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Picture of Cat Tree for Free!
This Instructable has been a long time coming. I've been talking about doing something like this for about 8 months but, until recently, have been too lazy to get off my butt and complete it. The idea was to make a "tree" filled with all of my cats' favorite toys. A few things happened that got me jump started however; the local Ace Hardware went out of business and I was able to buy a reciprocating saw, drill, and flashlight set for $60 (regular retail price of $120). Shortly after this purchase I was transferred to a different shift at the warehouse where I work and as a result had 1 day off less than I previously had. This prompted me to try to get more out of my days off. Last, and probably most important, the 38th Annual Madison Chautauqua was held this weekend. For the uninitiated, the Madison Chautauqua is a fairly large craft fair that takes over the downtown area of my small city in Southern Indiana. There's lots of cool stuff there but I can never get over how much the artisans price things. I'm the first one to do his best to support the arts but $150+ is a bit much for a portrait of a grasshopper. So the Cat Tree idea popped back in my head and I thought that I would make something Chautauqua worthy, but do it for little to no cost. And hey, if someone wants to give me 80 bucks for it next year, maybe I'll just become a hypocrite and make a little extra ca$h. :-)
 
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Step 1: Gather Your Tools and Materials

Picture of Gather Your Tools and Materials
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The material is pretty easy to gather. If you live near a wooded area a short hike and a little bit of searching will probably yield your perfect piece within just a few moments. I live right next to the Ohio River so I just took a walk down the bank a few days after some heavy rain and used some driftwood. The toys themselves don't need to be much really, just a few simple things that the cats can bat at and chew on. Being an owner of two very finicky cats I had several toy mice and bits of string & lace laying about that I use to attempt to engage them in play (usually unsuccessfully). The only thing I didn't have on hand was the dowel rod I used to connect the base to the tree and my friend/(bad)photographer dlewisa provided this. To simplify things I'll make out a list of items you'll need:

Base - This should be at least 6 inches (15.24 centimeters) thick to give it the appropriate weight/center of gravity. Using a thinner piece will result in the tree being turned over very often.

Tree - Any piece of driftwood or wood you rescue from becoming humus. Mine is about 3.5 feet (1.07 meters) tall. With the base the final product is right at 4 feet (1.22 meters).

Dowel Rod - The simplest way to connect the two pieces of wood. The one I used was 7/8 inches wide (2.22 centimeters). You could probably get away with using a thinner dowel, but I'd probably use two or three rods for added stability.

Cat Toys - Without these it's just some wood standing on top of some other wood. I suggest different types of yarns and strings. Any craft store will have yarns, strings, and lacy bow type stuff that can be used. My girlfriend has this lying around for some of her projects and I absconded with a few pieces. Bells, shiny things, and toy mice are always a plus.

The tools for this project are simple:

Reciprocating Saw - Used for cutting off loose pieces of wood or shaping the tree to your liking.

Cordless Drill - I drilled some holes in a few of the branches so I could work with the lengths of string I had available. By inserting the string/yarn through the branch instead of going around the whole circumference I was able to gain a bit more length for the dangling toys/string.

Palm Sander - I made sure to round the edges and corners as much as possible. I don't know that this is necessarily a requisite but I know that when I run into this thing in the dark some night it's going to hurt less if the edges are gone.

Corded Drill - I love my Craftsman Cordless drill but the little 15.6 volt battery just wasn't up to the challenge of drilling the paddle bit into a solid stump. I guess I should have made sure the battery was fully charged before I set to work. Fortunately dlewisa had a corded drill nearby that made short work of the hole.

Hammer - Not pictured but absolutely essential for Step 3 and one of the Optional Steps.

Step 2: Safety First!

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You don't have to do this but I guarantee that you want to. Grab your reciprocating saw and cut off any loose chunks of wood. Unless you want them to break off, of course. Next, take a palm sander and smooth the edges and any corners out there so when this thing falls over and lands on you it doesn't go through your foot. It'll still hurt, but the damage will be less permanent. This is also a handy way to get rid of any wiggly bits the saw couldn't get to.

Step 3: Lincoln Logs Were Never This Difficult

Picture of Lincoln Logs Were Never This Difficult
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So far you've gotten rid of the loose chunks and smoothed the edges. Now let's get this puppy put together! Using your reciprocating saw, cut the dowel rod (or rods if you're going the multiple route) to a length of 6-8 inches (15.25 - 20.32 cm). You can go longer if you have an elongated paddle bit, but the one I have is only about 4 inches (10.16cm) long. Using a paddle bit that is approximately the same size as your dowel drill a hole in the center of your base as deep as it will go. I used a 7/8 inch (2.22cm) paddle bit and dowel. Repeat this on the bottom of the tree (see note on picture #3 for a safety concern). Next up we'll need to insert the dowel into hole we just drilled into the base. This will be fairly difficult because the hole and the dowel are practically the same size so using a hammer or rubber mallet is going to be about the only to drive it home. Once the dowel is in place it's time to put the tree on the base. This is a little difficult due to the above mentioned reasons. Twist, shove and hammer down until it's almost flush with the base. When it's just a bit over the base you'll want to make your final adjustments to make sure the tree is facing the way you like and is leaning in a way that lends itself to stability. Once you're satisfied, push the rest of the way down and start decorating.

Step 4: This Ain't A Christmas Tree...

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... so quit worrying about how you're going to decorate this thing and just get it done. If your cats like this it'll be because of the toys, not because of how they're hung. The first thing I did was prepare the Main Toy. I mentioned earlier that I have two finicky cats and they will really only play with 3 toys: A feather duster looking thing that seems to entrance them, a converted toy fishing pole (Instructable coming soon!), and the ubiquitous LASER pointer that acts like some form of optical crack to the feline population. If you're like me and didn't have an optimum selection of string lengths it would be advisable to drill through the center of your branches so you can attach the string while using less length (allowing you to better control the oh-so-important Dangle Effect).

Step 5: A Couple of Optional Steps

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My tree had a few things that made it perfect for me: enough branches to be enticing but not crowded, some nooks and crannies to hide mice in, and some knot holes to store catnip in. The toy mice I had fit absolutely perfectly inside the little nook pictured below. It also turned out that the knot holes were about the same size as the dowel rod I was using so I plugged them up with little chunks from the dowel after filling the holes with catnip. The results are awesome. Unfortunately I couldn't get any shots of the cats playing with the finished product as they run away as fast as possible whenever it seems like I may show them attention or affection.

Step 6: One Last Option

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Being that the wood I used was driftwood from the Ohio River it stands to reason that it's going to have some rather unique characteristics. One of these features was a pre-existing cut on one of the branches. I used this to my advantage by widening the cut a little bit and setting a chain in the resultant groove. The chained toy makes it more manly and awesome. Why does everyone laugh when I say that?

Step 7: You're Done!

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You're all done! Go put it in front of your cat's favorite window and see if they will deign to play with it. Good luck!
Gear_Gurl6 years ago
Wow! This is awesome!! I'm thinking of starting a cat rescue, and something like this would be so cool and cheap to add to the adoption room.
Sunkicked (author)  Gear_Gurl6 years ago
Glad you like it! I've been pleasantly surprised by how well the cats have taken to it. THey pretty much ignored it at first, but after my lady friend made some custom toys and we used the laser pointer on them, they were hooked! Send me some pictures if you end up making one.
canida6 years ago
So... do the cats like it?
Sunkicked (author)  canida6 years ago
UPDATE! After a couple months of this unsightly chunk of wood sitting in my living room, Angie redecorated it and added new toys (most of which she made herself). The result is a large in crease in play time. In fact the cats are enjoying it so much that the dogs (always jealous of anything the cats play with or eat or both) have started head butting some of the toys to make them squeak or jingle. Hooray!
Nice. Always good to see cats going nuts. Any strategic use of catnip?
Sunkicked (author)  canida6 years ago
Believe it or not, no. I put some on there a few days after bringing it in the house but they pretty much ignored it after rubbing their faces on the branches for a while. Angie's toy making ability is the driving force behind their new found passion. She attached one of the toys to a small toy fishing pole a while ago and had some great adventures with that. I hinted at doing an Instructable. Maybe I should take a break from the studying and get to work on something fun.
Sunkicked (author)  canida6 years ago
So far they've only played with it a bit. I tricked the male into playing with it yesterday by shining the laser pointer on it and then turning it off. I think he was attacking the tree because it ate the shiny dot he likes. Interestingly it was a stray that played with it the most. If you look at Darren's comment you'll see that there was a slight ant problem in the beginning. In order to try to keep the ants out of my house I sprayed it down with bug spray, then left it out on the porch for a couple of nights. A stray cat came up and started batting at it and went hogwild. He took off when I tried to get a pic though. :-( How's life? -EJC
My dad and I made a cat tree a few years ago as a scratching post, but it's relatively straight up and down. It's about four feet high, and the cats wouldn't play with it as first. I put a shelf on top and used a chainsaw to put in an appropriate niche for another shelf, carpeted both, and they LOVE it now.
dlewisa6 years ago
That thing looks more like a home for wayward ants. Or the white tree of Gondor. Nice looking garage though. Any cats that play with this thing should have their sexuality questioned. Wait a minute . . . that's my garage.