Cat Tree From Two Old Chairs

Cat trees and condos and houses and whatever else they are called are often sold for $100+. I am a university student without that money to spend, but with two cute cats, one of whom really enjoys climbing. I also am in a class that focuses on sustainability and preventing waste from going to the landfill. Thus, this Instructable is how to build a cat tree out of two old wooden chairs and a carpet.

This Instructable was prepared as a project for the Fall 2018 offering of INTEG 375: Hands-on Sustainability, a third-year course in the Knowledge Integration program at the University of Waterloo.

Step 1: My Project, Gathering Supplies

Materials:

  1. Wood! I found two matching wooden chairs, but a dresser or bed frame or some wooden planks will work as well, though following my instructions will work best if you are also armed with wooden chairs.
  2. Carpet! This is a harder thing to find for cheap. Most fabric stores sell it for a rather steep price, but after looking through some nearby neighborhoods on trash nights I managed to find one on the curb. Don’t worry about any imperfections on the carpet--we’re going to be cutting it up anyways.
  3. Optional, sturdy fabric. This is for the “cat hammock” that most of the commercial cat trees come with. And to cover up any ugly areas (which ended up being my whole thing).

Tools:

  • Nails (many of them)
  • Hammer
  • Sharp knife (I used an X-acto)
  • Scissors (if working with fabric)
  • Wood saw (I used a simple hand-held one)
  • Measuring tape
  • Thick Sharpie
  • Sewing machine (optional)
  • Six large zip ties or sturdy rope

Step 2: My Project, Determine Design

First, I looked over my chairs to determine why they had been left on the curb side on garbage night. One of them had slightly uneven legs, the other had the seat area falling off (I discovered it had lost a screw, and then been poorly glued on). Also, both of the chairs had many dents and scratches and small imperfections that my cats do not care about.

My two chairs have many ways in which they could have been put together. I want to make a cat tree with two or three places for cats to sit, some hiding area, and a large vertical part covered with carpet for climbing. The easiest--and most structurally secure--way I could think to do this was keeping it simple and stacking the two chairs on top, only cutting off the parts of the chair legs that stick out (which was the uneven chair). This way the cat tree is standing on all four chair legs, and encourages the cats to sit in the middle, making it more structurally stable.

Step 3: My Process, Measure and Cut

With my design in place, I planned to cover the back half of one of the chairs with carpet. I used my measuring tape to determine the dimensions of my chair, then sketched them out on the back of the carpet.

Next, I cut the carpet. Cutting a carpet wasn't as difficult as I feared, I simply held it above the ground, sitting on the main area to maintain tension, and used my knife to carefully score down the back side. I didn't worry about cutting through the woven side, just focused on the underside, and afterwards cut the woven side where needed.

Step 4: My Process, Remove Seats

This is to be done if you wish to replace the seat made for a human with a cloth hammock made for a cat. I unscrewed the seven remain screws as best I could, then used the back of my hammer to pry up the nails, and scissors to cut around the glued on fabric.

Step 5: My Process, Nail on the Carpet

I used many nails and most my physical strength to nail that stiff carpet onto the back of the chair. I made sure it was entirely covered and there were no loose nails. In the end it did not look the best, but it was climbable for my cats.

Something I didn't have the foresight to do here was not have the carpet cover the entire back of the chair. I add in the last step how I would have left a boarder of wood free, this would allow my attachment of the two chairs and the the fabric to be far easier.

Step 6: My Process, Add the Hammock

I measured my cloth to the approximate correct size, hemmed it on my sewing machine (which is simply folding over the cloth and sewing a straight line to keep the crease), and nailed it onto where the seat had been. I first nailed all the corners, trying to maintain tension, then did three other nails for each side. The nails I was using had small heads. Due to worry about the nails ripping the cloth, I hammered them in most of the way, then hammered the nail bent flat at 90 degrees against the cloth.

Step 7: My Process, Add the Hiding Spot

My design for my hiding spot was quite simple--I used the cloth to cover all four legs, making something like a chair skirt, then cut a slit in the front of the skirt. At this point I felt it was complete enough for the cats to see. They quite liked it, and also managed to knock it over by sitting on the very top.

Step 8: My Process, Sawing Off the "top"

After a couple days of being cat tested, I started working on the other chair. I didn't put carpet up this one, though if you want to you can. I started by sawing off the bottom of the legs. The chairs that I was working with had chair legs that were held together with horizontal bars. I simply cut the legs down to the height of those bars, then sanded until smooth.

Step 9: My Process, the Top Hammock

The reason I sawed down the legs was to make it easier to add a cat hammock at the top. After sawing all I had to do was cut, hem, and nail in. In my design, this area is only 8 inches above the area below, and due to that I believe it needs no carpet to climb up. Thus, I made this hammock slightly narrower, so that my cats can jump up from the other platform.

Step 10: My Process, the Middle Hammock and the Backs

You know the drill--measure, cut, hem, nail.

Purely for aesthetic reasons, I added the fabric to the back of both chairs, including over the carpet. When putting it over the carpet I used twice as many nails--anticipating more pressure to be applied.

Step 11: My Process, Attaching the Chairs

I had no screws or nails that would get through the thickness of both chairs to attach them, so I used large zip ties. I believe a sturdy rope would also work, but I would recommend at least one other pair of hands to aid if that's what you are using. I used three zip ties for each side, threading them through the bars of the chairs and the hole left from removing the seat, then pulled tight, and tucked them into the cloth.

Step 12: The Recipients (my Cats)

Thus far, my cats are enjoying their new play place. I can't say I'm surprised, after all I made it with them in mind. My two cats are Lilly (the orange and white tabby), and Tubby (the black and white one). Lilly is about a year and a half old, she's more relaxed then the average cat, enjoys lying on the hard floor, and is declawed. Tubby is about half a year old, has a large amount of energy, loves to climb, and enjoys sleeping on soft places where II like to sit.

My end results have approximately a meter of carpeted chair for Tubby to climb, but also plenty of layers and open walls that Lilly can jump up through. The hiding spot at the bottom gives Lilly a place to curl up on the floor where she won't be accidentally stepped on, while the various hammocks give lots of space for Tubby to nap on. There's even enough space for both of them to be on one hammock, great for when they're giving each other baths.

Step 13: What I've Learnt (and Some Tips)

    1. Always plan everything when building. I started this with a plan for how I wanted it to look, but didn't consider the details of how I would attach the two chairs together, or how I would make it aesthetically pleasing. If I were to do this over again, I would not bother to wrap the carpet around the edges. Instead I would cut the carpet to fit one side, with a small boarder (1-2cm), then when adding the fabric over top of the carpet, I wouldn't be hammering through the unknown expanse of stiff martial, unsure as to the location of the wood. I also would have sawed the very top bar of the chairs so that it was much smaller, and more flat. This would have made screwing through that wood into the other chair possible.

    2. Don't trust cats. I wish I had gotten a picture of it, but when I first let the cats loose on the half finished tree, Tubby decided to climb up the carpet, and then sit right on the very top, regardless of this unsteady and narrow perch. I believe this to be how the chair got knocked over.

    3. Use new sand paper. I haven't used sand paper much before, but when sanding down the sawed off legs, I spent far too much time working on the first leg because the sandpaper was too worn.

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