If you go by the book, you can easily piss away well over $1000 on a small home bouldering cave. Fortunately, there’s no need to go by the book, and you can piece together a fun little wall for under $200– holds and all.
Disclaimer #1: Your wall probably won’t be as pretty as a more expensive wall. It will, however, have more character and probably offer more climbing options. If your wall turns out anything like mine, a high school wood shop teacher would give you an A for creativity and an F for finish carpentry. My home climbing wall looks like ass, but I don’t care since it’s super fun to climb on. If you wanna make something pretty, waste your money and go by the book.
Disclalimer #2: Nothing described here falls within the bounds of professional craftsmanship or is by any means up to “building code”. As such, I’ll barely scratch the surface of actual construction techniques. If you’re not comfortable enough with woodwork to screw together 2x4s and sheets of plywood in such a way that they don’t come tumbling down when you try to climb on them, take a look at “the book” for ideas, consider the advice offered here, build a few birdhouses for practice, and then git ‘er dun.
If you’ve got an unfinished basement, attic or garage, you’ve got the foundation for a bouldering cave. You can mount braces to concrete walls or to the studs behind drywall and base your creation off of that. A better, easier, and cheaper option involves building off of exposed structural beams that offer a plethora of wall-mounting options. See the photo to the left.
When choosing a site for your wall consider the following:
- Structural Integrity: Will the building itself support climbing? An exceptionally crummy garage or shed may not be strong enough to climb on.
- Air Quality: Exposed fiberglass insulation, mold, rat shit, and an assortment of other nasty things could make an otherwise ideal wall-building location a potential health hazard. Don’t get cancer trying to get stronger.
- Temperature: Will your wall be fun to climb on during extremely hot or cold times? A fan or small heater can work wonders but it’s still something to consider.
- Dimensions: Is the area big enough to offer a variety of climbing options? Don’t bother building something so small that it’s a repetitive bore to climb on.
- Legal/Cool: Ask yourself (and your parents/landlord/spouse) if it’s cool to build where you want to. You can build a wall with minimal damage to the existing structure but folks get uptight about these sorts of things. Make sure you’ve got the green light or you could have to deal with loads of bullshit.
Once you’ve got a suitable location, all you need to begin construction are tools, hardware, and wood.
- Safety glasses and gloves are a good idea.
- A decent drill is essential. In addition to small drilling bits and screwdriver bits , you’ll also need a 1/2″ Spade Bit to drill holes for mounting T NUTS.
- An old handsaw is all you need to cut 2x4s and plywood though a power jigsaw can do these rough cuts and is essential for the precise cuts when making your own holds.
- Wrench for bolting holds to your wall: type depends on what kind of bolts you get.
- By acquiring a power jigsaw and several extra blades you can save hundreds of dollars by making many of your own holds.
- Sandpaper and a file are also essential for making your own wooden holds.
- Believe it or not, you can get most of this crap affordably by searching through us here at CLEANSNIPE. Just click the images below:
HARDWARE: This is easy as all you really need is a bunch of screws, 3/8″ STEEL T NUTS, and bolts for mounting holds.
- Ask at your local hardware store which screws are ideal for your application. Get some longer screws to mount 2x4s to existing studs and some shorter screws for mounting plywood. Buy them by the box and get more than you think you’ll need: you can reinforce the wall with additional screws and easily mount smaller homemade holds with screws as well.
- Get a whole bunch of 3/8″ STEEL T NUTS here: I haven’t found a better price anywhere else. You install T nuts before mounting plywood to your wall and they make it quick and easy to change hold configurations. Remember: the more T Nuts you install in your wall, the more options you have for placing holds.
- Buy bolts that fit your t nuts at a local hardware store. Get assorted lengths to accommodate homemade holds of various sizes. If you buy manufactured holds, they should come with the appropriate bolts.
WOOD: Wood can break the bank if you’re not careful. “The Book” recommends you build a beefy frame of 2x4s and cover it entirely with 3/4″ ACX plywood (expensive!). For a home bouldering cave this is overkill. There are several ways to cut costs when acquiring wood.
- Don’t buy wood. Scavenge wood! Keep your eyes peeled for pieces of plywood, 2x4s, and other scraps. Even very small pieces of high quality wood are worth snagging since they’re great for making holds. Also, short sections of 2×4 and small scraps of plywood will come in handy. Check dumpsters at construction sites, lumber yards, and back alleys just about everywhere. Eventually you’ll hit the motherload. Please don’t steal wood. Ask and you shall receive.
- Cover the bottom sections of your wall with thinner plywood. In areas where you’ll only be screwing on small footholds, there’s no need for 3/4″ plywood.
- Leave holes in your wall. Use less wood and open up more climbing options by keeping structural beams and 2x4s exposed in some areas. There’s no reason you can’t bolt a hold or two directly to exposed timbers. Also, exposed timbers are great for dry tooling! Bring a set of ice axes into your bouldering cave and watch the climbing options multiply. Just watch out for the splinters they’ll kick up.
- Piece together your wall gradually. Build it in sections and don’t be in a rush to get it “completed”. In time, you’ll find all the wood you need and won’t have to buy more than a few long 2x4s if any at all!
HOLDS: Manufactured holds are unfortunately expensive. The bigger the hold the bigger the bucks and, personally, I prefer JUGS. If you want more than finger tendonitis out of your home cave, you’ll be sure to cover it with ample jugs. Do yourself another favor and do it affordably.
The convenience of manufactured holds makes it worthwhile to buy some of them. The bigger the package the sweeter the deal, but don’t be disappointed when you find the “jugs” included in a package are actually much smaller than expected. The screw on footholds are especially sweet since they’re cheap, easy. and gentler on your shoes than most homemade holds.
I bought some holds, had a lot of holds given to me by folks who like climbing at my cave, and made the majority of my own holds out of wood. With a pile of scraps, jigsaw, file, sandpaper, and a lot of imagination you too can quickly and easily make many of your own holds. Making your own is actually pretty fun too.
Consider the following images for inspiration when designing your own holds.
Labeling your holds with a permanent marker is great for games like Add-On. When your buddy is too high to remember the sequence you just have to tell him the name of the next hold.
Crash Pads: Old mattresses work great and they provide skiddeluxurious accommodations for visiting friends… or you! Check the thrift store or around town when folks are moving. Spring in a college/ski town is a beautiful time for collecting disgusting mattresses. LYSOL and FREBREEZE highly recommended.
Tunes: A Must. Spend more money on your stereo system than you did on the wall itself. If you’re stuck climbing alone, try to climb for an entire song: great endurance training!
Games: Add-On is the ultimate game for a home bouldering cave. As such, the most important component of a home bouldering cave is a bunch of friends who like climbing. Avoid being an overly-competitive, arrogant, awkward douche bag and that shouldn’t be an issue.
Go nuts. You only live once.