money.

zaro12345 (author)2007-12-06

This is really cool. I could have used this at my old house with vaulted ceilings (not like my parents would let me).

Whaleman (author)2007-11-30

Ha! "Outdoors" category! Anywho, that looks awesome! You and mythbusters must have the best jobs EVAR! Makes me wonder where you guys get money.......

Doctor What (author)Whaleman2007-12-02

See the little ads on the site, that's where they get their monies.

Whaleman (author)Doctor What2007-12-02

Yeah, but it doesn't seem like ads is a way to get enough money to live on and still be able to make rock climbing walls in your spare time.

well, high traffic is how they get it. the more people that see those little ads, the more money they make, hence, it is important to have an awesome website.

Yeah, I thought of that. But I just want to know how much it costs to have an ad here....... TV ads are really expensive.

probably quite a bit. my uncle knew a guy that made $6,000 a month from a website he had, he had it set up so every time someone clicked the ad, he made a set amount, like anywhere between 10 and 25 cents. they can add up. what he had was a search engine site, but not something big like Google, it was specific to one type of thing...not sure what tho.

Ahh, maybe I should start a website, yeah?

heheh yeah.

zorro3355 (author)2007-12-02

man that foldable ladder is dangerous.

no its a Little Giant it locks like that.

bedbugg2 (author)2007-12-01

a climbing wall in your HOUSE! i could only wish for that :(

canida (author)2007-11-30

I miss that climbing wall- it was awesome.

dan (author)canida2007-12-01

it was awesome, i am happy to remember the few times i got to use it too! now you've inspired me to post some of my own really old stuff, like the tensegrity.

mada (author)2007-11-30

Freaking awesome! It's too bad that you moved. If I was the one buying your house that certainly would have been a selling point! Good work!

GorillazMiko (author)2007-11-30


marc92 (author)2007-11-30

That is awesome!!! How did the belay system work? In a couple of the pictures it looks like you were just tied off on the railing, and judging by the complex construction of the rest of the wall I didn't think that would be right

ewilhelm (author)marc922007-11-30

There were various anchor points throughout the wall, and we would just top rope from whatever anchor point made the most sense.

gmoon (author)2007-11-30

Been putting something like this off for a long time...I'm getting tired of the one-dimensional route-setting at the local gym... Great job! Toprope anchors and everything. Did you 'sport' the with bolt hangers, or were they only temp. anchors used during construction?

ewilhelm (author)gmoon2007-11-30

We never really did any lead climbing. The bolts were used to always keep the anchor point above the problem the climber was working on.

About This Instructable




Bio: Eric J. Wilhelm is the founder of Instructables. He has a Ph.D. from MIT in Mechanical Engineering. Eric believes in making technology accessible through ... More »
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