Archive for the ‘How to Build an Indoor Rock Climbing Wall’ Category.

Choosing the wall

First, if you don’t own the joint, best get permission for this project, then go for a walkabout round your place for a bit. Just looking, not thinking!

If you want to go bouldering, just about any wall will do, as long as you can’t touch the ceiling while standing on the floor, you will be able to boulder, although if you can touch it by jumping, it wont be as fun as if you can’t touch it even by jumping. Building your own indoor bouldering wall is also great for kids as they wont fall far, bringing parents of injured kids crashing through your front door to deal out the justice. This would be the case for most walls inside peoples houses, but don’t forget to checkout the garage or covered entertaining areas outside also.

climbing wall wall selected, stairs

Being a rock climber, danger is your middle name, and sometimes your surname, so if you are lucky enough to have some internal stairs, you might find that location has the highest walls in your house. Just imagine, you never have to trudge up those boring stairs again! Leap onto the wall and smear your way to heaven! Or as most people would call it, the first floor. Be aware of where you might fall, its hard to put crash pads onto stairs without creating a slippery slide with them. Our wall is over stairs but our rule is anything over reach height (bouldering) means the harness goes on and a buddy belays.

Just remember, building an indoor rock climbing wall cannot replace a staircase for every situation, so the removal of said stairs upon completion of the climbing wall would be foolish, but funny if you try to sell the place watching prospective buyers negotiate the wall to get to the bedrooms :-) Oh, and wives will struggle getting the washing baskets up and back, climbers need clean clothes too. Project 2 is a pulley system for that. The washing, not the wife.

timber frame wall

OK, a wall has been found, now you have to make sure its suitable to build an indoor rock climbing wall on. Timber stud walls are the go, easiest to mount to, very strong because they usually attached top and bottom to other structural beams like floor and ceiling joists and bearers. If the wall you have chosen doesn’t actually touch a ceiling, like a dividing nib, but is attached to walls at each end, it should be OK, but I would ask a professional.

Concrete, bricks, masonry, stone etc would be my second choice. Good and strong, but harder to bolt onto, you could in fact build your rock climbing wall by bolting the holds directly onto a brick wall, hammer drilling is a noisy and dusty business, and if the wall is old, the mortar may not be as strong as is used to be. If the brick moves while drilling, I wouldn’t be real confident about relying on that brick staying put while you are swinging off it.

metal framing

Typical metal or steel stud walls are very difficult to attach to and still guarantee any degree of strength. Sure, they might hold the wall up, but maybe not you attached to that wall as well. I would not recommend using a metal stud wall. Talk to a local builder if you think you have a steel framed house, they may have some advice on decent fixing options.

One way of checking the construction material of your place is to grab a torch and a ladder and poke your melon into the roofspace, if you see timber everywhere, and think it might hold you up, climb in! You are a climber after all! If you see what looks like metal wires or bars hanging down with clip things holding horizontal metal runners on top of the ceiling, don’t go up if you are not familiar with this, it will not hold you. If you have an attic, you are on your own, usually you can’t see through the floor and superman doesn’t need a climbing wall.

Hang on, people might get hurt, my advice is to find someone who knows about construction and get them to climb in, that way you wont be hurt if they fall through.

Now that someone is up there, only walk or crawl on the supports, unless you have a proper walkway in place, and try to position yourself above a wall (THE wall would be best). Hopefully you can see the top plate of the wall, and if it is shiny, its probably a metal framework, not good. If its bricks you see, pretty safe bet that the wall is brick, gooder. What if you see timber? Remember, don’t think too hard…

Oh yeah, it might have helped if you took something to hit with, like a small hammer, that way you can tap on the top of the wall and listen to what the material sounds like, a metal frame covered with years of dust might look like timber. Hammers are also a good defence for possums that might get angry about you being in their roof.

my stud finderBasically, if you don’t know or can’t be sure if a wall will be suitable to take more weight, not just the climbing wall itself, but people attached to climbing wall as well, ASK A PROFESSIONAL, I would suggest a professional builder as professional dancer is all well and good, but they may not be able to confirm what the wall is constructed of.

Finally, if you are happy that you have a brick wall, get your hammer drill ready. Timber wall, brilliant! Go buy a stud finder, a magical tool that primarily detects framework (timber and metal), pipes and electrical cables sometimes. Yeah yeah, any “studs” nearby as well.



What Materials to buy

Open your wallet and recharge the credit card, you are about to spend a bucket load on your Indoor Rock Climbing Wall! Nah, its not that bad :-)

What I’m going to do with this page, is tell you what I did to choose materials, the quantities I bought, and a rough price of each thing. That way, when you have picked the wall, you might get some idea how much it will cost you. This is only for materials to build the wall, I will cover climbing ropes, harnesses, climbing shoes and climbing holds on another page. Although, climbing holds will be touched on because it will influence the attachment method and relating hardware.

Okie dokies! Lets go shopping! NOTE: I am in Australia, so no doubt I will slip into local currency and units of measure… sorry bout that!

First thing you need to know, “how big is that wall?” Best way to find that out is to ask the person holding the main part of the tape measure what the numbers say on it. Then I recommend drawing a quick sketch of the wall and write the height and width on the corresponding sides. Drawing your sketch to rough scale is even better, especially if you have an odd shaped wall, like mine. Now, using the same scale, try to divide your wall into 2400mm x 1200mm (8ft by 4ft) rectangles, can be verticle or horizontal, in such a way as to minimize waste, which saves you money. That is the common size for the plywood I used. Remember, you can use any “off cuts” on another part of the wall eg. if one part only uses half a sheet, the remaining half can be used somewhere else. I probably could have worked it out to use 1 less sheet than I did, because I have angled cuts, but in the end, I decided it was way easier to mount less sections of ply than to save money on 1 sheet of plywood. More, larger sections will make it easier to fix to the studs in the wall as you may not have anything to fix that 1ft square bit of ply onto…

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall Plywood

So got an idea of how many sheets you need? 4? wow, same here! Lucky for me, there is a shop nearby that deals in sheets of timber (Mr Ply) and they know about ply, let me tell you! After chatting to the disbelieving storeman about what I wanted the ply for, he recommended 15mm Structural Ply at about $70 a sheet. Most hardware stores can probably get something similar. The idea behind structural plywood is that it is made to certain standards and tested to some sort of standard also, this also means it is not pretty like a nice sheet of ply you might use in furniture building. You know what I say? Good! I want the grainy textures and knots on the surface!

Running Total AU$ :  $ 280

Once the ply was at home, I set about working out how regularly the climbing holds would be placed on the wall. With some prior visits to indoor rock climbing walls at various climbing gyms, I recalled the climbing holds set out in a grid, either squares or diamonds. Personally, diamonds appear less structured. Not actually measuring one at a gym, I guesstimated about 400mm between holds horizontally, starting 100mm in and up for the first row. Second row, 300mm in and up… now I’m confusing myself, there will be more detail and photos in the build page. Basically, mark up each side at 200mm, starting 100mm up from the bottom, same across top and bottom. Eventually a grid of 200mm squares is formed, with a 100mm border. Count the amount of times the lines cross, then halve it. Don’t ask me how I came up with that, it was a fluke, but it worked :-) Write this number on your hand. If you are buying “screw-on” climbing holds, you dont need to plan anything, you can just screw em on where ever you please. I prefer “bolt-ons”, as all the gyms I have been to use them, must be for some good reason.

Next stop was the fasteners shop. All these shops do are nuts, bolts, screws and everything in between, in any size, colour, quantity, material… you get the idea. This time I phoned around knowing a little about what was needed, and getting prices of the major items. Once again having to explain my project to everyone I rang. The shop I picked was Specialized Wholesalers, I know, their name doesn’t really give too much away. The dude was easy to talk to, knew his stuff, was interested in my project and assured me he would beat any prices I already had. In I went for a visit, as soon as I asked for the bloke I spoke to, he yelled from where ever he was hiding, “Thats the guy who is building an indoor rock climbing wall… in his house!” After a few “aaah’s” from the other salesdudes, out he came. He was great!

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall T nut

Sidetrack: My wife also likes to “help” with my projects, especially this one seeing as how it was for her birthday. So I felt now was the time to let her have a go. “Ask the nice man what we are after dear”. “Nuts?” was her helpful question directed at a man who works in a shop with about 5000 different nuts on the shelf. Ahh women :-)

T-nuts (tee nuts). These little beauties get bashed into holes on the back of the ply so when bolts go through, there is a nut there waiting to hold on securely, read the number from your hand for the quantity (using my way, 36 per sheet x 4 sheets = 144, get 150). The climbing holds I bought recommended 3/8th gauge bolts. Whatever bolts best fit your holds, make sure you match them with the correct T nuts. M10 looks the same as 3/8th, trust me, they aren’t. I paid 27c each for the 3/8th ones, $40 just about covers it.

Running Total AU$ : $ 320.

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall Coach Screw

How do attach it to the wall? Lucky you asked! There are a number of fixing hardware solutions. First you could put wood screws in about every 300mm along the studs, this is what most climbing gyms do. Its a lot of drilling… My idea of a climbing wall is to be able to remove it if I want to and not have to patch a billion holes to make the wall presentable again. So I went with Galvanized Coach Screws or Bolts. A washer under it spreads the load a bit more and 6 to 8 per sheet holds it easily, thats why we wanted structural ply, its solid as a rock… hehe… a rock climbing wall made of wood thats as solid as a rock, lol. Anyway, the M10 x 75mm coachies including a washer was about $0.60 ea, 30 of em = $18.

Running Total AU$ : $ 338.

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall hex screw

After the climbing wall was finished, I decided the coach screws looked a bit industrial. Countersunk Hex Screws or Batten Screws look heaps better so I started replacing the coachies with them (not in the same holes, too small for that) they are not as easy to find at a regular hardware store and usually only come in a pack of 5 or so… because they are weaker than a coach screw, I would put more, maybe 12 per sheet at a minimum. Galvanized 75mm ones range from $0.11 each if you have need of 1000 or up to $1.20 each if you have to buy packs of a couple. Allow about $25 to get some spares, near enough to the coach screw price. In the how to build an indoor rock climbing wall section I will show you how much better they look.

Running Total AU$ : $ 345. if you use batten screws instead of coach screws.

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall Cap ScrewCap Screws or Socket Head Cap Screws. The next bit is a little tricky. Because I bought my climbing holds before I started the indoor rock climbing wall project, I was able to measure the length of bolt needed to go through the climbing hold + a maximum of 15mm (for the thickness of the ply) so as to not penetrate the gyprock wall behind it, allowing me to remove the climbing wall at a later date and not have a billion holes to patch. I don’t know about the various brands of climbing holds, but surely they would have some sort of standard hole depth. 90% of mine used a 1.5 inch length bolt (all 3/8th diameter remember, don’t mix metric with imperial eg. a 3/8th 75mm bolt doesn’t exist). A couple used the size longer, the rest 1 size shorter. 50 climbing holds I had, so 60 cap screws I bought, spares of each length just in case. I found the cap screws sat better in the holes on the climbing holds with a bevelled washer under them. For around $0.70 for a cap screw an washer combination x 60 adds $42 to our total.

Running Total AU$ : $ 387.

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall screw eye

This next item is optional. A 115mm Screw Eye. In most indoor rock climbing gyms, they have an anchor point on the floor where the person on belay can be attached to the floor, this allows for lighter belayers than climbers without the falling climber hoisting the belayer off the ground. I didnt want to put aything through my floor so an anchor point low on the wall and into the stud servers the same job. Find a solid looking one around $4.

Running Total AU$ : $ 391.

Paint… How expensive is paint?! Talk to paint dudes, they know about paint. Depending on colours you want, size of the wall, how many coats you want, they will know how much of what to sell you. I used a plain cheap white as a base coat/primer. 1 Litre did 4 sheets, just. I got a grey mixed up in a cheap 4 litre tin, then bought a 1 litre tint in a browny colour. The tint you can add yourself if you want different shades as you go along, cheaper than getting all the various colours you want mixed for you. Cheap is the key… are you honestly going to want an easy clean paint? Or a sun resistant tough wearing paint? Why? Its meant to be a rock face, dirty and worn! I added sand to mine for texture and grip so unfortunately cleaning is out :-) With some brushes (people like to “help out” by this stage), a roller, roller tray and paint, don’t be shocked if it gets to $100, if you shop around you could get cheaper, I was lazy…

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall materials Total AU$ : $ 491. Bargain!

Have I forgot anything? That should be all the building hardware required. Items related to climbing like anchors, slings, atc’s, climbing ropes, climbing harnesses, climbing shoes and climbing holds will eventually have their own page and add 200 to 300 bucks to the total for half decent stuff. Let me know if I have left anything out of this page! Or if you have any questions, write a comment below. Cheers! See you in the “How To Build an Indoor Rock Climbing Wall” section!



How to build an…

OK, hopefully you have read the Indoor Rock Climbing Wall “what materials to buy” page and have everything ready to go. Tools recommended are: circular saw, drill and bits, a hammer, tape measure, pencil, socket set, painting tools and something to open a paint tin. Being in a metric country, thats the measurements I will be using.

Alright, ready? Go!

Wait! hehe There are kinda 2 starting points, you can cut the sheets to the right sizes or drill holes for your bolt on climbing holds, screw on hold people can skip to cutting.

How to Build an Indoor Rock Climbing Wall, Step 1:

I chose to drill holes first because I was only cutting a small bit off each plywood sheet. If you are going to use bolt on climbing holds, and want it in a set pattern, now is the time! For screw on climbing holds, you can just screw em on at the end. I went with a diamond shaped pattern on my 2400 x 1200 plywood sheets. By sheer luck, I stumbled upon a pattern that worked like magic!
Indoor Rock Climbing Wall grid
Measure 100mm in from each edge, then inside that, mark out 200mm increments along each edge, all the way around. Using your tape measure, line up from one side to the other and mark every 1st 200mm from one side to the other, starting from the 100mm border you created first, right in the corner of it. On the second row, mark every 2nd 200mm (400mm really).

Repeat all the way up the ply, every odd row should start on the 100mm border on the left and the alternate rows will actually be 300mm in from the edge (200mm from the 100mm border). Then do the same from the ends, making the first column on the 100mm border. Again, stagger the columns. This should be creating crosses evenly over the plywood, 400mm apart vertically and horizontally, but also creating a nice diaganol pattern as well.

Magically when you put two sheets of ply side by side or one above another, the spaces between all the marks are still even! Crazy…

How to Build an Indoor Rock Climbing Wall, Step 2:

Grab your drill and about a 10mm bit or speed bore to fit the T Nuts, only the shaft bit of the T Nut goes into the hole. Clamp all your sheets together with the marked out one on top. Drill through your marks, depending on how thick all your sheets are together, you might have to take it easy, pulling out every now and then to let the wood chips fall away from the bit. A clogged bit creates a lot of heat.

NOTE: Did you know smoke is what makes a drill bit sharp? If you let too much smoke out of your bit, it will get blunt. Smoke also runs all electrical items, like a drill, if the smoke comes out, more often than not, the drill will stop working :-)

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall cut

How to Build an Indoor Rock Climbing Wall, Step 3:

Cutting to size. Building my Indoor Rock Climbing Wall in a staircase with a raked ceiling made for some mad angles to cut. From the bottom of the second sheet I had to cut the start of the stairs, then at the top of each, the angle of the ceiling was different to the stairs… A piece of cardboard was great to make a template for the bottom of the stairs, but holding a tape measure up asking “helpers” is that straight up, didn’t really work for the raked ceiling. It was close, and looks ok but I will be more careful with the measurements next time. Measure twice, cut once!

A good way to get straight cuts is to measure from the side of deck on your circular saw that you are going to run along a straight egde, to the blade, then take that off your actual measurements and clamp a straight edge along this line on the side you are going to keep, so the offcut will fall away when you cut. You can do this while your sheets of ply are still stacked from drilling. Slide the top ones back to the length you need and use them as a straight edge, easy to get square too! I know, I know. They are heavy, grab a straight length of timber instead.

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall prime sand

How to Build an Indoor Rock Climbing Wall, Step 4:

Painting the primer. I was a bit excited about the whole process and added sand at this point. I don’t think you need to. It wasn’t real successful. You can see me here sifting the sand through an aquarium net. It was close at hand alright!?

In reality, it probably wouldn’t matter if there were sticks and things in the sand and paint, but next time I will just put the primer on it own for the first coat.

How to Build an Indoor Rock Climbing Wall, Step 5:

Painting the masterpiece. If only I had some talent as a painter. Ideas of what it would look like finished made me try things that proper painters would have laughed at. Put a good couple of handfuls of sand into the roller tray and mix it up good, its surprising how much you need to make it sandy on the ply. Sand also sinks in paint, so you need to keep stirring.

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall colorI tried to pick a colour that would blend in with the climbing holds, theres 3 sitting on the right hand sheet. Plus I got a tin of tint that I could add to the paint later to create more colours myself.

NOTE: Tint is not really paint, nor is it meant to be used straight, I learned this while painting features on the climbing wall… it took a long time to dry…

Lying the sheets out as they would appear on the wall made the task of lining up my giant work of art a bit easier. For the main body of colour, use a roller and a roller tray with the paint in it, also your handfull of sand. Paint rollers make the painting much faster. If a plain colour is how you would like your wall to look, give it a couple of coats of your main colour with sand in it, then stop, job well done!

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall feature2If you want a truly unique (unique not always meaning something good), then add some features! I was going for the “looks like an indoor rock climbing wall but more real” look. To achieve this, add some tint to your roller tray, not the remaining paint in the tin. You may want to correct some artistically challenged decisions later. Grab your paint brush and go to town! Adding darker regions using a cross hatching motion “blends” a bit with the background. A bit more tint, then go again, covering a bit of the layer you just did. Repeat until you have as dark as you want, then paint a fairly solid brush width to finish the colour sharply.

A good idea at the time was to paint all imperfections in this same shade or tint darker still, knots look especially good darker coz they look like holes in the rock. Make sure you add the tint to paint… ages to dry people! Then with your brush away from your person, spatter the whole shebang lightly, this gives a nice imperfect “its a rock face not an indoor rock climbing wall” feel. Try not to have too much paint on the brush when performing this trick, big spatters of paint aren’t really that rock face like.

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall gecko 2Indoor Rock Climbing Wall gecko 1Another trick is stencilling. Take a picture you want, the simpler the better, print it onto cardboard, or draw it onto a cereal box, stanley knife it out. Masking tape it in place, grab a can of spray paint, go nuts! If you get adventurous, or actually have some skill with a paint brush, can you come over to my place and paint some greenery on it too? I would like a couple of vines please. You could also paint your favourite outdoor climbs, or a mountain scene, or a giant tree Jack and the Beanstalk style, clouds might be nice. OR if you live in retro town like I do (see the nice wallpaper in later shots) wallpapering the ply to make it blend back in would look pretty tricky too! The ply’s the limit!

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall t nuts

How to Build an Indoor Rock Climbing Wall, Step 6:

Phew, step 5 was huge! Now onto TEE or T Nuts. Get your box of goodies… hang on, better still, ask someone else to go grab your bag of nuts. 😀 Also your trusty hammer. Flip the ply over, insert a T nut, shaft first / spikes down, into a predrilled hole. Hit with vigour. Find a set of ear muffs or plugs, install, repeat T Nut beating until it wont go in no more. Keep going until all holes are full of nuts. Try to hit them squarely so as not to break the front of the ply, which should be beautifully painted. Why paint it first? Well in theory, there will now be no paint on the threads of the T Nuts.

How to Build an Indoor Rock Climbing Wall, Step 7:

Find studs. Grab your stud finder! Masking tape (its like paper, not plastic) is a great invention, it sticks when it has to and doesn’t usually leave marks or take paint off when you remove it. Follow the instructions for using your particular stud finder, typically its hold down a button, slide across wall, watch and listen for when a stud (or pipes and power) lights it up or beeps, mark on wall when the lights and sound starts, then keep sliding and mark when it ends, smack in the center should be your stud. The masking tape is because when you stand the plywood up against the wall, you can’t see any marks you made. Mark out a few on each vertical stud, at least one top and bottom, then put the masking tape on the floor and ceiling, lining up with the stud. Slide further sideways to find the surrounding studs. You might find the tape on the floor is pretty evenly spaced, most are either 450mm or 600mm spacing in Australia. Best to actually find them.

Find a row or two of noggins as well by sliding the stud finder up and down, there might only be one through the middle, and between each pair of studs, they may also be staggered across the width of the wall so masking tape written on up each side for higher or lower noggins might be useful. Finding noggins is not critical because the structural ply is way strong enough to hold everything up just fixing to studs. I found I needed a couple of noggins because the wall may not have been perfectly flat and the edge of the plywood sheet sat out a bit from the one beside it.

Just to be sure, you can use a small drill bit in your drill and drill into the wall where you think the stud should be, if you strike timber, congrats! If water comes out, find a phonebook and an emergency plumber. As a general rule, if there are power points, light switches, taps or other service on the wall, there could be those services inside the wall, I take no responsibility for you “finding” these things. If you are unsure, as always, ask a professional!

How to Build an Indoor Rock Climbing Wall, Step 8:

Mount your indoor rock climbing wall that looks like a real rock face! Getting closer! …

… To be continued …

Indoor Rock Climbing Wall

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