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DIY Climbing Hand Holds

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Eastern Mountain SportsThere are plans all over the internet on how to build your own indoor climbing wall like over at Eastern Mountain Sports. But there's only a few well documented ways to make your own holds and well buying them can be expensive! Plus it's more fun to make your own unique holds that no one actually makes giving you new challenges to your own wall.

I would like to thank my buddy Dave for first showing this to me and taking the photos.

There is all sorts of ways to make handholds from wood to bondo to silicone with fiberglass resin and while they all work none of them work well without lots of time lotss of practice and a ton of money spent in materials getting that practice time in.

The Bondo Fiberglass resin + sand yields the best results and is real close to commercial climbing holds you would buy in texture and feel. Silicone holds are extremely expensive to make, it will run you about $5+ to make a mold and then take a few hours to make then cover in silicone. To add insult to injury it will take a few days to dry and at that point you are ready to take a sledge hammer to the work you all ready did and head to the local climbing shop to buy holds.

Don't let my frustration as well as others fool you there is light at the end of the tunnel. What im about to show you is probably the easiest way to duplicate commercial holds or making your own free form holds without a "prototype".
 
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Step 1: Getting started

Picture of Getting started
Here is what you will need:

- 1 Block of Clay ($5-15 bucks great if you have a student id for that 10% :)
- Bondo Fiberglass Resin (I find getting the 1 gal size is managed easier aprox $20 bucks at home depot)
- Extra Fiberglass resin Fixer (about $2 to 4$ get one or two extra per gallon of resin)
- Play Sand or fine Silica sand (silica works better don't get anything with pebbles or rocks in it, starts at $5 to $10)
- 3/8" Washers (about .50 cents ea you need 1 to 2 a hold)
- 3/8" Mason drill bit for drilling the holes
- a can of WD40

Step 1

Get a block of clay (6" x 6" by 12" is aprox 20lbs depending on the clay type) It can be cheap clay; don't go out spending a arm and a leg on expensive sculptures clay it's just not needed. We will start with cloning a commercial hold first its easier to start with as your first try. Find a commercial hold and cut a slice off of the clay deep enough to accommodate the depth of the hold. Push the hold straight down into the clay with the back of the hold facing up, it is REAL important that you transfer the texture to the clay mold. At this point carefully remove the hold from the clay. Need to be careful not to smudge the texture so this may take a few tries at first. If the plug from the bolt hole breaks off roll a new one from some extra clay by hand. Place a 3/8" washer on top of the bolt hole peg, this is EXTREEMLY important.

Now you want to Spray the finished mold with WD40, this will act as a agent to prevent the poured mixture from sticking to the mold.

Step 2: Mixing the bondo resin

Here comes the fun part mixing up the bondo resin. This stuff reeks, so do it in a well ventilated area and you might want to wear a respirator I wouldn't recommend breathing it in. I like to set up a fan behind me blowing towards my work area to blow the fumes away from me. You are going to Guestimate how much sand would fill up the entire mold and roughly measure that volume of sand in ounces to determine how much of the mix you need to fill the mold. So now based on that measurement you want 60% sand and 40% bondo mix.

The first thing you want to do is mix the resin and the fixing agent one drop at a time before adding the sand. It is important to measure the volume of resin carefully so that you can calculate the right amount of fixer to add. The more fixer you add the faster the holds will setup. I generally use the amount suggested but try not to use less.

Now you need to work FAST, the clock is ticking as you only have about 15mins before the resin begins to set and harden!

If you want to add some color to your holds now is the time, acrylic paint works best and you want to add this in before the sand as well. Make sure you get creative :)

One you have all this done and you are set to go on pouring the sand in you want to do this slowly. You want to stir as your pour it in to avoid getting clumps or pockets of dry sand. The sand grains need to all get wet by the mix. The 60/40 mix is a good guideline but keep adding sand until it seems as if more sand would make the mix to dry to work with.

Step 3: Pour the mix into the mold!

Now we can pour the mix into the molds. It is a good idea to have some small holds around in case you mix too much mix so you don't waste any. Pour up to the top of the mold filling it to the brim.

Now we can pour the mix into the molds. It is a good idea to have some small holds around in case you mix too much mix so you don't waste any. Pour up to the top of the mold filling it to the brim. Let the holds cool and set for 1 to 3 hours, this varies based on how much fixer you added. Its ready when the top is hard but the hold is still a bit warm. If you pull it out too early it will damage the texture.

At this point the resin/sand mix is still a bit soft so any little irregularities you can cut off with a knife, I like to use a utility knife. This point you can smooth off the back of the hold by scraping it on any rough surface like the sidewalk :)

Step 4: Drilling

At this point you want to take your holds to a drill press or you can eyeball it and use a hand drill with that 3/8" mason bit we bought earlier. You want to drill down past the washer. Even though the bolt peg got us a starter hole it will never go all the way. So now you just have to let it harden a few hours (let it cure) and bolt them on your wall.

Happy Climbing :)
rrangelo2 days ago

You can pick up professional (everything form shaping foam to plastic) supplies at CWS http://climbingholdsupply.com/

dannygam10 months ago
Where can I buy inexpensive clay in bulk?!
Mooch071 year ago
Nice! I might have to try this myself. On your rocks, did you notice any irregularities like bubbles or inconsistencies?
And are these as sturdy as the ones you might buy?
The main reason I'm interested is the ability to customize the holds to any shape. How much money do you save doing this?
Hawks_781 year ago
I found you can get a pre-made mug at www.cruxmugs.com.
switch53 years ago
is there maybe another name for this 'Fibreglass Resin Fixer'? I can't find anyplace to buy it on its own under that name... that includes Home Depot and Canadian Tire. thanks in advance.
camlrnz switch52 years ago
The hardener usually is included with the resin. It comes under the white cap that is on the 1 gal.
the home depot website didn't return any search results, so I would recommend just doing a google shopping search.
Typically, it's called "Resin hardener", or "Liquid Hardener". If you go to home depot in the paint department, you'll find the hardener right there with the Bondo Fiberglass resin.
mgalyean2 years ago
Wear gloves and an old long sleeve shirt in addition to eye protection. This stuff can cause some interesting skin reactions that can vary by individual. And its just a pain to get off. Use acetone for cleanup prior to it setting up. After it sets up only time and/or chipping work.
Does anyone know if you can coat your climbing wall with bondo resin? Sounds like that would be just as good as a spray-on concrete coating they use to make "real" rock walls. Your climbing wall would be one big hold, imagine the friction.
I am looking into creating wooden holds mainly, some of the advice on wooden holds is to use a glue and sand finish at the end.

This could potentially create the grip on the wall?
Z.Backas3 years ago
I feel like it would be cheaper to use drilled out nickels as your washers instead of 50 cent ones, about 45 cents cheaper.
It might not be the best though I guess, especially for something semi-crucial to your well being on the wall like that...
Very amusing comment. or quarters too, still cheaper
Depends on what kind of resin you got... Polyester,Epoxide,Urethane,Acrylic...

I assume polyester resin has been used here as it's cheapest and generally suitable for casting,laminating,fibreglass,pouring,hand lay up etc.

"hardener" is also called catalyst and for polyester resin its name is MEKP - MethylEthylKeton Peroxide, mixing ratio is usually 100:2 -100parts of poly resin and 2 parts of MEKP BY WEIGHT,this is important when mixing bigger batch ,I am using ratio of 100:1 - 100:5, 100:1 when working on hot day with pure resin /no fillers,no sand,no pigments/ 100:5 when working on cold day,resin filled with lot of pigments+fillers...
MEKP is strong oxidizer so please wear eye protection,it can cause instant blindness.
i made my holds out of clay and put %100 silicon all over them, now i have about 40 moulds. also im tryin out a new hard rubber resin called Polyurethane. hope it works nice. 
wingman3583 years ago
I gotta get back into climbing!

Polyester resins are very durable (good idea on your part!) but have you experienced any failures or breakages? I'd be worried about setting a bolt too shallow or in the wrong spot. Then again, that could make for a really challenging, albeit more realistic route!
LVLaserTech4 years ago
You can save the work of drilling the bolt hole later if you use an appropriately sized piece of plastic tube to stick up out of the washer and well above the top of the mold. You might have to slide a dowel inside it to keep it straight, but it's minimal effort.
Better yet, just put the bolt in with the point up and the head embedded in  the clay. Make sure you spray it with the WD40.
micha3l874 years ago
I can't find any stores that sell blocks of clay that large. everything here is in small packs and i twould take over 50 small packs to make that size block
Try digging, I'm serious. Clay is everywhere, you just have to dig it up, you need a shovel and the will to dig a hole at six feet, sometimes less, there you'll find as much clay as you want. Not very pure but you can work with it. 
quesoman5 years ago
nice ible. i gonna try to get my dad to let me turn the side of my house into a climbing wall.
bazookazuz6 years ago
I build my holds our of real rock (limestone). i found the easiest way to flatten the back is to use an angle grinder with a 7" masonry grinding wheel (<$10). If you go this route, I would wait for the hold to completely harden so you don't gunk up your wheel. Great article! I'm gonna start building my hold this way once I exhaust my supply of real rocks.
Corvidae6 years ago
I found this site the other day. Its a company that sells the stuff to make holds, so if your willing to throw a bit of money into it, you can do it this way.
http://www.makehandholds.com/how_to.htm
Nice to see the interest in making climbing holds. We have been making them for about 5 years now. Started for ourselves, now we sell worldwide and on every auction site we can find. Most hold companies wont share info...I dont mind. If you have any specific questions, let me know. I contributed to an article that answers some basics - http://www.stephenwilliamson.com/Climbing/climbingholds.htm.

Don-
big assortment flat 1.jpgcoffee mug.jpgbeetle hold black.jpg
andresm6 years ago
WOW! great instructable.... i wanna cover my room wall in these... lol i know it dangearous (im mexican so pardon my spelling)
J_SCAP andresm6 years ago
no man ur speling is fine dont need to wory if we here at instructables can read it your fine
bethehammer6 years ago
This is great! I was planning to build a backyard playground set for my kid. She loves the climbing walls on the big sets at the park. This is going to be fun, now I can add a climbing wall to the set and make the holds any color she wants. Thanks for sharing. What did you mean by tendon-friendly?
(I'm taking this one; since I used the phrase...) Tendon-friendly holds just don't stress a particular tendon or tendon group. Think of a natural grip, following the curvature of your hand--like a handle. One test: they feel comfortable. For instance, I need to avoid too much stress on my ring fingers (not uncommon--I know climbers who've had 'pulley' injuries on that finger...both hands!) Of course, more advanced climbers tend to work hard on the weakest aspects of their climbing. Train hard on a group of holds that cause too much unnatural stress on those connections and you've got an injury...
hedgiehog6 years ago
I've been thinking of making my own climbing wall, but i got membership to a climbing gym, so i'd rather go there. Nice holds
admanrocks6 years ago
cool
Excellent instructable, very very nice. Is there a criterion to "design" the shape for a hold? (I'd like to create my own without having to mold/copy them).
There are many criterion for hold design. Some mimic natural features (flake, crack, crimp, sloper, pinch, pocket, etc.) Some are huge buckets for roofs. Some are wacky (skulls, animals, etc.) Some (jibs) are designed mainly for feet. The best (IMHO) are tendon-friendly. But rock isn't always friendly, so anything goes.
lemonie6 years ago
Are you grinding these flat afterwards (how)? Do you think it possible to add the hole to the mould instead of drilling it out afterwards? I'm thinking that the sand would be harsh on your drill-bit.
not at all thats why you use the masonry bit
Quiznak lemonie6 years ago
This sounds like a great project. You could probably stick dowel into the clay and have it extend up through the Bondo/sand mix to do what lemonie suggested.
Better yet, put a dowel through the original hold, before you shape the clay around it.
royalestel6 years ago
This is great. I've been missing my rock climbing days . . .
Ferrite6 years ago
I made climbing holds once out of cement. I made a shape out of clay and covered it with several layers of silicone caulk and let the caulk dry. I then poured cement in and let it set. They turned out fairly well but there were a lot of air bubbles on the outside when i took them out form the mold.
nagutron6 years ago
Really nice Instructable!
gmoon6 years ago
You can do this without the clay molds, but I gotta admit, yours look way better. Hey, nice touch with the color--ours are just ugly pink bondo :(. (Drilling the hole seems to make them less susceptible to breaking, when you tighten them on the wall w/your allen wrench...as does just the right mixture of bondo/sand.)
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