I've never been what you would call a "cat person". Dogs have always been my preference. All of the dogs I've had over the years have exhibited the typical dog behavior that makes them such great pets. I currently have a boxer who is also a great dog. And...well...I also have a cat. Don't get me wrong, he is actually a really good cat. In fact, he has kind of changed my mind about cats in general. It's because he frequently acts more like a dog than a cat. He is very personable and tolerant of kids playing with him, etc.
However, he has started scratching at various items around the house...furniture, decorations, whatever catches his eye. Therefore, I was tasked with building a simple scratching post so that he can scratch all he wants and not destroy the house. This scratching post is simple construction using scrap materials I had around my shop (except for the rope). If you don't have the tools I've used here, I suggest looking for a local makerspace or other friends that might be able to help you out. Let's begin!
Step 1: Simple Design
I didn't want to over complicate this project, so I decided to have a large flat base for stability, a post, and decorative cap. The scratching surface is made from natural rope wrapped tightly around the post over the full height. The specific dimensions are not really critical. And since I was using surplus materials from my shop, I was looking for anything similar to the size I had in mind. I figured something no taller than three feet. For the post I wanted something about three or four inches in diameter. With that in mind, any panel around 14 to 18 inches square should provide a stable base for the scratching post. There should be no excessive loads on this so butt joints with screws should provide plenty of strength. I sketched up a rough idea, then started scavenging.
- Base - 14" to 18" square flat panel, 3/4" thick
- Post - 3" to 4" diameter, < 3 ft
- Cap - 3" to 4", 3/4" thick
- Screws - 2" long
- Rope - 1/4" x 100 ft
- Table saw (or can be a circular saw, band saw, or hand saw)
- Drill Press (optional)
- Power Hand Drill
- Drill bits including countersink bit
- Framing square (or other straight edge)
- Brad Nailer w/ compressor (or hammer and finish nails)
Step 2: Creating the Base
I found a large scrap panel that was 16 inches wide by about 22 inches or so long. The thickness is 3/4". I wanted a square base so I measured 16 inches along the long side and marked a line using a framing square. In order to locate the center for the post later, I went ahead an marked lines connecting the corners to easily locate the center point. Next, I cut down the panel to final size on my table saw. In order to remove the sharp edges, I used a 1/4" round over bit on my router table and routed the top edge of the base panel. These left it with a nice rounded, soft edge. Just need some light sanding to clean up the surface.
Step 3: Finding the Post
Looking around my shop, I came across a set of old table legs. The table top is long gone and I only use these as riser blocks now for cutting large panels, clamping glued up pieces to dry, etc. And I don't need all four, so I figured sacrificing one to this project would be a great way to recycle and keep costs way down. The post is solid although the surface is in pretty rough shape as you can see in the photos. Not to worry though, because we will be covering it all up very soon. The dimensions are 2 3/4" x 2 3/4" x 28" so this should work just fine.
I did have to remove the metal T-nut in the end of the post. This was used to attach the leg to the original table top. Since I will be screwing through the base plate and into the post, I needed the metal insert out of the way. Otherwise the post would not rest flat on the plate and the new screws could possibly hit the T-nut. With only slight prying with a flat screw driver and claw hammer, the T-nut was quickly removed.
Step 4: Attaching the Post to the Base
With the post prepared, I'm ready to locate it on the base plate. Since the post has a square cross section, and I already had diagonal marks on my square base, it was simple to just align each corner of the post on a line. When each corner aligns properly at the same time, you are centered! I sketched a pencil line around the post to mark the location.
Then I needed to locate the positions of the four attachment screws. Fortunately I had some paper cups nearby that I were slightly smaller than the width of the post. I used the post outline to center the cup, then marked the cup edge intersection on each of the four diagonal lines. This gave me a nice, consistent spacing on the screw locations. No measuring required!
I'm using two inch wood screws to attach the post. I pre-drilled holes through the marks using a drill bit slightly smaller than the screw shaft. In order to make sure the base sits flat on the floor, I used a counter sink bit to recess the screw heads. Make sure you flip the board over because you want to countersink the screw holes on the BOTTOM of the base plate.
Next, you can screw the base plate to the post. I found the easiest way was to clamp the post upside down level with the surface of my workbench. Then I placed the base plate upside down on top of it, aligned it to my earlier marks and inserted the screws using a drill. I did not pre-drill into the post, but the screw diameter was small enough compared to the size of the post that I wasn't worried about splitting anything.
Step 5: Decorative Top Cap
I needed a top cap to retain the rope wrapping. And it makes everything look nicer in the end as well. My rope is about 1/4" in diameter so I size the cap to be about one inch larger than the post width. The final width was 3 3/4" x 3 3/4". That should leave about 1/4" overhang on all sides after the rope is applied. The wood I used for the cap is 3/4" thick, just like the base. I cut a scrap piece of wood to this size on my table saw.
As on the base, I routed the edges using a 1/4" round over bit. But this time I routed the top and bottom of the cap so it has a more finished, rounded edge. There was some tear-out during routing, but some light sanding cleaned everything up. One side looked better than the other, so I just chose that to be the top of the cap.
I pre-drilled a single center hole to attach the cap. There is no real stress on this piece so a single screw will be plenty. I countersunk the screw hole on the TOP this time so that the screw is recessed flat relative to the surface of the cap. I aligned the cap to the top of the post by feel using my fingertips on the overhang and then screwed it into place.
Step 6: Wrapping With Rope
The final step to the assembly is the application of the rope. I used two spools of 1/4" x 50 ft of natural fiber sisal rope. I wanted to make sure I attached the rope to the post only to make it easier to disassemble everything in the future if I need to make any repairs or modifications. I used a small air compressor and brad nailer with 1" brad nails to attach the rope. You could use finish nails and a hammer, but you'd probably need an extra set of hands to help hold things in place.
I started by placing one end of the rope against one side of the post at the base. I tacked it in place with a brad nail, then wrapped the rope around the post and tacked it again. This gave me a solid first wrap to start from. Then I simply wrapped the rope around the post, spiraling upward, making sure it was taut and pressed against the previous wrapping of rope. I tacked the rope in place after every three or so inches of vertical height. Otherwise, it might get more easily pulled out of place by your cat. Halfway up, the first rope spool ran out, so I tacked the rope in place and tucked the end underneath the previous wrapping. Then just pick up with the new rope just like in the beginning.
Continue this all the way up to the cap. Make sure you securely tack the rope in place at the top as well. To make sure no pet injuries occur during use, I went back over every brad nail with a hammer to make sure it was tapped down and/or bent into the rope so that there were no hidden sharp edges.
Step 7: The Big Test
So, with scratching post assembled, all that is left is to see if the cat likes it. Turns out he does, so the project was a success! I stopped here to make sure the cat would even go for this concept at all. Some potential upgrades would be either staining or painting the base and cap. Or possibly adding carpet or fabric to the base for a more finished look and comfort for the cat. That is why I made sure to tack the rope to the post only...I can easily remove and reattach the cap and/or the base without disturbing the rope wrapping.
This was a straightforward project, but those are often the most fun and useful. I was able to complete this in a couple of hours and everyone is happy. Since I was able to scavenge materials from my shop and I already had all of these tools, this project only cost me about $10 to buy the rope. If you have to buy the wood, it would probably cost you an extra $10 to $20. But in a pinch you can usually find suitable scrap from shelving or other goods on craigslist or freecycle.