Hello Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wanted to write this instructable to give you helpful information on how to build your own personal bouldering wall, that is why you ended up on this page isn't it? I hope that this Instructable helps you in not only learning what tools and skills you need to build your wall but also allows you to have fun while doing it. I had a crack team of family and friends help me put this project together and that really makes a project of this magnitude much more fun, who cares if your brother-in-law cuts a 2”x6” a foot short as long as you’re having a good time.
For this project my number one piece of advice is the carpentry expression “measure twice (or more) and cut once,” whether that is on the physical board or using a computer aided drawing (CAD) software to determine how many boards you need, measuring is the most important process of this project. That leads us to the first portion of our project, planning.
Step 1: Planning
When planning for this project the first goal is to measure your space, not only are you measuring your space for your wall, you also need to measure your space for other things you’re putting in this room. For us our wall was going in our garage. So we needed to make some tough decisions, they went something like this. What do we absolutely need in a wall, what do we need to fit in the garage, where and how are we going to position all of our stuff, and is it ok if the second car gets to spend a cold lonely winter outside. Plan for not only your wall, but your car, bikes, tools, storage shelves, windsurfing equipment, boat... whatever you plan on having in your garage with your wall. Pro tip, if you have to move 12 things before hopping on your bouldering wall so you don’t smack your head on a boat propeller, you are never going to use it.
If you’re building your wall in the basement or bedroom then your priorities may change a little, is this a high traffic area, is this a multi purpose room, where are the safe fall zones, do we need to set up a barrier for when we climb, will the dogs prefer the warm comfy fall zones to their ridiculously overpriced beds you bought for them last Christmas.
Make sure you have planned for everything so nothing comes as a surprise, falls under the expression “measure twice, cut once.”
My garage back wall is 24' wide so I could make 3 separate sections each 8' wide. You can see the design in our next segment "design."
Step 2: Design
There are many ways to design your wall, I did a few of them but the best idea is to find out what will work best for you, and importantly have fun! Does your wall really need a crazy triangular protrusion at 65°? No, probably not. But maybe that rough sketch turns into something cool that you really like. My advice though is keep it simple, not only is keeping it simple easier to build, but it's also much easier to set problems on so you don’t keep resetting the same problem everytime you reset your wall. You can always use any leftover plywood sheets to make volumes (my next upcoming Instructable) to add some needed variety to your wall. My first few designs had everything, a 90 overhang, a crack, a weird triangular 35° section meeting in a 45° and a 25° but when it came to building that I would have had a lot of troubles and probably would have needed to hire a professional to just cut some of the angles.
I settled on (from left to right when facing the wall) a flat left wall, for friends kiddos (and some ridiculous crimpers I picked up), a 35°, a glorious 12 ft 45° in the middle, and a 25°. The 35° and the 45° were set up to include a 1ft kicker with the 25 having a 2 ft kicker. You can see my first design attempts and second design attempts (more grounded in reality) in the images. The drawings were made using google's sketchup 2016 which is free (for personal use) and a lot of fun to just mess around with.
Relative terms I will used throughout this Instructable:
Supports- boards which I attached to the walls or ceilings to allow for proper spacing of the framing and to attach the framing to the wall without having to attach the framing directly to the studs of the garage. The supports are connected through the wall to the studs of the garage. My supports were 2x12’s attached directly to the studs though the existing wall.
Framing- the actual frame of the bouldering wall, which the plywood will attach to. The framing makes the general outline of the wall and the plywood makes the climbable surface. The framing includes the 2x6’s attached to the supports through the joist hangers, and the 2x2 furring strips are attached directly to the studs through the existing wall.
Existing wall/back wall- the existing wall is what I’m attaching the bouldering wall supports to for building the wall. My existing walls was already insulated between the joists and sheathed with ¼” OSB, which I left attached to the wall for insulation and just screwed though for the supports.
Step 3: Tools, Materials, and Experience
To take a project of this size on a good amount of tools and experience is needed. No you do not need to be a carpenter by trade, but it is really helpful to know your way around a Miter saw, a circular saw, and a drill. All the cutting can be done with a circular saw, but a Miter saw that can cut up to 55° angles is very helpful and allows for a much cleaner cut. A table saw could also be useful for cutting plywood, but you would need a second set of hands to do it safely, I preferred using a miter saw for the framing and a circular saw with a homemade fence to cut straight lines on the plywood. Pro tip, do not hammer in the T-nuts until after you have cut the plywood, nothing is scarier that sending a T-nut flying across the garage when it hits the blade of your circular saw (didn’t actually happen but how I explained it to the helpers). Also you need to know how to calculate triangles and possess some general math skills. I found http://www.calculator.net/triangle-calculator.html to be extremely helpful for determining the lengths of boards and positioning the ceiling supports based on the wall supports.
- Miter saw
- Circular saw
- Corded drill (mostly for drilling T-nut holes)
- Cordless drill (mostly for framing and attaching plywood)
- Angle finder (mechanical or electronic)
- Chalk line
- Tape measurer
- 90° speed square
- 7/16th spade bit
- 5ish T25 Torx bits
- Painting brushes/rollers
- A truck to haul all the wood
The tools that I used may be different that what you have on hand or what you plan on using, a few substitutions are:
Using the circular saw for all miter saw cuts, it’s essential then to have an angle finder to plan your angle cuts.
Instead of the chalk line you can just use a long straightedge to make the T-nut grid. Although the chalk line is sometimes viewed special purpose tool using the straightedge will add a significant amount of time to your T-nut planning.
A ½ forstner bit may be substituted for the 7/16 spade bit. The ½ forstner bit does provide a much smoother and straighter hole, but takes a significantly longer time to get through the plywood.
You can use Phillips head bits and screws in place of the T25 Torx screws but anyone who knows the difference will tell you how much easier and faster it is to drive Torx screws compared to Phillips (square bit are also an acceptable substitution) also Torx screws are less likely to strip when removed and replaced over and over which can be helpful on removable panels or on screw on holds.
These are the materials I used to build my wall, your wall will require completely different amounts of materials (unless you copy mine exactly). This comes back to measure twice cut once, know exactly how many boards you need before going to your hardware store, it saves you that second or third extra trip just because you forgot to pick up 2x2x8 furring strips. I may have over engineered my wall a little, you can scale back the size of these boards if you would like, the 2x6’s can be substituted with 2x4’s and the 2x12’s may be substituted with 2x10’s or 2x8’s if your really good at math (will be explained later). You can substitute Birch or ACX plywood for the BCX plywood for a nicer finish, or CDX plywood to save the most money, but be prepared for slivers in your shoes though.You cannot substitute anything for the ¾ thickness of the plywood because of the way the T-nuts are attached to the wood, anything thinner than ¾ will cause the hold to not seat on the wall, and anything thicker will make it more difficult to find the perfect bolt for attaching the hold.
- 10 - 4x8 sheets of ¾" BCX plywood
- 7 - 2”x12”x8’
- 1 - 2”x12”x10’
- 20 - 2”x6”x10’
- 8 - 2”x6”x12’
- 8 - 2”x2”x8’ furring strips
(I understand that there are few additional boards in the picture most were purchased for this project others were for other projects or set aside for when inevitably a board is cut too short, having one or two extra boards laying around is worth not having to run back to Menards in the middle of your project)
The hardware is also relative to the size of wall you’re building, I ended up using these amounts based on the amount of wood I used scale up or down as necessary.
- 2lbs of 3-⅛” T25 Torx construction screws (typically gold colored)
- 2lbs of 3-¾” T25 Torx construction screws
- 7lbs of 1-¾” T25 Torx construction screws
- 42- 90° joist hangers
- 1200+ T-nuts
I know what you're thinking here “Hey dude what's with all these crazy different amounts and sizes of screws? Why don't you just use all 1-¾” T25 Torx screws?” The reason why I have all these different sizes of screws are based on what you are screwing together. A carpentry rule of thumb is to have your screw length be the distance through the piece you are attaching 2X so if you are attaching a 2x12 (actual thickness of 1-½”) to a rafter you should have a screw at least 3” in length. So the screws are for as follows, the 3-⅛” screws are for mounting the supports to the walls and ceiling, the 3-¾” screws are for attaching the framing to the joist hangers (you have to screw through the 2x6 at an angle increasing your 2X length) and the 1-¾” screws are for attaching the joist hangers to the supports and the plywood to the framing. If you want you can instead pick up all 3-¾” screws instead of both 3-¾” and 3-⅛” screws.
Step 4: Priming the Plywood (Optional)
If you want to paint your wall, the first thing you need to do is prime the plywood with a primer. Make sure when you’re buying your primer that you get primer for wood and not just drywall, there is a difference. Just talk to one of the workers in the paint department let them know you want a high quality acrylic primer for priming wood NOT Poly Vinyl Acetate (PVA) primer, if they try to sell you PVA primer just leave the store. If they are able to help you, a gallon was able to cover the first two coats, which I painted quickly in the grass and a second gallon was used when the wall was up, the plywood will soak in a ton of primer and I would suggest at least 2 coats if you're not going to have any white showing and up to 3 or 4 coats if you’re going to have white showing. After painting on the grass some grass did stick to the paint, I just quickly and lightly sanded the grass off using some sandpaper and you can't even tell on the final wall.
Step 5: Setting Up the Supports
The supports are attached directly to the wall, the framing is then attached to the supports placing the load of the wall and the climber on the supports which are fastened to the joists of the garage. Its best to mention here that if your garage is not insulated or does not currently have an interior wall, you can attach the framing directly to the studs by screwing the framing to the studs with the framing placed on the left or right side of the studs of the wall. This method of attaching the framing to the studs is easier and requires less complicated cuts and less materials so it can be done quicker and cheaper, but if you live in the frozen north, you may need to maintain your insulation in your house or garage, ergo supports.
The supports can be screwed directly to the stud or through the wall into the stud. Pro tip, studs are typically 16” on center, so that means if you know where one stud is, you can measure 16” to the right or left to find the next stud, be careful though if you are on the edge of the stud you may accidentally drill through the side of the stud reducing the structural integrity of your support (measure twice, drill once) if you miss the stud, remove the screw and try again. The first thing I did was mark all of my studs on my wall sheathing.
To attach the wall supports I determined how high I wanted my kickers. With a 1 ft kicker on the 35°, 45°, and flat wall and a 2 ft kicker on the 25° wall, I placed my wall supports 11" off the ground for the 35°, 45° and flat wall and 22"off the ground for the 25° wall. The wall support was then fastened to the joists using he 3-⅛” T25 Torx screws by screwing through the 2x12x8’ into my wall sheathing, then into the joists.
To attach the ceiling supports a few measurements and angles must be used to determine how far the ceiling joists need to be placed from the back wall. A right triangle can be used to calculate the distance using the angle (this is why I used 2x12’s instead of 2x8’s not only are they more structurally secure but they allow for a little more wiggle room if you place the ceiling support a few inches too close or far away from the wall). There are a few websites out there to figure out your distances and cutting angles using a simple triangle, I used http://www.calculator.net/triangle-calculator.html, pretty simple to use and gives angles and side lengths.
I placed the ceiling supports such that the center of the 90° rafter joist will fall in the middle of the ceiling support based on the preferred angle of the wall. This can be measured in both sketchup in your drawing using the measurement tool and before mounting to double check you have the correct distances.
Since my rafters would run parallel to my roof supports. I had to add additional supports running perpendicular to the rafters and the roof supports. These supports are perpendicular to the roof supports (support supports?) allowed for a more precise positioning of the roof supports without having to attach the frame to the roof rafters, and will allow the possibility of the addition of a roof section. The perpendicular supports utilized 5 ft of 2x6 boards with three for both the 35° and 25° sections and 4 for the 45° section. The reason why they are 5 ft long is because wanted them to be able to attach to at least 3 rafter joists, which again if you remember are 16” on center resulting in a 4 ft section being the minimum length, the extra foot is just there for reasons I do not have an answer to. For the ceiling supports I used a 2x12x10’ board in the center for the 45° section (for when I want to later add a roof) and a 2x12x8’ for each ceiling support for the 25° and 35° sections.
Step 6: Framing the Wall
Building the Frame:
The plywood panels attached to the frame to resulting in the overall structure of the wall. The frame is the most important part of the wall because it bears most of the weight of the climber, it is best to engineer your frame such that in most circumstances the weight of the climber is supported by at least two “joists” of the frame. To do this I placed the joists 16” on center at the angles (with respect to the floor or ceiling and facing the wall) of 180° on the left wall, 35° on the left section of the back wall, 45° on the center section of the back wall, and 25° on the right section of the back wall. The cut boards are then attached to the wall supports using 90° joist hangers. These boards are attached such that the 2” section of the 2x6 is facing (parallel) the plywood, and the 6” sections are perpendicular to the plywood. This gives us the greatest structural integrity for the frame. A long 2x6 mounted with the 6” section facing the plywood will not only flex when a load is applied, but it will also mess up our T-nut positioning.
Cutting the Framing:
Depending on the wall you are making these cuts may be simple or very difficult. If you are using a Miter saw, cuts are easy to set up and hammer out quickly. Build a template by cutting one board and positioning it on your wall, if your angle and length match up, you can use that board as a template to measure out the other boards. We had one group marking the boards to be cut, one group cutting, and another group fastening the boards to the wall. It was a pretty quick and painless process, only one or two boards were lost to improper cuts.
For cutting the length:
Again we will use the triangle calculator to determine how long the board will need to be. Because you are cutting angles on an object, not a straight line as calculated using the triangle calculator, the math gets a little more complicated. As a straight line you do not need to worry about the inside length and the outside length, but when a 2x6 gets involved you need to take the 5.5” of the line into effect. Pro-tip, we eventually figured out that just adding 4” (explained later why 4”) to the hypotenuse calculation gathered by the triangle calculator gave us a pretty good result and as long as the boards are all the same length a 24.5° wall is pretty dang close to a 25° wall. The angles were then cut using the calculated length +4 as the inside measurement cut.
For cutting the angles:
When cutting a board with an angle think of it as the triangle again, whatever angle is attached to the wall support, its “complementary angle” will be cut for the ceiling support. Complementary angles can be measured by subtracting the wall angle from 90°. For example, the 45° wall angle will have a complementary angle of 45° on the ceiling, that's easy right? Therefore the 35° wall angle will have a complementary angle of 55° on the ceiling, and the 25° will have a 65° on the ceiling.
After cutting the angles a 90° corner is needed to place the boards securely in the 90° rafter joist. This is kind of a difficult process to explain through text but can be easily observed in the 7th picture with the rafter joist. To sit properly on the 90° rafter joist a 2” section must be removed on either end which comes from the additional 4” added in our hypotenuse calculation. The 2” is not taken from the angle (angle of the frame e.g., the 35° cut) but at a 90° angle from the angle cut with a set being made 2” in length from the angle cut to the long side of the board.The “seat” this was easily done using the speed square making a line and cutting it with the miter saw.
We did have problems cutting the 65° angle to match the 25° wall. Our main problem was that the miter saw was attached too close to the wall. When cutting the 25° angle we needed to cut the complementary angle by placing the board at 90° to the support, this can be seen in picture (cutting the 65°).
After cutting the angles:
After you get a section of boards cut (with their angles and seats), or if you have helpers during the cutting, you can start mounting the boards to the 90° rafter joists. I started by fastening all of the rafter joists to the wall support at the 16” on center markings using the 1-¾” T25 Torx screws. The boards were then seated into the rafter joists on the wall support and positioned level, with respect to being perpendicular to the ground, and fastened to the ceiling supports with another rafter joist. The 2” seat cut is placed on the bottom of the rafter joist, parallel to the ground, and the angle cut is placed against the wall. All of the boards for the frame are then attached to the supports via the rafter joists (use the 3-¾” Torx screws at an angle to through the holes provided to attach the rafter tie to the board then to the support).
For each 8’ section, 7 boards were used 16” on center. The outer two boards hold the outer edge of the plywood to the frame and the center 5 boards are used to keep it in place. I also cut and attached a few braces between the joists of the frame to prevent any torsional forces from being applied to the joist
The kickers and left side 90° wall were also framed 16” on center flat against the wall and spaced out using 2x2 furring strips. The furring strips don't offer much structural support, but as long as they are fastened well to the joists behind the wall sheathing they can support enough weight.
After framing the whole wall we are ready to fasten the plywood to the wall.
Step 7: Plywood Drilling, Cutting, and Hammering
Drilling the Holes:
Before the plywood is attached to the wall, the T-nut holes are drilled into the plywood.There are different types of T-nut patterns, there are grids, offset grids, and random. I settled on an 8” offset grid for my T-nut pattern mostly because it offers more hold placement opportunities, a pro of random, but does not sacrifice structural integrity or create misaligned T-nuts, cons of random. You can see the offset T-nut pattern in the chalk line photo. Creating the offset T-nut pattern was done by placing marks on the outside of the plywood and snapping a chalk line to create the grid. The measurements follow this pattern, a 2” section is blocked off from the exterior edge of the plywood and then a mark is made every 4” (from the edge the marks are made at 2”, 6”, 10”, 14”, 18”... up to 46” for the 4’ side and up to 94” for the 8’ side). The chalk lines make a 4" grid pattern. I then used a sharpie to place a dot on each corner of the grid to be drilled skipping every other corner therein offsetting the grid making an 8" spacing between the holes, the marked corners of the grid were then turned into 7/16” holes using our corded drill. Pro tip, drill on the face of the plywood where the holds will be attached not on the face where the T-nuts will be hammered, for me the drilling side was the painted face, the hole drilled from the top will be clean but the exit point of the spade bit (not so much when using a forstner bit) may chip and damage the face of the exit point so its best to have the rear be damaged not the face. Drill the holes as straight as possible to make sure that the T-nuts are as straight as possible.
Pro paragraph, to make drilling go faster you can layer multiple plywood boards on top of each other. When you do this make sure align all the plywood pieces in the same orientation and clamp all of the boards together and drill a continuous hole from the first piece though to the final piece. I found that 4 sheets were doable, but did start to damage the plywood more significantly than when we drilled 3 sheets at a time. We positioned the plywood on top of a set of sawhorses to raise them up a little and make them more comfortable to drill.
Cutting the plywood: Before pounding the T-nuts into the plywood the plywood must be cut based on the length or space required for the wall, the additional 2” spacing that was placed on all of the ends of the plywood is intended to align with one of the studs of the wall. Because every wall is different I'm just going to provide one quick example. Using my 45° wall as an example, I framed the wall with an 8’ length allowing me to slap 2 sheets of plywood (we did lengthwise but either works) directly to the wall (after pounding t nuts) then cut the last piece to size. After attaching the second sheet of plywood above the first I measured the distance from the second sheet to the ceiling support, about 3.3ft, and cut the remaining 0.7ft from the rest of the plywood.
Pro tip, to make the cut a straighter line, you can either use a table saw with a fence (and some help), or create a homemade fence, with an unused board, a circular saw, and a few clamps. Based on your circular saw, you clamp the fence to the plywood at the distance from the blade to the edge of the guard, and follow the fence with your circular saw to cut a straight line.
Pounding the T-nuts: After cutting the plywood, or if you do not need to cut some of the sheets, you can start pounding in T-nuts per sheet (if you used the 8” offset) you will use 120ish T-nuts, that is a bunch of hammering. Make sure that you align each T-nut such that it is straight when hammered in otherwise you may have some troubles when trying to attach holds to the wall. I liked to place each T-nut in its hole and hammer it down (1-2 good swings with a hefty 3lb hammer). The T-nuts will be hammered on the rear face of the plywood, so if you have painted the front side, the rear (unpainted) side gets the T-nuts. The T-nuts perform the best (don't get stripped out as easily) when hammered flush to the plywood.
Step 8: Screwing the Plywood to the Wall
After your pieces of plywood are cut to size and every hole is laboriously filled with a T-nut, they are ready to be fastened to the glorious frame you constructed. To fasten the plywood to the frame you may need the assistance of a buddy or two (they weigh a good 50 lbs each). What we did was position the sheet of plywood on the frame and then clamp the plywood to a few of the frame joists, and screw the plywood to the frame using the 1-¾” T25 Torx screws. We tried to use 4 screws per joist of the frame (about 28 screws per sheet), one on each of the edges and two between. You should attempt to attach each board in the same orientation either all lengthwise or all vertical this better aligns your T-nuts.
Each sheet is aligned based on the previous sheets and eventually all your plywood is attached to your wall. You now have a fully functional bouldering wall. But why stop there?
Step 9: First Climb
Obligatory final wall and first set problem pictures.
Step 10: Painting Your Wall
You can paint your wall, anything you can imagine, do you like cats? Can you paint a cat? Then cover your wall in cats!!! I unfortunately cannot paint cats so we settled with this triangular grid. I wish we had more pictures of how we set up the tape but it kinda all flowed at once, we started with some larger triangles which were divided into smaller ones and some squares.
If you plan on having some white showing it is best to do at least a few more layers of white before painting your colors. I did 4 layers of white primer (took about 2 gallons), and 2 layers (plus a few touch ups) of color on the wall letting it dry a few hours between layers. Two of the white layers were done in the grass, and the second two layers were done when the wall was up.
Some people suggest plugging the holes with golf tees while painting, I tried plugging the holes in that manner and it just created a mess, the golf tees got stuck on the paint roller and were flung all over me and the garage (with paint). I do not recommend the golf tees. It may be situational I do not know.
This is the hardest part, let your paint dry for at least a week if not more, if it's hot out it may take up to a month before the paint fully dries. We put on our holds after 4 days, and upon removal during our most recent reset we were peeling paint off the wall and the after effect is not pretty.
Step 11: Final Wall
Here are some pictures of the final wall. I hope that this Instructable helps inspire you in your climbing wall construction endeavors.
We purchased holds from our old climbing gym before we moved and also got some seconds from Escape climbing company http://www.escapeclimbing.com/climbingholds/ as well as all of our hardware for fastening the holds to the T-nuts.
For padding we found a few used mattresses on craigslist and sew a few slip covers to protect the mattresses from unneeded wear.
Remember climbing is inherently dangerous. It is best to remind your friends and practice safe falling and how to spot each other correctly.
Tips and Notes:
Pro reason A, I used a 16” on center for my framing mostly due to its ease of setup and how well it aligns with the 8” offset T-nut grid. I know that some people prefer to save some money by using a 24” on center framing, which should be plenty safe for supporting even the heftiest climber. But I think that the 16” on center gives a little more support, and it generally comes out to only 2 additional boards per 8 ft section.
Pro reason B, some people decide to go with Oriented Strand Board (OSB, chip board) instead of using plywood (ACX,CDX, Birch) to save a couple bucks per sheet. OSB is only rated for sheathing and is not suited for any perpendicular or angular forces applied upon it and becomes significantly more structurally insufficient when T-nuts holes are drilled and the T-nuts are pounded into the board. I’ll just mention that you may save like up to $50-100 using OSB instead of CDX plywood (for 5-10 sheets), but a broken arm costs on average $2,500 and a sad few months of not using your awesome, but currently broken, climbing wall.
Pro reason C, paint vs stain vs texture vs au natural? We really wanted to make a cool design and add some color to our very white garage interior. If I had to do it again I probably would have gone with au natural, it would’ve saved us about $100 in paint and the paint ends up just getting scuffed anyways. Texture is a very fun idea, but it takes a lot of time, patience, and money. The texture looks cool and will get you a ton of props, but I think it is a little overkill for a project like this and is not worth the money. I have seen a few stained walls and they do look nice, if I was to build a wall in my basement I would probably stain it instead of painting.
Distance for each T-nut marking: 2 6 10 14 18 22 26 30 34 38 42 46 50 54 58 62 66 70 74 78 82 86 90 94
Number of T-nuts per wall 11*23/2= 123.3