Ramp, Tower, & Climbing Wall

About: I like to create, no matter the medium. I've made furniture, digital models, costumes, props, videos, graphics, animations, restored a vehicle, etc.

My son asked for a ramp wall after experiencing an obstacle course. We had talked about a climbing wall last year, and I was motivated to get building.

I start nearly all of my projects in Google Sketchup. This lets me draw a 3d model and figure out the details before I start cutting. I always try to maximize the line between quality and cost. You can get lesser grades of plywood, but they'll be rough or not best suited for outdoor use.

The max width of the ramp is 4' due to plywood being 4' wide, so I adjusted all other dimensions to fit. I tried to use as few differing screw sizes as possible for cost, otherwise I would have opted for 1" screws through the 1/2" plywood on the ramp.

I started with a basic plan of a 4'x4'x8' tall tower as 2x4's come in 8' lengths. One side would have a ladder composed of 2x4's spaced at 18" and the ramp would be on the opposite side. I decided on a 10* angle for the vertical portion of the ramp. It's about a 5'-6" run with a radius. I opted for lag screws where forces on the structure would be greater, such as the rails at the top and the base of the framing. I used 1/2" plywood for the ramp as 3/4" just isn't needed. Generally I'd opt for the larger size. I had planned on 1/4" paneling facing for a smooth uniform finish at the ramp, but I ended up not using it. The plywood was smooth enough, and I used kerf cuts on the back side to fit the radius. I should have used (3) layers of 1/4" for a smoother result instead of 1/2" plywood. The 1/4" would have radiused without kerf cuts.

PVC pipe creates a handle at the top of the ramp. I used a cross cut sled to cut the 2x4's, but you will need to clamp each side of the 2x4 down as it will want to tip off the sled after being cut. Measure twice and test fit as needed.

I figured if I'm going to this much trouble, I might as well add that rock climbing wall, which is 10' tall. I used
the 3/4" plywood for the rock wall since there is a higher point load at each handle.

Purchase List:
• (22) treated 2x4's
• (4) sheets treated 1/2"x4'x8' plywood
• (3) sheets 1/4"x4'x8' plywood
• (2) sheets 3/4"x4'x8' plywood
• 1/2" PVC pipe 10'
• (46) #9x3" wood screws, for screwing through 2x4s
• (24) 3/8"x3" lag screws
• (80) #8x1 1/2" wood screws, for screwing through plywood
• (50) rock climbing holds

Material Cost:
$476 with $120 of that being for the rock climbing wall holds

Tool List:
• table saw with crosscut sled for 2x4s
• circular saw to cut plywood
• jig saw for curves
• quick clamps, screw clamps, bar clamps, pipe clamps, c-clamps, 4' wide clamps help a lot
• framing angle
• drill
• drill bit for lag screw pilot hole - 5/16"
• Socket/wrench for lag screw - 14mm
• drill bit for wood screw pilot hole - 3/32"
• forstner bit for lag screw recess - 7/8"
• drill press - for recessing the screws in the angle braces
• drill bit for wood screw head through PVC - 3/8"
• the wood screws came with a square bit
• level
• ladder or bucket to reach the top of the tower
• 40 grit sand paper to round the edges of plywood, 2x4s

Cut List:
• (10) 3'11" 2x4's for framing tower
• (4) 4' 2x4's for framing tower
• (4) 8' 2x4's for framing tower
• (1) 3'5" 2x4's for framing platform
• (16) 2' 2x4's for angle bracing corners (angle cut each end)

• (1) 3'5' 2x4 for railing
• (1) 4' 4.75 2x4 for railing on rock wall
• (4) 2' 2x4's for railing
• 4'6x3'11 plywood 1/2" for top platform
• (3) 6" 2x4 lengths to brace the top platform at the top ladder rung

• (6) 3'11" 2x4's for framing ramp
• 8' & 3' length of 1/2" plywood for ramp base
• 8' & 3' length for 1/4" paneling ramp finish
• (2) 4'x8' plywood 1/2" ramp sides cut to shape

Rock Wall:
• 3.5'x8' plywood 1/2"
• 3.5'x2' plywood 1/2"
• 10.5"x2' 1/2" plywood 1/2"
• (3) 3.5' 2x4's for bracing

Safety Concerns:
• Always use caution with power tools.
• If you use a crosscut sled, 8' 2x4's have a tendency to tip it.
• I wear a respirator when tooling wood. I don't want to breathe in tiny wood particles.
• Paint in a well ventilated area and wear a respirator too.
• The tower is 8' tall, be careful when working on or around it.

Step 1: Tower

First we'll make the frames, two sides of the tower. I started with the 8' 2x4's that make the sides, screwing a 4' 2x4 at the top and bottom of the 8' lengths. Make sure all four columns are the same length and trim them if they aren't. I have the 2x4's on the inside, as are the lag bolts. The bolts are on the inside as it's easier to move the bolt head to the inside than recess it.

I braced all (4) corners. You need to brace each column both ways. This is a must to keep the tower rigid. When I first erected the tower, I only had braces on opposite faces and the tower was very wobbly. Bracing the other two faces decreased the wobble completely.

I cut the braces to a 2' length then angled the ends of these braces for aesthetics at 45 degrees. I did have to recess the screws since I am nailing through the braces length wise. I used 3" wood screws. They don't need pilot holes.

To recess the screw heads in the brace, I used one of the angled off cuts as a a template. clamp two off cuts together to form a square so you can drill through them with the 7/8" forstner bit. Then you clamp one of the off cuts as a guide for the angled braces on the drill press. You can't drill with a forstner on an angle, hence the guide.

My forstner drill bit wasn't long enough, so I drilled as deep as I could with the guide, then without the guide drilled through so that I had 1.5" of depth in the brace. I screwed the top/bottom of the brace first so that I could then rotate it to ensure square corners. Use a t-square or the 3-4-5 method to make sure all corners are square. For the 3-4-5, measure 6" across and mark, 8" down (or up) and mark, from point to point should be 10" which means your corner is square.

With the (2) 4'x8' frames assembled, next is to attach them and form the tower.

Cut (10) 2x4's to 3'-11". These will be the front and back braces. Attach the top and bottom of one side together, this would be the ramp side leaving the ladder side for last. Then attach the intermediate braces. I used clamps to hold the frames and bracing together. Use the 3" wood screws. This is all done while the tower is down to easier attach the framing.

For the ladder the bottom rung is offset 3.5" from the ground and the top 1.5" from the top of the frames. I offset the top so there is a hand hold at the top instead of the top of the stud being flush. I wish I had offset it at 2" or 2.5", after the plywood top the height of grip is a bit short. The bottom rung is offset so that I maintain 18" spacing between rungs. Typically you want ladder rungs spaced at 12" but I was trying to cut down the cost of buying 2x4's and this is a climbing wall, not a utility ladder. The ladder rungs are attached with wood screws.

Clamp or secure the brace and screw it to the tower. With the tower framed and braced, attach the plywood to the top. I attached the plywood before the railing as it's a bit easier to trim out the plywood this way. I added a block at the top railing of the ladder for support.

At this point I took the tower outside and set it upright. I put a paving stone under each corner and leveled it. Make sure it's level. For mine, I needed two pavings stones on the rear to level it out with a little bit of digging up the yard. Take the time to level it front to back and side to side. Uneven footing could make it wobble or rock.

I wondered if I needed to stake this to the ground. I considered using 2' lengths of rebar hammered into the ground and then attached to the bottom 2x4's with a conduit clamp, but once the ramp was attached, the tower doesn't rock. I tried to make it rock and it didn't. This is before attaching the ramp, which will only make it more sturdy.

I attached the plywood top before the rail posts. It's easier to cut out the notches with a jig saw for the posts. Let the plywood overhang the ramp side by 3" so that it will overlap the top 2x4 of the ramp. I cut scrap 2x4 blocks to support the ladder side of the plywood. Since the top rung of the ladder extends past the plywood, it had nothing to bear on. The blocks are attached to the ladder rung, with the plywood secured to the blocks.

Cut (4) lengths of 2' 2x4's. This forms the railing posts. They will butt right up against the 8' columns which helps brace them. One lag screw in each. The railing on the rock wall is 4' long and 3'-5" on the opposite wall.

The rock wall rail will mount on top of the vertical posts. I will toe screw it from the bottom. Recessing holes in the top or on the face would prove a way for water to pool and we don't want that. The other rail screws right through the face.

Step 2: Ramp

First I cut the sides of the ramp. I clamped the two 1/2" plywood sides together for a single cut matched to both panels. I used a circular saw on the straight lines and a jig saw for the curves. The plywood sides will overlap the 2x4 columns from the tower and provide a connection point.

The bracing will be cut to 3'-11" as the max width of the ramp is 4'. Measure the width of your tower to make sure it's 3'-11" wide. The bracing needs to match the width. I clamped the top and bottom 2x4 to the ramp sides before attaching. For the bracing at the curve, you want the center of the short edge of the 2x4 touching the curve, or as close to it as you can. The braces get (2) 1 1/2" screws each end as I don't want them rotating.

I used 5' long bar clamps to clamp the 2x4s in place. I built the entire ramp separate from the tower. Alternatively, if you don't have 4' or longer clamps, you could attach the plywood to the tower, and then use quick clamps to position the braces in place.

Once the bracing is in, attach the plywood. I started at the top. I thought the 1/2" plywood would flex enough for the radius, but I had to do 3/8" deep relief cuts to aid the radius. I started the kerf at the radius and repeated it every 5". I wish I had kerfed it every 2", 5" was just a bit too far. Alternatively, the best method would have been 2 or 3 layers of 1/4" paneling. Thinner wood is easier to radius and wouldn't require kerf cuts.

I screwed in the 1/2" plywood first with the 1 1/2" screws. They need to hit the bracing, and you need to note where they are so that you don't hit the same screws if you are attaching multiple layers of paneling.

While I didn't use paneling to face the ramp as the plywood was smooth enough, this is what I would have done. Set the screws for the first layer 1" off each edge and centered. Set the next set of screws 2" off the edge and the center screws 1" off center.

The ramp is attached to the tower with (7) screws on each side spaced roughly 10" apart. The screws go through the plywood into the 2x4 columns. I did a 2' angle brace from the plywood sides back to the tower on each side, just to reinforce it when/if I move it.

For the ramp extensions, since the ramp is longer than 4', I cut a piece of 1/2" plywood and screwed through it to both sides of the ramp. I don't know where my measurements failed, but the ramp doesn't slope as smoothly out of the curve as I had hoped. It's a bit too steep.

PVC pipe with a 1/2" diameter is screwed to the top of the ramp for grip. I used 1 1/2" screws, four equally spaced. On the ends I screwed through the end of the pipe. In the middle I drilled a hole through the top of the PVC for the screw head, then a pilot hole through the bottom of the PVC.

Step 3: Climbing Wall

The climbing wall adds (3) 3'-5" long braces on one side to attach the plywood. I opted for 3/4" plywood since the handles are a single screw for each handle. The plywood was cut to 3'-5"x8' with a second piece at 55"x2' attached to the railing. Double check your dimensions.The 2' tall piece angles about 10 degrees out. It provides a bit of a challenge when climbing.

The climbing wall also extends to the 1/2" plywood ramp side. This is the 'kids' side' so the 1/2" plywood will be sufficient with the reduced weight.

I cut 2x4's at an angle and screwed them to the railing. I have a 2x4 the length of the 2' angled wall for support.

Screws are 1 1/2" spaced roughly 24".

I bought the handles with hardware included. It's a lot easier that way. You'll need to drill a hole for the T-nut which installs from the back side. The handles are on an offset grid of 18" on center. Layout an 18" grid, then add an additional hold between each 18" square. Bracing will alter the spacing slightly. I wasn't incredibly strict about hitting the grid, as I want a bit of variation. I made the spacing on the left side of the wall a bit smaller so there's a kid side and an adult side.

Step 4: Finishing & Conclusion

I used sandpaper to round off all edges, from the 2x4s to the plywood. I want to avoid any scrapes, cuts, or splinters. While you could use a router with a round over bit, 40 grit sandpaper will do fine.

I sealed the entire thing copiously. You've got to seal it. Unsealed wood outside doesn't fare well. I want to paint it, but haven't yet. Even if you use exterior plywood like I did, you still need to seal it. You can go as minimal or as detailed as you want with paint. I want a wild look so I plan to tape off a few designs and do some splatter effects. Wherever you put this, put concrete pavers under each column and the end of the ramp. You do not want wood touching ground no matter how well you sealed it. This also allows you to level it. I keep a tarp over the thing to also help protect it from weather. In a few years, you'll need to repaint this if you want it to stick around a while.

The wall is a lot of fun and a good work out too! The climbing wall gets the most use, but no one can resist running up the ramp wall and attempting to pull themselves up. I only wish the climbing wall was taller. To provide variety we compete trying to climb the wall with arms only, keeping your elbows at your sides the entire time, or touching every hold.

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